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In New Zealand bike routes and trail ratings apply to mountain bikes, rail-trail, and road bikes. They are officially graded from 1 to 6 - with 6 being the most difficult and requiring the highest level of skill and fitness. Knowing the trail rating system and what each level means will help you plan your next ride with more confidence – especially if you’re new to biking on the trails around the Southern Lakes.  

If you’re unsure about a trail or just want a recommendation of awesome trails to ride just drop into any of our stores at Queenstown, Wanaka, Te Anau, and Tekapo. We’re here to help. 

Grade 1 - Very Easy 


A flat, smooth, wide, off-road path. There could be occasional road crossings, but the trail will not share the road with 100 kph traffic unless the road has shoulders at least 2 metres wide. 

Who’s it for? 

You should be able to ride side by side, making a Grade 1 trail ideal for beginners and families riding with young children. 

Grade 2 - Easy 


There might be gentle climbs and narrow sections, but it will be mainly traffic-free. There could be occasional road crossings, but the trail will not share the road with 100 kph traffic unless the road has shoulders at least 2 metres wide. 

Who’s it for? 

Grade 2 is suitable for people with limited cycling experience and families with children. 

Grade 3 - Intermediate 


This trail can on or off-road and might have moderate hills. If it’s an off-road trail then you’ll need a mountain bike to handle some narrow and rocky sections. If it’s 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’. 

Who’s it for? 

Off-road some mountain biking skills may be needed and if it’s on-road some experience of riding in traffic will be needed. For both on-road and off-road Grade 3 trails you’ll need to be fit enough to tackle some moderate hills. 

Grade 4 - Advanced 


Grade 4 can be off-road or on-road. If off-road you’ll need a mountain bike (at least with front suspension) to negotiate narrow tracks, loose surfaces, 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 that see up to 5,000 vehicles per day will have 0.6m to 1m wide shoulders to ride on. You will also need to be prepared for hills up to several hundred metres high. 

Who’s it for? 

For off-road Grade 4 trails basic mountain biking skills are needed. On-road experience with riding around heavy traffic is strongly advised. With big hills in the mix you’ll require a good level of fitness. 

Grade 5 - Expert 


Grade 5 can be off-road or on-road. If the trail takes you off-road a quality, full-suspension mountain bike will help you handle the very rough surfaces you’ll encounter with rocks, roots, and deep ruts. There will be narrow sections where a fall could result in a serious injury. Some sections might unrideable and you’ll to need to either dismount and push or carry your bike. 

Who’s it for?  

On-road it’s a heavy traffic environment with little room to ride at the side of the road on the shoulder. You’ll need to be comfortable with trucks zooming past beside you at 100 kph. You might also be confronted with several steep hills with total climbing of over 1,000m a day. 

Off-road, then you’ll need a decent amount of mountain biking skills and experience will be needed, including the ability to judge what is unrideable. A high level of fitness is a given. 

Grade 6 - Extreme 


Grade 6 is hardcore! It can be off-road or on-road. Off-road tracks will be extremely steep, and possibly include large jumps, steep drops, very rough surfaces and/or significant sections where you might be walking or carrying your bike.

On-road there will be 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. 

Who’s it for? 

This grade requires well developed riding skills, and we wouldn’t advise it unless you have years of riding experience. 

Off-road trail might have jumps where an error of judgement might result in serious injury, or super steep sections that you would struggle to walk down. 

On-road you’ll need to able to ride on the hard left of the roadway without wobbling when vehicles pass closely at high speed – including big trucks. For both on-road and off-road Grade 6 routes you need to be very fit. 


Well, that is a brief rundown on the various grades of road and mountain bike tracks in New Zealand from 1-6. Most mountain bike trail systems have lots of variations of trails to suit most people. Get on it and have rip! Enjoy!

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