Mountain biking vacations

“I used to think that I'd love to ride wild on my trips to North Wales but just didn’t know where to start. What if I got lost or had an accident or couldn’t navigate the land? Our trips give people a chance to do something that they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable or safe doing on their own.”
Claire Copeman runs our North Wales activity vacations company Adventure Tours UK with her partner Jim Gaffney. Jim was once the mountain bike officer for Denbighshire County Council and helped to set up and plan many of the region’s wild mountain biking routes. “Our groups are always guided so you can get into all of those wild open spaces without feeling like you’re going to get lost or into trouble. All of the places that we ride are authorised too; we never go anywhere that we’re not supposed to. It’s really easy to take the wrong route and end up on private land or in an absolute mud fest.”
Being on a mountain bike clicks you through the sensory gears as you catch the scent of wild gorse or citrus blossom and feel the sun on your back as you hurtle downhill with eyes wide open.
Our mountain biking vacations are for experienced cyclists looking to explore areas away from crowds and without damaging the environment. They’re a way to become one with wild open spaces, where tourists don’t tread, on tried and tested routes that have been devised by passionate local experts. Accommodation hosts, living in lesser-visited areas, will benefit from your presence just as much as you’ll benefit from their knowledge.

Mountain biking is…

a great way to experience the thrill of discovering exciting downhill singletracks without putting the environment, yourself or anyone else in danger.

Mountain biking isn’t…

about churning up the countryside and cycling as fast as you can wherever you like.

What do mountain biking vacations entail?

The types of vacations that we recommend are for fairly experienced mountain bikers; you will be encountering off-road terrain that will put you through your paces. In terms of the different track ratings at a mountain biking center, green is easy, blue is moderate, and black is the hardest (similar to ski run grades) – these trips are for bikers who are confident to take on a red grade (difficult) trail.

Mountain biking vacations take you out of your comfort zone in the safest way possible. Small group mountain biking vacations take you over the singletracks and downhill parks of Slovenia’s Julian Alps and Les Deux Alpes in France, while the Scottish Cairngorms and Snowdonia National Park in North Wales can be explored as part of a tailor made adventure. You can choose to bring your own bike and helmet, or rental bikes and safety gear will be included if you’re pedalling a little further afield – Peru or Mongolia, for instance.

Depending on the location of the vacation you can bring your own bike and helmet, if you wish, or you can hire everything on arrival. Often the rental of a bike and gear will be included in the price of the vacation. For instance, if you’re cycling in Mongolia you’ll be sized for a Giant XTC 27.5 mountain bike; in Peru, full suspension mountain bikes, helmet and gloves are all included. Full safety instructions will be given no matter whether you’re on a self guided trip or on a guided vacation as part of a small group. Safety is an incredibly important part of each and every experience.

Small group or self guided?

Our vacations can be self guided, where you’ll receive a detailed map, GPS tracking system and route notes before being invited to navigate tried and tested tracks on your own. You could be based in one place, such as a small locally-owned hostel in the Scottish Highlands, or you could be cycling between rural guesthouses and small hotels, on a tailor made mountain biking vacation in Portugal.

Self guided vacations are for a minimum of two people. Cycling as a pair not only ensures one of you can get help if the other gets into difficulty, but also gives you that sense of camaraderie and shared responsibility so you can cycle with more confidence and have a more enjoyable experience.

Respecting the natural environment and the property of local landowners is another very important element of all of our mountain biking tours. Although it can be tempting to just cycle wherever you choose, sometimes this can have a detrimental impact on not only your safety but also that of the local wildlife.
Rebecca Field from our Scotland self guided mountain biking specialists, Scot Mountain Vacations, explains: “Environmental issues that mountain bikers in the Cairngorms need to consider stem from the breeding season of ground nesting birds like the capercaillie. Also, in wet seasons, certain trails won’t be rideable or will be damaging to ride when wet; at other times of the year, grouse shooting might be taking place on some of the privately owned estates. It’s important to respect the local wildlife and estate management, and avoid certain areas at different occasions throughout the year.”
If you’re cycling as part of a small group (maximum 14 people) you’ll be accompanied by a professional guide or instructor. Group guides will often have grown up in the area and will know the trails very well. Some may even have had influence in setting up the singletracks and will be active members of a region’s mountain biking community. This means that they understand the issues facing local people and the environment as well as being able to ensure travelers get the most from their experience without damaging the countryside.
Claire Copeman from our North Wales mountain biking experts, Adventure Tours UK, extols the advantages of exploring with a local mountain bike guide: “We prefer to offer wild mountain biking rather than the maintained routes and tracks that you’ll find at a MTB center. That’s not to say that the mountain bike centers that we have in North Wales aren’t amazing, because they are. They’re full of people like me, 10 years ago, who are just looking to get outdoors after a week of working in an office. I mean, we can still take people to an MTB center if they wish, it’s just that we also offer the opportunity to open up all of those wild spaces in the company of a local guide. It’s a chance for people to really get out of their comfort zone but know that they’re in safe hands.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Cycling or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Are these trips for beginners?

Not really. The mountain biking vacations that we offer are for more experienced cyclists. It's not that beginners can't learn how to pedal downhill on a single track in North Wales, for example, it's more that these types of tours are less about finding your feet and more about pushing yourself just that extra bit further. You’ll be riding tracks that take you into the heart of the destination.
“Our mountain biking trips can be quite tough and take you over singletracks that have been created over time to connect communities living in remote areas. They’re seldom ridden and sometimes it’s rare to see anyone else on the trail,” explains Angie McQueen from our self guided cycling specialists, Algarve Bike Vacations.
“The Rota Vicentina is quite a challenging ride over 230km and takes you from Santiago do Cacem in the Alentejo before leading down the coast and into the Algarve. It can be quite rugged which is why we recommend it for mountain bikers. There are also some great singletrack mountain bike routes that lead across the Algarve from the east to the west coast. They start close to the Guadiana River on the Spanish border. It’s not a regular route for cyclists or hikers but leads through the countryside to small villages and towns that offer an authentic Algarve experience.”

Where to go mountain biking

Our mountain biking vacations can take you to one of the best downhill bike parks in Europe, Les Deux Alpes, or along the west coast of the Algarve following the 220km Rota Vicentina. On a trekking and mountain biking ride from the Sacred Valley to the Amazon in Peru you’ll be sharing tracks with hikers, and in the wild open spaces of the Cairngorms in Scotland and Snowdonia in North Wales you’ll have singletracks all to yourself. If you’re looking for extreme environments for mountain biking then try out-of-season ski trails in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, or even the Khangai Mountain foothills of Mongolia.

1. France

No sooner than the snow’s cleared, usually by mid-June, then attention in the alpine village of Les Deux Alpes (1,650m) turns from skiing to mountain biking. A small group vacation here allows you to access one of the best bike parks in Europe. From hardcore routes and technical tracks to chair lifts to steep high altitude downhills, there’s 91km of runs ranging from greens to blues, reds to blacks.

2. Peru

Get kitted out at the bike shop in Cuzco and you’re good to go. From here it’s a four-day ride to Atalaya on the edge of the Amazon. Average daily distances of 50km take you through the Sacred Valley where Andean ridges lead past mountain villages, like Paucartambo, and down through cloud forests en-route to Manu National Park and the start of an Amazon expedition by boat and on foot.

3. Portugal

There are some great singletracks that start in the east of the Algarve, close to the Spanish border, and lead west through the countryside and down to the coast. Alternatively, follow the rugged hiking and biking trails of the Rota Vicentina from Santiago de Cacem in the Alentejo through cork forests, river valleys and creeks until reaching Europe’s south-westerly point, Cabo de Sao Vicente.

4. Scotland

Self guided mountain bike tours of the Cairngorms have been designed by local experts like Andy, who also happens to be the host at a local lodge. Routes can be adapted according to the day’s weather and your own ambitions. Glenlivet Trail Centre and the Kinkardine Circuit through Abernethy Forest National Nature Reserve are just a couple of the local recommendations to get your tyres into.

5. Wales

Mountain biking in North Wales can be as wild and untamed as the weather. Join a small group and head off into Snowdonia National Park in the company of a local guide who’s been pedalling in the area all their life. Alternatively, opt for one of the well-maintained singletrack mountain bike centers that have been created in some of the country’s largest abandoned slate quarries, like Llanberis.

When to go?

Tailor made mountain biking trips can take place all year round but it’s very important to work out when areas will be at their wettest, as churning up the countryside is the last thing you want to do. Most mountain bike parks, on the other hand, will be suitable for all weathers, so it’s worth considering if you fancy visiting Snowdonia outside of summer. Winters in the alpine areas of Slovenia and France aren’t compatible with mountain biking due to snow, but visit from May to October once the thaw’s kicked in and you’ll find the best time to go on a mountain biking vacation as part of a small group.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: eGuide Travel] [Is/isn't: Tim Foster] [Small group or self guided: Phil and Pam Gradwell (to be)] [Not for beginners: andy carter] [France : Goproo3] [Peru: Corey Spruit] [Portugal: Antonio Mendes] [Scotland: Eilis Garvey] [Wales: Nighthawk Shoots] [Best time to go: Lucas Davies]