Biking Safely on Multi-use Trails

Although riding on trails  eliminates the danger of sharing the road with motorized vehicles they present their own safety challenges – particularly multi-use trails. Bikers frequently stop without warning and walkers can step in front of you. The following tips can prevent an accident from happening.
Ø Ride single file on the right.
Ø Ride at a speed that allows sufficient time to react to unexpected actions by people in front of you.
Ø Warn people ahead of you that you are passing with a bell or a pleasant “on your left”.
Ø Use a mirror.
Ø If you have to stop, signal those behind you with a hand signal or call out “stopping”, then pull completely off the trail.
Ø Signal turns.
Ø Keeps your eyes on the trail surface watching for holes, bumps, branches, etc.
Ø Use lights at night for safety and to follow the law.
Ø Slow down for blind curves to allow sufficient stopping time.
Ø Always stop for road crossings, don’t trust that traffic will stop for you.
Ø Read and obey all trail, traffic, and safety signs. When on roadways all traffic signs apply the same to bikers as motorized vehicles.
Ø Be careful not to startle horses on shared or adjacent trails. Let them know in a quiet manner that you are there.
Ø Wear a helmet regardless of where you are biking. Helmets are required for all North Star rides.
Ø Always ride in a predictable manner.

Non-singletrack trail grades

Orange – extreme: downhill (DH) trails, dirt jumps and freeride areas
  • Bike parks are suitable for: riders aspiring to an elite level of technical ability; incorporates everything from full on downhill riding to ‘big air’ jumps.
  • Trail and surface types: severe constructed trails and/or natural features. All sections will be challenging. Includes extreme levels of exposure or risk. Jumping ability obligatory.
  • Gradients or technical trail features: will include a range of small, medium and large technical trail features, including downhill trails, freeride sections and mandatory jumps.
  • Suggested fitness level: a good standard of fitness is recommended but technical skills are more important.
Forest road and similar
  • Forest roads are suitable for: a wide range of cyclists. 
  • Bike required: most bikes and mountain bike hybrids are suitable
  • Skills needed: basic map reading will be helpful for roads which are not waymarked or signposted
  • Trail and surface types: relatively flat and wide. The trail surface might be loose, uneven or muddy at times. These roads might be also be used by vehicles and others including horse riders and dog walkers.
  • Gradients and technical trail features: gradients can be very variable and might include short, steep sections. Occasional potholes might be present. Routes might not be waymarked or signposted.
  • Suggested fitness level: a good standard of fitness can help.
Mountain biking is a potentially hazardous activity carrying a significant risk. It should only be undertaken with a full understanding of all inherent risks. These guidelines must always be used in conjunction with the exercise of your own experience, intuition and careful judgment.

Cross country single-track trail grades

Green grade – easy trails
  • Green grade trails are suitable for: beginners or novice cyclists.
  • Bike required: most bikes and mountain bike hybrids are suitable.
  • Skills needed: basic bike skills are required for this grade.
  • Trail and surface types: these will be relatively flat and wide. Trail surface might be loose, uneven or muddy at times. Might include short flowing singletrack-style sections. Some green routes can take trailers.
  • Gradients and technical trail features: climbs and descents are mostly shallow. No challenging features.
  • Suggested fitness level: suitable for most people in good health.
Blue grade – intermediate trails
  • Blue grade trails are suitable for: intermediate cyclists or mountain bikers with basic off-road riding skills.
  • Bike required: basic mountain bike or mountain bike hybrid.
  • Skills needed: basic off-road riding skills to cope with uneven surfaces and small obstacles.
  • Trail and surface types: as for ‘green’, plus specially constructed singletrack trails. Trail surface might include small obstacles of root and rock.
  • Gradients and technical trail features: most gradients are moderate but might include short steep sections. Includes small technical trail features (such as roots and rock).
  • Suggested fitness level: a good standard of fitness can help.
Red grade – difficult trails
  • Red grade trails are suitable for: proficient mountain bikers with good off-roading skills.
  • Bike required: quality off-road mountain bikes.
  • Skills needed: good off-roading skills and techniques to cope with technical trail features.
  • Trail and surface types: steeper and tougher, mostly singletrack with technical sections. Expect very variable surface types.
  • Gradients or technical trail features: a wide range of climbs and descents of a challenging nature will be present. Expect boardwalks, berms, large rocks, medium steps, drop-offs, cambers and water crossings.
  • Suggested fitness level: a higher level of fitness and stamina is required.
Black grade – severe trails
  • Black grade trails are suitable for: expert mountain bike users, used to physically demanding routes.
  • Bike required: a good quality off-road mountain bike is needed.
  • Skills needed: advanced level off-roading skills and technical ability.
  • Trail and surface types: as for ‘red’, but with an expectation of greater challenge and continuous difficulty. Can include any useable trail and might include exposed open hill sections.
  • Gradients or technical trail features: expect large, committing and unavoidable technical trail features. Sections will be challenging and variable. Might also have ‘downhill’ style sections.
  • Suggested fitness level: suitable for very active people used to prolonged effort.

Proper fit of a bicycle

1. Stand straddling the bike. Both feet should be flat on the ground

  • If you are fitting for a road bike there should be one inch of space between the top tube and your crotch
  • If you are fitting for a mountain bike there should be around three inches of space between the top tube and your crotch

2. Lift the front of the bike off the ground until it touches you. The space between the tire and the ground should be the same.

  • One inch of space for a road bike
  • Three inches of clearance for a mountain bike

3. Make sure that saddle is level with the ground

4 Position crankarms so they are in the 6:00 and 12:00 positions

5. You will need at least two partners for this exercise. Sit on the saddle, place your feet on the pedals and have your partners support you from the side to keep you from toppling over, Place your heels on the pedals

  • If your leg that is on the pedal at the 6:00 position is bent, then you need to raise the saddle
  • If you can’t reach the pedal with your heel without rocking yourself on the saddle, then the saddle must be lowered

6. Loosen seatpost clamp by flipping quick release lever on seatpost binder bolt.

  • Raise or lower seatpost in small increments until you have it positioned correctly
  • Tighten the binder bolt and make sure that the saddle points straight ahead.

7. While seated on saddle, lean over and grab the grips on the handlebars

  • Your waist should be bent forward at about a 45 degree angle
  • If you feel that you are “reaching” then you will need a bike with a shorter stem: Try to find a bike with the same frame size with a shorter stem
  • If you feel that you are crowded then you will need a bike with a longer stem: Try to find a bike with the same size frame but with a longer stem

Safety Equipment for Bikers

Many safety items can be improvised from other commonly carried objects in hiking or ski packs. Carrying these multi-use items can reduce pack weight and keep you prepared for many situations.
Ø Rigid stays in a backpack can be used as splints as can hiking or ski poles.
Ø Don’t leave home without duct tape. Carry it by wrapping it around a ski pole or around a small plastic bottle such as an empty pill bottle. Use the bottle to carry safety pins, needle and thread, etc. Duct tape can be used to tape splints to a victims body, tape a branch as a splint for a broken pole, tape a separated boot sole to the upper boot, or tape a boot to a broken ski or a broken binding.
Ø Pocket knife with an awl to make holes to tie things together.
Ø Parachute cord is almost as handy as duct tape. Use it to replace broken shoestrings or tie together components of a splint. If cord is used to tie a splint to an injured person, be sure it is properly padded to prevent cutting off circulation to the injured area.
Ø Closed-cell foam or self-inflating mattress can be used as a litter to carry an injured person, keep the person more comfortable, or insulate them from cold ground.
Ø Plastic cable ties are a fast and light-weight way to fasten items.
Ø Fluorescent flagging or surveyor’s tape can be used to mark your path if you need to leave an injured person to go for help. The tape will help you find your way back.
Ø Pencil and paper to draw a map, leave a note, or write instructions.
Ø A “Sam Splint” is a good item for longer and more isolated trips. The splint is a thin sheet of aluminum between two closed-cell pads. It can be bent to hold an arm or leg in any position creating a temporary cast. Place the blue side against the skin.
Ø Don’t forget the basics – toilet paper (or even more versatile – paper towels), plastic bags, weather proof matches and fire starter – wood shavings in wax work well or small pieces of  a Duraflame log.

Mountain biking trail grades

Trail grades are split between those for cross-country singletrack trails and those for extreme trails and forest roads.
This is to highlight that:
  • forest roads can be of variable difficulty and are not part of a progression on to green and blue level singletrack trails.
  • Similarly, orange-graded trails/features are not simply a progression on from singletrack grades.
  • Explanations for each of the gradings are given below the symbol tables.
Cross country single-track trail grades

These are a general indication of difficulty – there are easier and trickier options available within each grade.

Non-single-track trail grades