4.3 Bicycle Trails

Bicycle trail standards include both mountain bicycle and standard road bicycle routes. Mountain bike use is increasing in many provincial parks and has evolved into a day use and overnight destination recreation activity. Bicycle use has also increased around heavily used campgrounds and day use areas. Tourists now often carry mountain bikes on their recreational vehicles as part of their standard camping equipment. Casual cyclists have different needs from those pursuing the activity as a challenging recreational sport.

Trails that were previously used only by hikers, horses or both, are now in demand by mountain bikers. This has led to impacts on other users, the environment, and trail maintenance. Apply appropriate trail planning and design principles to help manage the effects of mountain biking.

The trail types for bicycles include both mountain and road bicycles, with Types III and IV limited to mountain bike use only. Difficulty ratings for mountain bike trails are usually classed as easiest, more difficult, and most difficult. These ratings may be applied to the Type III (easiest) and IV (more difficult and most difficult) trail types. See Table 3 on mountain bicycle trail design guidelines.

Type I

  • plan as paved two-way bicycle paths for smooth all weather riding,
  • design for road and mountain bikes, suitable for all types of users,
  • use asphalt or chip-seal coat surfacing,
  • provide 2.5m tread width, gradient maximum of 10% on hills, 5%-8% average gradient over length of the trail,
  • use Type I trails for groomed cross-country ski trails if criteria are met.

  • Intensive Recreation Zone
Type II
  • plan as surfaced two-way bicycle path,
  • design for road and mountain bikes, suitable for most users,
  • use crushed limestone with fines, well compacted gravel, or existing old roadbeds,
  • provide 2m tread width for two way traffic, 1m for one-way or mountain bike trails,
  • remove all trail obstacles,
  • do not exceed a gradient maximum of 10-15% on hills,
  • maintain a minimum 2.5m curve radius,
  • use Type II trails for groomed cross-country ski trails if criteria are met.

  • Intensive Recreation Zone
  • Natural Environment Zone
Type III
  • plan as unsurfaced one-way trail for mountain bicycles only, 10-20km,
  • plan for easiest or more difficult trail ratings where appropriate,
  • clear to 1-1.5m,
  • provide .5-.7 m tread width on native soil, for easiest trails,
  • provide .5-.7 m tread width on native soil for more difficult trails,
  • allow for maximum slopes to 10% over 30m on easiest trails, 22% over 45m on more difficult trails,
  • maintain a 2 m curve radius,
  • leave trail obstacles up to 10cm high, if appropriate,
  • consider using Type III trails for ski touring trails if criteria are met.

  • Natural Environment Zone
Type IV
  • plan as unsurfaced one-way trail mountain bicycle trail, 30-80 km,
  • plan for more difficult to most difficult trail ratings,
  • clear to 1m width,
  • provide .3-.5 m width tread on native soil, sometimes rough ride,
  • steep and challenging slopes, sometimes rough terrain,
  • limit maximum grade to 25% over 90m, and maximum sustained grade to 15%,
  • maintain a 1.2-1.5 m curve radius,
  • leave trail obstacles up to 30 cm high.

  • Natural Environment Zone
  • Wilderness Zone (in some circumstances)
Minimum design standards will allow for adequate function of the wail, and optimum design standards will provide the most efficient bikeway. Any standard between the two is acceptable, based on sound judgment. Select the appropriate standard based on anticipated use, cost, feasibility of construction and adaptability to the site.

Table 3: Design Standards for Road Bicycle Trails (from Kananaskis Country)
1-way / 2-way
vert./ width
Grades Curvature Cross-slope
1.1m / 2.5m 2.5m / 3.5m 8-10% / 46m by speed 5%
1.2m / 2.5m 3.0m / 4-5m 5% / 30m by speed 2%
Table 4: Design Guidelines for Mountain Bicycle Trails
(after Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club, Washington)
Easiest (Type I and II)
Curve radius
Max. sustained grade
Max. grade
Slope length
Tread width
Clearing width
Clearing height
Length of trip
2.4 m
30 m
60-90 cm
121 cm
2.4 m
8-24 km
none or up to 10 cm
(8 ft)

(100 ft)
(24-26 inches)
(48 inches)
(8 ft)
(5-15 miles)
(4 inches)

More Difficult (Type III and IV)
Curve radius
Max. sustained grade
Max. grade
Slope length
Tread width
Clearing width
Clearing height
Length of trip
1.8 m
30-60 cm
91 cm
2.4 m
24-50 km
20 cm
(6 ft)

(500-150 ft)
(12-24 inches)
(36 inches)
(8 ft)
(15-30 miles)
(8 inches)

Most Difficult (Type IV)
Curve radius
Max. sustained grade
Max. grade
Slope length
Tread width
Clearing width
Clearing height
Length of trip
1.2 m
91 m
30 cm
91 cm
1.8 m
50-80 km
30 cm
(4 ft)

(300 ft)
(12 inches)
(36 inches)
(6 ft)
(30-0 miles)
(12 inches

Plan the Trail for the User.

Different types of cyclists are:

  • Casual Day User/Family Cyclist
  • primarily interested in recreational cycling in easy to moderate terrain,
  • usually inexperienced riders, therefore lack of confidence,
  • bicycle short distance; usually no more than 8 or 10 miles at an outing,
  • wide age range of user.
Tourists (Travelling by Bicycle)
  • average speeds 15 - 20 mph with distances of 50 to over 100 miles per day not uncommon,
  • usually more experienced than the day-user and more willing to share the trail R.O.W. with other traffic if safety factor can be maintained,
  • very interested in topographic information, location of accommodation and services for an area,
  • may have special requirements for camping facilities other than bicycle security.
Mountain Bicyclists and Racers
  • most experienced rider of the three,
  • seek scenic and challenging routes if mountain biking,
  • day use or overnight trips,
  • may cycle long loop trails up to 60-80 km on a day use basis.
Layout and Length
  • Use any form of trail layout, but remember that many long distance mountain bike trails use linear layouts along old roads, easements along highways, power lines, or abandoned railway grades.

  • Plan curves to create a more interesting trail and avoid cutting large trees. Avoid sharp curves at the bottom of long or steep slopes. Use straight "run out" sections prior to sharp. Use curves to allow cyclists to reduce their speed. Ensure good visibility on slopes and curves.

  • Use additional loop or spur trails to increase the distance and provide a range of terrain conditions.

  • Trail loop lengths between 4 and 18 km are desirable. Most cyclists travel at an average speed of 18 km/hr on level ground with a range between 11 and 24 km/hr. Speed depends on terrain, wind, individual cyclist abilities.

  • Plan for half-day day trip trail lengths of 30-40 km for advanced cyclists, 24-30 km for intermediate users and 8-16 Jan for less experienced cyclists.

  • Plan for full day trail lengths of 65-80 km for advanced cyclists, 30-65 km for intermediates and 16-30 km for less experienced users.

  • Avoid routes through flood plains or other poorly drained areas. Avoid stream banks by at least 10 m. Direct water to ditches where trails follow drainage channels.

  • Avoid routes through ecologically sensitive areas such as marshes and open meadows. Use loops to provide alternate routes around wet areas in the spring or around sensitive wildlife areas in the fall.

  • Note local wind characteristics. Avoid wind tunnel effects and locate the trail out of heavy prevailing winds. Note the sun orientation related to specified trail route and avoid, when possible, long tangent sections into the sun's glare or use vegetation as a relief.

  • Locate the bicycle trail on well-drained, well-structured soils and terrain for construction and maintenance cost savings. Use existing service easements, abandoned rail or logging roads, etc.

  • Minimize auto/bike contact where possible, especially in heavy bike zones (i.e. campgrounds). Provide pull-off (bypass) zones for bikers.

  • Ensure adequate sight-lines when designing the route.
  • Use maximum sustained grades of 15% for more difficult trails and 2-10% on easy and moderate difficulty trails. Optimum grades for easy road bike trails range between 2% and 5%, with the maximum gradient for short (20m) uphill sections not exceeding 15 %.

  • Use a maximum grade for short pitches of 25 % over 90 m for the most difficult trails, 22% over 45 m for moderate difficulty trails and 10% over 30 m for easy trails.

  • Modify the design grades to match soil conditions. In areas with finer textured soils, reduce trail gradients to help reduce erosion.

  • Design long climbing turns in preference to switchbacks. If switchbacks are used, design the curve radius at a minimum of 2 metres. Design grades of 10% to 15% leading to and from the curve to discourage shortcutting. Use rock or log barriers for a distance of 6 to 10 metres back from the turning point.

  • For Type I and II trails, use proven turning radii and superelevation (sloping the curve inwards) on curves.
Table 5: Road Bicycle Radius Curvature
Design Speed

16 km/h
24 km/h
32 km/h
40 km/h
48 km/h

Radius (metres)


When trail widening is required on curves, it should be effected at the maximum point on the inside of the curve at a width of 1.2m. Curves which are widened generally require superelevation (in addition to the standard 2% drainage cross fall), as follows.

Table 6: Superelevation Curves
Super Elevate



when greater than 20m
when less than 20m


Less than 5%
Greater than 5%

Use standard stopping site distance tables:

Table 7: Stopping Site Distances
Stopping Site Distance in Metres

6 km/h
24 km/h
32 km/h
40 km/h
48 km/h







Trail Clearing and Tread

  • Remember that bicycle handlebars are about 60 cm wide and about 75-100 cm above the ground. Rider's elbows may extend beyond the handlebar width.

  • Clear a 3m right-of-way for two-way surfaced bicycle trails. Clear a minimum 2m right-of-way for surfaced one-way bicycle trails in day use areas or campgrounds. Use a clearing width of 1m for more challenging one way Type IV trails, and 1-2 m for easier Type III trails.

  • Clear to a height of 3.5 m on all types of road bicycle trails. Adjust the clearing height to allow for snow if the trails will be used for siding in winter.

  • Use a tread width of 30 cm for difficult mountain bike trails (Type IV), 30-60 cm for moderate difficulty trails and greater than 60 cm for easy one-way trails.

  • Use a 1.5 m minimum tread width for surfaced one-way bicycle trails (eg. Type II) and 2.5 m for surfaced two-way trails (Type I) One-way surfaced bikeways are not recommended for most installations since they don't allow for passing.

  • Increase the tread width by 15 cm on switchbacks or where side slopes exceed 60%.

  • Provide a shoulder of 80 - 100 cm wide beside the surfaced tread.

  • On paved Type I trails, apply a full depth asphalt surface of 100 mm on a 150 mm compacted gravel subgrade.

  • Modify catch basin grates or change their direction if they will trap bicycle tires.

  • Use pavement marking and/or striping to inform both the cyclists and the motorists as to their respective rights-of-way. Use changes in pavement or other surface texture to remind the cyclist of approaching obstacles.

  • Clear the trail surface of most obstacles, particularly on the easiest trails.
  • Use bridge decking with non-skid surfaces. Ensure that the trail surface and lip of the bridge decking are flush.

  • Design bridges with railings 60 cm wider than the trail tread to allow for the overhang of handlebars. In heavy use areas provide an extra 60 cm to allow cyclists to stop on bridges without blocking traffic. A typical bridge width would be 3.0 m for Type I trails.

  • Provide wheel stops on bridges without railings. Ensure wheel stops are 15 cm or less high to avoid hitting bike pedals. Do not locate bridges at the end of long or steep grades.

  • Avoid peeled log water-bars on bicycle trails. The top surface may be slick and dangerous to bicyclists.

    Consider a gentle drainage dip as an alternative, or only expose the log water-bar on the lower side of the trail.

  • Use steps on easy bike trails where grades exceed 10%. Build narrow paths or ramps on either side of the steps for users to wheel their bikes as they walk up or down. Provide landings on long climbs. Provide adequate warning signs and clear visibility to the steps, especially from the top approach.

  • Provide lockable bicycle racks at heavily visited facilities. Provide leaning posts or rails at viewpoints on the trail.
Design Notes
  • Consider camping facilities on long-distance trails. Consider terrain conditions, user ability and the number of interest points along the route to help decide on the best campsite locations.

  • Prohibit motorized access to bike trails. Mark and block all road crossings, both on the trail and on the road.

  • Provide access to drinking water at least every 10 km.

  • Consider the potential capabilities of handicapped cyclists (i.e. tandem/tricycle rentals). While physical handicaps may limit user capabilities, they should not be automatic barriers.