Nowadays there are many cycling apps like Strava, etc. One useful feature of them is giving the shortest or lowest altitude change route between point A and B. Although they have that lowest altitude change, some of these routes are definitely not easy to climb up.

For example, from my house to shopping mall, there are 2 routes, one is suggested by Strava and the other one is mine as well as any citizen of my town would suggest.

Route 1. Climb %8 hill until reach the shopping mall.

Route 2. Climb %15 very short hill, then ride downhill a parallel way to Route 1, then climb very short %15 hill and you reach your destination.

Definitely it is easier to ride Route 2 and also it does not need so much physical condition since it does not always climbs. My main point in here is that it seems easier to climb a high slope for a short period of time and drive downwards to recover.

My question : is there any apps that can create routes like Route 2?

  • I doubt the elevation model will be good enough for Route 2. Unfortunately common elevation models have a relatively low resolution and will often show e.g. treetops as a sudden 10m jump since the satellites used for the measurement can’t see through treetops. Routing software has to filter/average over several meters to get a somewhat accurate picture of the elevation without all the noise and spikes.
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 6:38
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    @Michael - I really think that cycling sites should have very good elevation data for frequently traveled roads by this point. Many GPS units have barometric altimeters built in, and they should be able to get very fine grained detail as to the slope of a road even over short distances. With enough data they could easily figure out what the bad data is. Whether or not they use this data is not known to me, but they really should be using this data. You're right in the fact that satellite or other sources of topographic data are not very accurate.
    – Kibbee
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 12:35
  • I think it's a big order to do this from topo maps. Two roads that show the same grade may have vastly different topography when viewed on a scale of a few dozen feet. And no map shows road conditions. (And I wouldn't want to climb a 15% hill if I could avoid it,) Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 11:48

4 Answers 4


This is an impossible question for the mapping sites to answer. They come up with heuristics about what makes a good route, that will do a pretty good job, but there is fine detail they do not and cannot know. For example, Your route 2 is the easiest on paper, but what if it poorly sealed with course chip and has lots of rubbish and stones in the shoulder. Route 1 has been recently sealed with smooth, fast hot top and has a wide clean shoulder. Route 1 would be better. What if route 2, getting onto the top of the ridge exposed you to a prevailing head wind that route 1 was sheltered from - in this case the best route changes daily (Where I live, hourly).

Add to this, a good route is subjective - as already suggested by @bibz guys out for training rides have different definition of good to a commuter. As a MTBer, I have a different definition of good to a roadie, as I have much lower gearing I can climb steep hills roadies want to avoid, I careless about gravel roads, road works or poorly maintained roads than roadies. They tend to want to go faster (and further) then I do. I am a strong hill climber, and will take a hilly route over a flat route any day, there are many who hate hills and a much stronger than me on the flat. (TBH The vast majority who are stronger than me everywhere).

In the end technology cannot make you decisions for you, all it can do is make suggestions based on the data it has. Ask around locals for better advise, but in the end you have to actually ride the routes to work out which is best for you.

  • I agree with it is hard to answer the question that is how to find "better" routes, but it is not impossible. There are some criteria which they use to help users to find more accurate routes. For instance, (a) least uphill riding in meters or (b) least use of low gear in terms of seconds. By doing so, applications look for uphill roads and make some optimization between the slope and lenght of uphill roads. In My city almost no road is flat and that kind of optimisation would be great
    – Mehmet
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 23:08
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    All of that is theoretically solveable.
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 6:28
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    The difference between theory and practice is the business case.
    – mattnz
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 21:03

Brouter (as web application, or Android application as a backend to routing apps LocusMap, OSMAnd, OruxMaps) is based on usage of built-in or custom routing profiles that are based on a specific script-like simple language. There is a wide range of possible customization on the profile code level, or on the level of profile logical switches or numerical parameters.

BRouter uses a way-related subset of open map data from OpenStreetMap. It suggests the optimal route, based on expressing all possible defined pros and cons of a way segment in the additional length equivalent.

Illustrative example:

  • 1 km of a way that the profile considers as perfect is taken as 1 km long.
  • 1 km of a way of the same quality but with more dynamic altitude profile may be taken as 3 km long.
  • 1 km of a way with very inferior surface can be taken as 5 km long.
  • 1 km of a way that should be taken only as the last resort can be taken as 100 km long.

The optimal route is then the "shortest" route.

You can find more details about how BRouter works on Github


Strava has the option of using "Popularity" to create a route. This means that if more people use Route 2, it should make you go that way. The problem if that if a lot of people are training using Route 1 it might skew the resulting route the other way. Usually I start by checking where other people are going by when I plan my trips, then I can do adjustments based on riding it or by talking to the locals.

There is also the option of manually creating the route using Strava or RideWithGPS or other mapping sites, but that would mean that you have previously know which one is the best.

  • Strava route creator also has a "less elevation" option that is active by default. Mind you, sometimes the flat route isn't the best, maybe the one that goes through a hill has way less traffic, etc
    – gaurwraith
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 10:41

Expanding upon a previous answer, you can use Strava's Heatmap feature.

Just stick to the most frequented roads or paths and you should be okay.

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