Plan Your Cycling Route in Scotland
Photo by Katja Nemec
So, are you ready for a breath of fresh air? Get on your bike and enjoy one of many cycling routes in Scotland.
In this article I’ll help you plan your cycling trip by covering important topics: cycling routes, essentials to be packed and where to hire a bike to help you be on your your way as soon as possible!
Scotland offers so many scenic cycling routes. In case you already have decided on going to the Cairngorms but need more inspiration, you can look up our best cycle routes in the Cairngorms article.
Cycling & Mountain Biking Routes in Scotland
Photo by Jonny McKenna
We are here to help you find a cycling route in Scotland!
There are some great places to cycle around the Highlands so there’s no need to drive too far away and this means you can spend more time on your bike and less time in your car. Further along this list you’ll find some cycling routes around Ballater so you can nip off for the morning and be back for lunch.
Here’s all you need to know about the routes around the Highlands for road cycling and mountain biking.
Cairngorms National Park: The Speyside Way
Photo by Detlef B.
Cycling the Speyside Way is a route that’s great for families because of its relaxing track along which there are scenic places for resting or picnicking. The closest part of the route is located in between Ballindalloch (1hr drive from Ballater) and Fochabers (1:30 hr from Ballater).
The Deeside Way in Aberdeenshire
Photo by John Doyle
Another family favourite among Scots is the Deeside Way because it’s easy for kids who are new to bikes to enjoy a cycle along it. Sights and picnic spots are along the path from Aboyne to Ballater make it enjoyable too.
These are the places you can visit and see while cycling:
- The Deeside Gliding Club Airfield.
- Cambus O’ May picnic grounds
- Old Royal Station Ballater
Aberdeenshire's Formartine and Buchan Way (F&B Way)
Photo by Josh Arnott
The F&B way used to be a railway line that took passengers from Dyce to Peterhead along the East Coast until the 1960s. Today, it’s 64 kilometers of flatland belong to cyclists and walkers of any level of fitness.
National Cycle Network Route 7- Aviemore to Boat of Garten
Photo by Steve Douglas
This part of the route takes you pass some of the Cairngorms National Park’s historic sites and natural wonders as you cycle its 8.5 kilometers. So, start from Aviemore train station and ride to the Boat of Garten train station for a day trip across the Highlands. Sights along this route include the lofty Pass of Drumochter Boat of Garten’s Osprey Village, and world- famous whiskey distilleries.
Laggan Wolftrax in the Cairngorms
Photo by Kate Joyce on Unsplash
Another great trail just within the area is Laggan Wolftrax at Cairngorms National Park’s western edge. Find easy green trails and challenging black tracks where you can test your mud guard. You can also take a walk on its trails in addition to mountain biking.
Mountain Biking at Glenlivet Trails Centre
This bike centre caters to beginners and experts alike. Choose from blue trails for a family-friendly experience to red and orange trails that challenge the seasoned rider. Enjoy the scenery too as you bike on the Glenlivet Estate’s single track.
Photo by Alyssa Bossom
The Mastermind of All Mountain Bikes
The Mastermind makes for a fast-paced and fun afternoon starting from Ballater because of its its steep and winding single track. This track is on the bucket list of every rider because of how it tests their skills, endurance, and bravery. Berms, rock bridges, quick turns, and rocks make up this track, making it ideal for the most experienced riders.
Daring to Ride Heartbreak Ridge
Ballater’s Heartbreak Ridge will lead you to a track that will challenge your skills as you climb up the hill and descend it. Find your flow as you negotiate the rocky path. A beautiful view of the Cairngorms will reward you for your effort along Heartbreak Ridge.
Long Distance Cycling Trips in Scotland
Photo by Andreas Haslinger
These long- distance routes can offer a personal insight into large stretches of Scotland, punctuated by castles, lochs and coasts. Below are two roads you can read more about. So, let’s have a look!
Sustrans' 276-km Route of Coasts and Castles
Photo by Connor Mollison
The Sustrans is the United Kingdom’s keeper of the National Cycle Network which is a “UK-wide network of traffic-free paths for everyone, connecting cities, towns and countryside, loved by the communities they serve“. And one of their suggestions for long-distance cycling routes in Scotland is one from starts 1 hrs drive away in Aberdeen and ends in Edinburgh.
You’ll get to see the famous golfing courses of St. Andrews, Dunnottar Castle, and the East Neuk of Fife while cycling this route.
The region of Dundee and Angus is also part of the route. Experience golden sands at Abroath Beach, an Abroath Smokie (a smoked Haddock) and mountain biking at the Angus Glens.
National Cycle Network Route 1
Image by Mattia Verga
Another great recommendation from Sustrans is National Cycle Network Route 1 where you’ll get to explore coasts, castles, and seas. This route begins at Aberdeen City and brings you to Shetland through Inverness. You’ll also tour the areas of Stonehaven, Angus, and the Cairngorms National Park as you connect to National Cycle Route 195.
Trains stations on the route gives you the leeway to hop off your bike and discover each area along the way. This is also a part of the United Kingdom that’s less known to most so you just might discover something new too.
It would be advisable to ride Route 1 in sections so you’ll be able to go at a leisurely pace and soap up the tour fully. You can choose to ride the sections of Edinburgh to Aberdeen or Aberdeen to Shetland.
Cycling Holidays & Challenging Roads for The Seasoned Cyclist in Scotland
Photo by Mike Smith
Seeking for more difficult cycling trips in Scotland? Here are three roads you can include in your itinerary: Bealach Beag, North Coast 500, and the Hebridean Way.
The West Coasts challenging Bealach Beag
Image by Emma Gibb
Scottish cycling holidays are made up of rural landscape, paths where the only things you’ll pass are trees and rocks and where the only sounds are of your bicycle and of the wind whooshing in your ears. It’s a great way to see the best that Scotland has to offer.
An road that will give you all is Scotland’s Bealach Beag route. It’s a 45-mile circuit that covers Shieldaigh, Bealach na Ba mountain road, and Applecross.
This isn’t without its challenges despite the short distance compared to the NC500 and the Hebridean Way which I’ll elaborate on later. The challenge here is in the ascent as going this way will require you to climb 2,056 feet up the Bealach na Ba and the coastal roads. Dramatic scenery will present itself along each climb to reward you.
The long Hebridean Way
The Hebridean Way stretches across Scotland’s Outer Hebrides through 296 kilometers of land spanning 10 islands.
You’ll be cycling from the Island of Vatersay to Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris, and finishing at the lighthouse in the Butt of Lewis. From here you can hop on and off islands using ferries and causeways.
The Hebridean Way is the ultimate cycling route to get away from all the traffic on the more crowded routes of the mainland. As well as this is the opportunity to explore places like the Luskentyre Sands, the Kisimul Castle and the Isle of Harris Distilleries among many. It’s a bike tour and vacation in one.
Though world record-holder Mark Beaumont finished the Hebridean Way in 24 hours, the route is typically cycled within 6 days.
Pushing your Limits at Scotland's North Coast 500 (NC500)
The NC500 is Scotland’s Route 66 where cyclists can cover 500 miles of Scotland’s North Coast. Give yourself 10 days to cycle and enjoy The Black Isle, Caithness, Easter Ross, Inverness-Shire, Sutherland, and Western Ross.
To fully learn more about Scotland while cycling this route, do step off your bike and take the time to explore each area you find yourself in. Check out the castles, the distilleries, the beaches and hills, and the food too! The gastronomic experience is beyond words, you should experience each region’s cuisine- consider this a well earned reward for the ultimate cycling trip.
Rest in between at camping grounds or book a stay at any of the accommodations in the area before finishing back at the start in Inverness (1:45hr from Ballater). And then come back home to Ballater for a relaxing finish to your trip.
Things to Bring & Bike Shops
Image by MonikaP
We’re finally at the last leg of this article’s route! Let’s talk about the things you need to bring on a cycling trip and the places around Ballater for bike hire.
Things to Bring & Bike Shops
Photo by Markus Spiske
The one thing that can wear a cyclist down is being unprepared for the elements and physical effort. Bring these handy items to make your cycling trip in Scotland safe and comfortable.
- A snood/bandana
- Cycling gloves
- A jacket that’s waterproof and lightweight
- Cycling shoes
- Tops and bottoms designed for cycling. I.e. slim-fitting, breathable.
- Cycling socks
- A water bottle
- A repair kit and spare inner tube
- Bike chain oil
Cycle Hire in Ballater
Photo by Markus Spiske
No need to worry if you forgot to bring your bike or if you’re suddenly inspired to buy one outright during your stay at our cottages. Look into these two shops nearby.
Bike Station Ballater
Photo by Mpho Mojapelo
This bike shop offers customers equipment to be hired for the day or bought. They have a large collection of bikes that include mountain bikes, road bikes, and even e-bikes for cyclists and riders of all abilities. Though they specialize in bicycles, don’t hesitate to ask for suggestions for where to dine, walk or shop.
Their hiring services are affordable too with prices starting as shown below:
- Mountain Bike – £20
- Full Suspension Mountain Bike – £45
- Alloy Full Suspension – £30
- E-bike – £30
- Kids Bikes – £10
On the other hand, here are their starting prices for bikes you can purchase:
- Mountain Bike – £2,339
- Road/Gravel Bike – £1,399
- E-Bike – £3,995
- All Around E-Bike – £1,995
Photo by Lukas Smith
Cycle Highlands in Ballater has been providing high-quality bikes and cycling gear for 16 years. The shop specialises in big cycling brands like Santa Cruz, Merida, and Juliana on top of other brands the shop carries. This shop is for you if you’re a cyclist with specific needs in mind.
You can buy or hire Santa Cruz or Juliana bikes and hire a guide if you’re new to the area are looking for local insight into Ballater’s cycling and mountain biking tracks.
- Bikes for Purchase – £3,499
- Bikes for Hire – £80
- Guides – £150
The Best Cycling Routes in Scotland Are Made By You
Image by Miren Hayek
You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed now with all the choices you’ve just read but I hope that there has been something in here that has made the prospect of a cycling in Scotland a little more possible- but it is no less special.
Because nothing really beats nature, getting out there feeling part of it. Whether it be cycling on the road or strolling along Scotland’s many walks alone or with the ones you love being with the most.
The perfect cycling routes aren’t the most popular, they’re the ones made by you. Their ones you love the most, that’s why they’re the best and, if you want them to be, it’s where your best moments can be.
To say goodbye for now, here’s a video of all the places you can go from coast to coast summed up in one beautiful trip. Pro tips from Mark Beaumont on what to eat and drink are in there too.
I know you’ll enjoy the journey on any of these cycle routes in Scotland. I’m rooting for you!