A modest proposal: Trail Rating System

Discussion in 'Trip Planning' started by neduro, May 25, 2008.

  1. neduro

    neduro Addict Super Moderator

    Jul 8, 2003
    Colorado Springs, CO
    I'm aware of that system, but don't find it very useful, for the following reasons.

    1) Many people don't know what A/AA is, having never been on anything that hard. Therefore, they are inclined to rate things up. This is potentially true of any rating system, but the better spelled out it is, the more likely to have consistent ratings.

    2) It doesn't take into account exposure and navigation issues.

    For example, a ride I'd like to do starts in Green River, Utah, and heads up to Rangely, CO. It has probably 6000 possible wrong turns, and no towns or gas down any of them, so you better get it right or have a 400 mile range. However, there is nothing more than B difficulty on your scale (but it obviously isn't a novice friendly route). I think it's important to differentiate since so many D/S type rides have this issue.

    3) It doesn't take into account the duration of difficulty (neither does TWN in the current form). Some rides I've seen with that rating had one spot that correctly bumped a ride from C to A, but were boring otherwise. It would be nice to differentiate, because a more novice rider might be willing to attempt a B route with a short A section they can get their buddies to help them through, vs. a route that's all A and they shouldn't be there.

    I like T and N, but I'm not sold on W (there's very few places you can't get a GS if you are willing to try hard enough), and I wish there was a proxy for time and/or sustained level of difficulty, to help with planning. I think F could be a note that follows rather than an abbreviation- like a 5.9 crack climb, vs. a 5.9 slab. :dunno

    So, a proposal:

    T as it stands
    S 1-3 where 1 = the same throughout (ie, a T4 from start to finish is T4S1, whereas an easyish ride with one tough spot in the middle is T4S3).
    N as it stands
    Feature note

    Rereading, that S thing needs some work, it's not clear as it stands. :dunno
  2. DR. Rock

    DR. Rock Part of the problem

    Aug 30, 2006
    NYfC, yff
    Great work on this issue. Sorry to post so late in the game. I was recently asked to give a lecture on scoring systems for anesthetic & surgical risks. It forced me to dig up a lot of historic and academic stuff on risk/difficulty scoring systems in all kinds of fields. Some observations:

    The more complex a scoring system, the more accurate it is, and the more likely it will never be routinely used.

    5-point scales (max) survive the test of time. -- think S-M-L-XL, A-B-C-D-F :wink:

    Scales using interval points that contain mnemonics survive better than those using arbitrary letters or numbers.

    Reference standards and guidelines, while not necessary, significantly improve the signal:noise ratio of rating systems.

    If any of you sail, you may be familiar with the Beaufort scale. It describes wind conditions on the open sea, and historically is one of the first and longest running rating systems out there.

    Some observations wrt DS trail rating:

    It would be neat to be able to communicate a whole bunch of information with a simple score... however, it's important to consider that some information will naturally and routinely be available in it's raw form to the potential rider of the trail/route in question. For instance, distance is best communicated as miles (or km). Of course 100miles of slab is different from 100mi of single-track, but the phrase 100miles communicates distance better than D=3.7/5. Likewise, rider attributes are best graded by the rider and not by the trail-rater... these are properties like big-bike small bike, skill level, experience. Other things are best understood by a quick glance at a map of the area... remoteness, for example... Finally, there are variables which change month to month or even hour to hour which will never be adequately factored into a score, like seasonal ice damage, water levels at crossings, and recent rain, current weather.

    Ultimately, a trail rating will be used to answer the the following question:

    Given the current conditions and my situation, is it reasonable for me to attempt this ride? :dunno

    Even before asking, the person contemplating the ride should know much of the following:

    The current weather and forecast
    The number in their party
    The mechanical skills of the group
    Their own riding skills (granted, usually inflated :flug)
    The size and condition of their bike
    The type and condition of tires they're running
    The fuel range of their bike
    The distance / time to rescue if needed
    The distance to the destination
    Their physical condition
    Their ability to bivouac if necessary
    Their ability to navigate the area using maps and/or GPS
    Their first-aid skills

    Just as the Beaufort scale doesn't specify the size of the boat, the experience of the crew, the presence of flotsam / jetsam, the distance to shore, etc,... I think the trail-rating scale should focus only on difficulty of terrain... Specifically the OFF-Pavement portion of the terrain... pavement is pavement, we just need to know the paved percentage of the total distance.

    I'm not sure that I would specify the nature of the difficulties... water crossings vs. deep sand vs. steep climbs... I mean difficult is difficult, and a novice or skilled rider will suffer more or less for any given obstacle. I also don't think it adds much to know if the difficult sections are at the beginning, middle,or end... I mean, it's good to know that, but like the locations of gas, food, water, bail-outs, hospitals, cell-phone service availability, etc, it's not something the trail-rating scale needs to communicate.

    I agree with Ned that the variability or better yet duration of varying difficulty levels should be communicated... probably best as a percentage-estimate.

    A proposal for Dual-sport Trail rating:

    Grade EX: Extreme. Challenging for...
    An Expert rider on a small bike with appropriate tires.
    Nearly impossible otherwise.

    Grade D: Difficult. Challenging for...
    An expert rider on a dirt-oriented big bike.
    An intermediate rider on a small bike.
    Not recommended for novice riders.
    Appropriate tires are strongly recommended.

    Grade M: Moderate. Challenging for...
    An expert rider on a big bike with street tires.
    An intermediate rider on a big bike with knobbies.
    An intermediate rider on a small bike with street tires.
    A novice rider on a small bike with knobbies.

    Grade EZ: Easy dirt. Challenging for...
    An intermediate rider on a big bike with street tires.
    A novice rider on a small bike with street tires.
    A novice rider on a big bike with knobbies.

    Grade G: Gravel and/or graded unpaved roads. Challenging for...
    A novice on a big bike with street tires.

    Grade P: Pavement. :puke2

    Usage examples:
    TN portion of the TAT: 600mi. 5%EZ, 10%G, 85%P
    Green River UT to Salina UT via the TAT: 150mi 10%D, 50%M, 30%EZ, 10%G, 15%P
    White Rim Trail: 102mi. 5%D, 65%M, 30%EZ
    2008 Pine Barrens 300: 300mi. 2%EX, 13%D, 50%M, 20%EZ, 10%G, 5%P
    Ophir pass: 4mi. M
    Hancock-Tomichi passes: 6mi. D (?)

    I intentionally did not specify what constitutes a "big" bike in terms of displacement or weight. For a small person, a 250 is small and a 650 is big, for a big person, a 400 is small, and a 950 is big... that's OK, 'cause we're grading the terrain only... everything else is just reference guidelines to facilitate inter-observer consistency.

    Longer rides should probably be split up into sections for grading... ie: the PB300 was a 2-day event, each day probably should be graded separately.

    Does this system work for y'all to clearly and accurately rate rides? Anyone want to grade a popular ride and see if it makes sense for the rest of us?
  3. scarysharkface

    scarysharkface Truffle

    Nov 22, 2005
    As a novice dirt rider, that system makes sense to me!

  4. advNZer?

    advNZer? Long timer

    Dec 31, 2008
    Wellington,New Zealand
    must recognise somehow that the weather has a two fold effect....any ride becomes much much more difficult(unless its all very well drained rocky stuff),and has an effect on the rider as well,,ie heat or cold...?
  5. kaia

    kaia team F5 ⌘R

    Aug 8, 2008
    silicon valley, ca
    this thread was mentioned in another thread, talking about the same concepts of trail ratings.

    Geek's Guide to Colorado.

    i know this is chiming in over a year since the thread died, but i think that it the idea has quite a bit of merit, and could be completed, assuming that it's still needed...

    between the TWN(F) system, and some of the others that were proposed (1-X, EZ-EX, Enduro, OHV/Ski Mountain, etc...) there seems to be a bit of consensus on what the rating system needs to contain, but some confusion / indecision on the actual verbage & how it ends up getting used.

    what about this: take the the top 5 rating systems, document them as the designer intended, and put it to a vote! set up a poll leave it up for a month, and whichever gets the most votes gets put in place as "the ADV rating system" then, said system would get posted (by an admin / mod) as a sticky in the ride reports forum, and ask people to link to the sticky when rating something so it'll get the most coverage.

    for example (obviously assuming the TWN system):

    my .02 on the whole discussion: i personally like a simplistic numeric scale, yet what dr.rock mentioned has merit also; including having it broken down in sections (Section1: EZ, Section2: H, Section3: M), or rating the overall percentage of the trail (5% E, 20% M, 75% H). the TWN suggestion is a bit vague to someone who doesn't take the time to read the "description" (just looking at them now, my brain still interprets the W as west, and N as north). yet a numeric system is understandable (to a point) to anyone, without going into the detail of things.

    is the overall goal to make a system that's super easy to understand, or to make one that fits all conditions? personally, i think it's something between the two... yet i don't have an answer.
  6. kaia

    kaia team F5 ⌘R

    Aug 8, 2008
    silicon valley, ca
    i love reviving old threads!

    something came up in a local discussion today that would lend itself nicely to a proposed rating system... a proposed system of "classifying" ADV-style bikes:

    from the history of this thread, one of the biggest things people had as a complaint why one system of rating a trail over another wouldn't work is that the bike itself isn't taken into account... but if you classified based on bike, and either gave separate ratings for each bike, or allowed the person reading your rating to interpolate... it might bring the system as a whole together.

    again, assuming the TWN system
    you could rate a trail like this:

    Terrain: 4 Width: 2 Navigation: 3
    Features: two shallow water crossings
    Bike Class: Adventure Bike
    Notes: Width:1, Terrain:3 for any smaller Bikes.​

    i still think an agreed-upon rating system would do wonders for this site. :deal
  7. bpg

    bpg Off Trail

    Dec 26, 2006
    Charlotte, NC (summer back home in western PA)
    This one would work best being as it's the most informative without being incomprehendable. You can add details to the end using real words if you feel its really necessary:

    "Class IIIb, muddy creek bottom, steep inclines & declines"
  8. Fiddlestix

    Fiddlestix Leapin' Lizard

    Nov 21, 2007
    Allen Park, Michigan
    IMHO, you shouldn't try to include what bike is appropriate or the skill of a rider that is needed. All of that is subjective. No other classification system that exists takes any of that into account. It should be the riders responsibility to know his or her own limits and skill level as well as those of his bike. Also, if you start taking the bike into consideration, after a year or so, the information for the trail will no longer be pertinent. Think of a bikes capabilities a few years ago, and compare that to bikes now. When I first started riding dirt bikes, 4 inches of travel was a LOT. Now, my mountain bike has more. A '75 Yamaha YZ 250 would have a harder time making a trail the 2011 KTM 350 sx-f would just fly down. I like the rating of terrain that bonedale presented, Class I - V and exposure a - c.

    Just my opinion though.. :freaky

  9. Aanarchy

    Aanarchy Long timer

    Jul 22, 2009
    Too bad this thread died - I'd love to see a more informative trail rating system take hold. If anyone is still interested, I'd like to offer a couple of observations.

    To those who think TWN or TSN are too complicated, and the system should be simple (E,M,D; 1,2,3,4; etc) - I disagree. The first rating system I was exposed to is the one here -

    After riding a bunch of roads/trails rated on this scale, I believe that there is too much variation in the classes to be of much use in helping me decide whether to ride the route, or which bike to use. On the other hand, T4, W2, N3 tells me a lot without learning a foreign language. The reference chart is pretty simple, and a bit of use will pretty much commit it to memory.

    Second, I like Ned's idea of replacing the W with S, for sustained. (Ned, it should be 1 = easy 3= hard). That designation communicates a lot about a trail.

    When I was climbing I never picked a route based solely on the rating: "5.9? Oh, yeah, let's do that!"

    Climbs always had some kind of beta to go with the rating, however sparse:

    Rating: 5.9, sustained crack.


    Rating: 5.9, mostly sustained 5.7 with one 5.9 overhang, difficult route finding.

    So either add a letter designation for the character of the route (mud, sand, rock etc) or leave that to a brief description. "Long stretches of deep sand", "Steep climbs with tall ledges".

    As for getting a system in place and accepted consider this Wiki entry for the YDS -

    The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) of grading routes was initially developed as the Sierra Club grading system in the 1930s to rate hikes and climbs in the Sierra Nevada range. The rock climbing portion was developed at Tahquitz Rock in southern California by members of the Rock Climbing Section of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club in the 1950s.<SUP> </SUP>It quickly spread to Canada and the rest of the Americas.

    And you know the Sierra Club did it by committee. I had always assumed the system came from the Yosemite pioneers of the '50s.

    With no organizational hierarchy to promulgate a system, how does one initiate its use? Maybe a few "elders" (Ned and fellow maniacs?) start a thread to gather ratings. They post their system, give the rating scale, then post up a bunch of their rides using it. Invite inmates to rate their own favorite trails accordingly. The first thing that will happen is your ratings of trails (using your chosen system) will be argued by others who have ridden the trails. They'll say "No way that's a T4, my noob buddy did it, it's T3 at best".

    The discussion gets started with your rating sytem embedded as the yardstick.

    Just a few thoughts.
  10. EnderTheX

    EnderTheX Dirt Rider

    Mar 14, 2009
    DFW Area, TX
    I like the idea of including a description with the ratings. I've been reading a few 4x4 books on trails in Colorado and Utah (mostly because I can't find motorcycle specific trail books) and most of them have a 1-10 difficulty rating and a couple pages of description with pictures.

    When I read a review I am looking for clues on how long the difficult areas are or specific obstacles like sand or rock terraces.
  11. tinpusher

    tinpusher Adventurer

    May 21, 2012
    Aldergrove, BC Canada
    neduro as the thread starter I'm curious what you decided on?
  12. LetItRoll

    LetItRoll ForwardAholic

    Jul 14, 2010
    North Central Idaho
    Agreed, good basic idea, looks like it was making some progress and some good ideas were floated around.
    I think it could only be good for the forum since route info is one of the biggest reasons many are here in the first place.
  13. thegraydog

    thegraydog 2 wheels X 6 ways

    Aug 29, 2004
    the Coconino
    I'm here because I listen intently if neduro is talking. :ear

    This five-year-old inconclusive discussion illuminates that this activity doesn't lend itself to codification.

    How do you codify riding through an afternoon in Southern Utah, getting tireder, watching the gas gauge and the storm off over the ridge, wondering whether ahead the road is solid, sugar, muck or missing after a flood? High water over a sand bottom not only drowns your bike, it gets deeper by the second as you stand on it!

    This can end various ways: uneventful ride, or bailout to pavement, or muddy bike, or long retrieve, or hospital time, or no bike recovered.

    Whichever way you choose, you get to think awhile about the alternate outcomes, if you chose well, if you were prepared for how it went or how it might have...

    Which bike, which tire, which partner, which day? I love this sport.