Scotland has some of the best cycling in the United Kingdom. Iron-thighed bike fiends come from all over Europe to tackle the road route which scales the Assynt Achiltibuie Circular, 112km of hard climbing and spectacular views of Sula Bheinn, Cùl Mòr and Stac Pollaidh as well as many beautiful beaches and lochs.
Scotland offers family-friendly cycling too, and cycling holidays are an increasingly popular way for locals and visitors to get out and experience the country’s stunning scenery and warm hospitality. Edinburgh has a wonderful cycle path that takes you from the city centre to the sea, while the Loch Leven Heritage Trail in Perthshire provides the rider with great views of Lochleven Castle as well as a rich variety of wildlife to spot.
Cycling’s not dangerous, but it does carry risks. Most of the risks derive from being on the road, but there are also risks involved in cycling to remote regions where access is limited. And of course you don’t want to lose control of your bike while you’re hurtling around the Montrose Basin in Angus.. However, if you follow a few simple tips, you can stay safe while you enjoy Scotland from the saddle.
It’s obvious, but it bears repeating: faulty bikes cause accidents. If you’re on your bike for the first time in a while, or you’re planning a longer ride than usual, you need to check your bike thoroughly before you set out. Even brand new bikes should be checked. If your tyres or brake pads are worn, replace them, and pack spares as well. If you’re testing your bike on new terrain, remember that your tyres might wear more quickly than usual. Pack a few repair kits, and if there are any basic repairs you haven’t had to make in a while, brush up on the technique. Youtube has lots of great how-to vids.
Don’t forget a hi-vis jacket or other hi-vis clothing. If you’re caught in low-visibility conditions, like rain, fog or just low light, a hi-vis jacket can be the difference between staying safe and not. A first aid kit is a great idea too. Check that everything is there before you pack it.
Prepare your body as well as your bike. Injuries often come about when a cyclist tries to push themselves too hard, too fast. If you’re planning a longer cycle, gradually increase the distance of your practice rides for at least a few weeks in advance. Don’t think that you can tackle a mountain ride without preparation just because you’re getting pretty quick at your daily commute on the flat.
Know the rules of the road
While cycling in Scotland, it’s possible to keep out of the way of traffic most of the time. Quiet country roads can still present dangers, though, and it’s important to remember that most country roads are working roads. You’ll need to share the space with farm vehicles, as well as local drivers who might be sick of cyclists hogging the tarmac! It’s well worth studying the Highway Code before you leave. It’s essential to know what you’re not allowed to do, but it’s also important to know what is allowed. For instance, many cyclists think that they should ride in single file. In fact, it’s not only legal to ride two abreast, it’s actually recommended. That’s because cyclists riding two abreast provide a shorter, more visible obstacle to drivers, and the cyclists have better visibility too. More than two abreast, however, is illegal.
Keep a weather eye out
The weather—good or bad—can cause accidents and injuries. Overheating can lead to heat fatigue or sunstroke, while cold muscles pull more easily. Rain and snow are especially hazardous on the roads, but glare on a bright day can also cause accidents.
Whether you’re cycling to enjoy the scenery or to beat a personal best, you’ll be hoping for clear skies and a bit of sun. But this is Scotland, and not every day is going to be sunny. Your cycle might take you into the mountains or just a long way from the nearest available shelter, so you need to be prepared for all weathers. At any time of year, you should bring lightweight waterproofs. If you get wet, you’ll get cold fast, and wet clothes can also chafe uncomfortably and cause blisters. In winter, you should pack extra layers to adjust to temperature changes. Leggings, gloves, extra socks and a cycling balaclava are all must-haves, especially if you’re taking on some of the higher routes around Ben Nevis or on the Torridon Loop.
Prepare for blue skies too! Pack extra suncream. If you’re not used to cycling in the heat, you’ll be surprised how quickly you sweat through it. A lot of people don’t put enough on. To cover your face, hands, and the back of your neck you need two tablespoons of suncream. On even a moderately sunny day, sunglasses are a good idea. Light reflected from the road can burn the surface of your eyes, which is painful and will cost you at least a day’s cycling while you recover. Glare can also cause a really nasty headache, which is the last thing you want when you’re trying to relax after a hard day’s ride. If there’s glare on the road, or if you’re cycling into a low sun, sunglasses will improve visibility from the saddle and reduce your chances of getting into an accident.
If you follow the above tips, you can minimise your chances of having an accident whilst on your bike. There’s always a small risk attached to cycling, however. Legally speaking, when you get in the saddle you accept a certain amount of risk. If you’re injured through someone else’s negligence, recklessness or carelessness, you may be entitled to compensation. In the event that you find yourself in this situation, your first step is to speak to legal expert. They’ll be able to talk you through your options and help you claim compensation if you’re entitled to it.