Mountain Biking Track Grading System

Copyright (C) 1995 The Kennett Bros

The present subjective system of grading mountain bike rides using the titles Beginner, Intermediate and Experienced can easily be misleading as these terms naturally apply to the rider and not the track. Many experienced riders cannot ride tracks listed as intermediate and often skilled beginner riders are able to ride intermediate and even experienced tracks.

To avoid confusion and be more descriptive, we are developing a comparative numerical grading system similar to those currently used in mountaineering and white water kayaking.

The new grading system consists of two parts:


The first number grades the overall difficulty of a ride, and takes into consideration several factors such as, track surface, length, number of tricky challenges, remoteness and navigational difficulty, risk, climatic extremes, slope and altitude gained in climbs.


The second number (which is in brackets) shows the technical difficulty of the hardest rideable section (or 'crux problem') of the ride. This section may be very short and can always be walked. It takes into account slope, track surface, complexity, minimum turning radius of corners, line of sight, length, potential fall height and risk of injury. Unquestionably unrideable obstacles such as swingbridges, fences, cliffs, marshlands, etc, are ignored here.

Grade 1

Flat, smooth, wide track or gravel road. Suitable for all beginners.


1- Ninety Mile Beach

1 Hutt Valley side of Rimutaka Incline

1+ Red Rocks, Baring Head

Grade 2

Gentle slopes (10 degrees maximum), some pot holes and rocks to avoid, 1-3m wide. Requires attention but possible by most beginners.


2- Karapoti Gorge, Makairo Track

2 Long Gully, full Rimutaka Incline

2+ Big Coast

Grade 3

Challenging riding with steep slopes and/or tricky obstacles, possibly narrow with drop-offs and tricky stream crossings, etc.

Requires riding experience for most. Previously rated for intermediate riders.


3- Karori Reservoirs, Rameka Track, Eastern Hutt Hills

3 Heaphy Track, Rimutaka Pylon Track

3+ Hawkins Hill to coast, Maungatapu Track

Grade 4

Steep slopes (10-20 degrees), loose track surface, many objects to jump, ride over or avoid. Probably easier to walk. Previously graded for Experienced riders.


4- up Dopers Hill, up the Tip Track

4 Karapoti Classic, Whakamarina

4+ Rock Garden, Haurangi Crossing

Grade 5

Very steep (up to 30 degrees), many large difficult obstacles, sharp turns, dangerous drop-offs, logs, rocks and/or slippery roots. Crashes very likely, definitely easier to walk. Rated as for experienced riders.


5- Nydia Bay

5 Waiotauru Valley

5+ Matemateonga, Croesus Track

Grade 6

Trials skills needed to clear many gnarly obstacles. High risk level. Only a handful of riders in NZ enjoy this grade, apart from bike 'n' hike enthusiasts.


6- Haast Paringa Cattle Track

6 Wiotauru Forks to Otaki Forks

6+ Expert Trials competitions

Combined: the two grades, overall and maximum will work together like this:

The Big Coast, Grade 2 (6)

The Tongariro Forest Crossing, Grade 3- (4)

Molesworth, Grade 2 (2)

Riverhead Forest, Grade 2+ (5-)

Bottle Lake Forest, Grade 1+ (2-)


We have graded the rides in Classic NZ Mountain Bike Rides from 1 to 6, however, this system is open ended and as riding skills and mountain bikes improve grade 7, then 8 may be added to the system.

The grade applies to the track during normal weather conditions. If it is, or has been recently, raining then the ride will be harder. Although rain makes little difference to gravelled track surfaces, on clay tracks the conditions can become treacherous and the grade go from a 2 to a 4 or 5.

The grade given will apply to a ride done in the direction of the write-up. If the direction makes a huge difference this will be mentioned in the write-up.

As different factors can add up to a rides difficulty someone who can handle a grade 4 ride on one type of track (say a clay track) may repeatedly wipe out on another grade 4 (say a rock track).

All grades apply to a rider travelling at an easy pace. Those who ride faster will be more challenged. Fitness is not taken into account as this is dependent on personal factors such as stamina, strength, attitude and skill.

One of the first things to be listed after the grade will be how much definite walking the ride involves (It could be useful to put a letter with the grade indicating this, e.g. 2 (W)).

Grade (W)

A section that cannot be ridden (e.g. follows a river, or crosses a cliff)

Example: 4 (W) Karapoti Classic (due to the Devils Staircase)

A ride can be graded by comparing it with other previously graded rides or using a mathematical formula which we are developing.

This system is being developed by the Kennett Bros in collaboration with the NZMBA and various MTB clubs around the country and will be used in the third edition of Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides. Please send any criticisms or suggestions to:

The Kennett Bros,

PO Box 11 310,