The EarthRider Trail Rating System

A work in progress, this rating system applies only to the unpaved sections of our rides. Any rating system by it’s nature is quite subjective. Different riders excel at different aspects of riding: What is easy for one rider may be nearly impossible for another, who in turn may be capable of other nifty riding tricks the original rider can only dream of. Furthermore, simply changing speed on a given section of trail can radically change how difficult it is to keep the metal bits from touching the ground. Weather alone has changed an R2 ride into an R8.

These ratings are for riding a certain terrain competently -- not for simply being able to "get through". For example: Recently wetted, compacted clay forms a thin, slick top layer that is extremely difficult to ride on. The dense drier clay below prevents knobbies from biting well, and the slippery top layer seems to repel rubber and attract handlebars. Roughly R8, a competent R2 rider can usually muddle through with feet down, or using other Jedi Adventure Rider tricks to be discussed elsewhere. The take-home lesson is, an Rx rider is one who can ride Rx, feet on the pegs, with consistency. The other take-home lesson is, Rx riders may well be able to find their way through R(x+3) or (x+4) terrain. In fact, it behooves any rider desiring to improve at riding to do just that, from time to time: An R3 rider who never rides R4 is unlikely to wake up one day and find they are a competent R4 rider!

Remember; EarthRider is primarily about skill-building. Riding classes are obvious learning opportunities. You are encouraged to treat day rides the same way: Certainly you should register for rides within your level of ability; they're fun! And, when you want to increase your level of ability, you should confidently sign up for day rides one or two levels above your ability knowing full well that such is expected and encouraged.

The R1-9 rating system is exemplified as follows:

BMW R1150GSIt is almost impossible to find an unpaved road of any
significant length without at least one R2+ section.
BMW F650Pavement... without the pavement.

Many backcountry roads are mostly R2 - but virtually no backcountry roads are exclusively R2!

BMW R100GSR1 with substantial loose surface material
or line restrictions.
BMW F650GS DakarR1 with mild inclines / curves.

Kawasaki Super Sherpa, Suzuki DR650Smooth single-track with minimal obstacles
and fairly open turns.
Suzuki DL650 V-Strom, BMW F800GSSlightly loose terrain with whoop-de-doos.

The road Jim is riding below is sustained rockiness for at least a mile or two. That isn't too common, but almost any backcountry road is going to have short R4 sections. They take the form of sloping corners with water ruts; steep inclines with loose soil; rockfall on the trail from the upslope side of the road-cut; gravel in sharp off-camber turns... or a myriad other forms. It is almost a guarantee that any given fire road will have at least a few sections of R3-R4 riding - or harder - which makes this a valuable level of riding ability! R4 terrain can look very intimidating to a novice, but given a little training and practice, it is well within most riders' ability.

KTM 950 AdventureSignificantly rocky terrain requiring at least
a modicum of concern for line selection.
BMW R1200GSA, Honda CRF230L

Narrow single-track with obstacles requiring
at least minimal course adjustment, or with
turns / inclines that are "somewhat"
steep / sharp (end of vid approaches R5).

R5 is a crucial level of ability. At this level, a rider can maneouver his / her bike around / through / over at least minor obstacles (R4), and -- most crucially -- can ride in sand. If 90% of the world's roads are unpaved, perhaps 75% of those unpaved roads are sandy. This can't be stressed enough: The ability to ride in sand makes vast unpaved riding options available to you -- especially here in southern California. Every burgeoning adventure rider would do well to make sand riding competency (dogpaddling is not the same as riding!) one of their primary goals.

Suzuki DRZ400, BMW R1200GSExtensive shallow sand with slight curves.
This level of ability makes a huge amount of terrain
available to you.
KTM 950 Adventure, Kawasaki KLX 650Narrow, slightly rough / curvy single-track
also requiring strict line control.

BMW R1200GSASix+ inches of snow on R2 or R3.
BMW R100, BMW R1200GSExtensive mid-depth sand / shallow but FINE
sand, with turns.

BMW R1200GSA, Honda XR650L, KTM 690 EnduroShort sections of steep terrain with obstacles both loose
& embeded, as well as curves & / or limited viable lines.
BMW Dakar, "Dak the Daring"Curving single-track with obstacles, steep enough
to warrant the addition of concrete pavers (without
the pavers, R8 or more).

KTM 690, BMW R1200GS
Clay-based mud often over hard-pack (dogpaddling it
may not be too hard; RIDING it is about R8).
KTM 950 AdventureCrossing trackless, obstacle-infested (but more or less flat)
wastes (rating decreases the more you get to use your feet).

Hark back to the introduction to this rating system above. Note that Tony, miracle-worker that he is, is not riding R9; he's "getting through". An R9 rider would run this entire section without putting a foot out, or perhaps with a quick unassisted toe-tap or two. Yes, even on a big adventure bike like Tony's.

KTM 950 Adventure

Riding R9 isn't something many riders want to do - at least, not on their adventure bikes! However, having the ability to at least work through such terrain is more valuable than one might think. As you begin to do more adventure riding, you will inevitably discover that dirt roads are like rock climbs; they usually have cruxes.

In rock climbing, the crux is the hardest move of the climb; it's where many climbers fall, and only the most skilled climbers manage the section and continue through the easier climbing beyond until they reach the top.

In our world, this can look like 70 beautiful miles of R4-5 riding, very remote, with very few escape routes to highways ... and with 200 yards of R7 rockiness at a saddle in the middle somewhere. Suddenly a brilliant 70 mile ride from point A to point B is a 35 mile dead end for anybody who can't at least muddle through R7. The Goler Wash approach to Death Valley is a poignant example of this common phenomenon.

An EarthRider axiom is; be a better rider than you need to be to ride the terrain you want to ride. Let the biggest challenge be the border-crossing paperwork; build & maintain the skills that allow the terrain to be the least of your worries.

There are short video clips of most of these ratings on the EarthRider FaceBook Page.

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Trail Ratings - R3

Basically well-graded. R1 plus a few turns & inclines, which is about R2. Then add some shallow ruts & small loose rocks...

Posted by EarthRider on Friday, April 6, 2012

R3 - From the Trail Ratings Videos playlist on the EarthRider FB page.