The Trossachs occupy a special place in Scotland's generous pantheon of mountains - they are rich with the country's history, they are unutterably gorgeous at pretty much any time of year (although variously the weather or midges may do their best to disabuse of you this) and they're surprisingly close to Glasgow. This last means that for the majority of the UK, they're the easiest Scottish mountains to get to.
The riding in the Trossachs spans the gamut from wide open forest tracks, with expansive views, all the way to tight, nadgery singletrack, with everything in between. These Tours reflect that diversity. There are a couple which head up mountains – Ben Lomond is – well – less of a ride, and more of a carry up, and a light speed thrutchfest down, whereas the Ben Ledi loop is arguably rideable much of the way up the back of the mountain, although the descent certainly shouldn't be underestimated. There are rides which, although they're not technically terrifying, offer extremely stiff climbs and staggering views, and there's even a low-level ride with some scintillating sculptures and a soupçon of singletrack around Loch Ard.
There are a couple of things to note, of course. Firstly, some of these Tours are properly, genuinely remote, so prepare accordingly. Take a map and a compass and know how to use them (phone signal won't necessarily exist). Let someone know your route, even if it’s just the landlord at the pub you were in last night, take a small first aid kit, emergency snacks, waterproof clothing, safety blanket and anything else you may need. And choose your time to visit carefully. Summer is a great time for the weather in Scotland for the most part (or at least it's less rainy), but you're probably better off heading there in late spring to avoid the midges.
Access is pretty straightforward – Callander and Aberfoyle are relatively easy to get to from Glasgow, and are probably your best bets as fast as bases go (although of course there aren’t any train lines there any more), but if you want to get out of the urban environment there are campsites and little villages scattered all over this startlingly beautiful part of the world.
One of the best things about Scotland is that the access laws are different from the rest of the UK. Any track or trail is fair game on a mountain bike unless it’s expressly forbidden – although that doesn’t mean that everything is rideable, of course – and so the scope is much greater for summits and singletrack. That said, most of the trails in the Trossachs are firmly old school, wide open paths with amazing views, but there’s always something new and tempting just around the corner, and of course, you’re allowed to ride it! It’s well worth just getting out and exploring.
This is a stonking little ride very much of two parts, a few minutes drive from the town of Callander. It's pretty technical in places; while there's scope to miss the technical trail down Stank Glen, the descent of Ben Ledi is pretty much unavoidable – although it's the less tricky of the two – so be prepared. It's also, for that reason, probably one best undertaken when the weather is good. For this one, knee pads are probably a good idea!
The route starts off by skirting the flank of Ben Ledi, on a good and wide trail. But once you get to the Glen Fingas, the trail widens and starts to climb the valley and then heads up the mountain.
Once the track gets to the heights of Stuc Dhubh, though, it becomes singletrack again, and undulates to the top of Ben Ledi. And now, the fun begins.
The first descent is pretty well maintained for walkers, so it's gravelly and rocky with occasional drainage ditches and steps to negotiate. It's mostly rideable, though, if you're careful.
Once the trail hits the first fire-road, the route turns off and heads up Stank Glen, running a loop (which can be shortened if you wish) before riding the gloriously technical trail back down to the shores of Loch Lubnaig, and the gentle spin back to your starting point.
At Stank, there is a small community of wooden camping lodges and a substantial visitor's centre. This serves refreshments and snacks, as well as beer and surprisingly good food; it's a fine place to refuel after what is, by any estimation, a pretty big day in the saddle.
Despite appearances, this is a fairly straightforward ride. Yes, there's a spot of climbing, but it's all on good solid doubletrack, and there's only one grindy bit as you approach Creag Mac Ranaich. The rest of the ride is either descending or cruising on disused railway path.
From Lochan Lairig Cheile, the route follows the cycle path and the Rob Roy Way (actually a disused railway) south to Lochearnhead. It actually gains a little height along the way, but it soon loses it again as the trail forks and you continue to Glen Kendrum.
The trail then become off-road proper: doubletrack, but well surfaced for the most part, and although you're gaining height, it's in the best way possible. There's a bit of a thrutch at the end of the valley as you approach the base of Creag Mac Rànaich, but that's the last of the climbing, so breathe a sigh of relief and brace yourself for the descent.
The ride down Gleann Dubh is pretty straightforward and not often peopled with walkers, but there are a few loose and rocky sections, and you'll likely run into them rather quickly, so stay sharp! Once you're at the bottom of Gleann Dubh, it's plain sailing on the old railway trail back to the start.
The Tour starts and ends at Lochan Lairig Cheile. It's pretty, there are a few holiday cottages, a picnic bench or two and some places park your car. There's not much else there, really. The only reason it starts here and not at Lochearnhead at (duh) the head of Loch Earn is that to get to the trail from there is a pretty gruesome grind, and starting at Lochan Lairig Cheile saves you from that.
But if you'd rather start and stop at somewhere with actual amenities and accommodation, and you don't mind steep switchback cycle path climbs when you've not warmed up, then go for it (you monster).
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This Tour is a cunning mix of gravel tracks and singletrack, the latter displaying a fine blend of scenic and technical features.
From Aberfoyle, an immediate climb on a good track is the order of the day, until the route turns to singletrack and then eventually breaks free of the forest to give you some wonderful wilderness views.
A technical descent down to Loch Venachar follows, and an easy spin along the shoreline, before climbing again up into the forest on gravel paths. You can get some pretty good speed down the other side into Aberfoyle, mind you - but keep your eyes peeled: cars also use these tracks in places.
This is probably one to avoid if it's been raining, to be honest - the open singletrack that makes up part of the Rob Roy Way section gets very splurgy indeed when it's wet. The majority of the rest of it holds up well, though.
After you've begun the descent down to Aberfoyle, you'll find yourself riding thought the forest's mountain biking network - Aberfoyle Bike Park, exploring which (if you've still got the legs) will nicely round off the day.
Aberfoyle is a small town, which should have everything the modern mountain biker should require, sustenance, rest and even a bike shop.
Ben Lomond is Scotland's most southerly Munro, so if you're in the mood for a spot of Munro-bagging, then this will fit the bill nicely. A lot of this climb is preposterously steep and unrideable unless you've got legs like Thor, but even he would probably do more than a little pushing on his way up the mountain. Riding back down again, though, is a treat not to be missed.
The route starts at the carpark at Rowardennan, and (unsurprisingly) then goes up, for rather a long way. Initially you'll be climbing/trudging through dense woodland, as you work your way north of Coille Mhòr Hill.
After a while the route emerges from the forest - but it's still pretty steep for a while, until you reach Sròn Aonaich. But even when the gradient lessens, it's still pretty hard going - and there's likely more pushing to come.
Eventually, you'll reach the top of the mountain, and you can enjoy the glorious view, before putting on your game face and hurtling back down again. The descent is a little steppy and thrutchy in places but it's fast and flowy in others, and walkers coming up and down can add spice to proceedings, so take care - and pay attention to the location of the gates you passed on the way up!
There is another way up Ben Lomond, but don't be tempted to make it a round trip - the Ptarmigan ridge path, which climbs past Spùt Ban really isn't suitable for bikes, even if you carry them - it's extremely steep and very often muddy.
The only way to start is at Rowardennan – fortunately there's a hotel which serves food, car parking and a youth hostel. You can drive, or in the summer you can take the ferry from Tarbet, which allows bikes for a nominal fee.
This Tour has the lot - open spaces, forest tracks, stiff climbs, woodland, thrutchy singletrack and, as you'd expect, ridiculously good views.
From the start at Lock Chon, the route heads up Gleann Dubh – quite gently to start with, but getting somewhat steeper as it climbs up to Gleann Gaoithe. From here, it's a ridiculously pretty undulate under the Cruachan before the track drops down a fantastic switchback descent to Cailness on the shore of Loch Lomond.
Here, the West Highland way is narrow, tight and steppy singletrack (with occasional flowy bits sprinkled in) which is an absolute hoot, even if there is the occasional carry over the occasional huge rock.
Once you get to Inversnaid, pause for a drink in the hotel if you so choose, as there's a steep climb up the Great Trossachs Path to the old Garrison, where the route joins the old military road along the north side of the Loch. Then it's just wide, good tracks back to the start through the forest.
The carpark at Loch Chon is really the only place to start - you could start the route at Inversnaid, or Stronachlachar if you wanted - but you'd need to go past the carpark at Loch Chon to so do (there's only one road it) so there's not really much point refreshments are available at Inversnaid and there's a good cafe at Stronachlachar.
This is something of a local classic. It's a big ride, requiring plenty of leg power, but it's not especially technical. The primary drivers for riding this loop are the wonderful views, although that's not to say that the riding itself has no appeal – it's hugely fun – and it doesn't require some carbon fully suspended hyper-bike to get the most out of it, either.
Following a stiff climb up to the Great Trossachs Path, the route carries on as the Path descends to the road, and instead runs along the now less travelled trail through the woods to join the Glen Finglas road just past the dam.
The route then uses the track to climb up last the reservoir, although the climbing doesn't really start until it passes the Tom a' Phearsaid as you wind up the Gleann nam Meann. Still, the height gain is pretty leisurely for quite a distance, until the valley narrows along with the river, and the only way to go is up.
It's still an easy track, though, as you grind up beneath Càrn Dubh, but it's Noel as you start to drop down onto Glen Finglas itself that the true majesty of your position becomes apparent. The views as you drop down the valley really are breathtaking - as is the speed it's possible to pick up on the way down.
After a while, you'll reach the start go Finglas Water, as the trail heads under the woods at the reservoir's head and you rejoin the trail back to the start.
This Tour is possible in both directions; common consensus seems to favour the anticlockwise direction, though – the descent is more fun.
There's ample marking at Brig o' Turk, a pub, post office, chap and pretty much everything you might need before you head off, and indeed after.
This is a terrific Tour which takes in the tracks and trails to the south of Loch Ard. It's not hard, and would be suitable for a family spin; there's very little in the way of difficulty, and even when the trails are at their steepest they're only a short push to the top if you've not got the legs.
From the carpark just south of Milton, the trail (which is also, handily, often waymarked) broadly follows the Duchray Water, snakes round to Loch Ard via some of the less unpleasant hills in the range, and then snickers around the shoreline before heading back to the start.
On the way around the loop, there are a variety of cool sculptures to search out and ponder - these provide excellent distractions to younger riders, or those with particularly short attention spans.
There are plenty of other tracks to explore around the forest too - they're pretty much all relatively easy going and family friendly, if you wanted to make a longer (or indeed shorter) day of it.