Trailforks Introduces Trail Grade Visualization

Feb 15, 2019
by Radek Burkat  
You may, or may not have already noticed that we recently incorporated elevation/grade visualization into the Trailforks app. Grade visualization has been a requested feature for quite some time, but it took us a while to find a solution that we were happy with.

Let's look at the problem. Trails have different distances and different elevations, but within the app we had limited horizontal and vertical space to represent these differences.

elevation
elevation
elevation
Here are 3 different trails that visually have similar elevation profile charts. From this it's hard to determine what kind of a ride this will be unless we start digging into the details like the numeric distance, elevation and difficulty of the trail.

We started by integrating a few different visualizations into the app to test and better understand the usability of each.

elevation examples
elevation examples
elevation examples
These do solve the issue of representing absolute grade, but we were still not happy. In all these cases a user is required to visually associate the color grade with the elevation profile line to determine if the grade is related to an uphill or down hill.

The question we asked ourselves was, how can we represent the grade to instantly convey to the user an understanding of the trail characteristics?

Our solution

elevation examples
Using the trail Credit Line as an example, it looks like there is a punchy climb at the beginning of the trail, followed by a few ups and downs, finishing with a low grade pedal section.
elevation examples
This trail is slightly downhill the whole way with no surprises.
elevation examples
Pleasure trail seems to start off ok, but soon it's downhill steep after steep. It also looks like there will be a punchy uphill or hike-a-bike uphill section, depending on how good you are.

Here we represent the grade data with different colors and different height bars. The color and height of the grade bars are directly proportional to the absolute grade. The grade bars can extend above or below to represent if this is an uphill or downhill section of trail.

We really like this solution as it's clean and simple.
At a glance this gives the user more knowledge of the trail they are about to ride.

Nerd talk beginning. These are some of the goals and work we did to make all this happen.

filter
Some basic signal processing.
signal processing
Testing filters

1. Create an in-house custom elevation service for the whole World.
2. Increase localized accuracy of elevation service data by augmenting data with millions of rides
3. Regenerate all trail data points with equidistant points mapped to new more accurate elevation points.
4. Real time signal process the elevation data to filter out noise yet preserve important signal.
5. Represent the data to provide the user instantaneous understanding of trail characteristics.

Hope everyone enjoys this new feature and please leave us some feedback and suggestions on this and future improvements and features.



MENTIONS: @trailforks



117 Comments

  • + 48
 Thanks for the explanation. I saw the updated feature and was too dumb or lazy to figure it out right away. This will help distinguish steep hike a bike from rowdy fall line in the local Pisgah area.
  • + 3
 Mmmm, I’ll be in Pisgah tomorrow!
  • + 1
 Theres a Pisgah in Cincy too??
  • - 1
 @slayersxc17: enjoy the rain
  • + 4
 I really appreciate when an update is thoughtfully approached THEN applied. The thought process involved is explained and allows the user an opportunity to debate the change (hopefully with equal thought). I also like that the way it will be used and interpreted is considered BEFORE implementation.

Data flows in rivers these days and is used to paint many pictures but making meaning from it is not done so well. Thank you Pinkbike for a great place to "talk" and a sweet app to take on our rides.
  • + 0
 So a note on Pisgah - this is a cool, useful feature, but it is not reliable. For instance, it shows that lower black is steeper than middle black (red bars for lower, only orange for upper). This may be true, but if one is going to try to pedal UP these trails (because you're riding PMBAR, for example), it shows that lower black is a hike-a-bike, and middle black is pedalable. Anyone who's ever ridden these trails knows the opposite is true. So take the info with a grain of salt; it is NOT a substitute for local trail knowledge.
  • + 5
 @Lokirides This visualization only uses the grade of the trail, so if a trail is has less grade by is more technical/less ridable we can't detect that from this data. Also this is the first kick at the cat and we will be adjusting things and as there is more ride data we can eventually compute even better grade information. Additionally something we are doing for an upcoming release is ride speed/vibration visualization which could signal differences in trail terrain.
But you're right, we can never be perfect and there will always be corner cases.
  • + 3
 Not trying to sound to critical - the app is awesome! Just pointing out that people still need to remember this is a tool and not a replacement for actual local trail knowledge.
  • + 2
 @Lokirides: I love the App too. I can usually figure out a pretty decent loop anywhere I go now. But part of me misses getting a bit lost in a new trail system and trying to figure out where the hell you are on the paper map you got from the LBS or trying to slyly tail some people who look like they're from the area. Adventuresome times. Local knowledge is king.
  • + 2
 @radek: Couldnt speed from the ridelogs in the segment be used to convery the similar information (e.g. second similar chart for speed)?
  • + 28
 This is awesome! I work in GIS and love the work you guys do. It’s amazing how much data we can collect, but not know what to do with. The hardest task is taking that data and visualizing it for everyone. This may seem like a simple solution but I really applaud your final product. It is intuitive and a minor revolution! The cycling community is lucky to have people like you all at Trailforks! Round of beers on me!!!!
  • + 8
 Same here. As a GIS analyst and cartographer, the Trail Forks team is killing it. Hats off to y’all!!! And even more kudos to Trail Forks and Pinkbike for keeping the app free!!!
  • + 20
 This is great. Having ridden all three of the example trails, the original elevation is misleading. To show Rob's as anywhere near similar to Pleasure is misleading at best! Nice work TF!
  • + 8
 Great job Pink Bike, way easier than breaking out a map to focus on abrupt changes in elevation. Way more detail than a topo for the elevation changes you might be facing on a narrow trail that's 2 ft wide. Can't be that exact with a topo on a narrow trail.
  • + 7
 Well done Trailforks! Will this profile view be visible while navigating, and if so, will it show rider location? This is a capability I've missed in Garmin's devices while out exploring. If you beat them to the punch on this, it would be a huge step forward for adventure riding in new terrain!
  • + 2
 ^This. I love Trailforks for scouting new zones and planning trips. The ability to track my progress in unfamiliar terrain in profile view would make this my go-to navigating tool!
  • + 5
 @BergMann: Tracking has been in trailforks for quite some time. www.trailforks.com/help/view/88
When you start recording your ride, it leaves a bread crumb on the map realtime as you ride showing you where you are and have been.

@Veloscente : Yes, this view is available on the app as you track/record your ride. So you can see where you are with respect to this grade data.
I think trailforks complements any handle bar mounted device. Trailforks is better to explore and get a good idea where one is, but if you have a ride in mind and load it to a handle mounted device, it's easier to just follow the device instead of pulling out your phone.
  • + 7
 Thank you, this is just what trailforks needed! I appreciate how trailforks just keeps getting better and better. The more intuitive the UI is, the less and less people will use that "other" app... myself included.
  • + 2
 What's the other app?
  • + 19
 Tinder
  • + 3
 @alwayslivingthedream: Pornhub has an app??? Well there goes my weekend.
  • + 7
 Nice job Trailforks. I checked out our local trails & it did a decent job of picking out those steep spots. It may have sort of overstated them in places. I do believe more is better, so thanks!
  • + 6
 Super rad! Definitely been fooled in the past by elevation profiles. "Look its all downhill once we get to the top!" Only to find that there is 2000 feet of climbing in the descent. D:

Since then I have learned to do a bit more studying of routes before embarking on new trails.
  • + 5
 This is great and I've been using it for the last few weeks ????. The only change I'd like to see is the bar width being relative to distance and not pixels. I.e. for longer tracks like the Nydia Track in NZ the data isn't super helpful because each coloured bar represents such a large distance.
  • + 13
 This is a change we have planned, along with the ability to zoom the profile. It’s going to be sweet. Working on some other sweet new features first though!
  • + 1
 @bentomas: Awesome, can't wait!
  • + 4
 Trailforks is a game changer. I moved a few years ago and without trailforks, I’d have had some serious slogs and unexpected surprises as I got
To learn my new zones far and wide. And close to home. You guys keep
Doing this shit and you’re staying way ahead of comparable apps.
Thanks pb for doing this!
  • + 2
 Was the veloviewer style looked at? Like style #2 shown, but with all the colours of the rainbow and ups/downs different colours (which then makes it dependent on direction) . Plus you can also adjust the horizontal smoothing. The examples above look quite blocky.

A ribbon map on the basemap (preferred direction) would be helpful. I am not aware of anything that does this?
  • + 2
 Stupidly I forgot Veloviewer does the ribbon map. But this is only post-ride.
  • + 1
 The Trailforks has a trail direction and trail flow style layers that color code the trails.
  • + 2
 It would be super cool if you could flip the ride direction. A lot of trails post as one way, when they are really preferable or most often ridden the other way, which makes you reading the gradient as an inverse. Not too hard, but why think when the phone can do it for me?
  • + 2
 We will be adding this in the next update.
  • + 1
 --
  • + 2
 This is fantastic! The App keeps getting better and more useful! It inspires me to want to contribute more as well: pictures, reports, comments and even video.
Thanks PB and TF!
  • + 1
 Nerd talk......get out and ride and explore.........half the fun was searching for the holy trail, finding something and having no clue.......then having to learn the area........I think the next phase should be drone footage upgraded with 3d modeling so we know the trail and can get our supreme strava lap first go........
  • + 1
 It'd be cool if there was some way of getting trail grade on the fly while doing trail planning. Basically some sort of sandbox where you could draw a trail and it would alert you if the trail was exceeding a certain grade. This might help clubs who need to make use of small parcels but want to keep trails relatively mellow. I've seen many experienced trail builds who still make some mistakes in regards to trail grade, where trails are almost fall line, even if they don't look it. Trailforks Grade Calc would expose that type of stuff before the trail is built.
  • + 2
 You can somewhat do this currently. An option when creating a trail is to draw in the point. The more points you put in the more accurate the grade will be. Additionally as you are adding a trail you can see the topo. Example: www.pinkbike.com/photo/16876938
Also there is a "planned" option when adding a trail. A planned trail is only visible to those that have admins to an area, which should be associations and builders in a region.
Once you add a trail, you simply sync the region and the planned trail along with grade info will be available on the app ( if you have admin ) . You also can see what the grade is at any point in the trail by sliding your finger on the elevation chart.
Example: www.pinkbike.com/photo/16876980
  • + 1
 Argh! what a bummer. I updated the app to get this feature, but now I am stuck lacking a feature I thought was a no brainer. When I click on a trail to view more details, the cover is now a picture posted by a user. I think before it showed a zoomed in curve of the elevation profile of the trail, which I think it gives much more information than a picture of a stranger. It is also much more useful while in the field. When I am using the app to navigate (which I think most of us do, or should mostly do), I want to have a visual of the info of the trail at a quick glance while Im trying to control my bike one handed, I dont give two damns about a pretty-wanna-be picture someone took!

I love your app, it's the only reason for a smart phone Smile
  • + 2
 The larger elevation on the trail is still there. This was always below all the trail data so you have to scrill down on the trail page.
  • + 1
 The up/down bars are not the best solution in my opinion. I like the idea of being able to see down vs up at a glance but in practice on gentler trails the bars are too short to be very useful and even makes the color difficult to see. Also, the down vs up is relative to how trailforks has designated the start and end points of the trail. Works great for one-way trails, but on two-way trails the down/up bars are upside down depending on which direction you're heading. They should have just colored the whole area under the segment like one of the examples they show, then it would be easier to see and it wouldn't matter which direction you're riding.
  • + 4
 If a trail is just gentle green with hardly any grade we think there is no need to amplify this visually to the user.
The reason why we think that the fully shaded graph without direction bars is less ideal is that you are forced to relate the color to the sometimes minor, compressed, or hard to see elevation changes in the profile graph to figure out if the grade is related to uphill or downhill. Also with colors and bars we have more resolution in that not only can we represent a grade with a few shades of color, but also with the size of bar and the direction of the bar. We can convey more information/data to the user.
The trail direction and therefore the elevation profile on trailforks is from green circle to red square. This trail direction is computed from millions of trail ride logs and recommended to be set that way to the associations. So a trail is made a particular direction because say 80% of the riders ride it that way. Of course you may ride it the other way and the default elevation profile and the grade will be backwards but I think people already intuitively compute that in their head. If the slope shown is downhill from left to right, but if im riding backwards, then i'm actually going uphill.

We might even make this easier by having a button to toggle the direction and therefore switch the elevation profile and grade graphs for the user.
  • + 1
 @radek: is TGV feature available on the website trail pages?
  • + 2
 @brentkratz: Not yet, but it will be soon.
  • + 1
 @radek: love the way you implemented it, thanks!
  • + 6
 As we mentioned, we TRIED just coloring the whole chart, and were not satisfied with it as a solution. After experimenting more we found this a lot more useful. And the fact the short green bars can barely be seen doesn’t make them “too short to be useful”, the fact that they are short tells you information. This makes it easy to get that information at a glance. I know it’s different than what you’re used to, but I encourage you to try it out for a bit. We personally have found it hard to go back to the other kind after using this.
  • + 1
 @bentomas: Makes sense!
  • + 1
 I love the idea, but I’m hoping the data gets a lot better. Right now it doesn’t make a lot of sense in my ‘hood outside Seattle. For example, Tokyo at Tokul looks flat until the bottom, OTG on Tiger doesn’t look like there’s a really f’in annoying climb a third of the way down and Poppin tops at RR shows a bunch of punchy climbs I’ve apparently never noticed before.
  • + 4
 Thank you for making a cool, free, made for/by mtber app even better. And for not being Strava.
  • + 3
 Thank you guys for developing such an amazing app. I feel like Trailforks paired with Strava is too good to be true (shhhh and free). These development posts are cool too.
  • + 3
 I like this a lot, but can we make shorter segments possible again? It's annoying to build a shorter trail that can't register as a segment
  • + 5
 Looks cool but I never remember to turn it on at the trailhead......
  • + 2
 Yah, I'm with you.
  • + 1
 Thanks for your work guys. However, since the new update I cannot select anything other than the trails (like parkings, the squared red icon for the mountain, etc.). I tried to reinstall, in vain. iOS 12.2

Anyone else have such issue?
  • + 3
 It works fine on 12.1.x but iOS 12.2 is the beta that is not production yet. Have not tested things with the upcoming ios beta but we will look at it and make changes to fix any issues. Thanks for the heads up.
  • + 3
 Really a great app all around. Have really appreciated how many features you guys have built in. Thank you!
  • + 1
 Every now and then researching trails it would be nice to understand the terrain quicker. I thought the app was great as it was but this is a substantial update. Definitely my go-to for unfamiliar areas. Well done!
  • + 1
 Looks great! Didn't understand what was going on when I updated the app, but this article clarifies the updates. I think this new update will provide us trail users with useful information when selecting what trails to ride.
  • + 2
 All I got from that article is there there is a trail called “Man Boobs”
I’m assuming it’s pretty flat, but it might have a nipple twist or two in there...
  • + 0
 Very cool.
This is exactly why I choose to ride a long travel 165-180mm broduro bike instead of a DH bike in gravity situations now. There's always punchy uphills in the middle of the so called "downhill trails". Now the app lets me know ahead of time. Nice.
  • + 2
 So....looking for full red below the mid line at all times Smile
This makes me want to go ride Pleasure again, such a good trail!
  • + 2
 Wow! This is super impressive and something I've been wanting for some time.
  • + 2
 I knew what this feature was when seeing it for the first time. Very intuitive and useful ! Thanks!
  • + 2
 Great feature. This really helps identify how a trail will ride without any prior knowledge.
  • + 2
 Why does it have to be full of trackers? reports.exodus-privacy.eu.org/en/reports/14052
  • + 1
 what does it do?
  • + 6
 The items that show up as trackers are google analytics/crashlytics which is used to figure out what happens when app crashes and the Facebook plugin that if you do choose to login it gives the option to login to the app via fb.
  • + 1
 @radek: Who knew riding a bike would be so complicated.
  • + 1
 @radek: Is this the same for the ios app?
  • + 3
 @xyrion: From this article sounds like one should use an iphone instead of an android phone
"For comparison’s sake, a similar experiment found that on an iOS device with Safari but not Chrome, Google could not collect any appreciable data unless a user was interacting with the device.".

We are going to double check, but our app only interacts with fb when you decide to use "login with fb". If you don't use that feature then there is no interaction with fb at all. And if you do it only interacts one time on the login screen to do the login verification.
  • + 1
 @radek: It's possible to use Android and not leak everything to big companies. Part of it is avoiding apps with trackers in them. I know there's no bad intention from your side, it's just developers using most convenient tools and methods available. The problem is big boys make sure those tools are set up to give them access to our data. It's probably not the best topic to rant about on Pinkbike, but I got triggered Big Grin

Thank you for making Trailforks, it's a great service and I use it through the website. If the app some day becomes tracker free I'll surely use it Wink
  • + 1
 @xyrion: We don't do anything nefarious and only build features and use data that is required for the app features. But, I do want to understand your point of view so here is a couple of questions.
The tracker app test you pointed to just scans the app for the existence of a code library. Say in the case of fb. Yes there is a lib that will be used to do the fb login, but only when you actually decide to use that feature. If you never do a fb login, there is never any kind of call made to fb. How do you envision us making it work for someone like yourself, but yet still have the ability to provide a feature for those who choose to use fb login?
  • + 1
 I don't see how one could use a modern smartphone or any apps without tracking. I have an app on Android that scans all the apps installed on my phone and shows all the trackers, frameworks, adnetworks and more for each app. Pretty much 100% of the apps have something, usually multiple. Pretty much every app has some sort of crash analytics tracking, Crashalytics which is now part of Google being the most popular.
  • + 0
 @canadaka: "Everyone else is doing it" is not exactly a great argument.
  • + 3
 @jdorw: app developers need to be able to track crash and performance data or else we're just blind to what's happening in the wild. That's why virtually every app will have some sort of "tracking". We do have an option in app settings to be excluded from the Google Analytics tracking, but no such option for crash tracking, i've never seen an app with that option.
  • + 1
 @canadaka: I don't disagree that devs need a way to measure performance of their apps but Google Analytics isn't the only way. You get a nice analytics dashboard for free at the expense of your user's privacy. I know it can be a lot of work to do your own analytics and it is up to you to decide if it is worth the time investment, but user privacy is pretty important too. Just something to consider.
  • + 2
 @radek: I don't think fb logins should be used for authentication on anything other than fb.
  • + 0
 @canadaka: Check out f-droid.org/en/about for plenty of apps like that Smile
  • + 3
 Rad! Also when is turn by turn coming??
  • + 5
 It's already in the app Wink . Shhhhhhh! We are just not happy with it yet to enable it to the public.
  • + 1
 @radek: yoooo sign me up as a beta tester
  • + 1
 @radek: Yes, please!!!
  • + 1
 @radek: can't wait!!
  • + 2
 Pleasure Trail doesn't really have hike a bike sections, but that's really the fault of the elevation data.
  • + 3
 Well the first big red section is after the skinny drop where the trail switch backs on itself is a pretty grueling climb and the other small climb is after the other wood drop so I'd say it's decently accurate for picking out pretty small changes in elevation.
  • + 1
 i thought the same thing! The only I could think of was that one switch back on the slab.
  • + 2
 Super sick. Im gonna apply once im out of school...
  • + 1
 I honestly never saw a problem. Then again, i have no problems with topographical maps either. But cool
  • + 3
 I'm handy as hell with a topo map also but so much gain/loss can be squeezed between a contour line... That being said I never had much of a problem with little spikes on a line. I usually am only looking at it on the computer at work, but I guess the new red/green bars will be useful for when I take complaining friends who want only downhill.
  • + 2
 Awesome addition! Very thankful to have such an awesome app for free!
  • + 2
 Looks like a sweet upgrade, have to try it out asap!
  • + 2
 Awsome all - thanks a bunch Smile
  • + 1
 I was wondering what all those colours were, this is awesome, thanks for the explanation.
  • + 0
 Great work!!! I would love to Trailforks on the Apple Watch....any plans for this?
  • + 1
 Well this has my nerd stick rock hard.
  • + 1
 Would be useful if you could flip the direction of the trail too
  • + 1
 In the works!
  • + 1
 This is awesome! Props to my fellow nerds!
  • + 2
 Fabulous ...
  • + 2
 Great work!
  • + 1
 This is one of the coolest things I have seen in a while....
  • + 2
 This is amazing.
  • + 1
 You guys friggin rock, thank you so much!
  • + 1
 Love it!.... no more complex tools to get a grade
  • + 1
 Great upgrade to a killer app. Thanks PB!
  • + 0
 So when will they get the elevation loss and gain correct. Its always WAY higher than reality. Come on trailforks!
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