Mountain Biking in the Outer Hebrides
If you are a fan of mountain biking and will be visiting the Outer Hebrides, the liminal chain of islands in the North Atlantic just northwest of Scotland, you need to be sure to leave some time for riding. It is truly one of the most magical places to ride, and no vacation would be complete without spending some time on two wheels.
It won’t always be an easy ride – the winds are strong, the peat bogs are large, and there are some killer hillsides to go along with the winter weather. But the vast open skies and bright summer days will make the quiet, single-track deserted roads and sandy beaches worth every drop of sweat. And the consistent tailwinds help counter the work you will have to put in uphill.
Anthropologists believe humans have been residing in the region for 8,000 years, and there’s really no better to scope out the sites than on bike. Lewis, the largest of the islands, makes for some of the most excellent riding. Do be aware that paths are hard to come by, and you may be isolated at times. But relish that, take in the open air and the desolate landscape. It is so hard to come by back on mainland civilization, so enjoy it!
But if you do look closely, you’ll find what look to be small black squares dotting the land. These are called arigheans, or shielings, and are basic, small sod buildings used by younger residents in the area when they took the cattle out to summer pasture.
As you prepare for this ride before your trip, get on your hardtail mountain bike and practice on beat up roads, land rover tracks, deer tracks, and beaches to experience the varying ground you’ll pass on the Outer Hebrides. There will likely be some spots where you’ll need to hop off and push, but simply use that time to take it all in!
The prevailing winds will generally be from the Southwest, so if you plan to cycle the length of the islands it’s best to start from Barra or Uist and complete the ride on Lewis itself. Check the forecast just before you head out, and keep the winds in mind, using them to your advantage.
The locals are some of the friendliest you will ever find, so tap into their local knowledge of the region. They may know of some secret paths you would never find on your own accord, or some fun local event going on.
There are five major routes to consider as you prepare to go:
- The Pentland Road: Staying on Lewis, this is a tarmac road along the Barvas Moor. This is a great start to appreciate the scope of the moor. You will see brochs, mills, and beaches.
- The Old Post Road: A sedate loop, leaving from Urgha to coastal terrain.
- Gleann Miabhib to Loch Langabhat: A 7 km singletrack route, this one requires some legitimate experience off-road.
- The Machair Path: Follow the coastal path for 35km right through Uist, a beautiful flower-filled path best for the summer.
- The Goldern Road: Experience South Harris, passing right through villages and even campsites you can stay at.
There is so much to explore in the Outer Hebrides, and there is truly no better way to appreciate the area and immerse yourself in it than experiencing it via bike. And while you can rent all of the mountain biking gear you need once you arrive, you could always bring your own if you have a folding bike that you want to ride.