Trail Grades

To help you choose the right ride for your fitness and ability, all sections of New Zealand Cycle Trail are graded in accordance with the following system, also used by Mountain Biking New Zealand and the Department of Conservation.

Note the New Zealand Cycle Trail’s Great Rides and Heartland Rides do not include any Grade 5 (expert) or Grade 6 (extreme) trail.

We encourage you to know your limits, and choose a trail that’s suitable for all riders in your group. For more information read Riding Safely on the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

 

Grade 1 (Easiest)

grade 1

Suitable for novice riders, families and others seeking an easy, relaxing cycling experience. Most bikes are suitable, including touring bikes, hybrid bikes and children’s bikes. E-bikes are also suitable as long as they are ridden appropriately and have sufficient battery capacity.

Off-road trails are smooth (firm gravel or sealed), with only gentle climbs and generally wide enough for side-by-side riding. Many follow old rail trails. On-road sections of Great Rides generally follow quiet roads with little traffic.

 

Grade 2 (Easy)

grade 2

Suitable for most riders including beginners, occasional cyclists and families with limited cycling experience. A multi-geared bike with medium to wide knobbly tyres 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.

 

Grade 3 (Intermediate)

grade 3

Suitable for regular experienced cyclists with a good level of fitness and over 12 years old; children should be accompanied by an adult.

A mountain bike is recommended for off-road sections. E-mountain bikes are suitable provided they are ridden appropriately, have sufficient battery capacity, and the rider is capable of completing the trail in the event of a battery/power failure.

For on-road trails/sections on gravel roads, bikes with knobbly tyres are recommended. Road racing tyres are generally not suitable.

Off-road trails can be narrow and may include hills, steep drop-offs and small river crossings. Trail surfaces are mainly firm but may include muddy or loose sections, and obstacles such as rocks or tree roots.

On-road trails/sections may have moderate traffic levels (up to 1000 vehicles a day), and include hill climbs and gravel sections. Note: all Heartland Rides are grade 3 or above.

 

Grade 4 (Advanced)

grade 4

Suitable for fit, experienced cyclists with good off-road and/or on-road skills, a high level of fitness and over 12 years of age; children should be accompanied by an adult.

A quality, well-maintained mountain bike is recommended for off-road trails. E- bikes are not permitted on grade 4 off-road trails, therefore the responsibility for e-bike use remains with the individual.

For on-road trails/sections on gravel roads, bikes with knobbly tyres are recommended. Road racing tyres are generally not suitable.

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 is likely to be mud and poor traction in places, and some walking required.

On-road trails have moderate vehicular traffic (2000+ vehicles per day), plus significant hill climbs and possibly gravel sections.

 

Your guide to trail grades

grade wheel

 

Grade wheels are provided for each Great Ride on individual trail pages. They show the approximate split of grades across a trail. This example indicates that the trail is graded 25% Grade 1, 25% Grade 2, 25% Grade 3 and 25% Grade 4. Note that sometimes a mix of terrain means that a section of trail may range across two or even three grades.