California bearing ratio

The Californian Bearing Ratio (CBR) test is a penetration test used to evaluate the subgrade strength of roads and pavements. The results of these tests are used with the curves to determine the thickness of pavement and its component layers. This is the most widely used method for the design of flexible pavement.[1]

The CBR test was developed by the California Division of Highways to classify and evaluate soil-sub grade and base coarse materials for flexible pavements. An empirical test, the CBR test has been used to determine the material properties for pavement design. Empirical tests measure the strength of the material and are not a true representation of the resilient modulus.[2] It is a penetration test in which a standard piston, with a diameter of 50 mm (1.969 in), is used to penetrate the soil at a standard rate of 1.25 mm/minute. The pressure up to a penetration of 2.5 mm is measured and its ratio to the bearing value of a standard crushed rock is termed as the CBR.

Although the force increases with the depth of penetration, in most cases, it does not increase as quickly as it does for the standard crushed rock, so the ratio decreases. In some cases, the ratio at 5 mm may be greater than that at 2.5 mm. If this occurs, the ratio at 5 mm should be used. The CBR is a measure of resistance of a material to penetration of a standard plunger under controlled density and moisture conditions. The test procedure should be strictly adhered to if a high degree of reproducibility is desired. The CBR test may be conducted on a remolded or undisturbed specimen in the laboratory. The test is simple and has been extensively investigated for field correlations of flexible pavement thickness requirement.

The laboratory CBR apparatus consists of a mould of 150 mm diameter with a base plate and a collar, a loading frame and dial gauges for measuring the penetration values and the expansion on soaking. If a soaked (wet) measurement is desired, the specimen in the mould is soaked in water for four days and the swelling and water absorption values are noted. The surcharge weight is placed on the top of the specimen in the mould and the assembly is placed under the plunger of the loading frame.

Load is applied on the sample by a standard plunger with diameter 50 mm at the rate of 1.25 mm/min. A load penetration curve is drawn. The load values on standard crushed stones are 1,370 kgf (13.44 kN) and 2,055 kgf (20.15 kN) at 2.5 mm and 5.0 mm penetrations respectively.

The CBR value is expressed as a percentage of the actual load causing the penetrations of 2.5 mm or 5.0 mm to the standard loads mentioned above. The CBR can therefore be mathematically expressed as:

= measured pressure for site soils [N/mm2]
= pressure to achieve equal penetration on standard soil [N/mm2]

The area of the standard piston is 3.04 in2, so the results are sometimes converted to pounds per square inch by dividing by 3.


  1. California Bearing Ratio Test
  2. Jamal, Haseeb. "CBR Test". AboutCivil.Org. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
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