So what’s this trail grading malarkey? Manmade trails are graded and often natural routes are given a grade as well. For manmade trails, you can usually find a sign at the start of the trail that explains the grading and ensures that you’re riding appropriate trails.
The grading system is essentially as follows: yellow, green, blue, red, black, terrifying.
Yellow: Not really mountain biking, these trails are typically very short, very mild, and intended for families.
Green: A rather variable grade. Usually considered family rides, they’re often on fire roads or forest tracks and usually have only a couple of mildly challenging hills. Brechfa forest has an excellent green-graded route on singletrack.
Blue: More challenging and longer. These routes typically have extended singletrack sections that incorporate simple jumps, berms and other gentle features that make the ride more interesting. Nevertheless, suitable for a wide range of people, perfect for bad mountain bikers, and possible to ride without your tyres leaving the ground.
Red: What I consider to be the general standard for manmade trails. Usually a satisfying length of ride, and generally a little more rough or natural than blue trails. They might have some bits of technical climbing that are a bit of a challenge for the bad mountain biker, and will include slightly more extreme features than blue trails – for example smallish drop offs (which can be ridden flat but might equally cause a faceplant if misjudged too badly) or extended rock gardens (such as on the Dragon’s Back trail in Coed y Brenin). Generally red trails are pitched to be an exciting, but largely rideable, challenge to the bad mountain biker.
Black: Somewhat beyond my ken. Harder than red trails, although some trails get black grading simply for being longer than typical red trails and therefore more of a physical challenge. Others have more difficult riding – typically larger features that can’t be avoided. Probably worth avoiding if you see yourself as a bad mountain biker, but the occasional foray into one might be rewarding.
Orange: Generally downhill runs, with a grading system all their own, but worth avoiding unless you have a great deal more skill than the average bad mountain biker, or a death wish. Expect serious drops and jumps, and all sorts of other stuff that I’d rather not think about. As a bad mountain biker, I’ve never attempted orange graded trails.