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Keepin’ it local – North East Scotland.

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Ronan Taylor is a 24-year-old rider, racer, trail builder, coach and film-maker hailing from the Black Isle way up in the North of Scotland. He’s also a gardener, but that’s by the by.

He plans to keep you entertained with a combination of local knowledge and general musings, tossed together in a mix of words, photos and perhaps a few videos to boot. Here goes….

Keeping it Local

I’m exceptionally lucky to call the Highlands home. The variety of terrain within an hour’s drive from my local city of Inverness is quite stunning. There’s a nice blend of rolling, wooded, low-level hills and wild, rocky, heathery mountains. It’s pretty much a do-it-yourself mountain biker’s dream.

The best trails in the area are mostly hand-built, unofficial and are not easily accessible without a wee bit of research and local knowledge, but that’s why I like ‘em. There’s enough folk round here to really create a strong riding scene without too many cooks spoiling the broth. That’s not to say that visitors ain’t welcome. In fact I’d thoroughly recommend checking the place out. Just be prepared to hunt to find the gems. Once you do sus ‘em out you’ll find a real hidden labyrinth.

It seems the Highland region is by no means alone in this respect. Elsewhere in the North over in the likes of Aberdeenshire I’ve also discovered a large network of guerrilla trails. In fact I’m sure the same is true in hilly regions all over the UK. Self-built trails are popping up everywhere. So what’s caused this boom?

Here’s a couple of thoughts gathered from various people’s ideas and meetings with the FC:

Firstly, the number of mountain bikers in the UK has gone up considerably over the last few years but the number of purpose built facilities has stayed pretty much the same. The low number of official trails being built is mainly down to Britain’s biggest landowner, the Forestry Commission, having a supposed lack of money and a serious fear of the “Sue Me” culture that Britain now finds itself part of. Naturally people get bored of the same old trail centres and want to create their own playground.

Secondly, bike technology has vastly improved in recent years and now even the beginner mountain biker is quickly progressing from Glentress mincer to aspiring rock and root slayer in double quick time! Your average cross-country bike is now capable of handling a bit more than a hard-packed blue route. The people wanted tech so the people built it!

Aye, so it’s great that all these new unofficial trails are appearing for us to ride, but what are some of the flipsides to this and how can we keep ‘em running?

Trail erosion is a big one. Especially in our fairly wet climate, more traffic on natural builds equals more battered trails. Join a local group or dig in your own time to help build and maintain your own local trails. Otherwise soon your favourite piece of singletrack will look like a rutted mess (ok in the winter this is pretty inevitable). If you ride your nearby trails and do not contribute to them in any way other than riding them then you should be ashamed! If every keen rider did, say, a few days digging a year, then all unofficial trails would be in priiime condition.

Things can also get tricky when your unofficial trails get really popular. In this situation it is highly likely the landowner will notice what’s going on and may have something to say about the hordes of uninvited rogues digging up their land! If something like this does come to a head, form a group to liaise with the landowner if possible. You’d be surprised what can be achieved with some co-operation, planning and pinch of luck. There have been some great examples of this up in the North East. Also, if you feel your trails or trails you are visiting might be in a risky situation, don’t go too wild on Strava, Trailforks or any other social media as there’s not much to be gained other than more use.

Anyhoo, think that’s about it for today’s ramble. Hope that gives a wee insight into one of the best ways you can help out with your local riding scene. We’re definitely lucky to be living in an age as riders where it’s better than ever to be a local. Keep givin’ folks! Till next time.

RONAN TAYLOR

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