NZ Cycle Trail Design Guide


ViaStrada was the engineering advisor to the New Zealand Cycle Trail (NZCT) project.  We have developed a comprehensive design guide (about 100 pages) for trail designers and project developers. The design guide (initially published in Feb 2010 and updated by ViaStrada in Aug 2011, Aug 2012, Feb 2015, and Aug 2019) is available from the NZCT website and can also be downloaded from the ViaStrada website. The structure of the guide was designed by Andrew Macbeth and the content was written by Andrew and Megan Fowler (now Gregory), with Glen Koorey leading the most recent update.

The Cycle Trail Design Guide compiles information from a number of existing guides, referring directly to them for more detail if needed. These other guides provide specific information relating to different components of the NZCT and associated "Heartland Rides", whether they be mountain bike tracks, rail trails, urban cycle paths or sections of quiet country roads.

The basis for trail design is the selection of a trail grade, and recognition of the trail criteria that define that grade. This selection will reflect the chosen target audience, from "renaissance riders" seeking easy Grade 1 trails to mountain biking enthusiasts looking for higher grade trails to test their fitness and skill.

The NZCT comprises trails throughout the country and cyclists will form their impression of the NZCT based on their experiences of individual trails. On a well-designed trail, users will enjoy the beautiful scenery and riding experience, without being distracted by design flaws, such as a gap in signage or uncharacteristically difficult sections. Their memories will be of the scenery, the camaraderie and the sense of accomplishment, not whether the trail was too hard for them in places, or they got lost along the way.

The Cycle Trail Design Guide explains how to avoid these pitfalls, and plan and build a trail that will be consistent, not only from one end to the other, but also within the whole NZCT network.

The guide streamlines the design process and provides an invaluable range of criteria and techniques to help create sustainable trails that meet the expectations of the target audience and require minimal ongoing maintenance. It includes chapters on: 

  • Route planning
  • Off-road trails
  • On-road trails
  • Crossings and intersections
  • Structural design
  • Signage
  • Supporting facilities
  • Path and road maintenance
  • Monitoring and evaluation

The Cycle Trail Design Guide also encourages collaboration amongst trail builders and will be updated periodically by ViaStrada Ltd, in consultation with the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the NZ Transport Agency, the Department of Conservation, and Kennett Brothers Ltd. If users have suggestions for amendments or corrections, please contact Glen Koorey at ViaStrada or the NZCT team.

To develop a design guide for the New Zealand Cycle Trail
Ministry of Economic Development / NZ Cycle Trail
Throughout New Zealand
Design guide in pdf format
Completed Feb 2010
Project Status
Completed Feb 2010; latest update published Aug 2019
Axel Downard-Wilke
Director – Principal Transportation Engineer & Transportation Planner