We often pick our rides based on the trails grade, that is, how hard or technical is it and is it suitable for our riders abilities.
There are a few different trail grading systems in use around the world, such as the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) system. But to keep things simple, we use the New Zealand Mountain Biking system for our ride reviews.
The grades and explanations are fairly simple, but note after rain the conditions can change. And, over time tracks surfaces can degrade. Here are the grades and the icons we use.
New Zealand Mountain Bike Trail Grading
Grade 1 – Easiest
Fairly flat, wide, smooth track or gravel road.
Grade 2 – Easy
Mostly flat with some gentle climbs on smooth track with easily avoidable obstacles such as rocks and potholes.
Grade 3 – Intermediate
Steep slopes and/or avoidable obstacles possibly on narrow track and/or with poor traction. There may be exposure at the track’s outside edge.
Grade 4 – Advanced
A mixture of long, steep climbs, narrow track, poor traction and obstacles that are difficult to avoid or jump over. Generally exposed at the track’s outside edge. Most riders will find some sections easier to walk.
Grade 5 – Expert
Technically challenging. Giant climbs, narrow track and numerous hazards including dangerous drop-offs, sharp corners and difficult obstacles. Expect walking and possibly bike carrying.
Grade 6 – Expert
Downhill/free ride specific tracks. Extremely steep sections with large drop-offs and other unavoidable obstacles. May include man-made structures and jumps.
PLEASE NOTE: While we use these trail grades in our reviews, the local trail managers may not. Please make sure you check official trail details and status and familiarise yourself first-hand. We will generally include a link to the official trail websites where we can.
We ride all sorts of different trails, some in mountain bike parks, some on New Zealand Cycle Trails some on Department of Conservation tracks. They all feature different signage and sometimes it can get a little confusing.
Now, I’m not going to teach you how to read a map here (Unless that is what you want? Let me know in the comments) but we can show you some of the trail markers and signage that you are likely to encounter, and what to watch out for on the trails.
Most bike parks will have a map board at the main entrance point to the park, these will usually have a link to a downloadable map, trail grades and trails, emergency info etc. I often take a photo if I’m heading into an unfamiliar park or download maps from Trailforks to their app on my phone.
Trails in bike parks are often placed at the start and end of each trail. The marker at the start will name the trail and any sponsors, identify the grade and give you the length and in some cases provide GPS coordinates in case of emergency. They will also let you know the direction of the trail or if it is a two-way trail.
Other markers in bike parks can include signage to indicate cell phone reception (Nice one HBMTBC) direction to other trails and more.
New Zealand Cycle Trails
Each New Zealand Cycle Trail has its own unique signage style, but typically they all have a main sign and map at the start of the main trail entry points. These will usually provide routes, distances, trail highlights and features you should look out for. The New Zealand Cycle Trail symbol is a good way to know you are looking at an official trail map or marker.
Along the the New Zealand Cycle Trails you will likely find great sign boards explaining trail features, history and other interesting info about the trails. We recommend you take you time and read them, they add to the overall experience and you may just learn something.
You will also find trail markers (often at 1km intervals) to help you follow the route with direction arrows, these are usually easy to spot and will typically follow a similar style all along the route. These help when navigating road sections, trail intersections etc keep an eye out and back track if you feel like you get lost.
Department of Conservation (DoC) Trails
DoC trails occasionally allow for mountain bikers to use the trail, these will be clearly marked at the trail head map board. These map boards will provide detailed information about the trail but as these trails are often remote, please check the trail condition and weather online and let someone know of your intentions before you ride these trails. . You should have a pretty good idea of your route before riding but maybe obtain a LINZ topo map from your local DoC office.
Checkout our 5 tips for navigating and staying safe out on the trail too.
DoC trails often have green trail signage and markers and these sometimes tell you how long and far (walking time) to the next point of interest but thats often about it.
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