19 Aug

What’s with the trail grading system in New Zealand?

In New Zealand we are lucky to have many great trails built by skilled trail builders who make our tracks fun and flowing but safe at the same time. They work under specific guidelines managed by the New Zealand Transport Authority, also known as Waka Kotahi.

Like skiing the bike trail grading system is there to help you estimate what tracks are going to be within your ability and therefore make for a good day out. Here’s a summary to guide you…

Grade 1: Easy, suitable for children and beginners
Grade 2: Easy and fun with gentle slopes and some basic trail features
Grade 3: Intermediate skills required, some steep slopes and exposed roots and small rollable drops
Grade 4: Advanced, some challenging sections including steep sections and some exposure to steep edges, high skill required
Grade 5: Extremely technically, challenging sections that are unavoidable. Drops and combinations of challenging camber and roots. Expert skill needed
Grade 6: Extreme downhill / freeride trails. Expert skills required

This page from the official NZ Cycle Trails website gives the best idea of what grade might best suit you:

…. and here is the long story from NZTA/Waka Kotahi– a detailed breakdown of exactly what each grade level means:

Our Rides

Most of Track and Trails‘ organised rides are grade 2, described on NZ Cycle Trails as:

Suitable for most riders including beginners, occasional cyclists and families with limited cycling experience. A multi-geared bike with medium to wide knobbly tyre is recommended, such as a comfort bike, touring bike or mountain bike. E-bikes are also suitable as long as they are ridden appropriately and have sufficient battery capacity. Off-road trails are usually wide and smooth (firm gravel or sealed), with some gentle climbs. These trails are predictable, i.e. have no nasty surprises. On-road sections of Great Rides generally follow quiet roads with little traffic.


Click to download the full-page PDF

The grading system should be seen as a guide and not the gospel. Trails change over time with repeated use by cyclists and wet weather. Some of the higher grades require specific bikes. For example, once you get to grades 4, 5 and 6 you’re starting to look at bikes that are really only designed for downhill with “slack” geometry, dual suspension and a lot of travel in the suspension.

Generally speaking, grades 1 and 2 are fine for a range of bikes and beginner riders. By grade 3 you are starting to need some riding techniques. Grade 4 and above indicates a specialised bike and a lot of experience and even extra protective clothing.

Note that a trail could be graded 4 when it is an easy grade 3 if it is isolated and out of communications range.

Other Resources

This Peddle On podcast discusses the grading system in more detail: https://www.spreaker.com/user/pedalonpodcast/simon-noble

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