What to wear on your mountain biking adventure in Scotland

“No such thing as bad weather…” What to wear on your mountain biking adventure in Scotland

Mountain biking is a great way to get into remote and amazing places, to see things that few others will ever experience. With each new innovation to bikes and equipment we are able to climb higher and ride harder than we ever thought possible. With this comes an increased amount of time in the elements and a need to understand and protect yourself to maximise the amount of fun you have while riding, be that on your local trails or an epic adventure deep in the mountains of Scotland.

One question often asked by riders coming to Scotland is “what do I wear?”

We are blessed with having four very distinct seasons in bonnie Scotland, however they have been know to occur all in one day! Whether you’re joining us on for an advanced adventure like the coast-to-coast or Torridon + Skye, or are new to mountain biking and looking for some gear tips, here are a few pointers on how to make sure your adventure is memorable for all the right reasons.

1. Layer up
You don’t have to look like you’re about to embark on an Everest expedition from the front door of your accommodation, but understanding how to get the most from your layers is the difference between a great backcountry experience and coming back a shivering, wet mess!

  • Base layer – this is the closest to your skin, and should have some insulating properties pulling sweat away from the skin keeping you warm and dry. Wool or synthetic materials work well but avoid cotton as this holds moisture and quickly loses its ability to retain warmth
  • Mid layer – whilst mountaineers would normally use fleece this can be too warm for more dynamic mountain bikers, even a simple technical jersey can be enough to trap a thin layer of air that warms up and keeps you toasty! However a heavier weight fleece or jersey in your rucksack is always a good idea when the conditions get more ‘character building’
  • Insulation layer – this could be a down jacket or heavier fleece, we often forego this layer in summer conditions but worth having in your suitcase on standby
  • Outershell – hardshell or softshell this breathable and highly waterproof layer is essential for mountain biking in Scotland. Even when the sun is splitting the sky I never leave without a good hardshell in my rucksack

2. Gloves
Full fingered essential! Some people love how half fingered gloves feel, personally I prefer the feeling of my fingertips being intact! You’re going to be riding over all kinds of surfaces, especially rock. As much as gloves keep you warm and help to grip the bars, they are there for protection and your fingertips won’t thank you if you become temporarily detached from the bike and you have forgotten about them!

3. Shorts
Lycra is great as an under layer but put a sturdier layer between you and the many bushes and rocks you will encounter on your adventure. Plus it looks much more acceptable when you stop in the cake shop after a ride!

4. Socks
When you’re mountain biking in Scotland your feet will get wet. Embrace it. All the best shoes, plastic bags and rolls of cling film won’t stop that, but a well fitting technical sock means your feet will be warm and wet instead of cold and blistered! Dry your socks after a ride, but during, have fun and aim for the puddles with no fear!

5. Shoes
If you’re on flat pedals make sure you have a good sole on your shoes, SPD shoes on flat pedals don’t match up well. If you’re riding with SPDs think about the kind of mountain biking you will be doing. If the itinerary for your Scotland adventure mentions ‘hike-a-bike’ your new, fancy, lightweight “disco slippers” made from a recycled space shuttle might be best swapped out for a good mountain SPD shoe with a sturdy sole.

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes! – and that doesn’t just apply to mountain biking in Scotland; it’s equally important in any mountainous region, like Slovenia, the Yukon, Mexico, Nepal and New Zealand.

Thanks to our guide Chris Gibbs for his words of wisdom on what to wear on your mountain biking adventure in Scotland

Photo diary: biking Torridon + Skye Scotland

On our most recent Torridon + Skye mountain biking adventure we had an amazing group of people from the US, Germany, Switzerland and France, including a journalist and photographer from outdoormind.de, who all braved the ‘interesting’ Highland weather to ride some of the most technical (and our favourite) trails in Scotland.

Whilst all of our adventures are hand-crafted to the highest quality, each individual tour is different – different characters, different weather conditions, different laughs and crashes – and here are a few photos capturing the unique story of this group of intrepid Torridon + Skye adventurers.

If German is one of your languages you can also read the full account of this Highland adventure on the outdoormind website or just watch their video – no additional language skill required!

[Photo copyright P. Aubert de la Ruee/ outdoormind.de]

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Mountain biking Skye + Torridon: in pictures

Our mountain biking adventure on the beautiful west coast of Scotland – Fort William, Torridon, Skye and many places in between – is our most technically advanced tour, but for all your efforts you’re rewarded with epic mountain trails, sensational views, fabulous local food and drink, welcoming Highland accommodation, and a great group of people with whom to share the whole experience.

Long hike-a-bikes, ancient woodland, stubborn wildlife, iconic castles, glorious sunsets and high-tech weather forecasting systems… all part and parcel of a week’s mountain biking around Torridon and Skye, Scotland!

Thanks to Jonathan for documenting the experience so well in these tremendous photos!

Join us next year to experience the adventure of mountain biking Skye, Torridon and the rugged west coast of Scotland with H+I Adventures!

Tastes and Trails of Scotland: tour diary

Tastes + Trails of Scotland tour diary, by Andrew Clark, Operations Assistant

I have been a part of the H+I Adventures team for a little over five months now, and when I was asked to come along on our Tastes + Trails adventure that takes you from the glorious Cairngorm National Park to the awe-inspiring west coast of Scotland and back again, I jumped at the chance. What better way to further build my mountain biking skills and experience what our company does best than to try it first hand! Bags packed, bike at the ready and carefully-crafted itinerary in hand, it’s time to set off!

Day 1: Inverness to Grantown-on-Spey; introductions and warm-ups

Our week begins in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, where we pick up our American guests from the airport and grab a coffee in a local café. A gentle warm-up ride takes us through the local forest trails to familiarise ourselves with the bikes and to shake off any jet-lag, before a short transfer to the picturesque town of Grantown-on-Spey, and the first of a plethora of top class Scottish cuisine at the Garth Hotel. Our accommodation for the next two nights is at the charming Strathallan Guest House, and after a day of travelling, riding and eating, a good night’s sleep is not hard to find!

Day 2: Rothiemurchus Loop; welcome to the Cairngorms!
Our day gets off to a slightly unorthodox start as the Thunder in the Glens festival passes through town. The sound of over one thousand rumbling Harley Davidson motorbikes is certainly an effective alarm clock!

After a hearty breakfast, it’s time to start our Tastes & Trails tour in earnest, and we pedal out of Aviemore into the Rothiemurchus Estate.

Throughout the ride, awesome double and singletrack trails are intertwined with beautiful Scottish scenery and fascinating history. We pass through one of Scotland’s last remaining Caledonian pine forests to Loch an Eilean, and learn about the tyrannical Alexander Stewart, (the Wolf of Badenoch), who owned the 15th century castle that stands on an island in the middle of the loch.

Swooping through rivers, glens and woodland trails, our guide is constantly on the lookout for nuggets of information, pointing out birds of prey, a crash course in identifying the three different types of Scottish Heather, and even dishing out some juniper berries growing in the bushes. I can still taste the gin…

After a late lunch on the shores of Loch Morlich, we spend the afternoon charging through the final singletrack section of our loop, gaining speed and confidence in our bikes with each pedal stroke, before diving into the Cairngorm Brewery to try out some local craft beers and ales; a perfect end to any bike ride!

Dinner is enjoyed at the local Craig Bar, a small pub with a big heart, famed for its extensive range of delicious Scottish connoisseur pies and never-ending Scots “banter” from the staff!
Castle Tioram Scotland
Day 3: Glenfeshie to Fort William; a Highland Odyssey

We say our goodbyes to Grantown in the morning, and make the short transfer to the Southern Cairngorms for a ride around Glenfeshie. It’s a glorious day, so after putting on our sunglasses (and sunscreen for the slightly frecklier ones in the group…) we get going.

This day of mountain biking really does have a bit of everything packed into it. Starting on a quiet country road, we are soon off the beaten track and getting our legs warmed up with a sharp, but ultimately short, uphill doubletrack section. The effort put into the climb is highly rewarded with an epic, flowing, rocky singletrack descent, passing through forests, mountains and open glens. The magnificent views do everything they can to take your eyes off the trail, and by the foot of the hill, the adrenaline is really flowing. Cue mass whoops of delight and high-fives all around!

By the end of our ride the sun is beating down, and we head for an al-fresco lunch at a charming local cafe, leaving the Glenfeshie locals to continue their rock-jumping into the nearby river.

The afternoon is spent passing by the beautiful Loch Laggan, and taking a trip to the highest whisky distillery in Scotland at Dalwhinnie, home of the famous 15-year single malt.

After a few well-deserved drams, we make for our destination for the evening at the Outdoor Capital of the UK, Fort William. The inspiring views onto Loch Linnhe make our accommodation for the evening hard to leave, but our dinner at the Ben Nevis Inn is definitely worth getting up for. Based at the foot of the UK’s highest mountain, this converted barn is always a highlight for mountain bikers, locals and tourists alike, with amazing views and a great atmosphere always experienced. Our group even enjoyed an impromptu jamming session, a common feature within pubs in the Highlands and Islands.

Stomachs full and voices hoarse from singing, we make our way back to Fort William to rest up from a fantastic day.

Day 4: Fort William to Mallaig to Arisaig; capturing the magic

After dousing any remnants of yesterday’s whisky with a delicious breakfast, it’s all-aboard the world famous Jacobite Steam Train as we travel from Fort William to the thriving coastal fishing village of Mallaig. Once again, the weather is spoiling us with a sunny, near-cloudless sky, as we follow the route made even more famous by the Harry Potter films, passing over the astonishing Glenfinnan Viaduct, which stands next to the equally beautiful monument. Standing at 18 metres, it commemorates the location where Bonnie Prince Charlie first raised his royal standard on Scottish shores, thus beginning the Second Jacobite Uprising of 1745/46.
Upon arriving in Mallaig, we enjoy another lunch in the sun, watching the world go by in this busy, industrious village. We even spot a few seals playing in the sea as we stroll along the harbour.

Before heading to our overnight stop at the nearby village of Arisaig, we take advantage of the weather to spend a couple of hours on one of the many beaches surrounding the two coastal towns. After a quick dip in the Atlantic Ocean and soaking up the afternoon rays, strawberries and cream in hand, the mountains of Torridon and Skye are clearly visible in the distance. It’s difficult to remember that you’re actually on the west coast of Scotland, and not in the Caribbean!

Just when we think we can’t top the spectacular scenery experienced today, our arrival in the small, tranquil village of Arisaig dispels this. After a short evening ride around some local trails, our magnificent dinner is interrupted by a truly stunning sunset as the fishing boats anchor up in the bay, forcing the majority of us from our table to capture the moment.

Our dinner and accommodation is provided by the Old Library, a charming B&B by the sea which uses fresh produce from the day’s catches by the local fishermen. It also allows our American guests to sample their first Gaelic coffees. Needless to say, it wasn’t their last of the holiday!
Ferry to the Isle of Skye
Day 5: Mallaig to Skye to Balmacara; an Island Odyssey

The historic Isle of Skye is our destination for the next day of our adventure. After waving goodbye to the seals in Mallaig harbour, we take the morning ferry for the short crossing to Armadale. The dramatic change in landscape from the rolling hills of the Cairngorms to the rocky, jagged mountains of Skye is clearly visible.

Before long we are gearing up for our bike ride, and the rocky climbs and white-knuckle descents that are typical of the Skye region are certainly sufficient to get the blood pumping! Nevertheless the effort is well worth it, and we can take in the stunning views, scenery and wildlife; sometimes having to dodge Highland cows and sheep sunbathing on the trails! We even have time to take a short hike through the grasslands to discover a beautiful, secluded white sandy beach.

Lunch is at Michelin Star winning restaurant The Kinloch Lodge, where customers are treated to a dining experience to rival any. You simply need to taste it to believe it.

A bit of exercise is in order to work off our full stomachs, and so we travel to the north of the island for a walk up the famous Old Man of Storr. This iconic rock formation was created by massive ancient landslides, and has since become a walking route popular with locals and tourists alike. With such beautiful and awe-inspiring landscapes, it’s not difficult to see why.

After a quick descent and “healthy” debate over who invented the television (he was Scottish, honest!), we pay a quick visit to the Sligachan Hotel and its 300+ whiskies.

With a quick dram warming us up, it’s off to the quaint fishing village of Plockton for a wonderful seafood dinner at the Plockton Inn, before a well-earned night’s sleep at the nearby Balmacara Mains, overlooking Loch Alsh.

Day 6: Glenelg to Balmacara; what goes up, must come down…

Our final day on the west coast takes us on a wonderful trail that starts and ends in the small town of Glenelg. The route has been dubbed the Camel Trail, thanks to the outlines left in the hill that we climb at the start of the trail. As ever, the views at the top of the hill are a wonderful reward for the effort put into the climb, and as our guide reminds us “what goes up, must come down!”. This leads us onto an amazing, ear-popping descent, whizzing past dragonflies and sheep until we reach the shoreline, taking a quick break to hold a highly competitive stone-skimming contest.

Re-energised, we continue the trail along the coast and through the grasslands, reaching some slightly technical but wonderful singletrack, passing through rivers and dense forests. We are introduced to Myrica Gale, more commonly known as Bog Myrtle, a plant that when crushed is an excellent repellent for the incessant midges. You learn something new every day!

After a couple more exciting climbs and descents, we return to Glenelg for a great lunch at the quirky Glenelg Inn.

The afternoon is spent visiting the iconic Eilean Donan Castle, famed for its astonishing location and backdrop. Three seperate lochs (Duich, Alsh and Long) surround the island that the castle is built on, and the building itself has been occupied by ancient Scottish clans and the Jacobites over the centuries, and was restored in the early 1900s. The tour is simply a must for any budding historians!

Yet another glorious dinner is consumed in Plockton, this time at the Plockton Shores restaurant (the venison is a must), before we settle in for one more night at Balmacara.

Day 7: Balmacara to Fort Augustus to Inverness; where’s Nessie?

Waking up to see the sun rise over the loch is an experience that no-one could grow tired of, but unfortunately the last day of our tour has arrived! After an awesome breakfast of porridge, smoked salmon and eggs (not together, of course!), we head for the settlement of Fort Augustus to pick up some final gifts and memorabilia, spotting some Highland cows on the way. Before we know it we are back in Inverness. Has a week passed already?!

Fortunately, there is still time to fit in one final breathtaking ride, accumulating all the skills we have gathered during the holiday to pass through flowy forest singletrack, rocky yet manageable hills, and finally a fast, swooping and adrenaline-pumping descent right onto the Dores Inn pub on the shores of Loch Ness. Bliss!

After lunch and some Nessie-spotting on the shores of Loch Ness, it is with a collective heavy heart that the group pedals back to Inverness and hops off our mountain bikes for the last time on this amazing holiday. Over dinner we all recollect the trails, meals, experiences and stories that will live long in the memory.

Day 8: Departures and Reflections

All too soon, it’s time to end our Tastes and Trails adventure, as we drop off our customers at the airport and say our fond farewells.

Heading back to the H+I Adventures office, I have time to reflect on where we’ve been over the past seven days; from the rolling hills of the Cairngorms to the rocky, dramatic mountains of Skye; from some of the finest Scots whisky to juniper berries and Bog Myrtle; from the Wolf of Badenoch to the Highland cow and the Old Man of Storr.

I learn that with each tour comes new experiences and new memories, but the things that remain constant are the amazing quality of the trails, the huge increase in ability and riding confidence of the customers by the end of the week and, most importantly, the unanimous agreement across the board that they have experienced the mountain biking holiday of a lifetime!

Mountain biking in Torridon and Skye with Haglöfs

Mountain biking in Torridon and Skye, Scotland. By Bruce Duncan of Haglöfs

Grey winds whip around us as we stand in the supermarket car park, shopping list in hand, to buy enough supplies to last eight people for five days. Top of the list is enough beer and whisky to last us the week!

I was part of the advance party for a week-long mountain biking foray into the Torridon and Skye mountains situated in the northwest coast of Scotland and had joined, Euan Wilson, guide and owner of H&I Adventures, to help set up a base camp in a traditional cottage situated smack bang in the middle of these two fantastic landscapes.

Haglöfs had designed a new range of mountain biking clothing and we wanted to expose the equipment to an array of challenging environments and riding styles. We’d enlisted H&I Adventures to host our riders and product designers from Sweden.

As we drive west from Inverness, the weather is improving from overcast and windy to a calm and sunny 22 degrees. Things are looking up. Once we arrive at the cottage we set about furnishing the cupboards and fridge with food, before settling down to a map, beer and open-fire evening:The Planning. I awake in the small hours of the morning to hear talking, but not English − the rest of the team have made it!

After breakfast, Euan gathers us around the kitchen table to discuss the day ahead. The words ‘epic’, ‘challenging’ and ‘spicy’ are being tossed around the table like rubbish on a windy day. Nobody knows what he means by ‘spicy’, but we set off nonetheless following our fearless leader into the Torridon hills.

Shortly after our first climb to a 650m pass, the ‘epic’ part of this tour starts to unfold. The views are akin to full-blown 3,000m alpine scenes, but we are only 650m up on a Scottish mountain side! A ribbon of pristine singletrack weaves its way out in front of us and disappears out of sight, teasing us with the unknown. We chase after it to find it delivers us right back down to sea level.

In eight hours we tackle singletrack technical climbs, four snakebite punctures, hike-a-bike sections and two 8km descents – Euan is certainly delivering the ‘challenging’ part of the tour.

Day two starts on a similar vein, but with the added bonus of riding the best descent in the country in to the Torridon valley!

As ever, we have to work hard for our descents, but it’s always worth it. Scotland is not like any other riding that I have done. In the Alps, you can climb for a couple of hours and then enjoy an hour-long descent. Scotland, on the other hand, is ‘undulating’: short sharp climbs and technical descents. It offers. a new way of riding and being able to conserve energy for later in the day is crucial.

By late afternoon, we are deep in the Torridon mountains surrounded by kilometre-high grey mountains, beams of sunlight shooting through the clouds like laser beams, as the clouds race across the sky. As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, Euan turns to us and announces: “saddles down, suspension on downhill mode, and buckle up, things are about to get ‘spicy’ around here!” We race down drops, over drainage bars, and big rocks, and loose rocks, and cobbled sections.

A truly awesome, technical, fast-flowing descent, the likes of which I have never seen before. I have to employ every trick and skill in the book to make it down in one piece!

That night, we relive the day’s excitement over a glass of whisky.

On day three, we head to the Isle of Skye for some fun and frolicking. We pass by Broadford and Portree on our way to the far north of the island, passing the imposing Lord of The Rings-style landscape of the Quiraing. Once there, we set about a 320m road climb, a mountain biker’s dream… or not! As soon as we reach the top of the climb, we peel off the trail and wrestle our way along a ribbon of perfect singletrack that cuts its way along the cliff edge.

We have to negotiate technical terrain while keeping an eye on the 45 degree slope to our right, that falls 150m to the sea below. Euan’s words, “Fall to the left if you fall!” are ringing in my ears all the way along. We enjoy an extended lunch and sunbathing session beneath a bluebird sunny sky, the light winds keeping the midges at bay. Then negotiate a rocky descent down to the beach below, where we find a dinosaur footprint hidden amongst the seaweed.

We return to the van tired and sore, but with a healthy glow from our day in the Scottish sun. The following day we sail back to Skye and set off along an old quartz mine railway track. It slowly gains altitude and opens up with views over the Cuillin Ridge that cuts through the centre of the island and is world famous for its impressive skyline. It’s the only Munro that requires ropes to summit and is the perfect winter training ground for climbers heading out to the Alps or other far-flung climbing destinations.

At the top, the nature of the descent becomes apparent: a grassy trail weaves its way through old abandoned homes – that have lain empty for nearly 200 years – and out onto a rocky beach bejeweled with fossils! They’re hard to find: we turn over a million rocks with no luck, so head along the coastline to pick up our trail. It hugs the lower flanks of an impressive sea cliff, before dishing out a couple of gold-star climbs. Even Euan, our intrepid guide, walks some of the route.

Throughout the ride (and indeed all this week) we haven’t seen another human being. That is, until we round the corner to find the Blue Shed Café serving a selection of coffees to put a London coffee merchant to shame and some rather spectacular home baking to help replace calories lost on today’s ride.

The day of our final adventure together dawns. As we mount our steeds for the final time, Euan explains that a part of this ride has been washed out over the past winter, but not to worry. It is a circular loop near the banks of Loch Maree that starts off with a very challenging climb up a steep dirt road, but he assures us we’ll be rewarded with one of the best views in the Highlands at the top.

For about an hour we pick our way along a fantastic singletrack before we hit the washed-out section. We see Euan skipping around rocks and over drops, but we choose to take the safe option and walk.

Once the trail picks up again it is hard to keep our eyes on the track due to the stunning views over Loch Maree and beyond it to the Torridon Valley. When we arrive back at the van it is high-fives, man hugs and ‘congratulations’ all round. We celebrate with a feast of smoked salmon, venison and Orkney fudge cheesecake, while watching the sun setting out west over the Isle of Skye.

It has been an eventful week with plenty of ups and down, literally, and we raise our beers and make a toast to ‘spicy, epic’ Scotland!

Meet your mountain bike guide Euan

In our third edition of ‘Meet your mountain bike guides’ we introduce Euan Wilson, head mountain bike guide in Scotland and co-owner of H&I Adventures.

Meet Euan, your mountain bike guide in Scotland
Meet Euan, your mountain bike guide in Scotland

Name: Euan Wilson
Home town: Inverness, capital of the Highlands of Scotland
Family: wife, Catherine
Bike: Yeti SB66c
Favourite trails: “That’s a difficult one because I’ve had the privilege to ride in so many fabulous places, but if pressed…Torridon and Skye in Scotland for the real technical challenge; the trails of the Sierra Norte in Mexico for their amazing flow; and the ride from Jomsom to Kagbeni in Nepal because, well, it’s indescribable really.”
Most known for: catch-phrase: “It’s just around the next corner…”

“I started mountain biking with friends when I was about 20 and was instantly hooked. At that time I was very into music, but my beloved hi-fi system soon began to gather dust as most of my spare time was spent out on the trails around Glasgow and in the Highlands. I decided to turn my passion into a business eight or so years ago and now I love showing clients the joy of discovering new trails and beautiful places by bike.”

If you’re interested in joining us on one of our fantastic mountain bike tours in Scotland, Nepal, or Mexico this year contact us by email, or phone on +44 (0)1463 231441 or toll free from the US/Canada on 1-888-228-50-35. We look forward to riding with you soon!

Hans Rey, Steve Peat and Danny MacAskill Scotland video!

Here is our long awaited video featuring Steve Peat, Hans Rey and Danny MacAskill on our mountain bike holiday on the Isle of Skye and in the dominating mountains of Torridon.  After watching the video you can read up on the trip here or book your own trip here!

Skye and Torridon with Danny MacAskill, Steve Peat and Hans Rey from H&I Adventures on Vimeo.