Planning on doing some riding on holiday? How about making the ride the holiday? Five long-distance classics – pick one and ride it all, or dip in and out.
Proper big rides! You’ll need good weather, maximum daylight time for these monster multi-day rides.
These are the best long distance mountain bike routes on offer in the UK and would be ideal for hitting the twin zeitgeists of bikepacking and deciding on the best down country mountain bike for your needs.
*Please check local Covid-19 restrictions and laws before setting off, and always ride within your limits
1. West Highland Way, 155km (96 miles)
The road between Glasgow and Fort William is well known by those who have travelled up to watch World Cup racing at the Nevis Range, but if you’ve ever wondered if there was a way to get there by bike, there is. And it’s well worth the effort. Riding 150km through the Scottish Highlands is never going to be easy but the West Highland Way is definitely achievable for most riders and, if you’re looking for your first long-distance ride, it’s hard to think of a better place to do it. The WHW is a standalone ride but it’s not like you’re short of more good riding once you get to Fort William, and as you’ve come this far… well, it would be rude not to ride something else too. The return to Glasgow is made easy by train, or you can of course ride back the way you came.
2. Sarn Helen, 370km (230 miles)
You don’t need us to tell you that Wales has some incredible riding, so much in fact, it can be hard to choose where to ride. So why not ride all of it – all of Wales that is. Sarn Helen helps answer the question: what did the Romans ever do for us? Running the length of Wales from Conwy in the north to Rhossili Bay just outside Swansea in the south, this 370km long-distance trail takes in stretches of an ancient road. Along the way you’ll visit areas you likely know well and areas you never knew existed, which is surely what a proper adventure should be about.
3. South Downs Way, 159km (99 miles)
Long-distance routes attract those looking to challenge themselves and, inevitably, see how fast they can complete them. That seems especially true of the South Downs Way. The South Downs Way Double starts in Winchester, reaches Eastbourne before turning around and heading back to the start. The aim is to complete the 310km route in under 24 hours, with the current record standing at 15 hours and 35 minutes. Not that you have to do it at pace – especially if you actually want to enjoy it – but if a rider does come past you at speed with a wild look in their eyes, give them a cheer.
4. Great North Trail, 1,190km (740 miles)
So, you’ve ticked off all the other long-distance routes and fancy more? At 1,190km, the Great North Trail is a bit of a monster. Starting in Matlock at the base of the Pennines, it cuts straight up through the middle of the country, finishing at Cape Wrath at the very top of Scotland. Think of it more as a rough guide than a definitive route though, join and leave as suits and take time to break off to explore the areas that you’re riding through – after all, you’re going to be riding on and past some of the country’s best trails. Don’t forget to send us a postcard.
5. Lakeland 200, 206km (128 miles)
200km in Cumbria is tough, but it’s the 7,100m of ascent that is the real killer here. Some might say that a few of the trails on this route are ridden the ‘wrong way’, but looked at as a whole, the clockwise direction round the Lakes makes the most sense. It goes without saying that a trek of such distance in high country is not to be undertaken lightly and whether you are doing it self-supported as quickly as possible, or kicking back and credit-card touring over a few days, it pays to wait for a good spell of stable weather to get the most out of the route.