So, you’re looking to start mountain biking? That’s great! Mountain biking is a great way to get outdoors and connect with nature, all while supporting your physical and mental health.
Once you find your feet, the opportunities are endless – perhaps your end goal is to go on a cycling holiday in Austria and make your way around Europe, but, for now, we recommend you start closer to home. In our humble opinion, there’s no better place to start than a biking holiday in Scotland!
Read on below as we discuss why Scotland makes the ideal location for mountain biking and share our top tips for beginners with you.
Why Go Mountain Biking in Scotland?
If you live in the UK, then you’re lucky to have one of the best places for mountain biking on your doorstep. Not only is the nature in Scotland scenic enough to pass as a fantasy land straight out of a Tolkien novel, but there is a plethora of exhilarating trails for mountain bikers of all abilities – including world-class trails.
They also have purpose-built trail centres, with paths and trails that have been specifically designed and managed for mountain biking. These tend to make for relatively safe and controlled environments that are ideal if you’re only just starting out in mountain biking, with trails being labelled by their difficulty so you can choose one that is suitable for your skill level.
These trail centres also tend to have a number of facilities that are especially useful when you’re first starting out, including a car park, cafe and bike wash. They’re certainly a great place to start whilst you’re building up your confidence with mountain biking before going off and finding trails of your own – not to mention, they’re great for socialising with like-minded mountain biking fanatics!
With plenty of trails throughout the country, you have every opportunity to really make a holiday out of your mountain biking experience in Scotland.
Our Top Tips for Beginners
Before you go mountain biking anywhere for the first time, it’s imperative that you do your research to ensure that you have the necessary gear and knowledge to safely start your mountain biking journey.
We’ve condensed some of the key information that you need to know and included it in this article. See our top tips below.
Picking the Right Bike
Characteristics of a Mountain Bike
We’re assuming that you’re a confident rider and are used to riding your bike out and about on the road and other flat terrain. However, riding on different terrain requires a different type of bike.
There are certain characteristics of a mountain bike that make them fit for purpose. Firstly, they have flat handlebars that allow for easier control whilst on rough terrain, alongside knobbly tyres that provide better grip.
Next is suspension; in order to make what is an unsurprisingly bumpy ride more comfortable and help keep wheels in contact with the ground, most good-quality mountain bikes will feature a suspension fork to improve front-wheel traction and handling (known as hardtail bikes). Some slightly higher-priced bikes will also have rear suspension to further cushion and improve your ride (known as full suspension bikes).
You’ll also likely notice that mountain bikes have a much shorter reach compared to road bikes. This is because while road bikes are built to promote an aerodynamic position whilst riding, mountain bikes are instead built to keep your centre of gravity low and central, allowing for easier handling when off-road and navigating tight corners.
Choosing the Right Mountain Bike for You
Now that you know a bit more about what makes a mountain bike unique, how do you go about choosing the right one for you?
The main thing you need to ensure is that you’re choosing a bike that is the right size for you. Most bike sizes are based on your height and the measurement of your inside leg, so be sure to know these before you check the size guide. We also recommend you speak to an expert in person in regards to this at your local bike store.
As for choosing between a hardtail or full suspension, we recommend a hardtail bike for beginners. This is simply because they are lighter in weight than their full suspension counterparts. There are also fewer parts to account for and maintain, which reduces the chance of something going wrong with your bike.
Learning to Fix a Puncture
Though mountain bike wheels are made to be sturdy and durable, with the rough ground that you’ll be riding out it should come as no surprise that experiencing a puncture won’t be completely avoidable. If you are unlucky enough to have something pierce your tyre, fret not – this is something you can fix yourself!
Of course, this does mean that you’ll first need to learn how to do so. Many of the best quality mountain bikes feature tubeless tyres, which reduce the risk of punctures and feature a sealant inside that remains airtight and will fill any holes that occur before air can escape.
With that said, some mountain bikes do still come with tubes, so it is worth checking which tyre type the bike you have or plan on buying has. If you do have a bike with tube tyres, then a puncture is much more likely and learning to fix one will be indispensable to you.
Check out this step-by-step guide to learn how.
Learning Trail Etiquette
From our predilection for queueing to remembering our pleases and thank yous, we pride ourselves on our manners here in the UK. When it comes to mountain biking, this politeness extends onto the trail.
Though there are no strictly listed rules for how to behave on a trail, there is widely accepted guidance for proper trail etiquette. We’ve listed some of these below.
Many mountain bike trails are directional, and there will be signage to indicate this. If you are riding on one of these trails, then always respect the signage and follow the direction you’re supposed to be going in – imagine how irritating you would find it if someone rounded the corner and almost collided with you when you don’t expect anyone to be coming from the opposite direction!
Similarly, you may get to a trial and notice a sign saying that it’s temporarily closed. This could be due to various reasons, such as trail maintenance, a local event or a health and safety hazard. Regardless of why, turn around and come back again another day – not only out of respect for others but for your own safety.
Respect the Trail and Environment
It’s a big no-no to modify a trail in any way, whether that’s cutting corners, creating rogue lines or excessively skidding and leaving debris everywhere.
Similarly, you should also respect the environment you’re riding in. Just as you enjoy the nature you’re riding in, you don’t want to harm it or ruin it for others, so be sure not to litter or leave anything behind.
Right of Way
On the trails that are two-way, you should always stop and give way to riders who are coming up-hill – it’s much easier to stop and start rolling again going downhill than it is coming up!
Likewise, you should also give way to any other non-motorised user groups assuming you aren’t on a bike-only trail. For example hikers or horses/horse-riders – in case of the latter, you should dismount and pass by on foot, since horses can spook easily.
Don’t Block the Trail
If you ever have to stop on a trail, whether it’s before you’re about to drop in to ride on it, stopping at the end of the trial or needing to stop in the middle for any other reason, you should always dismount and move to the side of the trail as soon as you can to avoid blocking the route for anyone else.
Ride in Control
When mountain biking, you should always anticipate that there is someone else ahead of you round the next corner (oftentimes there usually is!), whether that be another rider or hikers. With this in mind, always ensure that you’re riding at a speed that makes it easy enough for you to stop safely if you need to do so.
Biking in England, Scotland, Wales and Beyond
So, are you feeling more prepared to start your mountain biking journey? Why not get a feel for the sights and scenery you can expect to see in Scotland first with a cycling holiday? They’re perfect to enjoy with friends and family, too!
Here at Hooked on Cycling & Walking, we offer 10 different cycling holidays in Scotland, including our new package for 2023 – Cycling Outlander Film Locations! Our cycling holidays are available as self-guided or tour-guided depending on location and range in difficulty, meaning there is one to suit all abilities.
If you would like to learn more and have any general questions or enquiries about the tours we offer, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.