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Mountain BikingTrail Grades Guide

By Leanne Downs4 July 2019

If you are just getting started with Mountain Biking, then you should learn which trails are right for you. In this guide we explain the different types of MTB trail and what the different colour codes mean.


Green graded routes are low hazard routes that are suitable for complete novice cyclists and families including children of around 4 years plus to be able to ride unaided. These routes are also great for families carrying even younger children in trailers or specially designed bike seats. Green routes are also a good choice for people with disabilities that are using bikes that have been adapted. If a trail has been graded as green, it will normally have only very small climbs and descents under 50m and will normally be between 5km and 20km long. The surfaces of these trails are normally wide and quite smooth with little in the way of loose surfaces coverings. You can normally use a touring bike on these trails too.


Blue trails are a good choice for individuals and families who are reasonably fit with children over 10 years old who are confident riding solo. It is recommended that people using blue trails have some familiarity with trails and road riding before using a blue trail and you will need a more robust bike for these routes such as a mountain bike, hybrid or very sturdy touring bike. Blue routes have slightly higher climbs of up to 100m and steeper descents than green ones and some of these may require some walking. The surfaces are usually stony and the tracks slightly narrower than a green trail at less than 2m wide. On blue trails you will need to watch out for loose surfaces, potholes and roots that could cause problems to the rider. Some of these routes may also have sections where light traffic can be expected and can cover 10-20km.


Red trails are difficult trails for regular cyclists that have experience with blue trails and are more suitable for off-road mountain bikes. Spanning distances of up to 50km with climbs of up to 500m these routes require you to be fairly fit as they often include challenging technical sections along trails that are much narrower that easier coded routes. When riding along a red coded route you should be aware of your own skill limitations as if misjudged, could lead to fall or injury.


Black routes are trails which should only be attempted by experienced mountain bikers with high quality off-road bikes. As a rider attempting a black route you should be an expert in riding difficult trails and in dealing with technical challenges that include steep climbs up to 1000m and can cover distances of up to 100km. These routes are normally hazardous and you can expect to have the odd tumble along the way as you will potentially face drop-offs and single track widths with unstable surfaces.


At some centres you may notice orange routes are available. These are extreme trails that are often downhill with dirt jumps and free-ride areas that require you to be able to ‘jump’. You must have impressive technically ability and be an expert level rider to attempt an orange trail.

Forest Roads

Forest roads are not colour graded but are suitable for a wide range of fit cyclists and most types of bike. You may need basic map reading skills for routes not signposted and be prepared to meet other road users along the way, such as horse-riders, dog walkers and other vehicles. These routes often have some descents and climbs that should be no problem for most cyclists and you should also be aware of things like potholes and uneven loose surfaces.

Leanne Downs

About Leanne Downs

Leanne Downs is the content editor for Thryve and works as an outdoor writer, blogger and photographer. She loves hiking, hillwalking and wild camping.

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Mountain Biking