Until recently many Scots thought that they needed to fly off overseas in search of a decent mountain biking adventure. No longer. Read on to find out why.
World Class Mountain Biking Destination
Today Scotland has propelled itself forward as a truly world class mountain biking destination capable of hosting World Cup events and even the World Championship, a feat recognised in 2005 by the nation usurping Canada as the world’s number one mountain biking destination in an International Mountain Bike Association’s ‘People’s Poll’.
The sheer diversity of experience is what sets Scotland apart. There is everything from old railway tracks that skirt Scotland’s cities and even delve into the heart of them, through to long distance multi-day adventures on old drovers roads and military routes and then, of course, the adrenaline pumping downhill tracks at the dedicated mountain biking centres that have sprung up all over the country.
All Regions of Scotland Boast their own Charms for Mountain Bikers
In the south the forest trails of the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway beckon, while forest parks and the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are well set-up for riders too on the fringes of the urban centres of the Central Belt. Moving north the Highlands is where the most dramatic action is with hulking mountains and epic wildscapes that could not have been better sculpted for mountain biking. Offshore many of the islands can be cycled around in a day and inland trails are opening up all the time. Intrepid bikers can even set off on an island hopping biking adventure in the Outer Hebrides. The UK is at the vanguard of mountain biking in a competitive sense too. Ben Savage, a current British champion and a former world champion, has formed a team of elite riders, the Savage Skills Display Team, who perform a dizzying array of tricks at shows around the UK.
Savage sees mountain biking generally as a phenomenon that is very much on an inexorable rise: ‘The UK is at the forefront of all the mountain bike sporting disciplines and Scotland has become an integral part of that success over the last decade. More broadly it is an excellent, fun sport that is growing fast, a sport that anyone can enjoy at any level and it does not have to be expensive either’.
Getting started these days is easy thanks to operations such as the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative. This capital company have now stretched their success story to other stores in Scotland and south of the border. Their straight talking, helpful approach continues to win them new devotees. They don’t simply sell bikes off the peg and are always on hand to give first timers and experienced riders alike advice as manager Ged Holmyard is keen to stress: ‘I’d urge anyone to just come in. You don’t need to spend a fortune on a dual suspension bike when we can sort you out a great entry level model. We measure riders then custom tweak a bike to the user’s needs, as well as setting them up with all the right gear, making getting into the sport as easy as possible’.
If you don’t fancy setting off on your own then companies like the multi-award winning Wilderness Scotland are on hand with guided group trips where they can supply the bike. These include a classic 400km coast to coast adventure from Aberdeen to Ardnamurchan, an epic around Skye and the Outer Hebrides, as well as the ‘Magnificent 7’, which covers 7 of their favourite rides around the land. The beauty of these trips is that someone else does all the planning and navigation and all you have to do is ride.
Mushrooming Mountain Bike Centres
It is at Scotland’s mushrooming mountain bike centres where the most adrenaline pumping action is and the good news is that you don’t need to be world championship material to get involved as they have routes for all skill levels including beginners, with tuition also available at most. The trails are rated from green (easy), through to blue (moderate), red (difficult) and black (severe). For safety’s sake make sure you have the necessary gear and skills before trying to move up a level.
The granddaddy of the bike centres is the Nevis Range at Fort William, which has been holding rounds of the Mountain Bike World Cup since 2002 and it also hosted the World Championship in 2007. Its ultra thrilling signature Off Beat Downhill ride requires body armour, dual suspension and a serious skills set. With a vertical drop of 555m and a length of 2.82km its rocky straights, bus stops, tight corners, exposed hillside, slab rock, tight gullies and big jumps mean that it is not for the fainthearted.
Nevis is the only mountain bike centre in the country with gondola access, which comes in very handy given the level of ascent required to get to the top. Last year saw the new Nevis Red added, a testing but not quite as technical route, which complements the Witch’s Trails, the trio of routes for a variety of skill levels that push off around the Leanachan Forest.
Another Highland star is Wolftrax at Laggan, which markets itself as ‘Mountain Biking Trails with Bite.’ Their trail network offers everything from a fun blue run through to a highly technical black run. The challenging black is 6.4km downhill on top of a 3km fire road climb and its myriad obstacles include huge drop-offs, boulder fields, rock slabs and stone staircases with the nefarious names of the sections, such as Two Ton Drop and Surgeon’s Slab, giving an idea of the difficulty involved.
Scotland is certainly not resting on its newly won mountain biking laurels, with centres constantly upgrading facilities and new runs coming on stream. At Golspie in the Highlands the longest downhill track in the UK opened in 2006, the Highland Wildcat, which bashes down the slopes of Ben Bhraggie for 7km. So good are the trails here that Mountain Bike Rider magazine dubbed the Wildcat the ‘Best Destination in the UK’ in 2008. They are graded to suit all experience levels and handily the trails are directly linked to the village itself. A variety of new trails are currently under development at Golspie.
You don’t need to head up to the Highlands to sample a slice of mountain bike centre action. The Forestry Commission’s 7stanes project has revolutionised mountain biking in southern Scotland. The 7stanes – Glentrool, Kirroughtree, Dalbeattie, Mabie, Ae, Newcastleton and Glentress/Inverleithen – really have something for everyone with routes that are graded from green through to black.
Glentress in the Borders has emerged as the shining star of the 7stanes and is now widely regarded as Scotland’s largest and most popular mountain biking centre. Glentress started off in 2000 as part of the Forestry Commission’s enlightened approach to land management and access. The first creation was a red route, a trail that involves a long uphill followed by a heart pumping downhill with constructed berms and more natural single track through thick forest. In total there are now four tracks at Glentress, as well as a skills area and bike park, with bike uplifting on hand to save you some of the toughest legwork at a centre that is constantly evolving. It also boasts the excellent cafÃ©, the Hub in the Forest, which has become a Mecca for bikers over the last decade. The future of the cafÃ© is currently in doubt, but there is no doubt that mountain biking at Glentress will continue to be popular. Handily there are two linked tough downhill tracks just along the road at Innerleithen.
For those looking to develop their existing skills and take them a step further Scotland also boasts centres that offer training courses. Glenmore Lodge has established a reputation for first-rate training, which can just develop skills in beginner and intermediate riders or even lead on to Mountain Bike Leader and Trail Cycle Leader qualifications. Groups can also arrange practice runs and advanced training at Glenmore.
Whether you are looking to just bash around on local canal paths, embark on a grand adventure on an old military road or even don full body armour and hurl yourself down the slopes of one of the country’s highest mountains there has never been a better time to get into mountain biking, especially in a nation hailed as the world’s finest mountain biking destination.
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Sites That Link to this Post
- World Class Mountain Biking and Road Cycling at TweedLove | February 5, 2014