Our Cycle Trail Grading System explained

Wondering how challenging your cycle tour will be?


Our grading system makes it easy to see!

The great New Zealand outdoors offers a vast array of experiences for those keen to explore it via two wheels and pedal power!

Everything from relatively smooth, flat and relaxed trails that lean more to the picturesque than the physical – to more challenging terrain that calls for more advanced skills, as well as more lung power.

So where do our cycle tours sit within this range of experiences?



What will you experience on a Sidetracks Women cycle tour?


Firstly, we’re not about hitting trails at the extreme adrenaline end of the spectrum. But we do offer a choice of experiences ranging from the easy, requiring only a very moderate level of fitness, to sections requiring some off-road experience and a higher level of fitness.


To make it easy to see which tour will give you exactly what you’re looking for, we’ve developed a simple grading system (based on the grades used by AA and NZTA). It takes into account factors such as the trail surface (sealed or unsealed), degree of undulation (eg flat or hilly) and how much traffic you are likely to encounter.


As grading is often based on how much up-hill is involved, you might want to keep in mind these grades are made with standard bikes in mind.

Cycling on an Ebike will give you the tailwind and extra power you need, so that going uphill doesn’t feel hard at all.



These factors are reflected in the categories that underlie every Sidetracks Women cycling tour:


  • Grade 1 (Easiest) - Suitable for beginners.

Off-road trails are smooth (firm gravel or sealed), flat and wide enough for two people to cycle side by side.

On-road sections generally follow quiet roads with little traffic.


  • Grade 2 (Easy) - Suitable for occasional cyclists with limited off-road cycling experience.

Off-road trails generally have a smooth surface (firm gravel or sealed). They are mostly flat with some gentle climbs and generally wide enough for two people to cycle side by side.

On-road sections generally follow quiet roads with little traffic.


  • Grade 3 (Moderate) - Suitable for regular cyclists with a reasonable level of fitness and some off-road experience.

Off-road trails can be narrow and may include hills, steep drop-offs and small river crossings. Trail surfaces are mostly firm but may include muddy or loose sections, and obstacles such as rocks or tree roots might have to be navigated.

On-road sections may have moderate traffic levels (up to 1000 vehicles a day) and include hill climbs.


  • Grade 4 (Advanced) - Suitable for experienced cyclists with good off-road and on-road skills and a good level of fitness.

Off-road trails are narrow with steep climbs and unavoidable obstacles. Trail surfaces include firm and loose sections, with lots of rocks and tree roots. There is likely to be mud and poor traction in places.

On-road trails have moderate traffic levels (2000+ vehicles a day) and significant hill climbs.


  • Grade 5 (Expert) - Suitable for very experienced cyclists with excellent off-road skills and a high level of fitness.

These are usually off-road trails and are likely to be challenging with long, steep climbs, precipitous descents and dangerous drop-offs as well as rocks, roots, ruts and potentially hazardous river crossings.

Sometimes a mix of terrain means that a trail may range across two or even three grades. Our cycle tours are in the easy (grade 2) to moderate (grade 3) range, meaning that all climbs can easily be managed by people with a reasonable level of fitness.




Central Otago Gold

Cycling Grade: 2 (easy) to 3 (moderate)


The trail is mainly off-road easy grade (grade 2), with the Otago Rail Trail Section being a wide gravel path with minimal gradients. The width of the trail is mostly generous and can generally be ridden side by side. The Roxburgh Gorge section is classed as moderate (grade 3) as it is technically a bit more demanding and includes some steeper parts. The Clutha Gold Trail is a mix of grade 1/ easiest and grade 2/ easy.





West Coast Wilderness Trail

Cycling Grade: 2 (easy) to 3 (moderate)

Most of the trail is off-road easy grade (grade 2), with a gravel surface and gentle gradients. Some moderate grade for those sections that are on-road (grade 3). The width of the trail is generous and many parts of the trail can be ridden side by side.





Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail

Cycling Grade: 2 (easy) to 3 (moderate)

The trail has varied terrain with some steep sections, but an overall downhill gradient. The surface ranges from rugged tracks to tarseal. It is graded off-road easy (grade 2) with mainly gravel surface and gentle gradients to moderate (grade 3) for those steeper, more rugged and moderately technical sections.






It is important to keep in mind that weather conditions impact the difficulty of a trail. For example, a trail may be more difficult than described due to heavy rain or strong winds.




If still in doubt…


We do take regular breaks, and don't forget - a short walk is always an alternative to riding and also offers a great chance to enjoy the views!


Still unsure? Just give us a call (ph 020 4079 2839)

– it might save you a lot of time and worries!