Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A ride on the wild side

In the first of my series on wild mountain bike riding, here's a brief introduction to what it is, along with some tips for those who want to give it a go for the first time.

Wild mountain bike riding? Is that when we go a bit crazy and do things we shouldn’t? Well, maybe, but that’s probably all mountain bike riding! What’s a “wild” mountain bike ride and how does it differ from riding at a man-made trail centre? Here’s my definition:

  • You’re not riding at a purpose-built trail centre (like one of the 7Stanes). Your ride might start and finish at one, or go through one, but most of it is in the “wild”
  • It’s not just “off-piste”. There are some very technically challenging off-piste trails to be found between the man-made routes at trail centres but I don’t consider them “wild” rides. If you’re still within the boundaries of a trail centre with a cafĂ©, showers and toilets, then it’s not “wild”
  • You will generally be on old walking paths, old military roads (good old General Wade!), farmers tracks, up the side of mountains, and in some places there may be no path at all
  • It may not be technically challenging in places, but in other places it could be very challenging, both up and down, as the tracks are not designed for bikes
  • You may have to carry your bike up some of the hills as they are not rideable – this is known as “hike-a-bike”. It’s character-building, honest!
  • You may have to wade through rivers. See aforementioned character-building!
  • The trail may not be way-marked and in most cases will require a map or GPS, and a good understanding of that map to find your way (although trails like the West Highland Way are way-marked, I’d still consider it a wild ride since it’s remote in places and not originally intended for bikes)
  • If you get lost or injured you could be very far from civilisation or a mobile phone signal
  • You’ll probably be out on your bike all day, not just for an hour or so
  • You’ll find the very nature of a wild ride means you’ll get to see some of the most stunning scenery our beautiful country has to offer, like this view of Loch Tulla from the top of Mam Carraigh just last Thursday when I rode from Crianlarich to Glencoe

There are lots of great sources of wild mountain bike routes online, such as TrailScotland and I’d also highly recommend both volumes of Scotland Mountain Biking: The Wild Trails. Also, keep checking back here for my blogs on the wild trails I’m doing each month.

You’ll find plenty of advice online and in these books, but here are my tips if you’re quite new to mountain biking and want to give your first wild trail a go:
  • Research the route in advance, make sure you have a map with you (even if you have a GPS device – batteries can run out!) and know how to read it
  • Give yourself extra time in case you puncture or it takes longer than you think
  • Go with a friend and make sure someone knows where you are and what time you expect to be back. You can use live tracking on a Garmin device or an app like Runkeeper but they both rely on a mobile data signal which you may not have
  • Be prepared – pump, multi-tool, chain breaker, quick-links, 2 spare tubes, tyre levers, tyre boot, cable ties, first aid kit, lights (in case you are delayed and it starts to get dark), waterproof jacket, spare gloves, spare base layer, warm hat, buff, more food than you need, plenty of water, emergency foil blanket, whistle, suncream (maybe not needed at the moment though!), bite/sting spray, midge repellent, midge net (in case you have to stop to repair a puncture and the little pests descend upon you!)
  • Give walkers respect and always give them the right of way. A friendly “hello” as you approach them, at low speed, will keep us all happily sharing these amazing trails together. You’ll find most of them very friendly and they generally think we’re a bit crazy!
In a future blog, I’ll give you a full run down of what’s in my bag when I’m doing a really remote ride.

Don’t let all this put you off though – yes, you need to be prepared and be careful but with a bit of planning and common sense, there’s nothing holding you back. Perhaps start on a wild trail that’s not too far from civilisation, like some sections of the West Highland Way. I’ll never forget my first adventure into the wild several years ago, along the Glen Kinglass route. It absolutely took my breath away to see scenery like this when I’d only previously ridden at trail centres . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment