If you want to test your pedalling prowess then Scotland is the place to head. With 22 dedicated tracks, it is recognised as a global superstar of mountain biking. Words: Juris Graney
After surviving the cold, grey English winter surrounded by drab buildings, leafless trees and cranky commuters, a day whizzing through the wilds of Scotland on a bike sounded too good to miss.
A quick flight and a short drive south of Edinburgh lies the tiny town of Peebles where you can find Scotland’s biggest and most popular purpose-built mountain bike centre, Glentress Forest. I expected a vast craggy wilderness but wandering up the stairs of the Hub Café at the centre, our proposed riding destination looked more like a nubbin on the green landscape than a full-blown mountain.
Thoughts of a relaxing ride were dashed, though, as café owners and former mountain biking professionals Emma Guy and Tracy Brunger showed me a map on the wall of all the routes that span 65km of the Forestry Commission land.
I liked the sound of pedalling through the Ewok Village or maybe free-wheeling down the Britney Spears tracks until I was told they were black grade trails – suitable for expert riders only and probably not the best place to restart my biking career.
As someone who last rode a bike about 10 years ago, just getting to the top of chosen destination Spooky Wood Descent, the second hardest route stretching 19km, proved hard enough.
A truck service runs from the base of the mountain and will take you and your bike up to a variety of routes, but if you are fit or just stupid like me, you can ride up the mountain trails to get that added experience.
An 8km blue route is available for those either starting out or reacquainting themselves with two wheels, and a free-ride area has been built midway up the hill to test you and your bike, which can be hired.
The red route is by far and away the most popular track used by thousands of riders each year and, thankfully, before pushing off down the single-track, Brunger and current British Champion cross country MTB junior Hamish Creber gave me a few tips on how to tackle the course.
It was a great call on their behalf, as I wasn’t expecting any of the 18 jumps, 17 tabletops, four rock drops or 12 180-degree bermed bends that were squeezed into an eventful 1.5km of the entire track.
Not one to forgo a challenge, I sped off at breakneck speed and, like many who have over estimated their ability on a bike, came close to becoming a casualty.
At one point, after narrowly avoiding smashing my teeth into the handlebar after losing control on a misjudged jump, I did the smart thing and slowed down to appreciate the surroundings.
It’s not just beginners who are challenged by the runs at Glentress Forest. Riders have voted its black route as the best trail in Britain and the wicked Three Freeride Tracks are used by top Scottish riders to hone their skills for the World Cup circuit.
To add further credibility to Scotland’s claims as the European capital of mountain biking, the International Mountain Bicycling Association has branded the country a ‘global superstar’ for the past two years in a row, making it the first nation ever to achieve the accolade back-to-back.
• Juris Graney travelled to Glentress with Visit Scotland ??-225 5121; www.visitscotland.com).
Need to know
When to go All year round
Getting there Fly into Edinburgh and hire a car. Glentress forest is on the A72 and is two miles east of Peebles, which is a 45 minute drive south of Edinburgh.
Vital info To request a free Mountain biking Guide call 0845-225 5121 or see www.visitscotland.com/adventure.
The pick of the tracks
Scotland is home to 22 dedicated mountain bike centres, from the most southerly trails at Dalbeattie in Dumfries and Galloway to Golspie 300 miles north. Here are a few of the best
Having hosted the World Cup, this year Fort William will hold the World Championships. The World Cup downhill track is the longest and highest in the UK with a vertical drop of 525m over 2.46km.
This is without doubt the biggest and most popular centre. It is part of the 7stanes group managed by Forestry Commission. With about 65km of dedicated single-track suitable for all levels of riders, it is a great day out.
This is the most southerly centre, famous for its hard granite surfaces. Again, there are plenty of tracks for all levels, but with single-tracks within 30 seconds of one of the black graded sections keep an eye out for the signs.
If you want to check out the scenery, Kirroughtree is the place for you It blends forested single-tracks with tight, intricate twists and is also home to McMoab – a snaking 900m section of granite slabs.