Trail Grades

The following descriptions explain the New Zealand Cycle Trail’s grading system for riders.

The NZCT’s grading system aligns with the approach taken by Mountain Biking New Zealand and the Department of Conservation. The grading system has also been adapted for on-road cycle touring routes that are part of the NZCT. Note that the NZCT does not include any Grade 6 (Extreme) trails.

For those involved in building cycle trails or assessing on-road cycle routes, the Cycle Trail Design Guide August 2012, 3rd edition [2.6 MB PDF] provides more detailed information on the gradient, surface, trail or shoulder width and other key features, to help you determine the grade assigned to off-road and on-road cycle trails.

1
Easiest

Trail Type:

Off-road trail surface is either firm gravel or sealed (e.g. concrete or asphalt) and is wide enough for 2 people to cycle side by side for most of the way.

On-road trails generally follow quiet roads with little traffic.

Suitable For:

Novice cyclists, families and others seeking a very easy cycling experience.

Any bike is suitable for riding Grade 1 cycle trails, including touring bikes, single speed bikes and children’s bikes.

Trails of this grade:

2
Easy

Trail Type:

Off-road trails are predictable, i.e. no suprises and mostly flat with some gentle climbs.

The surface is either firm gravel or sealed (e.g. concrete or asphalt).

The trail is wide enough for 2 people to cycle side by side at times and may include sections where cyclists will have to ride single file.

On-road trails generally follow quiet roads with little traffic.

Suitable For:

Beginners, occasional cyclists and families who have limited cycling experience.

A multi-geared bike with medium to wide tyres is recommended, such as a comfort bike, touring bike or mountain bike.

Trails of this grade:

3
Intermediate

Trail Type:

Off-road trails can be narrow and may include hill climbs, steep drop-offs and small river crossings. The trail surface is mostly firm, but may include muddy or loose sections. There may also be obstacles such as rocks or tree roots to avoid.

On-road trails have moderate traffic levels (up to 1000 vehicles per day) include hill climbs and possible gravel sections.

Suitable For:

Regular, experienced cyclists with a good level of fitness and over 12 years of age.

Children should be accompanied by an adult.

A mountain bike is recommended for off-road trails.

On-road trails that include sections of gravel will require knobbly tyres. Road racing tyres are not recommended.

Trails of this grade:

4
Advanced

Trail Type:

Off-road trails are narrow with steep climbs and unavoidable obstacles.

The trail surface includes firm and loose sections, with lots of rocks and tree roots. There will be poor traction in places and some walking may be required.

On-road trails have moderate vehicular traffic (2000+ vehicles per day) include hill climbs and possible gravel sections.

Suitable For:

Fit and experienced cyclists with good on-road and/or off-road skills, a high level of fitness and over 12 years of age.

Children should be accompanied by an adult.

A quality mountain bike is recommended for off-road trails.

On-road trails that include sections of gravel will require knobbly tyres. Road racing tyres are not recommended.

Trails of this grade:

5
Expert

Trail Type:

These trails are technically challenging.

Off-road trails include steep long climbs, precipitous descents, lots of rocks and dangerous drop-offs. The surface will be hugely varied and cyclists should expect rocks, roots and ruts.

There are likely to be river crossings, some of which may be dangerous after heavy rain. The trail will be barely wide enough to ride in some places and some walking is likely.

On-road trails have high traffic volumes (3000+ vehicles per day) with a limited shoulder for riding, hill climbs and possible gravel sections.

Suitable For:

For highly experienced cyclists with a excellent on-road and/or off-road skills and a high level of fitness.

Grade 5 trails are for those who relish technical challenges and are comfortable riding in traffic.

These trails can be both physically and mentally demanding and are not suitable for children under 12 years of age.

A quality mountain bike is essential for off-road trails. Full suspension is recommended.

On-road trails that include sections of gravel will require knobbly tyres (road racing tyres are not recommended).

Trails of this grade:

  • Waikato River Trails (the 5 km section from Arapuni south to Jones Landing)
    Note that there is an on-road alternative.