Motorcycle Non-Paved Road Rating System

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by Trail Boss, Jul 7, 2007.

  1. Trail Boss

    Trail Boss World's fastest slowrider

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    Dual sport & adventure riders,

    It occurs to me that it would be useful to have an agreed upon rating system for rating the difficulty of non-paved roads, similar to the rating system used by 4x4ers. I've never seen or heard of such a rating for motorcycle travel so I took the ratings 4x4ers use and modified them for adventure/dual sport motorcycle travel. Below is my initial attempt at classifying non-paved roads.

    What suggestions do you have for modifying this system? Are 4 classes enough? Are the descriptions of the 4 classes adequate?

    (By the way, this rating system intentionally does not include trails / single track.)


    Motorcycle Non-Paved Road Rating System​


    The following rating system is for establishing the relative difficulty of non-paved roads for travel by adventure and dual sport motorcycles.

    Class 1: Improved dirt, gravel, etc. Passable by any motorcycle capable of off-pavement travel.

    Examples of class 1 roads include:
    • Old Maverick Road, Big Bend National Park, Texas
    • Salt Branch Road, Mason County, Texas
    • Old Junction Road, Kimble County, Texas
    • CR 350 (best DS road outside of Big Bend), Edwards County, Texas
    • Hackberry Road, Real County, Texas

    Class 2: Poorly maintained dirt, gravel, etc. Rocks, sand, mud holes, ruts, inclines, water crossings, or other similar obstacles make this road difficult for larger, heavier adventure motorcycles and requires some rough terrain riding skills.

    Example of class 2 roads include:
    • Road to Batopilas, Copper Canyon, Mexico
    • Northern end of Pinto Canyon Road, Big Bend region, Texas
    • River Road, Big Bend National Park, Texas
    • Sandy Creek Road, Llano County, Texas
    • Bullhead Road (connects RR3235 to RR 2631), Real County, Texas

    Class 3: Rugged, unmaintained dirt, gravel, etc. roads. Significant obstacles such as moderate sized rocks, deep sand, deep or long mud sections, deep & wide water crossings, and/or steep inclines with loose terrain & tentative traction make this road/trail extremely difficult for large adventure bikes and very challenging for medium dual sport motorcycles such as 650cc thumpers. Advanced rough terrain / off-road riding skills advised.

    Examples of class 3 roads include:
    • Middle section of Kent Creek Ranch road, Real County, Texas

    Class 4: Extremely rugged road that contains highly challenging obstacles such as steep drop-offs, deep & fast moving water crossings, very steep inclines with loose surface, boulders, deep & long mud sections, downed trees completely blocking the road, or deep & long sand sections. Generally not passable by large adventure bikes, extremely difficult for medium dual sport motorcycles such as 650cc thumpers, and very challenging for smaller dual sport / trail bikes. Should be attempted only by those with significant rough terrain / off-road riding skills and experience.
    #1
  2. Spacerat

    Spacerat I worry about my apathy.

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    You're that guy in the office that has to label all the pizza boxes before anyone can eat, aren't you?
    #2
  3. Trail Boss

    Trail Boss World's fastest slowrider

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    People in your office label pizza boxes before they eat? I've never heard of that. It's sure odd.

    Let me guess, you don't distinguish between freeways, primary roads, straight roads, twisty roads, secondary roads, etc. - all paved roads are exactly the same to you.
    #3
  4. eskimo

    eskimo gunga-galunga

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    Good idea as any information on what lies ahead is userful. But I often disagree with trail ratings with labels more complex than "easy", "moderate" and "difficult".
    #4
  5. Trail Boss

    Trail Boss World's fastest slowrider

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    I considered an "easy, moderate, hard" rating, but decidede against it because, IMO, it was too biased toward using skill level as the criteria. For example, what is moderate for me may be easy for you. The class system rates roads based on their condition, not the skill level of any particular rider or group of riders. While the class system is far from perfect & does include verbage as to skill level, I figured that primarily basing the rating on the condition of a road would be easier & more accurate than rating the difficulty of a road in relation to someone's skills. Just my .02
    #5
  6. frtzl

    frtzl Mors longa, vita brevis

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    Big Wall climbers use a variety of rating systems, but there's a semi-official variation called the Casual Rating System:

    NBD: No big deal
    NTB: Not too bad
    PDH: Pretty darn hard
    DFU: Don't fuck up

    (courtesy Jim "Bird" Bridwell)

    This pretty well slices through the BS of numeric ratings, however it does make expectations of both parties to the conversation. If a noob asks a crusty old salt, "So... what's that route like?" the answer "Not too bad" may still get the noob into trouble.

    The shortest version is simply to refer to something as "casual." This is of course an adjective that can only be applied after the wounds have healed, the bike is out of the shop, and the shakes have subsided.

    "Dude, I hear you ran Suicide Gulch! You might be the first to survive. What's it like?"

    "Casual."

    F
    #6
  7. USMCG_Spyder

    USMCG_Spyder RPOC pilot

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    This subject is highly subjective...



    or something :lol3

    Richard, you have no Class 4 roads listed...? :augie
    #7
  8. Trail Boss

    Trail Boss World's fastest slowrider

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    They are out there, but I don't have any personal experience with any Class 4 roads so I didn't list any.
    #8
  9. BeachBusker

    BeachBusker R.I.P. George

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    The best part about riding dirt roads is that the terrain changes faster than the maps do. A snow covered Colorado mountain pass will relain impassable until a certain point in time. Is this one labeled NFW (no friggin' way) or NTB?

    The most fun about running the Dempster Highway were the weather reports which said 10% chance of rain. The translation is NBD with a couple of DFU sections and a 10% chance of NFW.

    Dirt roads in Mexico get maintained occasionally. But I like to ask if Juan Valdez made it thru with his family in their Nissan Sentra. This means you are not going to spend the day on a goat trail.:grinner

    As for Class 4: Lizzard Head Trail near Telluride CO would definately qualify. The rock slide with a 6" foot path made it a big DFU in June. Wait one month when the USDA Forrest Service cleans it up and you get a NBD.
    #9
  10. Moving Pictures

    Moving Pictures Sir Loin of Biff

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    Do you really think so?
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  11. VFR_firefly

    VFR_firefly Buh Bye!

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    "Road"

    Anything that can be called a "road" is easy on a bike. Maybe a few river or water crossing that might be challenging to a few less-experienced riders.

    Anything that can be traversed by a conventional 4-wheeled vehicle is duck soup for a motorcycle. I've ridden many "jeep trails" and even their worst-rated trails for difficulty are nothing on any dual-sport motorcycle. I've ridden the Colorado rockies on my XR650L and the "roads" they label as very difficult are nothing for a bike although I sure as hell wouldn't drive MY jeep down them.

    It isn't until the roads get VERY muddy that things get tough but a smart and experienced rider knows how to not get stuck and how NOT to make it worse when you do get stuck (don't dig yourself down to the 2nd or 3rd level of Hades before you pull in the clutch and get off)

    Ride a few single-tracks that a mule would balk at traversing and then you will see what "tough" is.
    #11
  12. Trail Boss

    Trail Boss World's fastest slowrider

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    There is a great ride report in the dual sport section of Two Wheeled Texans about a recent multi-day trip 3 guys took to Arizona. One was on a KLR, one a DR, and one a KTM. They encountered some class 3 roads and 1 class 4 water crossing. The relevance of that report to this discussion is they discuss the difficulty of the various roads in relation to the capabilities of each of their bikes. It is a long thread but worth reading, especially in light of our discussion of rating roads. Here's the link:

    http://www.twtex.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18205
    #12
  13. Disquisitive Dave

    Disquisitive Dave Not so wise fool

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    I think a rating system should not use phrases that include perception of difficulty. Example: "difficult for larger, heavier adventure motorcycles" completely depends on a rider's perception, and is therefore worthless. What's hard for me, might be a snooze for you.

    Ratings should focus on what the road is. Things like size and frequency of boulders or holes. Firmness of surface, or variability due to presence of water. Angle of inclines. Duration of said hazards. etc.

    If you want to relate the terrain to the bike, a minimum clearance could be recommended. Perhaps others factors such as recommended gearing... but that could get easy to fowl up and confuse people.
    #13
  14. kdxkawboy

    kdxkawboy Mr. NVKLRGirl

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    I kind of like the rating system that you find at most any ski resort:

    Green Circle: Basic beginner stuff, groomed to perfection
    Blue Square: Now we are starting to get interesting, but something any broken in n00b should be able to negotiate
    Black Diamond: You need to be a master of the mountain to tread without fear
    Double Black Diamond: Now it is getting challenging
    #14
  15. htbyron

    htbyron n00b - now with a thumper

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    As a ski patroller, I notice the congruence of frtzl's casual rating system and the ski trail designators pointed out by kdxkawboy:

    Green: NBD
    Blue: NTB
    Black: PDH
    Double Diamond: DFU
    oh yea, and closed trail: NFW, unless you're patrol! :evil:deal
    #15
  16. Seth S

    Seth S Will _____ for _____

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    In Vermont and NH the state already classifies the roads. Class 1 and 2 and 3 roads are maintained while class 4 and 5 are not. Class 1 and 2 are typicaly paved while 3 is a dirt road. Class 4 is a trail and can very in condition. Class 5 is an old trail usualy so old that when you come out in someones back yard they are very surprised.
    #16
  17. Africa4Adventure

    Africa4Adventure Chaz

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    Hi,

    Based on this thread I got some great input and came up with this below. Can I ask you folk for comments and suggestions to improve it please?

    Road
    Condition
    Rating
    Meaning of Road Conditions Rating
    *
    Tar roads. Easy for both on-road and for off-road Adventure bikes. OK for all levels of motorbike rider capability.

    **
    Tar roads that are poorly maintained with pot holes, etc.; Or well maintained graded dirt & gravel road. Passable by any motorcycle capable of off-road travel, both large and small. OK for beginners and all levels of motorbike rider capability.

    ***
    Poorly maintained dirt, gravel, etc. Rocks, sand, mud holes, ruts, inclines, water crossings, or other similar obstacles make this road difficult for larger, heavier adventure motorcycles and requires some rough terrain riding skills. Challenging for beginners. Ok for intermediate and advanced levels of motorbike rider capability.

    ****
    Rugged, unmaintained dirt, gravel, etc. roads. Significant obstacles such as moderate sized rocks, deep sand, deep or long mud sections, deep & wide water crossings, and/or steep inclines with loose terrain & tentative traction make this road/trail extremely difficult for large adventure bikes and very challenging for medium dual sport motorcycles such as 650cc thumpers. Challenging in some places for intermediate riders. Advanced rough terrain / off-road riding skills advised.

    *****
    Soft sand; or slippery mud; or steep cliffs on narrow rocky and mountainous roads. Extremely rugged road that contains highly challenging obstacles such as steep drop-offs, sharp hairpin bends, deep & fast moving water crossings, very steep inclines with loose surface, boulders, deep & long mud sections, downed trees completely blocking the road, or deep & long sand sections. Generally not passable by large adventure bikes, extremely difficult for medium dual sport motorcycles such as 650cc thumpers, and very challenging for smaller dual sport / trail bikes. Should be attempted only by those with significant rough terrain / off-road riding skills and experience. Advanced riders, adrenaline junkies or madmen only!

    Traffic
    + to ++++ Add between one '+' and four '++++' plus signs for the amount of traffic for any of the above route segments for added difficulty.

    So any one segment of the route would have say *** and ++. Gives you the road condition and the traffic you can expect.

    Comments? :thumb :bluduh
    #17
  18. Grreatdog

    Grreatdog Long timer

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    Dual sport rides that I have been on class unpaved roads and trails the same way AMA classes enduro riders: AA, A, B and C. Works pretty well IMO. Everybody is warned not to attempt AA unless they have the bike, tires and skills for it. Riders on big adventure bikes are typically given "B" bailout routes to go around "A" sections and warned not to attempt "A" sections without decent tires and some skill.

    "AA" sections usually require a dual sport set up for actual offroad riding. There are technical sections that will break things on a bike not setup for it and single track trails. "A" sections are usually very rocky, muddy or sandy two track Jeep trails or easier single track. "B" sections are easier two track and unimproved dirt roads. So I guess "C" would be graded forest service dirt and gravel roads.
    #18
  19. lemieuxmc

    lemieuxmc Banned

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    Wow... a road with a class 4 river crossing! I would be scared of that in my kayak!

    Here is a useful guide for the new GS rider.

    Easy: Dirt road passable by a hot mom sipping a cup of Starbucks while driving a minivan full of 10 year old soccer players.

    Moderate: A dirt road passable by half a Rugby team in a rented Crown Victoria with 2 kegs of Molsons in the trunk at 50 mph.

    Difficult: Dirt road passable by your grandfather going 15 mph in his 1967 2wd pickup to reach a good fishing spot.

    Very Difficult: Dirt road passable by a Sportsmobile RV carrying the camera crew who will then videotape Ewan picking up his bike, commenting about how the road is so hard, and asking if goat ball soup is for dinner.

    Extremely Difficult: Dirt trail barely passable by a typical KLR rider.

    Extremely Difficult/Highly Dangerous: Trail where a KTM rider will shift down to fourth gear.

    Impossible: Typical spectator loop at an Observed Trials Event.
    #19
  20. Ceri JC

    Ceri JC UK GSer

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    Personally, I quite like Trail Boss' rating system. Anything more granular is a bit too subjective, anything less is too broad. The "size of the bike" guidance thing is fine too, IMO. I love big adventure bikes, but I accept that as it gets really challenging, you quickly hanker for a smaller outright dirt bike. A rating system like this, based on description of the road condition would be useful at the side of the track, maybe on a signpost where the road leaves the slab. In the case of a road with varied categories along its length, display the worst. Where there are forks in the road, put a sign on either branch.

    If I ask a rider (who knows my abilities) who has been through there recently, "will I get this bike through there" that's probably the best indicator I'm going to get. The luxury of that level of forewarning is pretty rare. Even then, really good riders often have a tendency to tell you "You'll be fine on that" because to them, it's easy. I don't even bother asking non-riders' opinion anymore. I remember asking a farmer if I was okay to go through his gated road, wrongly assuming that aside from asking permission, there was also the implied question, "will I be able to get through there on this bike?" He said "Sure, fine" and it turned out to be a rather challenging couple of miles on a sportsbike.
    :lol3
    #20