Scotland is blazing a trail in mountain bike tourism

Karen Ramoo ,
5 Dec 2018

Karen Ramoo, who leads on access in our policy team, explains some of the work going on to ensure Scotland’s growth in mountain bike tourism is safe and sustainable.

Scotland’s mountain biking sector is very important to our economy and to our vision of a Scotland where more people are more active, more often.  

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs

Scotland is made for mountain biking. The spectacular landscapes provides varied terrain to suit all levels of off-road biking. Combine this with Scotland’s access legislation, which allows mountain bikers to share the same rights as walkers, and we’ve got a really attractive offer.

With Scotland rated in the top five destinations in the world for mountain biking there’s no doubt that more people are getting on their bikes and making the most of our spectacular outdoors. 

Since its introduction in 1982 the sport has seen rapid growth and now generates more than £257 million annually for the Scottish economy; this is expected to continue so that by 2025 the industry will be worth an incredible £408m annually. 

Although many riders still find their fun in the open countryside, the growth has been largely due to the success of purpose-built trail centres, such as Glentress in the Tweed Valley and Witch’s Trail near Fort William, which have captured the public’s imagination. 

These, combined with advances in bike technology and the demand by experienced bikers for new technical trails, has accelerated the demand for more challenging trails. That has also led to increasing numbers of what are called ‘unauthorised trails’. Built without landowners’ permission, they range from rough lines scratched into a hillside to the perfectly sculpted result of many hours’ graft. 

While many in the mountain biking community see the development of these as a great thing, there is a flip side – and that is the various problems they can cause land managers, other visitors to the countryside and the environment, especially forests. 

The continued development of these trails is a growing problem that has been bubbling away for a number of years. Now, mountain bike groups, land managers and other stakeholders including Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland have been working together under the National Access Forum to explore best ways to solve this problem and plan how best to sustain and grow mountain biking in Scotland. 

A new guide tackling the issue of unauthorised mountain bike trails was unveiled at the biennial Scottish Mountain Bike Conference held in Aviemore last month. The guidance stresses the importance of land managers and bikers talking to each other to find solutions to problems on the ground. It also makes positive suggestions for the future, such as land managers adopting trails or reaching agreements with volunteers or mountain bike groups. 

It's all about working together to create the right trail in the right place.