One of the best ways to explore the outdoors in a high-paced adrenaline-fueled way is by going mountain biking. Europe’s got many great mountain bike tracks that allow you to cover more miles than hiking in the same amount of time. As mountain biking is gaining in popularity many new single tracks are being explored that were previously only accessible to hikers. The same is happening to mountain biking in Scotland. In the last decade, people started experimenting with mountain biking on the West Highland Way. Most people that attempt it are very experienced bikers. I am not, but attempted it anyway. Admittedly, it is tough but if I knew upfront what I know now I could have made it a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable. So if the West Highland Way is on your list and the idea of doing it in only 4 days while crossing up and down the paths sound appealing, read on. This guide will explain exactly how to go at it. Which route to take, where to stop, sleep and eat and what to take on your mountain biking adventure in Scotland.
Choosing your direction
The first decision you have to make is whether you’re doing the route South to North or North to South. What is better? North to South. Why? Less climbing and more descending. More importantly all hikers that the route the other way so you will be facing them head-on. This is so much safer and more enjoyable for both parties that I would really not recommend doing the route the other way. Doing it this way you tackle the rough highlands first and then slowly ease into rolling landscapes with meadows, fields and sheep. This gives you a nice ‘coming home’ feeling.
Hiring the right mountain bikes
Full suspension bikes are no unnecessary luxury for this route as the terrain is quite rough. However, it is also possible to do in on hard-tails (front suspension). We did. An added bonus of a hardtail is the lesser weight which comes in handy in hike-a-bike parts. If you go for a hardtail make sure it is a premium brand and a premium type. We hired Whyte 901s which were perfect for the job with their light frames and wide steers.
You can rent mountain bikes in Fort William and try to arrange for a courier to get the bikes back up. Offroad Bikes in Fort William has its own courier service for about £60.00 per bike. Book well ahead (3 months was not enough in our case) as the courier will be busy carrying hikers’ bags during peak season. Cheaper and less hassle is renting your mountain bikes in Glasgow and taking them up to Fort William. We rented from Billy Billsland’s Cycles, which I can wholeheartedly recommend. Nice staff and great bikes.
Getting to Fort William
The easiest way to get to Fort William is by train. It takes a little more than 3.5 hours from Glasgow and costs £30.80 for a single ticket. You can take your bike on the train for free and there are compartments at the front that carry special hooks to safely store your bike while in transit. The route is beautiful and hugs the West Highland Way at times so you can already the trails you’ll be taking on the next day or so.
Tickets and timetables can be found here.
As is true for all villages in Scotland, Tyndrum is tiny. Try the Tyndrum Inn for dinner. Get the haggis as a starter, its great. Stocking up is best done at the Green Willy Shop, which is more a gas station shop than a supermarket.
We slept the night at the Muthu Ben Doran Hotel. Its a bit dated but the beds are good, the staff is nice and it’s not overly expensive. The main reason you should stay here is the breakfast though, this is an experience on its own. Breakfast is served in a huge room with fluffy red carpets, high ceilings and wooden beams above your head. Its like one of those fancy but dated alpine hotels. Only they play the best 60’s and 70’s hits which totally doesn’t match the setting. There’s also a weird symmetry going on in the hall and the room is filled with Asians reading newspapers. It was so weird I felt I was in a Wes Anderson movie. The food itself is also good, but the whole atmosphere, priceless.
– Things to bring to cycle the West Highland Way –
The main thing to do is to pack light. Mountain biking is really only comfortable if you can do it with a small daypack tightly strapped to your back and nothing else. Get over yourself and accept that this is not the trip to look sexy and fresh. You only need 1 extra set of clothes. The set you want to be wearing when after you step off the bike. Okay, maybe you first want to shower first too. What you must not forget is a first-aid kit. Chances are high that at least one in your party will have a minor accident and gets cut, or a small scab.
Instead of smearing blood all over your rental gear and equipment you can just put a Band-Aid on. And disinfectant is nice to avoid infections. The following items are items I use and I think are helpful on a trip like this one.