Mountain Biking- Should we always follow the trails in the magazines?

One of the big selling points of mountain biking magazines is route descriptions. These descriptions along with the helpful maps often provide inspiration for trips away with many readers heading off into the hills to try the routes out for themselves. I am one such reader who has done just that. Sometimes this has led to really memorable days out where the biking is fantastic and scenery breathtaking. On other days however, I have been embarrassed to ride a mountain bike as the route map has guided me through areas of such soft ground that the tyres from bikes have ripped it apart. I have been so appalled at the idea of adding to this erosion that I have ended up carrying my bike. One such ride was a route that led to the Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms.

Mountain biking the Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms
Mountain biking the Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms

On a recent trip to Scotland we found ourselves in Aviemore with a half day weather window. We had read about the Lairig Ghru being one of the 20 best mountain bike trails in the UK and as the circular route the magazine suggested is quite short we headed off to see if it was as good as its description suggested. What we found was fantastic scenery and some undoubtedly good mountain biking but what we also found was peaty soil that had become badly eroded. Once we had left the forest on the way up there were whole sections that were so soft it really didn’t seem right to ride a bike through and churn up the ground even more. This section of the trail is quite rocky and tricky to ride so many mountain bikers have ridden to the side of the rocks and created a muddy mess. There had only been a little rain in the days leading up to our visit so it must be horrendous after bad weather, even though the magazine which promoted it remarked on how it was a good all weather venue.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of the worst section but below are a couple of pictures of some later erosion.

It would be a shame for magazines and guidebooks to stop publishing ideas for rides but it would be great if there was more thought put into promoting the idea of riding in places that are suitable for the weather conditions. Certain places are terrible in the wet but when the ground has dried out are fine. I have read some magazine and guidebook ride suggestions over the summer which do talk about routes only being suitable after fine weather. I am really pleased to read these comments, however talk like this does not seem to be the norm and it would be fantastic to read more write ups that place a high importance on protecting the environment. There are many rocky trails throughout the UK where I don’t believe that mountain bikes do any harm at all and I think that it is our job as users of the mountain environment to help protect this environment and in turn help to protect the reputation of people who ride bikes in the hills.