It seems some folks have questions about the singletracks trail difficulty ratings and since not everyone is reading the daily blog (hint, hint) I thought I’d repost our thoughts on the rating system here for the forum regulars and anyone else who happens to be reading. Here’s a sample trail review from last week:
Alright, I am throwing a flag on the rating system on this entire site. Not sure if it is based on user averages or there is some mastermind in an IT office but here’s the deal. Any ride in excess of 30 miles by default is not intermediate! Especially at elevation. Yes, the trail is not too challenging for experienced riders (I do this in about 3 hours) but dude c’mon! If you looked at this site being relatively new and said "oh hey, Monarch Crest is just a blue…I’m a blue let’s go" you’d be f’d.
The ratings are indeed averages of singletracks user reviews and they’re loosely based on the IMBA Trail Difficulty Rating System. The whole point of the system is to rate the technical difficulty of a trail while ignoring aerobic and physical difficulty. Why ignore physical difficulty? Simple – because this info is already captured in the trail length and elevation gain data presented with most of our trail listings.
So yep, it’s possible for a trail to be 50 miles long AND a beginner trail. If you’re only comfortable riding trails with few technical features but you can’t ride 50 miles because you’re not in shape for it, then you’ll want to steer clear of 50 mile long trails (or plan on cutting your ride short). Ditto for elevation gain – I’ve seen plenty of road climbs that go on for thousands of feet of elevation gain that give even well conditioned athletes a serious challenge. But as far as technical difficulty goes a road is a white circle on the IMBA scale.
Trail difficulty has two components and it’s important to understand both sides of the equation before picking a suitable trail ride. Be sure to take into account both technical difficulty AND length + elevation gain the next time you attempt an unfamiliar trail.
I suppose that one’s own aerobic ability and general fitness must be taken into account somehow (meaning that each trail rating will differ at least slightly according to the rider). I like the trail rating being based on what one will run into, length, grade, obstacles etc… but some folks are really good climbers, while others fly downhill w/o a care.