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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I've ridden lots of trails in the past couple years where I disagreed with the ratings as shown on TrailForks. I don't know exactly how TrailForks comes up with their trail ratings, so should look into that. But I did review the "official" IMBA trail ratings and criteria.

Overall, the IMBA system isn't bad, but it doesn't allow for many circumstances you routinely find on trails.

EXAMPLE: on a blue trail, you encounter a series of steep, tight UPHILL switchbacks filled with rocks or roots that are 4-6" high-throughout the entire switchback. This is a black diamond scenario-as almost no true intermediate rider will be able to ride this. (If they can they aren't an intermediate rider-they're an expert.)

EXAMPLE: on a green trail, there is a sustained climb (gradient in the teens) for a half-mile or more. This is a very common blue scenario on many trails rated green. And green-level riders will not (for the most part) be in good enough shape to do a climb like that without walking.

EXAMPLE: many trails might be green or blue if ridden one way, but black if ridden the other (due to gnarly rock- and root-filled climbs or very long climbs). Yet the trail might still be rated only green or blue (with no indication that if someone rides the "wrong" way they're in for trouble).

I could easily think of plenty of other examples. My general point/suggestion is that the rating system needs more nuance. Perhaps a number system in addition to colors (like Blue 1, Blue 2, etc.) or maybe more trails should have combined ratings (like blue/black or green/blue). I also think the ratings should take into consideration the physical condition of the rated rider: most green-level riders aren't going to be able to hammer up long, rock-filled climbs. And most blue-level riders aren't going to be able to ride 20 miles on singletrack in a day. Yes, it's possible some might be able to-but I'm talking about the average rider at those levels.

I also think that trails should be rated according to their most difficult sections-not overall. (Because a quarter-mile of black trail can really make a blue ride miserable and piss people off.) Or (as I suggested above) the official rating should clearly be stated as "blue-black."

Why is this important? Because if (and yeah I know this is debatable) we want to grow the sport (and thereby gain more support for it from land management agencies), it's important to reduce the number of times beginner/intermediate riders get in over their heads and have a crappy ride. Better ratings can help with this!

Scott
 

· beater
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Trailforks ratings are set by the contributor or perhaps an administrator. There are three fields:
difficulty (green, blue, black, double black, proline),
climb difficulty (green, blue, black, double black) and
physical rating (easy, moderate, hard).

They provide some guidance on how to apply them, but it really comes down to the admin to make sure it’s consistent and appropriate.
 

· since 4/10/2009
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FWIW, the ratings are not "the IMBA system". IIRC, they were popularized by Whistler, and IMBA simply thought, "these are a great idea! let's promote wider adoption!" because they were better than what was used before.

honestly, I don't care what you do, people will never adopt a truly systematic and consistent approach to trail rating. People are NOT going to go out and measure every feature on the trail to determine if one feature pushes the trail rating to the next category. Splitting the ratings such as Trailforks does is pretty reasonable, as it separates fitness requirements from technical requirements (because they can absolutely be different).
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I agree it's not a huge deal. I get that just riding and learning is really the bottom line. My suggestion is mainly motivated by many rides in my MTB experience that warranted a "WTF?" over the rating. Generally, I think it's always better for a trail to be rated harder than it really is than the opposite (because when it's rated easier than it is, it means a worse experience for less-skilled or less-fit riders. If you're an expert rider, you might be bored on a blue trail you thought was harder (because it was rated black) but you won't have a BAD experience.

I don't know how open Trailforks is to having ratings changed? (I'll look into it.) I see a lot of trails on their map that have been ridden/reviewed by 1-2 riders. (Because they're out-of-the-way or not very popular.) I think like many things, ratings become better/more accurate the more people ride and rate them over time. (I tend not to trust one person's rating.)
 

· Disgruntled Peccary
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I honestly don't know why we want to "grow our sport" at this point.

Edit: Also, if someone can't ride a given section or trail feature, is there something wrong with getting off and walking??
It's pretty clear that many around here would like many more around here to stop riding, much less grow anything.

FWIW, I agree.. ain't nothing wrong with walking a feature. Even ones you clear regularly.

Oh, also trails can (and do) change rapidly with things like rain, fires, etc... Even if it was rated (using a non-subjective method) yesterday, it may be different today.
 

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This is really similar to east coast vs west coast skiing/boarding. People that do black diamonds on the East coast will come to the west coast and realize their blacks are blues here and their greens are the parking lot here.

I think ratings on trails are there to prevent yourself from getting in over your head on technical descending. If you have to walk a section because it is steeper than what you can ride that shouldn't be an issue but if you enter a blue trail and it has gap jumps with no bypass that is an issue. I find ratings on flat trails to be generally useless but ratings on descending trails to be much more on point. If I enter a trail and it has one large feature with no bypass that requires black experience it should be rated black.
 

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If you spent much time in planning/access discussions with land managers you would. We either need more riders or a greater percentage of engaged riders.
I've been involved in that process for over 20 years. I agree more engaged and educated riders are very important- not so much the sheer number of riders though. From what I've observed, the more riders there are, the more hostile other trail users have become.
 

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I always look at ratings only as localized case by case guides. If I visit an area, park, etc., and ride a blue, I then have an idea of how to gauge that areas other trails. I don't use that to compare between riding areas, regions, parks, etc. As already mentioned, one areas blue can be another's black or green, and so on.
 

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Ratings are just suggestions and are relative to that specific area or trail system so they should always be taken with a grain of salt and consideration for where you are riding. And it shouldn't replace your brain and trail awareness, i.e. whenever riding a trail for the first time, it's always best to get a feel for it before truly committing to lines.
 

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Get out and ride them, if you like the trail, ride it again and again, try it clockwise, counter-clockwise and pick which way you like best.
Ratings are for reference only, your results may vary.
 

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Of all the other ratings sports I've participated, including skiing, rock climbing, and ice climbing, none of them have been consistent. Of all of these, MTBing is the most meaningless. Section too steep? Walk it. You can almost always bail out fairly easily. Trails are usually fairly clear about their intentions early on. That's often not the case with the other sports I mentioned.
 

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The one area I do think inconsistent trail ratings become a genuine safety concern is high speed downhill only trails. If someone comes from an area where black diamond "experts only" jump lines means anyone can roll down them, that can cause issues when they (and their kids) travel somewhere with real jump lines. I've seen parents take their small children down blue rated trails where riders are hitting 30+ mph and gapping into berms.

Part of the issue is there's not even a clear definition of what constitutes a beginner, intermediate or expert rider. There are guys who've been riding 20 years who couldn't clear a 3ft gap. Some people think a green/beginner trail means a 4 year old who just learned to ride a bike the day before should be right at home. Most of the riders I see on the trails are what I would consider beginner or intermediate at best and have a poor understanding of basic techniques. I've wondered if having another classification between intermediate and beginner would help since most people don't want to view themselves as beginners even if that's where their skill level is.
 

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The one area I do think inconsistent trail ratings become a genuine safety concern is high speed downhill only trails. If someone comes from an area where black diamond "experts only" jump lines means anyone can roll down them, that can cause issues when they (and their kids) travel somewhere with real jump lines. I've seen parents take their small children down blue rated trails where riders are hitting 30+ mph and gapping into berms.

Part of the issue is there's not even a clear definition of what constitutes a beginner, intermediate or expert rider. There are guys who've been riding 20 years who couldn't clear a 3ft gap. Some people think a green/beginner trail means a 4 year old who just learned to ride a bike the day before should be right at home. Most of the riders I see on the trails are what I would consider beginner or intermediate at best and have a poor understanding of basic techniques. I've wondered if having another classification between intermediate and beginner would help since most people don't want to view themselves as beginners even if that's where their skill level is.
I agree with all this but more consistent ratings would likely do little at preventing wingnuts and their children from getting in over their head.

A lot of areas out here have a practice zone where you might see similar features in the trail from tame to commitment with consequences. For some reason this has been a good spot for parents and their children to mess around. You might have guys come flying in at 30 miles an hour to hit a bigger feature with a kid riding a strider on the other side of it while mommy looks on.

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· Formerly of Kent
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This is really similar to east coast vs west coast skiing/boarding. People that do black diamonds on the East coast will come to the west coast and realize their blacks are blues here and their greens are the parking lot here.
Probably the opposite, at least with mountain biking.

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