Ed Shoote: Gravel Rides Scotland
Ed Shoote is an Apidura Ambassador, writer and photographer who has bikepacked across more than 50 countries and now spends his time exploring the endless network of gravel tracks crisscrossing the Scottish countryside. Keen to share the best Scottish gravel he’s found in his explorations, he’s written a book: Gravel Rides in Scotland: 28 Gravel Bike Adventures in the Wilds of Scotland. We asked him to share with us why Scotland is such a gravel riding paradise and his tips for tackling Scottish gravel.
Scotland is made for gravel bikes, with dramatic landscapes that inspire cycling adventures. Scotland is perhaps infamous for mixed weather, but it also has an incredible network of maintained gravel tracks that let cyclists explore further and deeper into the countryside on more forgiving terrain than heading truly off road. Scotland’s unique history has resulted in endless tracks through glens and over passes – both new (such as wind farm access roads) and old, historic military roads. Right to roam and access laws mean cyclists have a responsible right to access, making almost all these tracks available for riding and gravel adventures. All of this makes Scotland a gravel paradise with endless options for adventures – so many that choosing just a select few for a book is a real challenge!
Scottish gravel is on the adventurous end of the spectrum and wide tires are a must. 42mm is a great starting point but wider tires won’t hinder you and you’ll appreciate the comfort they bring. I use 650b wheels with 47-52mm tires for most of my gravel riding in Scotland. However, while some of the trails can be a bit rough, they are all drop bar bike friendly and suit what we call a modern gravel bike, with up-to-date tyre clearances. Off-road bikepacking in Scotland doesn’t mean you need to get into technical mountain biking terrain, there is so much gravel you won’t need a bigger more capable bike to have endless adventures.
The benefit of gravel riding over mountain biking is the ability to travel fast and light… although the varying terrain and challenging weather conditions in Scotland mean you need to be prepared for anything gear-wise. I always carry a waterproof, no matter the weather, and lightweight, waterproof bikepacking bags are a must for spare tools, a pump, first aid kit and snacks – you don’t want a big backpack strapped to you on the gravel tracks or up the climbs and I find an Apidura Expedition Frame Pack helps me feel so much freer and more comfortable on the bike.
While I enjoy long bikepacking trips, the book focuses on shorter loops, with the option to link up routes and create a longer bikepacking tour. This gives the option of 28 shorter loops that are incredible on their own or connecting them together to create the ultimate loop. For the brave and resourceful, there are plenty of hints to help you explore beyond the routes I’ve shared.
Each region in the book is designed around a long weekend away. The eastern Cairngorms lends itself really nicely to this style of uncommitted riding – the routes all overlap, which provides so many options. Personally, I would say the Cairngorms has the best gravel riding in the UK and it’s definitely my favourite collection of the book.
The hardest part of writing the book was settling on the loops. My local riding in the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders is superb and I’m constantly exploring and adapting my favourite routes. Lockdown forced me to explore locally on trails that have been right in front of me all along and I don’t feel like I’m close to exploring everything still. Each ride brings something different – one minute you’re on the highest point for miles and have stunning views of Edinburgh and the sea, the next you’re deep in the Tweed Valley following the course of a river.
Ed Shoote’s book, Gravel Rides in Scotland: 28 Gravel Bike Adventures in the Wilds of Scotland is available now and contains 28 routes, ranging from 31 to 128km, exploring the best gravel riding that Scotland has to offer across seven outstanding gravel destinations – the Scottish Borders; Dumfries and Galloway; Argyll and Bute; Highland Perthshire and the Trossachs; the Cairngorms (split into Deeside and Aviemore); and Northwest Scotland.