Muros by Bike

Originally Published 19/5/2012

First attempt at a “How to” type blog…

A few years ago Paul Tatersall took a bike to the top of all 284 Munros, apparently this involved the bike arriving at a number of summits in bits. Funnily enough this particular type of Munro round hasn’t caught on and the first complete sweep of the Corbett’s is still up for grabs!

Just because cycling may not be the best method of ascent for the Inn Pin does does not mean we should ditch the idea entirely however as there are many Munros, including some of the highest quality when starting and finishing your day on a bike makes perfect scene. 

The highlands are crisscrossed with a network of estate roads and tracks accessing remote lodges and crofts. These offer great access routes into many of the more remote peaks and a bike is the perfect tool for making the miles fly by both at the start and perhaps more importantly the end of your planned walk.

Knocking off long miles on estate tracks quickly on a bike makes isolated hills more accessible in the shorter winter months as practical day trips making the most of the light. Compressing your time at the start and end of a walk also allows you to spend more time up high enjoying the view for longer or grabbing that extra peak. 

It’s also possible to cut down all that weight you have to carry on your back by fitting your bike with panniers or towing an off road trailer such as a BOB Ibex. This makes riding much more comfortable and easier on the body generally but it also means the centre of gravity of the bike is kept lower with less chance of an unintentional dismount.

Another advantage of a trailer or panniers is you notice the weight much less and can therefore load up with a few extra luxuries such as a brew kit to fire up at the bike drop off point. If your heading out for a few days a bike allows you to carry your “delux” camping gear or some extra food, or maybe haul in some coal or wood if your planning on spending time at a bothy many of which are accessible with relative ease by bike.

Access With Responsibility

Access for cyclists is much bettser in Scotland than in the rest of the UK thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This enshrined into law access for cyclists to huge swaths of the highlands with a right of access granted to land not covered by buildings, private gardens, industrial plant (such as quarries), and farmland.

This right however is granted only if the access is exercised responsibly by the user. This means showing respect of other users and the landscape itself by controlling your speed when near others and not cycling in such a way to cause excessive damage and erosion to the terrain. Take special care on trails through woodland as many users especially those from south of the border may not be expecting you to fly past them on what they may think is a walkers footpath.

The Bike

Terrain can range from well maintained estate roads to sinuous singletrack with all the mud, ruts, and rocks you can think of in between. Unless you have arms and wrists of steel a mountain bike with front suspension is probably the minimum. 

Personally I run 2.4” tyres with an intermediate tread which is fine for most terrain most of the year. Mountain bikes with 29” wheels are relatively new to the market but won me over straight away as they are particularly good on off road touring type terrain. The bigger wheels run through mud and over objects easier giving an overall smoother ride.

Bike Kit and Safety

It goes without saying these days but always ware a helmet, and if you expect to be coming back at night some lights for your bike in addition to your head-torch. River crossings with a bike should be taken no less seriously than without; the bike can be used to give added support in the current but always cross with the bike downstream so it can’t get pushed on top of you.

The last thing you want is a mechanical far from home, from experience I know pushing downhill is a really frustrating experience having thrown away all the mornings effort at climbing. Pump, multitool, chaintool, spare inner tube, and break pads should allow you fix most problems at the trailside, the most common of witch will probably be pinch punctures from failing to hop drainage ditches! I also carry a pair of nitrile gloves so I don’t get covered in oil if I have a problem with the drivetrain.

It’s hard to say what to do about security, personally I always take a bike-lock with me to lock wheels together and try and leave the bike as well hidden as possible but this is just force of habit from living in a city and I’m not aware of bike theft being a big problem in remote areas.

Getting Involved: Five Bike Friendly Hilldays to Sink Your Teeth Into.

Ben Avon and Ben a Bhuird (M17/M11; OS Explorer 44; 093006/132018 ;1171m/1197m) 

These two Munros are huge table like plateaus set well back into the Cairngorms. An estate track is rideable all the way up Gleann an t -Slugain to the ruined lodge at about eight kilometres. Beyond this is a good stakers path which is a joy to ride as it weaves up the valley; make sure you confident with your bunny hopping skills however to avoid the dreaded pinch! The path is ridable to about 13 kilometres and 750m almost all the way to The Sneck a coll between the two mountains and offers great view across to the remote eastern coires of Beinn a Bhuide. Needless to say the ride out is a joy with all that stored up down hill whisking you away to the road in record time.

Seana Bhraigh (M262, OS Explorer 436; 281879 926m)

Possibly Scotlands most remote Munro Seana Bhraigh is a northern outpost in far off Easter Ross. A great approach on a bike and probably the best approach overall is down Strath Mulzie following the Corriemulzie River beside which runs a good track. In clear weather the approach offers fine views of the great north east facing Luchd Coire the headwall of which falls almost 400m from the summit of the mountain. The track which includes one potentially difficult river crossing can be followed as far as Loch a Choire Mhoir (11km) where the bikes can be left. From here the finest route leads up the Creag an Duine ridge on the eastern side of the coire (some scrambling), this leads the summit via the brilliant rocky promontory of An Sgurr.

Ben Adler (M25; OS Explorer 393; 496718; 1148m)

An incredibly fine yet remote mountain situated in the heart of the central highlands north of Loch Ericht; on a good day Ben Adler’s high plateau offers fantastic views over a huge portion of the Highlands. The route from Dahwhinne on the A9 involves a mammoth round trip of approximately 42Km but using a bike the first (and last) 12km as far as Loch Pattak can be easily dealt with. A further four kilometres of slightly tougher cycling leads from here to Culra Bothy, indeed it is possible to to a complete circuit of the mountain by bike although this is recommended for experience riders only (more details in Scotland Mountain Biking)

Breariach, Angels Peak, and Cairn Tool (M3, M5, M4; OS Explorer 403, 953999/954976/963972; 1296m/1258m/1291m)

Everything about these giants of the Cairngorms is big especially the walk in’s; unless that is you know the key to the backdoor. The estate track up Gleann Eanaich to the loch at its head allows you to knock off about 12km of distance in little over an hour. Although not quite as spectacular as the Larig Ghru approach route the scenery at the head of Gleann Eanaich is still beautifully wild. The lower section of the ride is through the scots pines and seas of heather of the Rothiemurchus estate before climbing out onto the more stark and barren upper reaches of the glen as the mountains begin to crowd in on all sides. Leave the bike at the Loch and head up into Coire Damph and onto the plateau and three of the big five are there for the taking. 

Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin (Explorer 433, 870654/905646; 875m/855m)

Hidden away north of the more famous trio of Torridonian mountains these fine pair of Corbetts offer a fantastic walking experience in one of Scotland great wildernesses with terrific views south towards Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg. Climbing the hills individually or together a bike is very useful to quickly knock off the first seven kilometres or so to Loch na h-Oidhche or push on to the (locked) bothy of Poca Buidhe a few kilometres further at the far end of the loch.

Mount Keen (M235; OS Explorer 395; 409869; 939m)

With most Munros the bike must be dumped at some point as the route becomes too steep or impractical, this is not the case with Mount Keen where arriving on the summit on two wheels is relatively easy. Approaching from the south it’s good going on a track up Glen Mark; just after Queens well the track begins to climb following the old Mounth Drove Road. It’s a tough climb from here, but it is all ridable and you have the motivation of the fun your going to have coming the other way. For those with something left in the tank Mount Keen can form part of a 55km circular route combining the Mounth and Fungle Roads for an epic day in the saddle (again more details in Scotland Mountain Biking).

Sources and Further Information

In writing this article I drew on the information and from the following sources and authors.

The Munros, Donald Bennet, Published by the SMC

Scotland Mountain Biking – The Wild Trails by Phil McKane is a great little book of fantastic wild rides to which the odd hill can easily be tagged.

The Central Highlands, Peter Hodgkiss, SMC District Guide

The Cairngorms, Adam Watson, SMC District Guide

The Northern Highlands, Tom Strang, SMC District Guide