The wheels are in motion for a Scotland-wide cycling tourism boom
Covering 250 miles, it meanders from the shores of Loch Ryan in the west, sweeps upwards towards the historic town of Dumfries and on to the pretty fishing boats in Eyemouth harbour.
For cyclists who can cope with days in the saddle, the recently unveiled Coast to Coast cycling route is one of the longest in the UK.
And if cyclists embrace it as they’re expected to, it will lure up to 175,000 new visitors to the South of Scotland and boost the economy by £13.7 million per year.
Launched in autumn, spring will see its first serious influx of Lycra-clad visitors to experience its peaceful trails.
Soon, however, it and Scotland’s other cycling destinations – from mountain biking trails in the Borders and Highlands, to Aberfoyle’s gravel cycle network and a host of gentle rural cycleways and city networks – could be busier than ever.
Tourism leaders are predicting a tourism rush as the cycling world focuses on Scotland for one of the most ambitious events of its kind, the 2023 UCI World Cycling Championships.
They are now urging businesses to tap into a potentially highly lucrative trend for holidays on wheels, expected to put Scotland’s cycle routes and the towns and villages close by under the spotlight like never before.
For almost two weeks in August, locations across Scotland will host thrilling competitions – from track sprints and mountain bike downhill races to BMX freestyle contests and indoor cycling acrobatics – that will see more than 190 UCI World Champions crowned.
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As well as creating a cycling buzz across the country, the events are expected to draw one million spectators, plus a global television audience of more than one billion, making it one of the Top 10 watching sporting events in the world.
To help Scots seize the opportunity, national tourism body VisitScotland has launched an industry guide advising businesses how to grow and develop cycling tourism.
It includes advice on attracting cycling visitors, cycling trends – such as the emerging activity of ‘bikepacking’, with visitors travelling by bike and opting to camp, carrying all equipment the need in paniers – and guidance on the kinds of services visitors will need, such as bike hire and public transport.
Rob Dickson, VisitScotland Director of Industry and Destination Development said: “There has never been a better time to experience cycling in Scotland, with new cycling initiatives and experiences being created right across the country, promoting cycling and helping businesses cater for this growing market will benefit communities right across the country.”
According to German-born Markus Stitz, director of Bikepacking Scotland, the country is well-placed to compete with European destinations for cycling tourists.
“The potential in Scotland is huge. In a way it’s due to Scotland’s history – the old military roads criss-cross the Highlands and Lowlands, so there’s a readymade network for people to use.
“Bikepacking and gravel riding are great ways to that network, while Scotland doesn’t have really extreme heat in summer and or get that cold in winter, so it’s an all year around cycling destination.”
Cycling tourism is said to be worth £37bn to the European economy.
But while Scotland has hosted several high-profile events such as the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Fort William, which has been run there since 2002, the Tour of Britain and the Enduro World Series to help embed it in the minds of cycling tourists, the country’s share of Europe’s volume and value of cycling trips and spend - based on UK visitors - is only 0.5% and 0.8% respectively.
With cycling generating an average of 238,000 page views every year to the visitscotland.com website, there is said to be scope to increase the £266m spent by UK visitors in 2019, who took part in cycling activities.
And according to the research, there is a “huge opportunity on offer for Scottish cycling tourism to further develop and for Scotland to establish itself as a world-class cycling destination”, with the overall value of Scotland’s mountain biking sector alone set to rise from £105m in 2015, to £158m by 2025.
To match well-established cycling destinations, such as Denmark and Switzerland, however, Scotland would have to invest in improved infrastructure, cycle superhighways and bike hotels, it adds.
Enda McLoughlin, Chair for Bike Trossachs CIC, who operate the Aberfoyle-based cycling destination brand, Gravelfoyle, says it is growing with a view to catering for more holidaying cyclists.
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Work includes increasing the number of gravel trails around the Trossachs, potentially offering visitors networks that link Port of Menteith, Stirling, Brig o’Turk and Gartmore.
But investment is needed on sustainable travel, accommodation and cycling facilities to give cyclists the best experience, he added.
“We have a good offering in our trail network but Aberfoyle in particular needs a wider variety of accommodation types to meet more people’s needs,” he said.
“We need more provision for adaptive riders, such as storage and better access, while trains have very limited facilities for bikes - so far Aberfoyle doesn’t have facilities to bring a bike on a bus.
“Changes are coming, and we have a lot to offer, but the infrastructure has to be improved.”
At Nevis Range Mountain Experience, there’s a new motorhome campsite and 26-bedroom hotel to cater for rising demand.
Chris O’Brien, managing director, said: “What’s really exciting is the UCI Cycling World Championships are not just being held in Glasgow, it’s the whole of Scotland – we have the downhill section at Nevis Range.
“Cycle tourism is massive and one of the biggest revenue streams we have here.
“The championships are not a small thing, it’s more than a pivotal moment - it’s massive for the whole of Scotland.
“We generate something like £1.5m a year from mountain biking but expect that to be £5 or £6m in ten years’ time.
“We need something like UCI to crystalise it in the minds of the public that cycling is the future of tourism.”