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Even though I’m not a newbie, this is probably a newbie question. I’ve been mountain biking since before the internet was a thing and really only came across many of the examples of trail descriptions or trail feature/condition descriptions in the last few years as I started delving into buying a new bike beyond fit and suspension or hard tail. Prior to this it was basically rocky/rock gardens, smooth, rooty, wet, muddy, sandy, gravelly, steep, flat, easy, hard, overgrown, etc.

I know the round about meaning of the following terms, but not really the specifics and how to necessarily classify something as on instead of the other:
Loose over hard, loose, chunky, and all of the various internet terms that mean there are rocks that aren’t imbedded into the ground that can and will move when you ride over them. Is a gravelly corner on a dirt fire road considered loose over hard? Is a trail that seems to be nothing but broken pieces of rock (big gravel if you will) considered loose since it would be nearly impossible to dig through to the hard ground underneath via a tire or is that now chunky or still loose over hard because the hard is down there somewhere?

There seems to be a lot of these terms and for my riding it really doesn’t matter because I adapt to what is in front and under me, but as I start to travel with my bikes and read trail descriptions, it becomes somewhat confusing.

Then there are flow trails, all of which I’ve ridden that seem to have parts of them that can be described by the terms above, none of which are really flowly in my opinion.

It also appears that some trail systems are rated (blue, black,etc) based on totally different things, like elevation gain/loss, features, distance from trail head, etc. and often only in comparison to other trails within that particular network. The green trail on the next mountain is different level of difficulty than the one on this mountain.

Is there a good reference out there?
 

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Even though I'm not a newbie, this is probably a newbie question. I've been mountain biking since before the internet was a thing and really only came across many of the examples of trail descriptions or trail feature/condition descriptions in the last few years as I started delving into buying a new bike beyond fit and suspension or hard tail. Prior to this it was basically rocky/rock gardens, smooth, rooty, wet, muddy, sandy, gravelly, steep, flat, easy, hard, overgrown, etc.

I know the round about meaning of the following terms, but not really the specifics and how to necessarily classify something as on instead of the other:
Loose over hard, loose, chunky, and all of the various internet terms that mean there are rocks that aren't imbedded into the ground that can and will move when you ride over them. Is a gravelly corner on a dirt fire road considered loose over hard?

Yes. Any hard ground, with loose material on top of that.

Is a trail that seems to be nothing but broken pieces of rock (big gravel if you will) considered loose since it would be nearly impossible to dig through to the hard ground underneath via a tire

Yes, and usually people describe that kind of loose differently. Loose rock ( along with a description of how large the loose rocks are)

or is that now chunky or still loose over hard because the hard is down there somewhere?

Chunky usually means imbedded smaller or large, to very large rock, or rock ledges. Although, most will say ledgey to describe the latter.

There seems to be a lot of these terms and for my riding it really doesn't matter because I adapt to what is in front and under me, but as I start to travel with my bikes and read trail descriptions, it becomes somewhat confusing.

Then there are flow trails, all of which I've ridden that seem to have parts of them that can be described by the terms above, none of which are really flowly in my opinion.

It's subjective. Usually means it was designed and not just rough cut through existing game trail or whatever. The design is so that you can maintain momentum and speed and not suddenly come upon a feature that kills momentum.

It also appears that some trail systems are rated (blue, black,etc) based on totally different things, like elevation gain/loss, features, distance from trail head, etc. and often only in comparison to other trails within that particular network. The green trail on the next mountain is different level of difficulty than the one on this mountain.

This is a good observation. And, imho, just the way it is. So, be aware of it and compare each system to it's own reference point.

Is there a good reference out there?
 

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Even though I'm not a newbie, this is probably a newbie question. I've been mountain biking since before the internet was a thing and really only came across many of the examples of trail descriptions or trail feature/condition descriptions in the last few years as I started delving into buying a new bike beyond fit and suspension or hard tail. Prior to this it was basically rocky/rock gardens, smooth, rooty, wet, muddy, sandy, gravelly, steep, flat, easy, hard, overgrown, etc.

I know the round about meaning of the following terms, but not really the specifics and how to necessarily classify something as on instead of the other:
Loose over hard, loose, chunky, and all of the various internet terms that mean there are rocks that aren't imbedded into the ground that can and will move when you ride over them. Is a gravelly corner on a dirt fire road considered loose over hard? Is a trail that seems to be nothing but broken pieces of rock (big gravel if you will) considered loose since it would be nearly impossible to dig through to the hard ground underneath via a tire or is that now chunky or still loose over hard because the hard is down there somewhere?

There seems to be a lot of these terms and for my riding it really doesn't matter because I adapt to what is in front and under me, but as I start to travel with my bikes and read trail descriptions, it becomes somewhat confusing.

Then there are flow trails, all of which I've ridden that seem to have parts of them that can be described by the terms above, none of which are really flowly in my opinion.

It also appears that some trail systems are rated (blue, black,etc) based on totally different things, like elevation gain/loss, features, distance from trail head, etc. and often only in comparison to other trails within that particular network. The green trail on the next mountain is different level of difficulty than the one on this mountain.

Is there a good reference out there?
There's a lot of local usage variation in the various descriptors out there. and yeah, ratings vary. the trails in my area were originally rated decades ago by the USFS, according to the difficulty of HIKING on them. the old ratings translate roughly well to riding them on a mtb, but not always.

There have been attempts to sort of standardize the mtb trail rating symbols with actual measurements of trail characteristics, but most places implementing these aren't doing the measuring. the ratings are usually assigned more arbitrarily.

I frankly don't find too many of the overly fine descriptors very useful, because many of them can vary quite a lot based on the weather conditions. Where I live, the weather can vary quite a lot in just hours, which can change the characteristics of a trail substantially.

So I look for sure at the distance, climbing (and also the grade) and I try to get an idea of major characteristics (rocks, roots, hardpack, loamy, dry/wet) to expect. All the rest are things I expect to have to adapt to as I encounter them.
 

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I never understood "loose over hard". If it's loose, it's loose. I don't care what's underneath it. If it's not hard under the loose, isn't that just sand?

I agree with others. The descriptions out there are kind of dumb and arbitrary. On top of that, most areas have all different kinds of riding.
 

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Disgruntled Peccary
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The dust over crust is somewhat unique. It's kind of like riding in kitty litter.

Sand is different. Hit all three this morning. Along with baby heads
 

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I never understood "loose over hard". If it's loose, it's loose. I don't care what's underneath it. If it's not hard under the loose, isn't that just sand?

I agree with others. The descriptions out there are kind of dumb and arbitrary. On top of that, most areas have all different kinds of riding.
Eh, loose over hard is different than just loose. It is the worst condition for riding, IMO. On a lot of our popular trails, this is what happens during late June-August. They pack down tightly, after the spring rain, then the loose pebbles and baby heads gather on the tread. The underbase is still quite firm, but now you've got a layer of ball-bearings over the top. There are no tires that can successfully combat this. It is the same when there's loose gravel/pebbles/babyheads over solid rock. Terribly unpredictable.

Locally, we haven't had any significant rain all summer, so that hard base is now loosening up and getting soft, and there is actually decent traction again, surprisingly. It rides kind of like loam.

In any case, surface conditions vary with the weather and seasons, and shouldn't really be a part of trail rating systems -- those factors are just part of any mountain biking.

As for the original question, I find that trail ratings such as blue, black, and double black diamonds are largely useless in the U.S. They are almost always over-inflated to try to make the trails sound legit. Looking at my local Trailforks, there are 8 trails labeled as double black diamonds. None of them are even close.:) We don't have any sanctioned trails beyond black diamond, IMO, and most are blues or greens.

**If you go to British Columbia, a trail rated "blue" would be called a "Pro line" in the U.S. Not joking. Double blacks there are serious business.
 

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Disgruntled Peccary
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Blues, blacks and double blacks, etc, all seem to vary a lot regionally. (the past few years we haven't had enough rain for the surface conditions to vary all that much, then there's this year...)

The dust over crust is why I really prefer DHRs in front to a DHF, but now it's the assegai..
 

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**If you go to British Columbia, a trail rated "blue" would be called a "Pro line" in the U.S. Not joking. Double blacks there are serious business.
Truth! One of the steepest and loosest trails I've ever tried to ride was in Fernie. I ended up scampering back up to the entrance with my tail tucked between my legs and my binky in my mouth. Here's Remy Metailler on that trail showing how to do it properly:

"Mandatory air" and "high consequence" are the main descriptors that I watch out for. The rest I just address as I get to it.
 

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Truth! One of the steepest and loosest trails I've ever tried to ride was in Fernie. I ended up scampering back up to the entrance with my tail tucked between my legs and my binky in my mouth. Here's Remy Metailler on that trail showing how to do it properly:

"Mandatory air" and "high consequence" are the main descriptors that I watch out for. The rest I just address as I get to it.
Kodiak Carnage is a legit trail for sure. I rode it a couple times in sloppy mud conditions.???. I don't know if it's worse when muddy or ultra-dry like Remy's video.

Even that one though, I feel, is overrated by the bike park. It may qualify as a double black but not a "Pro line" as they rate it. I can see why they labeled it as such, however. I've ridden/stumbled/fallen down trails that are worse than that one. Usually, the nastiest trails are not on maps, Strava, or Trailforks.?

Edit: THIS is a Pro-line trail. I would like to try this one someday ("try" being the operative word); I just won't let the wifey read anything about it. ??
 

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I find difficulty ratings largely useless.

The mtb community could take a page out of rock climbing ratings and topos, instead of downhill skiing.
I find rock climbing grading the most disjointed and all over the map out of all the other sports. A 5.7-5.9 at Rumney Rocks, for example, would be a 5:10
-5:12 anywhere that I've ever climbed in Colorado. Most 5.7 to 5.9 in Colorado I would have no problem scrambling unaided. Where class 4-5 scrambling at let's say the Flat Irons versus the Adirondacks may as well be two completely different grading systems.

One thing I would say is that I find mountain biking grading consistent to a system or area.

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Kodiak Carnage is a legit trail for sure. I rode it a couple times in sloppy mud conditions.???. I don't know if it's worse when muddy or ultra-dry like Remy's video.

Even that one though, I feel, is overrated by the bike park. It may qualify as a double black but not a "Pro line" as they rate it. I can see why they labeled it as such, however. I've ridden/stumbled/fallen down trails that are worse than that one. Usually, the nastiest trails are not on maps, Strava, or Trailforks.?

Edit: THIS is a Pro-line trail. I would like to try this one someday ("try" being the operative word); I just won't let the wifey read anything about it. ??
Nice tree hop there in the middle of it all!
 

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I'd say "Loose over hard" is like marbles on a hardwood floor versus marbles on a shag carpet.

Part of the problem with trail ratings being wildly different is the person who is rating it. Got to look at the source. Most folks on this site would call an easy trail easy. But little Joey who has only ever rode rail trails and his mom who just bought a bike to spend time with him have a terrible time, then go on a site to rate it difficult. "I can't believe anyone could ride a bike over this stuff, I nearly died and this trail should be closed" type of comments.

That extrapolates to area wide rating tendencies. A city with their first and only singletrack and very few mtbr's is going to rate it as more difficult than that same trail in Pisgah or PNW.

All that to say the same thing Phantoj said. Go ride it yourself, either you'll go back or you won't.
 

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Then there are flow trails, all of which I've ridden that seem to have parts of them that can be described by the terms above, none of which are really flowly in my opinion.
"Flow trail" is a term that plagues me. To me, a flow trail has a lot of jumps, berms, dropoffs, and other features to carry speed and get you airborne. However, I know that a lot of people think of a "flow trail" as one that just simply meanders back and forth with minimal technical challenge. To me, that kind of trail is just a run of the mill trail.
 

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"Flow trail" is a term that plagues me. To me, a flow trail has a lot of jumps, berms, dropoffs, and other features to carry speed and get you airborne. However, I know that a lot of people think of a "flow trail" as one that just simply meanders back and forth with minimal technical challenge. To me, that kind of trail is just a run of the mill trail.
No, I'm onboard with your thinking. I'm just irritated when they turn a chunk trail into a flow trail. Then six months later and a bit older that "flow trail" suddenly becomes more comforting. ;)
 

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Around these parts “flow trails” = all possibly technical difficulties are removed and/or smoothed over. All corners are bermed, even in flat sections where there isn’t likely to be much speed. They’re a big “nope” in my book.
 

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Around these parts "flow trails" = all possibly technical difficulties are removed and/or smoothed over. All corners are bermed, even in flat sections where there isn't likely to be much speed. They're a big "nope" in my book.
Yep, the term is so open to interpretation. That's my beef with it. It can mean anything from flat, groomed, and unchallenging to big and scary with mandatory air and high consequence features.
 

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Flow trail to me simply indicates that it's machine built and usually has a mountain biker friendly pitch. Typically it's accompanied by berms, jumps, tables, good sight lines, and high speeds.

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