Time spent on a motorcycle can work in favor of skill development,
but time spent on a motorcycle does not define your skill level.
As a professional motorcycle trainer and adventure tour guide, Bret is regularly challenged to help adventure motorcycle riders rate their riding skills on various trails. He has seen riders who have traveled the world but retain very basic off-road skills. On the other hand, some riders brand new to the ADV world end up being very skilled with their motorcycle and move quickly to being an advanced rider.
There are two parts to this complex rating system. The first section discusses how to use this system and some of the assumptions that are made in taking into account the complexities of rating a person’s skill to the type of terrain they’re riding. The second section is a visual reference that explains what each terrain feature looks like. Within each terrain feature, a rider can be at the beginner level (rookie), intermediate (transitioning into that level), or proficient.
How to use this system
Note: This system is intended to assist ADV riders in identifying their ability to ride certain terrain features and rate their ability to ride different terrain features. Please use this guide with introspection and note that this guide is not intended to rate a particular trail, but intended to rate YOUR ability to ride a LOADED ADVENTURE BIKE through various classes of terrain features.
This rating system defines your riding skill as an adventure rider and not as a dirt bike or dual-sport rider. Therefore, the following assumptions are made:
You are a rookie if two or more of the following are true:
You are transitioning towards
Consider yourself proficient if:
There is always a transitional period as you increase your proficiency within each feature. We have all experienced a section of trail that was well beyond our skill level, but just because we made it through, does not mean we are proficient with that level of riding. If you are looking to increase proficiency with minimal damage to yourself or your bike, seek out professional motorcycle training.
To learn how to ride difficult to severe terrain WITH filled panniers, read how to become a weightless rider.
Adventure Skill Rating System
The novice level begins for most riders before they ever consider adventure riding. Gravel driveways, road construction with hardpacked gravel or dirt and well-maintained dirt/gravel roads is where this level starts. These types of terrain features are easily managed on a street motorcycle with street tires and do not require any specific off-road riding skills.
Photos of novice terrain
Class 2 / Basic Terrain
Basic terrain is the most common terrain for ADV riders of all levels. This terrain could easily be driven in a standard car. Basic ADV terrain typically consists of simple, predictable features with occasional challenges for traction, or obstacles that would require a rider to slow down before crossing.
Photos of basic terrain
Class 3 / Moderate Terrain
Moderate terrain is where proper training and off-road riding skills become important. Moderate terrain is often the most sought-out terrain by ADV riders when traveling. Seeking to become proficient at moderate terrain and reach the level of intermediate rider is a worthy goal. Moderate terrain is also where techniques such as standing and precise clutch control are required to reach a proficient status.
Photos of moderate terrain
Class 4 / Difficult Terrain
Now it’s time to really start having fun. Most routes only have short sections that are rated as difficult. This may not be an issue for a rider that is proficient in intermediate terrain, however if a route is consistently rated as difficult, that can contribute to significant fatigue causing errors in technique and/or judgment. Difficult terrain can be very dangerous for riders lacking proper riding gear (including motocross boots), riding skills or motorcycle setup. Difficult terrain may also be signed for high clearance or 4×4 vehicles.
Photos of difficult terrain
Class 5 / Severe Terrain
Because this ADV rider skill rating system assumes you will be riding a loaded ADV bike, it is unlikely for most riders to encounter severe terrain accidently. Many riders might encounter severe terrain during long trips but few riders will ever reach the level of proficient. An expert ADV rider is capable of riding comfortably, relaxed and unfazed on severe terrain that is impassable by unmodified, un-winched Jeep or trails intended for dirt bikes.