Scotland’s gorgeous landscapes lend themselves to cycling – and so will your wallet. Touring this effortlessly beautiful slab of craggy hills, magical lochs and mythical isles by bike is certainly budget-friendly compared to the cost of operating a vehicle in the current climate. Thankfully, planning a cycling holiday in Scotland is now easier than ever: it has more than 3200km of cycle infrastructure to tackle, plus a brand new coast-to-coast trail covering 400km of southern Scotland’s finest sights officially launches this July.
On top of this, the inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships is set to bring the world’s best riders to Glasgow and across Scotland when it lands this August, no doubt inspiring cyclists of the future. Has there ever been a better time to start planning that Scottish cycling holiday?
Where to begin?
Bike hire is offered by many cycle shops across the country, with Inverness-based Ticket To Ride providing drop bar road bikes with panniers included from $466 for a six-day hire, and self-guided GPS routes to follow. This option is handy for those looking to tour the North Coast 500, a 830km loop that begins and ends in Inverness: take the train from Glasgow or Edinburgh to coast through the beautiful, often brooding, Highlands with ease. Buy train tickets up to three months in advance, from as little as $25.56 one-way. Edinburgh-based Biketrax also offers road bikes from $92 per 24 hours.
Short routes to try
The West Loch Lomond Cycle Path is an excellent introduction to Scotland’s splendour. This 28km route, snaking its way around bonnie Loch Lomond’s western shores, is one of the country’s most rewarding routes for such little effort. It’s largely flat and mostly follows a dedicated cycle lane, making it ideal for the family, and it passes the chocolate-box village of Luss en route. It ends in Tarbet, for several accommodation options and informative boat trips with Cruise Loch Lomond.
Those without children in tow and a little more time should consider the Deeside Way. This 66km cycling route follows a disused railway line for large parts between Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe, and Ballater, a Victorian village within Royal Deeside known for its links to Balmoral Castle, where the late Queen Elizabeth II passed away last year. Start in Aberdeen and finish with a stay fit for a King at the Balmoral Arms: expect cosy rooms and regal suites, a roaring log fire in the lounge, and a highly-rated whisky bar and restaurant at Ballater’s only five-star rated AA business. There’s a bike shed too.
Fancy a challenge?
Experienced cyclists should tackle the brand new Kirkpatrick C2C which officially launches this July. Beginning in Stranraer in the west, this 402km route coasts through Dumfriesshire, where in the 19th century the first pedal-driven velocipede was invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan - the route is named after him - on its journey towards Eyemouth, on the east coast. Pro riders can tackle this in four days, while a suggested eight-day itinerary is ideal for those looking to go slower.
Much of Scotland’s hidden beauty lies in its 800-or-so islands - of which 93 are inhabited. Check crossing information and book tickets through calmac.co.uk; foot passengers travel more cheaply than vehicle drivers.
Scotland’s islands, with their powder-soft white sandy beaches and azure waters, are compared to the Caribbean - in looks, not sea temperature - and following the Hebridean Way cycling route between Vatersay and Barra shows this off in all its finery. The full route is a long one - 298km, two ferry crossings and six causeways to be precise - but this short section of 21.89km from the route’s starting point on Vatersay, to Armdhor in Barra, passes over one of those causeways and some stunning beaches.
Great Cumbrae is often described as Bicycle Island. Most visitors heading over the water from Largs - west of Glasgow - explore by bike, and why not? About 1000 bicycles are available to hire on Great Cumbrae, whose main road is a cool 27km, circumnavigates the coast and is as flat as a pancake. Several shops in Millport town centre offer bike hire.
Hire a mountain bike in Oban and head over to Kerrera. This wee isle is certainly up there with Scotland’s finest small cycling isles – so much so it has its own triathlon. Each October the Craggy Island Triathlon kicks off with a sharp 550m swim from the mainland, followed by an 8km hill run and a 14km bike ride. The moderate difficulty gravel track, which reaches a maximum climb of 191m on its loop of the island’s heart, is accessible year-round; it passes a small tea garden with bunkhouse near the preserved Gylen Castle ruins.
Good to know
Scotland’s cycling infrastructure is often separated from the road, but riders will need to cycle on busy roads at times. Always cycle on the left, and remember that on single-track roads - which are common in the Highlands - cyclists should ride into passing places on their left to allow a forming queue of traffic to pass.
Like Sweden’s famed law of wanderlust, wild camping is also permitted in Scotland. This is popular with touring cyclists, but do be sure to leave no trace and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access code.
Keep an eye out for ScotRail’s new Highland Explorer carriages between Glasgow and Oban, and Glasgow and Fort William/Mallaig. Carriages are specifically tailored to cater for cyclists and provide seating for up to 24 people and 20 bike racks.
For more information on cycling in Scotland, go to visitscotland.com
BE IN TO WIN
Get on your bike with Torpedo7
Don’t let the cooler temperatures force you into hibernation – as a solo jaunt, some family fun, or in a group, with the right equipment a winter bike ride is a great way to enjoy the outdoors.
Thanks to Torpedo7, we have a prize pack valued at more than $440 to give away, featuring some fantastic Mammoth and Torpedo7 cycling gear.
Torpedo7 has 25 stores across Aotearoa, featuring quality bikes, clothing, footwear, fitness, camping, water and snow gear, so the cooler weather and shorter days don’t need to stop anyone from getting active outdoors. You’ll be out tackling the tracks and wrangling the roads in no time.
To help Kiwis get back on their bikes this winter, the team at Torpedo7 have handpicked a prize pack featuring a range of items to help, including:
· Mammoth Forest MTB Trail Shorts (men’s or women’s)
· Mammoth Evolution Long Sleeve T-Shirt (men’s or women’s)
· Torpedo7 Folding Key Bike Lock
· Torpedo7 Bike Bottle 600ml
· Mammoth Full Finger MTB Gloves (men’s or women’s)
To enter, go to nzherald.co.nz/win and enter your details. Competition closes at 11.59pm on Monday July 3. Terms and conditions apply.