Preparing for your ride
Preparing and packing for a big ride into more remote terrain is about balancing your needs and the likely situations you might find yourself in, with the riding experience you want to have.
Hill runners and hill walkers go into similar terrain to mountain bikers but have quite different requirements. Hill runners move and pack light and fast, and accept the limitations of this . Hillwalkers tend to take more to sustain them at slower speeds over a longer day, usually factoring in more stops. As mountain bikers we have bikes to look after, which will need extra kit, but we want to enjoy a flowing ride so we need to think about what we need to keep us moving and comfortable.
Getting cold and exhausted is perhaps an underestimated risk when taking on bigger more challenging rides. Stay well fed and hydrated, eat little and often to avoid your energy dropping. Eating well keeps our energy up and helps stop us getting cold. Similarly, don’t wait to get cold before layering up – cold numb hands are terrible at doing up zips and putting on gloves never mind riding a bike. If you take care of your own essentials, then you are less likely to make mistakes caused by tiredness. Remember the temperature generally drops as you go higher up hill, pick places to stop that are sheltered, and if you have a problem consider dropping some gradient to keep warm may be the priority over fixing your bike.
Think about what you are packing and why you are packing it, otherwise, it may just be unnecessary weight on your back that slows you down, saps your energy and makes riding awkward. This type of riding does come with an increased probability of unforeseen circumstances due to challenges of terrain, weather and duration of time to complete a big ride, so you should have a bigger, heaver bag, but try to make sure this is an informed choice and that you feel comfortable with the added personal responsibilities of heading into the hill.
Building up your experience gradually is advised – start with smaller rides with lower consequences and learn what kit works for you.
Its easier to stay warm than get warm.
Pack a Bag
To be ready for the worst that can happen, it will be useful to pack the following:
- Basic tools to suit your bike or a bike-specific multi-tool. Tyre levers, chainlink tool and cable ties and tape are cheap, light and are good to have for a quick fix.
- Spare inner tube(s)
- Food & water (enough to get you through your ride, plus a bit more)
- First aid kit - appropriate to dealing with likely injuries, and have the knowledge to deal with them.
- Map & compass - and the knowledge and experience to use them
- Tick remover, suncream, lip balm
- Bank card and emergency cash
- Emergency blanket
- Storm shelter - one in your group to carry that is big enough to fit all in the group
- Spare clothes - mid layer, waterproof or windproof, synthetic insulated jacket or gillet (stays warm when wet so better than down, and more rip proof), spare gloves.
- Protective clothing- pack what you feel comfortable with
- Lights - fully charged.
- Mobile phone - fully charged & recommend bringing a portable charger (especially if weather is cold or hot - causing your phone to lose charge quickly)
And we recommend practicing using all the kit before you need to on the hill.
Check the weather conditions
In Scotland, the weather can change very quickly and it is not unusual to encounter rain/sleet/snow/wind/sunshine all on the same day. It is important to be prepared for anything on the trail and to check the weather forecast before you go.
The weather, both the forecast for the day and the recent weather conditions, should also affect your choice of route.
Some trails may become badly damaged if used after heavy spells of rain – which means you will have spoiled them for yourself, other riders and other trail users.
Select a Route
To be a responsible mountain biker it helps to think about the environment you will be riding through and to find out if there is anything that might influence your choice of route and your ability to plan alternative routes based on situations you may come across. Good planning will increase the likelihood of you enjoying your ride.
There are a number of environments that are managed for specific purposes in the outdoors. It is useful to be aware of different land uses and their management needs and activities so that you can plan your route accordingly.
Please be aware of the following:
- Forests/woodlands – felling and extraction activity, ground-nesting birds, shooting of deer or game birds, and events/competitions.
- Farmland – think about seasonal activity - crops eg harvesting & chemical applications - animals eg lambing & livestock movement.
- Open Hill – shooting & deer stalking activity and heather burning regimes. Check 'Heading to the Hills' website (especially from 1st July to 20th October, but with most stalking from August onwards)
In all land management settings consider environmental sensitivities and your potential impact on ground conditions, plants, and wildlife.
It can be useful to investigate your route on websites and guidebooks. Before going out it can be useful to investigate your route in guidebooks, websites of Facebook groups (google is your friend here).
It is also worth logging into mountain biking forums to discuss trail difficulty and conditions with other riders. Make sure the route is suitable for all your group. Remember mountain biking is fun so make sure your route isn’t going to make you or your friends suffer! If you are part of a large group be aware that you may have more of an impact on the trails and other path users - your route choice should reflect this. We would also recommend reading the full Scottish Outdoor Access Code for detailed advice on the many different settings you may encounter when out on your bike.
Know your route escape options and have a Plan B
Look at your route and try to work out where you could take an alternative or head back if:
- the trails are too wet/obstructed eg fallen trees
- there are land management operations that have to be avoided
- the trails are being used for outings/events the weather deteriorates
- simple river crossings can quickly become unpredictable and dangerous after high rainfall – and often best avoided through making alternative plans rather than being forced into them
If you are using your car to get to your route try to decide on an appropriate car parking location before setting off.
When you park your vehicle it is important not to cause any damage or create an obstruction by:
- blocking an entrance to a field or building
- making it difficult for others to use the road or track
- having regard for the safety of others
- trying not to damage the verge
- using a car park if one is nearby
Late back procedures
TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU ARE RIDING - This especially applies if you are riding alone. Let someone know your route and when you intend to return. This can just be a quick text to your ‘late back’ person. Simply giving the trails you intend to ride and the rough time it should take you.
If you do not contact them within half-hour of that time, they should start calling you.
If there is no reply after an agreed time – your ‘late back’ person should be contacting the emergency services. Make sure they know how to do this and who to call!
Do not go straight to café/pub and forget to let your ‘late back’ person you are ok. This is an easy habit to get into and could save your life.
I love riding in Scotland's wild places. To keep them special, I plan all my rides in detail - helping protect the trails and our rural communities.
SITUATIONS YOU MAY COME ACROSS ON YOUR RIDE
It is likely you will come across walkers on your travels. When approaching walkers:
- Be in control.
- A quick tinkle of your bell and/or a polite hello to let them know you are there.
- If the path is narrow you should be ready to give way or dismount.
- Keep smiling.
- Give a friendly thank you as you pass.
Keep to field margins, unsown ground or any existing paths or tracks.
Forestry/land management operations
These are places we enjoy but be aware that they are also places of work.
Follow these steps and we can all get along:
1. Do some research when planning your route
2. Follow any reasonable advice/signage - you may need to alter your route - there should be a diversion in place.
3. Avoid crossing land or follow signs and notices when shooting and deer stalking is taking place. For info on stalking see - Heading for the Scottish Hills
4. Have a Plan B in mind - your ideal trail/route might just not be possible- do your research in advance and have another option to ride before you set off.
Caring for the environment
TAKE YOUR LITTER AWAY - If you take it out there, take it home! #trashfreetrails
SENSITIVE SITES - There are trails that cross areas that are particularly sensitive due to rare animals or plants – be especially careful to stick to the trails in these areas.
WET/BOGGY GROUND - It rains in Scotland and our trails can have wet/boggy sections.
If there are small puddles ride straight through the middle however if the trail has long sections of boggy ground it might be time for your Plan B.
Consider, especially in winter, avoiding wet, boggy or soft ground to avoid the trail braiding (becoming wider and wider) and scarring the landscape.
SKIDDING - Anyone can pull a skid but locking your brakes could cause damage to the trails, potentially ruining them for yourself, other path users, and mountain bikers.
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