TopoUSA 5.0 Western Edition

I’ve been riding a lot of hills recently, getting ready for the 7 Hills of Kirkland on Memorial Day, and I’m getting more used to climbing and less scared of the steeper hills.

But I’ve found that there is a dearth of information about the various hills that I ride on. The best source that I’ve found is the “Larry Kemp climb spreadsheet“, which has some good information, but doesn’t cover a lot of hills (Larry was killed while bicycling in Europe last spring, and there haven’t been any updates since then).

Every few months, some of the less-experienced riders will ask about routes to get from A to B, and it’s really hard to quantify how hard a specific hill is. How does Inglewood compare to Factoria? What about Lake Hills Connector? (for those of you who haven’t yet picked up on the exciting hobby of learning hill names in the eastern suburbs of Seattle, bear with me…)

I’d looked at a couple of topo programs in the past, but the front runner – TopoUSA from DeLorme – was about $100, which was a bit too rich. When I checked last week, I found that I could get an edition for the western US for only $50, so I ordered up a copy, and installed it on my laptop.

This is a cool and powerful tool. You can set up routes and get their profiles, and supposedly, you can add your own trails (which should be nice because bike routes aren’t in MapPoint…), and download the routes to your GPS (which I might use for RSVP this year). It does most of the calculations that you want.

But, the user interface looks like it was designed in 1987 to run on X Windows. It doesn’t use any of the standard Windows UI approaches, so it’s really hard to figure how to use it initially. No menu bar, for example.

Overall, I think that it’s pretty good. The map database isn’t as good as mappoint is – I know the roads that I ride pretty well, and the mappoint layout seems very good. The TopoUSA version has slight turns where the road is straight, and some turns are sharper than they really are. But, overally, for what I got it for, it’s okay.

I haven’t yet verified how good the elevation data is yet.


Comments (4)

  1. Glenn says:

    Hi Eric,

    On the topic of cycling and software, have you happen to run across any decent software designed specifically for cyclist (daily logs, performance charting, etc). The little that I have been able to find looks quite antiquated…

  2. Rein says:


    The TopoUSA and Streets & Destinations USA maps are taken from the Tiger mapping system (from the US Census beurau) and they’re downright ugly. I’ve found so many inconsistencies with these maps. Magellan uses these maps in their GPS devices and it’s painful to use.

    For example, check out this part of the 520 just east of MS main campus:

    I wish you luck with those maps :)

  3. ericgu says:


    I’ve only dabbled in training software, but I agree with you on your estimation.

  4. jim says:

    I’m interested in what you think of the programs. I have the Garmin Mapsource for my GPS and its user interface is from the Bizarro world. I can’t figure out how to get an altitude profile, though it’s clearly in the (multiple) raw log files.

    For most of my local stuff, I just do plots with the software supplied with the Polar HRM. All of these units apply some kind of funky rounding to smooth out the inaccuracies of the barometric altimeter. For example, on the Lilac Century Surprise a few weeks ago, the GPS showed about 4900′ of gain (comparable to the Topo! Washington data the sponsor posted) whereas the Polar unit showed about 1,000′ less. Still, it’s useful as a relative gauge.

    The DeLorme program had some quirks when measuring the roads for Tour de Blast, initially overestimating the elevation gain because they didn’t have the Hoftstadt (sp?) bridge (and thus showed us going down and back up the valley).

    – JIm