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In New Zealand, cycle routes are graded from 1 to 6, with 1 being ‘Very easy’ and 6 being ‘Extreme’.

Riders require three different skill sets, depending on the grade:

  • Fitness, depending on how steep and long the hills are
  • Traffic experience, depending on how many vehicles use a road, the traffic speed, and how much space there is for cyclists.
  • Technical riding skills, depending on how rough and wide an off-road trail is.

Off-road trails (ie, Great Rides) usually only require a certain level of fitness and a technical riding skills, whereas on-road cycle routes (ie, Heartland Rides) usually only require a certain level of fitness and experience riding with traffic. Urban cycle paths are both off-road and traffic free, and so neither traffic experience (except at road crossings) or technical riding skills are required, only some fitness for hills should they exist.

Great Rides(external link)
Heartland Rides(external link)

1 – Very easy

Main criteria Rider attributes

Flat, smooth, wide, off-road path.

May have occasional road crossings, but will not share the road with 100 kph traffic unless the road has shoulders of at least 2m width.

Suitable for beginners and families with young children.

People should be able to ride side by side.

2 – Easy

Main criteria Rider attributes

May have some gentle climbs, and narrow sections, but will largely be traffic-free.

May have some road crossings, but will not share the road with 100km/h traffic unless the road has shoulders of at least 2m width.

Suitable for people with limited cycling experience and families with children.

3 – Intermediate

Main criteria Rider attributes

Can be off-road or on-road.

If off-road then a mountain bike will be needed to negotiate some narrow and rocky sections.

If on-road then it is likely to be on quiet country roads with up to 1,000 vehicles a day. Any busier sections (up to 5,000 vehicles per day) will have around 1m–1.5m wide sealed ‘shoulders’.

Both on- and off-road cycle routes may have moderate hills.

If off-road, then some mountain biking skills may be needed.

If on-road then experience with traffic will be needed.

For both on-road and off-road, people will require fitness for riding moderate hills.

4 – Advanced

Main criteria Rider attributes

Can be off-road or on-road.

If off-road then a mountain bike with suspension will be needed to negotiate narrow, loose and rocky sections.

If on-road then it may be on a mix of country roads and highway sections with up to 1,000 vehicles a day. Any busier sections (up to 5,000 vehicles per day)  will have 0.6m to 1m wide ‘shoulders’.

Both on- and off-road cycle routes will have hills several hundred metres high.

If off-road, then some mountain biking skills may be needed.

If on-road then experience with traffic will be needed.

For both on-road and off-road, people will require good fitness for riding large hills.

5 – Expert

Main criteria Rider attributes

Can be off-road or on-road.

If off-road then a quality, full-suspension mountain bike will be needed to negotiate very route surfaces with rocks, roots, ruts. There will be narrow sections where a fall would likely result in serious injury. Some sections may unrideable.

If on-road then it is likely to have some sections with 1,000–2,000 vehicles a day and little or no shoulders space. Or sections with usable shoulder space (0.6m to 1m), but well over 2,000 vehicles a day.

Both on- and off-road cycle routes may have several steep hills with total climbing of over 1,000m a day.

If off-road, then considerable mountain biking skills and experience will be needed, including the ability to judge what is unrideable.

If on-road then experience with busy roads will be needed. Riders must be able to hold a straight line when passed by large trucks, and not be deterred by, high traffic volumes. Regular city cycle commuting experience will help.

For both on-road and off-road, people will likely require 2-3 months training in order to ride and enjoy large steep hills.

6 – Extreme

Main criteria Rider attributes

Can be off-road or on-road.

If off-road then the tracks will be extremely steep, possibly include large jumps, steep drops, very rough surfaces and/or considerable walking sections.

If on-road then it will include some sections with up to 5,000 vehicles a day and little or no road shoulder, or sections with 5,000 to 18,000 vehicles a day and shoulders from 0.6m to >1m wide.

Both on- and off-road cycle routes may have sections that are so steep they are barely rideable.

This grade requires exceptional skills and should not be undertaken without several years riding experience.

If off-road, then the track may involve ‘big air’ jumps where an error of judgement will result in serious injury. Or such steep sections that most people would struggle to walk down the track.

If on-road then experience commuting with hundreds of passing vehicles an hour will be needed. Riders must be able to ride to the hard left without wobbling when vehicles pass closely.

For both on-road and off-road, people will require fitness for riding (or walking) massive hills.

Note: for more information on grading criteria, refer to the New Zealand Cycle Trail Design Guide.

New Zealand Cycle Trail Design Guide [PDF, 4.3 MB]