Battle of the Bikes: road vs mountain bike in the Cairngorms National Park

Biking is one of the most popular activities to do in the Cairngorms National Park. But which bike will you choose – a mountain bike or a road bike? Both are growing in popularity and have their particular pros.

To help you decide, we’ve pulled together the plus-points for each!

Reasons why mountain bikers say the mountain bike is mightier:

  • You escape the crowds and the cars, which is healthier and more relaxing. This is super easy for all the family in the Cairngorms, with the National Cycle Network’s 64 km of off-road routes. You can quickly get to remote, wild areas without a soul around yet, also, in the Cairngorms you are often close to a cafe for a refuel stop!
  • You can enjoy that thrilling feeling of whizzing down in between the sweet-smelling pine trees
  • You can get even bigger thrills taking advantage of nature’s obstacles from rocks to trees to streams!
  • The Cairngorms has two world-class mountain biking resorts: Glenlivet and Wolftrax in Laggan
  • You’re more likely to stumble across the Park’s diverse wildlife

Reasons why road bikers say the road bike is way more rad:

  • If you feel the need for speed, then that is the major reason to jump on a slick road bike saddle. Not only will this mean you hear the whirr of wheels and feel the whizz of wind through your hair, but you’ll be able to see much more of the Cairngorm scenery, too (albeit, perhaps, blurred!)
  • you get a better work-out (say road bike fans!) because the ride is smoother, so you get better energy conversion
  • Mountain bikes tend to be more complex creatures, harder to operate and take longer to master, especially if you’re doing tricks and obstacles – the learning curve on a road bike is much quicker
  • Because they’re not being hauled through mud and grit, etc, road bikes tend to be easier to look after post-cycle
  • Road bikes have been around far longer. This means there’s a certain amount of culture and history around them that you don’t have with mountain bikes

 What do the local biking experts think?

The Cairngorms National Park is full of biking enthusiasts, we asked a few local experts for their opinion on the road bike vs. mountain bike dilemma!

David Keegan, Bothy Bikes, Aviemore

“Mountain biking is an exciting way to explore the area, savour the feeling of being amongst nature and have fun at the same time. It’s amazing how quickly you can cover ground and find yourself in a remote, wild feeling place. Winter fatbiking on perfect snow is a very rare thing, but when conditions are right it’s like a wonderful combination of ski-touring and cycling!”

David’s favourite routes:

  • The trails from Feshiebridge over to the Badan Dubh above Insh. “Pedally singletrack forever!” he says
  • The Southern Cairngorms loop: Feshie – Minigaig – Glen Bruar – Glen Banvie – Glen Tilt – Geldie – Glen Feshie. “It’s doable in a day on a mountain or gravel bike but probably best as a two day ride to take it all in! One to be avoided if there’s been a lot of rain as some of the fords are huge,” says David

Katie Jachacy, Pine Marten Bar & Scran, Glenmore

“I prefer mountain biking. Any route, hill, mountain, puddle or burn can be concurred with the spin of a wheel and sometimes just a splash of mud. There is peace and tranquility that can be gained being out there solo, and such hilarity and fun that can be gained sharing it with others.” (Mountain bikes are available to hire at the Pine Marten).

Katie’s favourite routes:

  • Her “total favourite” is simply whizzing down the walking path from the mid-station on Cairngorm Mountain to the car park
  • Descending off the top of Craigellachie down the path (Aviemore)
  • Any routes around High Burnside (Aviemore) and up Glen Feshie
  • The “awesome” bike trail centres at Laggan Wolftrax and Glenlivet, and the pump track at Badaguish.

Sally Devlin, Mike’s Bikes, Aviemore

Sally loves both road and mountain biking, so much so that she created a race which involves both, called the Aviemore 100. “In Aviemore, and the Cairngorms, we are so lucky to have top class mountain biking and road biking routes, so it would be hard to say that I prefer one over the other. We have a huge range of bike routes to suit all levels,  whether you fancy a leisurely family spin or fancy challenging yourself and tackling some singletrack, as well as amazing road loops.”

Sally’s favourite routes:

  • a leisurely family spin around either Loch and Eilein or Loch Morlich
  • or fancy challenging yourself and tackling some singletrack in Glenmore as used the in Aviemore 100 route! But it’s not all mountain biking here and as mentioned I love time on both of my bikes, one of my favourite road cycling loops has to be the cycle out to Nethy Bridge via Loch Garten, the roads are smooth and fairly quiet and take in some stunning views of the Cairngorms on the return leg. Or if you fancy exploring the other side of the valley there is an excellent loop out to Kingussie taking in some great sights including, Feshie Bridge, Loch Insh and Ruthven Barracks.

Brilliant Biking Races in the Cairngorms

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