While ratings are always a subjective matter, over many miles of riding the Santa Barbara area trails, I've gotten a feeling for what the rides are like and used that experience to put together classification system that takes into account, elevation gain, distance traveled, trail conditions and the like.
My suggestion is to ride a few of the moderate routes and compare your own ratings to mine. This should give you an idea of how to judge the other routes that we've provide on the website.
Easy. Not too long, usually less than ten miles or almost level, with few hills and very easy climbs. Can be ridden in comfort by most any rider regardless of conditioning. If there are steep sections, they are short. The single track is fairly level or downhill and has little or no exposure. An example of this is the Red Rock Loop.
Moderate. The rides are usually more than ten miles in length and/or with extended climbs. Total elevation gain usually less than 2,000 feet. Often there is single track included in the route, but it is either not too difficult or it is relatively easy for you to walk the sections with which you aren’t comfortable. An example of this is the Camuesa Connector Trail.
Strenuous. My idea of a difficult ride is one that is over twenty miles long with lots of uphill, with gains in the 2,000 to 4,000-foot range. There is a lot of climbing, and the downhill can be difficult. If there is single track (which there usually is) the sections are tough, extended, and with lots of maneuvering and some exposure. You may want to walk many sections rather than take your life into your hands. An example of a strenuous ride is the Little Pine ride or the Fir Canyon loop via the Jeepway.
Gonzo. Rides that take everything to the max. Lots of uphill—tough uphill—and long distances, easily more than forty miles. Tough single track may occur, with much of it rideable only by experts, but the primary components are long distances and tough uphills, with everything compressed into one long day. Examples of this are the ride from Cachuma Saddle to Upper Oso via the Santa Cruz Firebreak, the Corridor ride from Santa Barbara Canyon to Upper Oso, or the ridgeline route from Potrero Seco to Montecito.
Level 1. The trail is relatively level or smooth, with few obstacles, little maneuvering required, and it is easy to get off the bike and walk. Dropoffs aren’t too great—usually less than ten to fifteen feet. There is some danger, but the risks are minimal.
Level 2. The route has extended sections which require skillful maneuvering. Trails are steeper and more perilous, and riders will need to get off their bikes somewhat frequently unless they have some experience with trail riding. There is some exposure, which means there are steep dropoffs, and falls could lead to serious injury.
Level 3. The trails are much steeper with much more expertise required to keep bikes under control. Riders must have experience with tough trail conditions, including steep dropoffs, rocky terrain, and extended sections of difficult riding. The danger of serious injury or death is real. Riders with less skill will want to walk many of the sections. All riders will most likely encounter places they will need to walk.
Throughout this guide you will find ample encouragement to get out and experience all of what Santa Barbara’s natural environment has to offer. The rewards are evident; but perhaps the dangers aren’t quite so.
Each time you venture out into the mountains there are potential dangers. The weather can change quickly, and poor planning can leave you stuck in a predicament. When it has rained (or snowed), routes that were easy a week ago can become nightmares. Equipment can fail at just the wrong time. Snapping a derailleur or blowing out the side of a tire thirty miles from your car can be extremely disconcerting. Routes which seem easy from the comfort of home can be far more difficult than your endurance or ability can withstand. In the Santa Barbara mountains going down usually means going back up again at some point—and there are a lot of ups and downs in this country. There are snakes out there, too, and poison oak and ticks.
If you take care, plan well, ride within your ability, and carry the proper clothing and gear, you should be okay. Lots of bikers go out each year and rarely have a problem. But some have had problems, and a few have even died. Be sure to read the sections on Ethics and Safety if you haven’t ridden the Santa Barbara back country before or aren’t too familiar with what’s out there. It may save your life, and it will surely save you a lot of inconvenience.
Most of all, please remember this: What you read here is but a guide, a promise of what you might find if you head out into the back country. It’s an awesome place to spend your time. But there are no guarantees. You are responsible for your actions, and you should act accordingly. This is especially true if you venture more than ten miles from your car, if inclement weather is approaching, or if you will be riding on single track.
A few years ago I was reading through a catalog from Pika Mountaineering and I came across their disclaimer. Here is what they had to say:
We need to let you know you can die! We need to let you know you can suffer a long, painful miserable existence as a result of an accident, an act of God or just because someone else screwed up.
You are responsible for your own ass. Watch out. Be careful. Learn to fly before you jump out of the nest. Your family will appreciate it.
Knowledge is the only way to protect yourself. So learn how to do things right the first time, especially when your life depends on it.
BECOME A TRAIL VOLUNTEER
I can't say enough about the Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers. You'll find them online at sbmtv.org where you can learn a lot about the local mountain bike scene and also how to get involved as a trail volunteer and help us maintain our trails.