Ed Shoote is a writer and photographer; his work has featured in numerous outdoor and cycling magazines over the last decade. Having developed a passion for road cycling as a child in Suffolk, Ed later fell in love with mountain biking as he moved further north in the UK, and then discovered gravel riding while living in British Columbia where he explored the endless, remote logging roads. Over the years he has travelled extensively with his gravel bike in tow, particularly in central Asia. Now living in Scotland with his young family, Ed works in developing cycling in the south of Scotland and spends his spare time exploring the glens, mountains and forests across the country on his gravel bike. Gravel Rides Scotland is his first book.
If you're busily prepping for your summer holiday of bikepacking or gravel riding in the beautiful landscapes that Scotland has to offer, have a look through these tips that I've compiled to help you have the best trip possible. Having taken on countless Scottish gravel rides either solo, with a partner or even with the kids, I hope that my experience can help you avoid any pitfalls!
1.Be prepared. In Scotland rides can be very isolated and remote, and the weather can change dramatically. You need to get in the mindset of packing a lot more than on a road ride because help and shelter can be far away. Take a spare warm layer. I take a spare merino base layer; for waterproofs – a Gore Tex Shakedry jacket is a great (if expensive) option because it’s totally waterproof but packs down tiny. In winter a pair of well fitted waterproof shorts are ideal to wear or carry, I love my Gore C5 Pac-lite shorts which are a nice, tailored fit as most MTB shorts tend to be too flappy and baggy.
2.Try to avoid taking a backpack. Gravel riding puts a strain on your back due to the long rough miles and constant leaning forward. Put your spare kit in a bar, frame or saddle bag. I use an Apidura Expedition Frame Pack. This is bigger than top tube packs, and so is easier to load up and forget about. I use this for tubes, bike spares and tools, mini pump, snacks and spare clothes. A frame bag is fit and forget, always ready for the next ride.
3. Tyres are important! Don’t go too skinny with your tyres and, while it can be a faff, a tubeless set-up is much better. It can be easy to think narrower and higher pressure are faster, but given the toll it can take on rough tracks it really isn’t. There is a balance, because if you go too wide I think you start to miss what makes gravel riding fun, that is the road-bike-like speed and acceleration. I have been running 650b 2.1” tyres and, while they are comfy and grippy, they do noticeable drag more than 42mm tyres do. There is a sweet spot in the range of 42mm and 50mm, depending on what your preference is. I wouldn't opt for tyres narrower than 42mm for Scottish riding.
4. Don’t always expect a cafe or shop and prepare for a bonk! Taking enough food is key to both completing and enjoying your ride. Always aim to have some left over as bonking is when you hit that wall and just need a rest and sugar to keep going. I used to ride for 7 hours without taking on much food but now I tend to need more regular food throughout a ride, and I try to pack more than I think I might need, as you never know how things will pan out. I also like the option to extend or explore on a gravel ride, so it leaves you less restricted if you’ve enough food and drink.
5. Gravel riding needs a different riding style than mountain biking. When cornering at speed try to keep the bike upright and lean your body into the corners. The scariest thing is completely losing traction and wiping out. By keeping the bike upright, it is more predictable – you may still drift out a bit on loose gravel corners, but you can control and balance it. Brake before corners and try to use the width of the track by apex’ing the corner (if there’s definitely no traffic!). Gravel tyres don’t generally have aggressive side knobs for grip, so they behave differently to mountain bike tyres; when you lean a MTB the tyre lugs ‘hook up’ at a certain angle and keep in control, while on gravel leaning on loose stuff equals a wipe out! Try to carry speed down the hills and up on to the climbs, use the speed and momentum that you don’t get on an MTB.