Traffic-free Cycling Route Guide Ratings Explained

Star-rated  traffic-free  cycle  routes

As you may have noticed, I started grading the route guides I publish, using a star grading system. This grading system is to give an indication of family-friendliness of a route, which is a grading that will also help new adult cyclists, as well as less confident adult cyclists. Some routes will be really nice to cycle, but won’t be family-friendly, and will therefore score quite low.

Updated rating system!

I updated the system I use to rate different routes, for several reasons. For starters, the very existence of a grading system is purely so you can make an instant informed decision about any given route. The original grading system is too inflexible, and an example of this is how hilly a route is.

Under the original system, an otherwise wonderful route would be downgraded simply for being hilly. The newer system seeks to address that, though it will take a long time before all routes are fully re-graded, using the new system.

New system: Categories


How hilly a route is will be indicated by a letter, prefixed to the star rating, and a number, as listed below:
A – Over 80% of the route has no more than a 1% gradient
B – Over 80% of the route has no more than a 2% gradient
C – Over 80% of the route has no more than a 4% gradient
D – Over 80% of the route has no more than a 6% gradient
E – Over 80% of the route has no more than an 8% gradient

Additionally, the number will indicate the steepest gradient along the route. For example, a route graded as A5 will mainly be flat, but will have at least one very steep incline.
1 – The steepest incline on the entire route is no more than 2%
2 – The steepest incline on the entire route is no more than 4%
3 – The steepest incline on the entire route is no more than 8%
4 – The steepest incline on the entire route is no more than 12%
5 – The steepest incline on the entire route exceeds 12%

See also  North Dorset Trailway Traffic-free Cycle Route

Surface Material

Graded from 5 stars, for routes with a sealed, all-weather surface, down to 1 star, for routes that are unsealed and often muddy

Surface quality

Graded from 5 stars for smooth routes, down to 1 star for very bumpy routes


Graded from 5 stars for routes without any barriers, down to 1 star, for routes littered with barriers, or routes with extremely tight barriers

Refreshment stops

The higher the star grading, the more options for refreshment stops there are


The higher the star grading, the more options for toilet stops there are


Routes with 5 stars are entirely traffic-free. Routes with 4 stars are 80% traffic-free, routes with 3 stars are 60% traffic-free, routes with 2 stars are 40% traffic-free, and routes with just 1 star are 20% traffic-free

Alongside busy roads

Routes with a 5 star grading aren’t near busy roads at all. Routes with 4 stars have a segment of up to 20% that are alongside, but not on, busy roads. Routes with 3 stars have 40% of the route alongside busy roads, routes with 2 stars have 60%, and finally, routes with a single star has over 80% alongside busy roads.

This grading is especially aimed at those cycling with kids, but also indicates how pleasant a route can feel.

Safety from traffic

5-star routes have no risk from car traffic at all. 4-star routes have a minor risk, such as crossing a busy road at a zebra or pelican crossing. 3-star routes have multiple road crossings, possible without a formal crossing point. 2-star routes include riding on roads shared with cars, for short segments, and 1-star routes include on-road segments shared with cars for extended sections.

See also  Par Beach Trail traffic-free cycle route

Social safety

5-star routes have plenty of people about, and plenty of places to stop for help. 4-star routes are less busy, and may have greater distances between points of help. 3-star routes can include quite isolated stretches. 2-star routes are isolated, while 1-star routes are isolated, and go through areas that will make you feel uncomfortable

Easy to follow

5-star routes are extremely clear, with the Monsal Trail being an example of this. 4-star routes are mostly easy to follow, without needing signs. 3-star routes mean you may need to rely on signage. 2-star routes have little to no signage and 1-star routes will require digital navigation of some sort.

Original Categories

There are five categories: Safety, Surface, Hilliness, Barriers and Refreshment Stops. How each is graded is explained further below. All grades vary from one star to five stars. With the exception of hilliness, a higher star rating means it’s better. There’s also an overall grading, which is calculated using the combined scores of all four categories.


The safety rating is based on primarily safety from traffic, and similar risks. It is a rating specifically with younger children in mind, so parents can make informed decisions themselves beforehand about cycling any given route. In addition to traffic, routes alongside rivers, or similar risks, will receive a lower safety grading.


The surface grading is determined by the quality of the surface, Smooth tar scores the highest, while deep, soft mud scores the lowest. Potholes, bumps caused by tree roots and general muddiness will all lower the score.


I like hills, and many other cyclists do, too. However, this grading system is designed to help people make informed decisions. I could either give flat routes a 1-star grading, to indicate they’re flat, or I could give them a 5-star grading. I opted for a system where 5 stars indicate a perfectly flat route, while 1 star indicates a very hilly route that’s likely to be unsuitable for especially younger children.

See also  Lincoln to Fledborough cycle route


This is an indication of what kind of barriers the route may have. A five-star rating means there are none, while a one-star rating means the route is saturated with the dreaded A-frame barriers. I also take into consideration chicane barriers, bollards and gates, as well as steps. Routes with a rating of 3 stars or less will be impossible for most trike or cargo-bike riders to use.

Refreshment  Stops

The refreshment stops grading is not a restaurant grading. Instead, it’s an indication of how many refreshment stops there are along a route.

Overall  Grading

The overall grading is a simple mathematical calculation: I add the total number of stars a route has for each category, and divide that by five. It’s not a perfect system, but it is functional. You can help by adding comments to published route guides, letting me know if the (for example) the route surface has improved, or deteriorated, or similar changes.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.