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A Beginners Guide to Mountain Biking in Scotland

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It’s fast, fun and one of the best ways to enjoy Scotland’s unbeatable scenery off the beaten track. And if you think mountain biking is just for experts, then be prepared to think again.

If the thought of hurtling down twisty and rooty singletrack at speed on some of Europe’s best biking trails gives you the fear, then fear-not. Read on, as we hope to convince all mountain biking novices otherwise!

Why mountain bike in Scotland?

Having fun, mountain biking at Laggan Wolftrax, Highlands

Having fun, mountain biking at Laggan Wolftrax, Highlands © Ross Bell/Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland

It’s great fun – relive your childhood mucking (literally!) about in the woods, getting wet and covered in mud.

It’s great for your well-being – combine the virtuous feeling of keeping fit on the uphill’s and the endorphin rush of a speedy downhill to leave you grinning from ear-to-ear. It’s addictive.

It gets you off the beaten track – immerse yourself in Scotland’s scenery, whether you explore one of our trail centres or plan an adventure further afield. If you have the essential skills, exploring Scotland’s wilder side on two wheels is awesome and we have some of the best access rights in Europe due to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Getting started

Starting mountain biking at a young age at Cardrona Pump Track, Scottish Borders

Starting young at Cardrona Pump Track, Scottish Borders © Samantha Barker

Step 1 – get a bike!

Why not hire a bike to begin with, before buying your own? Hire bikes are high quality, well-maintained and sanitised after every use, to help you get the most from your ride. Some outlets also offer e-bike hires that allow you to go further or if you’d like a little help on those hills.

Modern mountain bikes are usually made from strong, light aluminium and have robust wheels and wide tyres. Gears help with uphills, front (and rear) suspension smooth out the trails and disc brakes give extra control and stopping power, just remember they’re more powerful than caliper brakes!

If you’re getting back into biking and aiming to head into the shed to shake the cobwebs off your own bike, book it in for a service to ensure it is safe and up to the job.

Step 2 – take the right kit

The Breakpad, 7stanes Kirroughtree, Dumfries & Galloway

The Break Pad, 7stanes Kirroughtree, Dumfries & Galloway

This helpful list will keep you right:

  • A good helmet is essential. If you’re hiring a bike, you can usually hire a helmet with it;
  • Invest in a pair of good gloves as they keep your hands warm, provide extra grip and protect your palms in a fall;
  • Sunglasses, goggles or cycling glasses keep trail crud out of your eyes;
  • Pack a small rucksack with a bike pump, spare inner tyre tubes, snacks and a water bottle;
  • Avoid cotton clothing – you’ll be sorry when it gets wet! Try looser synthetic clothing and pack a waterproof jacket.

Step 3 – sharpen your skills

Enjoying a coaching session at 7stanes Glentress, Scottish Borders

Enjoying a coaching session at 7stanes Glentress, Scottish Borders © Frog Bikes/Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland

A good way to get started is to join experienced friends on a short ride and take some tips from them. To really get the most out of your first few rides though, we’d recommend joining a skills course with an expert. You’d do it for golf or skiing, so why not mountain biking? Expert coaches offer advice on refining technique and help build confidence.

Step 4 – ride responsibly and be nice

Be sensible, safe and nice when you’re out on the trails. The mountain bike community expects all riders to respect their environment, give way and be nice to other users.

In Scotland, we have the right to ride on most paths, tracks and trails. Only however, if you ride responsibly by considering the enjoyment of others and how your route might interfere with land management and respecting all reasonable signage. Our friends at Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland have produced a Do The Ride Thing e-book to help plan your rides.

Relaxing after a good climb to the summit of Minch Moor, Innerleithen, Scottish Borders

Relaxing after a good climb to the summit of Minch Moor, Innerleithen, Scottish Borders

Whatever you plan, don’t cram it into one trip. See less and explore more! Stop awhile and enjoy the scenery, go quietly and spot wildlife, have some coffee and cake, and come back again.

Where to ride

Many trail centres offer great facilities include on-site cafés

Many trail centres offer great facilities include on-site cafés

If you’re new to mountain biking, it’s best to start off at a trail centre, where you’ll often find toilets, showers, changing facilities, bike wash and a welcoming café. Some even have an on-site bike shop, for last-minute spares and bike hire.

Most centres have graded-trails that follow a standard UK trail grading system. If you’re just starting out, stay on the easy (Green) and moderate (Blue) graded trails. You’ll be ready for the red, black and orange-graded trails as your skills improve.

Here are a few trail centre suggestions to get you started:

Nevis Range, by Fort William, Highlands

Trails: Skills area, Cats Eyes green-graded route and three great blue-graded routes.

Facilities:  Parking, toilets, café, bike hire.

Skills courses: Nevis Range Bike School

Overnight: There are lots of places to stay and eat out in nearby Fort William and Spean Bridge.

A round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup has taken place here since 2002, but Nevis Range is not just for gravity-fuelled downhillers!

Head for the Witch’s Trails and warm up on the skills loop, before trying the Cats Eyes green-graded trail – a nice wide route, with easy, roll-over features and wide berms. After that, it’s on to the Broomstick Blue, Voodoo and Blue Adder blue-graded routes. See the Nevis Range website for more.

Break your ride with coffee and cake in the Pinemarten Café or take a trip up the mountain gondola for breathtaking views. There’s plenty of parking, toilets and on-site bike hire from Nevis Cycles.

Comrie Croft, Perthshire

Trails: Great beginner Skills Park. Three short blue-graded trails that merge together as a nearly 3km descent, following the steep Quarry Climb.

Facilities: Pay parking, toilets, tearoom, bike hire from Comrie Croft Bikes. Showers and bike wash.

Skills courses: Flowschool courses available at certain times during the year, for little shredders!

Overnight: There’s on-site glamping and bunkhouse options here, alongside motorhome and camping pitches.

Comrie Croft, in west Perthshire, is a great option for beginners and easy to access from the central belt. All the facilities you’ll need for a short mountain biking break, including accommodation, are right here. The kids will love it too, as they can hit the Skills Park before breakfast and stay all day if they want!

Book an overnight in one of their glamping Kåtas, toast some marshmallows on an open fire and don’t miss the home baking in the TeaGarden.

7stanes Glentress, near Peebles, Scottish Borders

A family mountain bike outing at 7stanes Glentress

A family mountain bike outing at 7stanes Glentress © Frog Bikes/Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland

Trails: Start at the Glentress Skills Area, before progressing to the green-graded routes. When you’re ready, try the swoopy, smooth-flowing and bermy Glentress Blue Route.

Facilities: Pay parking, toilets, showers and changing facilities, bike wash, bike shop and hire, café.

Skills courses: Ridelines MTB courses, Dirt School and Swift Trails

Overnight: Glentress Forest Lodges, Glentress Hotel and many other options in the Tweed Valley.

Regarded by many as one of Europe’s best trail centres, Glentress is the jewel in the 7stanes crown and only an hour by car south of Edinburgh. You’ll find a great range of green- and blue-graded trails here. Family tuition is great value and you can book a full or a half day. Private tuition and tailored group sessions can also be arranged.

There’s plenty of parking and an Alpine Bikes shop with bike hire. Call into the Peel Café for some home-baking or why not make a weekend of it? There’s plenty of bike-friendly accommodation next to the centre and nearby in Peebles.

7stanes Kirroughtree, Newton Stewart, Dumfries & Galloway

Exploring the trails at 7stanes Kirroughtree

Exploring the trails at 7stanes Kirroughtree

Trails: Start on the Kirroughtree Skills Area, then progress to the green-graded 4-mile Bargaly Wood trail. For a bigger challenge, head for the 6-mile blue-graded Larg Hill trail.

Facilities: Pay parking, toilets and changing facilities, café, bike spares, repairs, hire and friendly advice at the The Break Pad.

Skills courses: Liz Peacock at Trail Skills offers coaching courses for all levels of rider.

Overnight: Great selection of places to stay and eat out at nearby Newton Stewart.

Another of the world-class 7stanes sites that are spread across the south of Scotland, Kirroughtree is the gateway centre to Galloway Forest Park – the UK’s largest forest park.

Located around an hour west of Dumfries, the trails here include a skills area that is ideal for building confidence and the green-graded Bargaly Wood trail is perfect for beginners and families. There’s a full range of facilities here to ensure you have a great day out.

Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill, Dumfries & Galloway

Magnificent Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries & Galloway

Magnificent Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries & Galloway

Trails: Four great green-graded trails and the 9km blue-graded Copy Cat trail for those with basic off-road skills and reasonable fitness.

Facilities: Rik’s Bike Shed offers bike hire, spares, repairs, showers and a bike wash. The castle’s Larchwood Cabin, open between April and September, serves light refreshments.

Skills courses: Rik Allsopp is a qualified coach and guide and offers tuition and skills courses.

Overnight: Great options in and around nearby Thornhill.

Combining world-class mountain bike trails, stunning south-Scotland views and one of Scotland’s finest castles, Drumlanrig is an ideal centre for beginners and families.

There are four green-graded waymarked trails ranging from 3km to 13km offering great riding. Once you’re ready, try the brilliant Copy Cat blue-graded trail. Call into Rik’s Bike Shed for spares, repairs, bike hire, showers and bike wash.

Check out our mountain biking webpages for lots more information about where to ride across Scotland, mountain biking guided trips, holidays and much more.