A focus on adventure tourism is making the East Cairngorms one of the most popular destinations in the UK for mountain biking. The adventure tourism community’s best-kept secret, the area has seen a surge in people of all abilities, due to the surge in e-bike sales, taking to the trails to explore the best of Ballater, Braemar and the surrounding villages.
Boasting some of the best downward routes in the UK, the East Cairngorms, with its off-the-beaten-track, natural trails and long descents has seen a growing number of visitors to the area to experience the trails and stay locally.
Richard Watts, owner of Cycle Highlands based in Ballater, says that the appeal of the area being a “bike-in bike out” destination, and the increase sales of bikes during lockdown, has put the East Cairngorms on the map.
“During lockdown, our sales jumped nearly 40%, with half of all our retail now being e-bikes which has meant that it has really opened up the trails for all ability levels.
“What makes mountain biking unique in this area is that you have everything on your doorstep: quality accommodation, specialists services such as bike repair and maintenance, great hospitality, and the ability to get to a number of trails from your doorstep.
“The East Cairngorms is different to other mountain biking destinations as we have very long trails and can descend for 3-6kms close to, or straight into, a village centre. Our natural and hand cut trails sit amongst a stunning backdrop yet contain routes for all ability levels including families looking for that get-away holiday.”
Dominique and Daniel Drew-Martin took over the Ballater Hostel in 2016 and say that the demographics of people coming to mountain bike in the area has shifted:
“There are so many mountain bike trails for all experience levels and, with the increased use of e-bikes, it really appeals to a huge range of people.
“We’ve had retired couples, families and new bike owners all come to spend time cycling and get to know the area which has been fantastic to see.”
Through a Scottish Government grant, Dominque and Daniel have invested in new tools and equipment to further attract outdoor adventurers to the area.
“We’ve always had a bike storage area, which is covered and dry, but this grant allowed us to buy additional items such as tools, bike locks and proper stands, that they can use. It means that after they’ve had a great day on the hills, they can then come to us and have an evening to dry off, chat with friends and then tinker with their bikes.”
Mountain biking has become an increasingly valuable part of tourism for Scotland. In 2020, according to Visit Scotland, 290,000 British residents took overnight visits to Scotland where adventure sports were part of the trip, contributing £112 million in spend.
To capitalise on this trend, a new campaign to promote mountain biking in the East Cairngorms was launched at the end of November by Ballater Business Association (BBA) and Braemar Tourism Group (BTG).
The campaign, which includes a website, promotional video, digital trail map, and trip planner, is the first in a series of five which aim to inspire visitors to explore the East Cairngorms as a year-round destination for outdoor activity.
For more information on mountain biking in the East Cairngorms, head to: https://www.visitballater.com/east-cairngorms-mountain-biking-trail/