MTB Route marking – Reader Feedback

Full Sus reader and Garden Route local Sam Nienaber has been a committed mountain biker for years and put his considerable experience into action on the question of route marking, in response to the Full Sus August cover feature. Here are Sam’s thoughts – backed up by CSA legislation. Give it a read and let us know what you think.

Basic Rule

The MTB rules from CSA lay down that each junction should be marked with three signs. One 50m before – one at the junction – a confirmation sign 50m after the junction. All these signs should be placed so that they are visible at a distance without being obscured.

Riders must not be dependent on marshals to indicate the route direction. Photo by
Riders must not be dependent on marshals to indicate the route direction. Photo by


Marshals may be required where a route meets a busy public road. Marshals are placed here to ensure the safety of the cyclists when intergrating with traffic. The route must still be marked as per the basic rule. Riders must not be dependant on marshals to indicate the route direction. However if the marshal indicates that the riders may join the junction, the marshal must be very sure that it is safe to do so. I recommend that signs indicating a race is in progress be places at least 100m on either side of the junction. This gives the motorist time to slow down and if he is stopped by the marshal, he knows why. Confused motorists become angry very quickly.

Four way stop streets require two marshals per junction if they wish to allow cyclists to ride without stopping. One marshal cannot safely control the traffic on opposite sides of the road simultaneously.

Distance Markers

Markers advising the distance to the finish should be placed at 10km intervals, one 5 kms and the last 1km from the finish. This allows riders to check their speedos and motivates the riders. Should you have an emergency, knowing between which distance markers assistance is required, will prove very useful. Practically, the 30km+ may prove difficult to place. From 20km to the finish should be a priority.


Notice should be given one kilometer and 100m from the top.

Route Splits

Directions and route splits can be combined. The confirmation marker must advise riders which distance they are following. These can be tailored to each individual race using cheap paper markers on the orange markers. Do not depend on marshals to direct riders.

Straight On

Where a road leads off the road to the right or left that is not the route, a straight on arrow can be used and not a left or right. A straight confirmation can be used 50m further on.

Text is difficult to read at speed, rather use the downward arrows to indicate danger. Photo by
Text is difficult to read at speed, rather use the downward arrows to indicate danger. Photo by


Three red arrows pointing down indicate a dangerous downhill which should be taken with care. This should be place at the commencement of the danger zone but with enough notice for riders to slow, if it has a fast approach. One sign is usually sufficient. Once riders have been advised, they are responsible for their own safety.

Water Points

Ensure that water points are not too close to junctions. Preferably place a point well be before a route split, so that riders have enough distance to orientate themselves before having to deal with markers. Riders get confused easily.

A “one kilometer to WP” is a courtesy. I recommend that the sponsor of the water point places his own board, reinforcing to the riders that this is a sponsored WP. What would really please the riders would be a sign with a distance to the finish and the next water point. Ensure that the people manning the water point know the distance to the finish. Knowledge is power.

Consider having a sign just before the waterpoint saying how far to the next waterpoint and the end. This saves the staff working at the waterpoint being asked and the riders can plan their strategy to the end.

Marker Size 

The size laid down by the MTB rules is A4 paper size 297 x 210mm. This is much smaller than the previous specification of 300 x 600mm. In my experience A4 is too small.  The practical size for cutting from the correx board is 250 x 500mm which is what I use. In a practical sense, smaller boards can be used for confirmation. What is critical is the size of the arrow head. This definition must be easily visible from a distance. Colours do play a part in visibility. Dark colours tend to blend against vegetation. Bright neon colours are preferable but need a contrast against the white. Branding by a sponsor must not detract from the purpose of the board. Branding does identify to the rider that he is on the right route where other marker exist for other purposes or routes.


Some events organizers use candy tape or lime to mark. I prefer a straight on board. Tape tends to unravel or get broken and the arrows on the ground are easily missed or washed away by rain. Neon tape is sometimes attached to bushes and low branches overhanging the route to confirm the route. This tends to be small and often missed by riders. Cleaning up after an event is not easy and leads to criticism from land owners.

CSA Logo

CSA Route Marking Regulations

(Taken from Cycling SA Mountain Bike Regulations Version 2013-1 – click here to download)

The course must be marked and indicated according to the following system:

  • Directional Arrows: The course direction arrows will be printed in a contrasting colour (black, blue, red) on a white or yellow or distinctive background.
  • Minimum standard: A4 size with the Arrow covering 80% of the sign.
  • Material: any durable, weatherproof, firm, yet safe substance such as Corex, PVC, laminated paper/cardboard.
  • NO METAL signs allowed.
  • Arrows will indicate the route to be followed showing changes of course, intersections, and all potentially dangerous situations.
  • Arrows must be placed at frequent intervals along the course to confirm to the rider that he/she is following the correct course.
  • Arrows and other markers used should be placed on the riders’ left hand side of the course in all instances where practical.
  • Each intersection will be marked by an arrow placed 30 meters before the intersection.
  • Another arrow will be placed at the intersection.
  • Another arrow will be placed 30 meters after the intersection to confirm the correct route.
  • A sign “X” will be positioned within easy eyesight to mark the wrong direction.
  • Danger Arrows: In all potentially dangerous situations, 1 or more arrows will be placed upside down 30 meters before the obstacle, and also at the obstacle; Two or more upside down arrows mean a more dangerous situation; Three or more upside down arrows means a most dangerous situation, proceed with caution.


Sam’s advice for better signs:

Just a thought: if three arrows pointing down indicate a dangerous downhill, why not three arrows pointing left or right, indicating a dangerous turn?

I know the danger arrow rule is supposed be graded, but I rarely see it applied. One arrow being a lesser danger than three, but in whose opinion? Rather just put three up and let the rider make the call.

Practical Implementation:


We have had two events in our area which used my markers and guide. One of them was the Kingfisher MTB which you featured in the previous edition (Read Clive Rennie’s report here). This was very complicated route and nobody got lost. The signs attached can be made for under R10 each, labour excluded. Contact me if you need more information. (Email and we’ll put you in touch.)

The IMBA Grading Guide and the 80% Rule of Thumb

I am also at a loss as to why the IMBA Trail grading guide is not applied. Is this a matter of debate as to the degree of difficulty? I also find that some organizers do not want to disclose the route as riders may go and ride the route without entering and thus no income is forthcoming. But all routes should be ridden beforehand by outsiders in order to establish this difficulty factor. I believe that events need to satisfy 80% of the entrants. The top 10% elite riders will ride anything. The bottom 10% may not be having a good day or do not belong at that level. Any event not achieving this 80% does not have a future. Those that get it right get the entries. Just look at the Argus – Sani2C – W2W for example.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.