Mountain biking has been a huge part of my life for the last 16 years, and one of the things I love about riding most is the places that it takes you. I’ve been fortunate to ride in many amazing places over the years, however, there are some that stand out as my clear favourites.
To the mountains with my bike I go
All have some of what I believe is the best mountain biking on the planet, and all hold a special place in my heart, whether for the scenery, the people I’ve met there, the food, the weather, the memories of amazing days shared with like-minded friends, or in most cases, all of the above!
I appreciate that “Mountain Biking” can mean different things to different people….for me it’s all about big days out on bikes in the mountains, pedalling up to find the best singletrack descending on a wide variety of terrain.
I’m not averse to pushing and carrying my bike up big hills if it means I get longer, better and more interesting descents, but if there’s a way round this such as a chairlift or helicopter then I’m equally happy to take it! But whatever kind of riding you’re into, it’s hard to imagine anyone visiting these places to ride and not having a great time J So here’s a rundown of my top 5 all-time favourite Mountain Biking destinations.
1. Portes Du Mercantour, France
The Portes du Mercantour area within the Maritime Alps is one I’ve been lucky enough to spend a great deal of time riding and guiding in over the last few years, and it will always be one of my favourite mountain biking destinations worldwide.
It’s an area not yet hugely popular with Brits or those from outside France, but the secret is about to get out as 2016 will see a round of the Enduro World Series visit the area, along with several hundred riders from around the World.
Those who have been lucky enough to ride the legendary Trans-Provence 6-day enduro race will have sampled some of the incredible trails that criss-cross this area, but even that only showcases just a few of the many amazing trails here.
The towns of Valberg and Guillaumes are at the centre of the area and even the drive to get to them will leave jaws dropped as the roads pass through huge canyons with some mind-blowing geology (and road engineering!). From here the opportunities are endless.
1000 metres or more of vertical drop in a single run, on everything from loamy flowing forest trails, to dry dusty, switchback trails down the steep-sided valleys, big mountain back-country epics through stunning alpine scenery, the crazy “Terres Noir” or Grey earth trails where the surface is like riding a giant pump-track on the moon, and the stunning red rock canyon trails that feel like they’ve been transported from Utah or Arizona and dumped in southern France.
There are big pedals or hike a bikes to access some of the trails, but others are shuttle-able if you have a vehicle and driver. Ash Smith at Trans-Provence runs trips based in the area each summer, as well as guided tours of the route of the Trans-Provence race which passes through here each year. Get in touch via www.trans-provence.com for more details but beware that trips fill quickly and are normally booked out by late spring.
2. Scottish Highlands, UK
When I think of Northern Scotland, the images that are conjured up are of wild, remote, unspoilt areas of wilderness, bleak and savage looking mountains, stunning coastlines and craggy islands with beautiful white sand beaches.
Of wild and inhospitable weather, roaming herds of wild deer, friendly folk, cosy fires, and toasting great adventures with good whisky. Of all the millions of people who populate this crowded little island of ours, I imagine many have never, and will never, make a trip to the far northern Highlands because they think there’s nothing there….They are absolutely right and completely wrong at the same time.
Because for many people, there is nothing there. No shopping malls, no McDonalds or Starbucks on every street, no cinemas or other entertainment venues….But for mountain bikers with a sense of adventure, there is sooo much there!
It’s a stunning place whatever the weather and the season, and a place that always feels like you have it to yourself. Glen Torridon in the North West is one of the best places to head, with numerous great mountain biking trails.
Rocky, technical singletrack, giant slabs of rolling granite bedrock, and scenery that can be somewhat distracting! From here it’s relatively easy to get to Skye and more fantastic riding amongst staggering scenery.
The Applecross peninsula is well worth a visit too, and if you’re looking for an easy option to find your way around the best trails in these areas then Andy McKenna at Go-Where Scotland has been running trips in the area for years and has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the trails around here! Find more on www.go-where.co.uk
One of the best things about the area is the possibility to plan an adventure riding trails between the remote mountain bothies that are dotted around. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but for me, there are fewer better ways to have a micro-adventure with friends. I wrote a blog about a trip this spring that was all about this.
3. Whistler, Canada
Anyone who is into outdoor adventures will have undoubtedly heard of the town of Whistler in British Columbia, Canada. A skiing mecca in winter, and home to a legendary bike park in the summer, as well as a party atmosphere in the resort town whatever the season.
For mountain bikers, the bike park is great fun, no matter what your level of ability there is truly something for everyone. Chairlifts and gondolas whisk you to the top of the hill from where there are dozens of great trails to whoop and holler down, with jumps, drops and berms galore.
But for me, the best riding around Whistler lies outside the bike park, where 90% of the people who visit the town never ride. A fantastic network of well-built trails are easily found thanks to the great local trail maps, and whilst they might sound like “XC” trails, anyone who turns up with steep angled 29” hardtail expecting non-technical terrain is in for a huge shock!
These are trails best suited to modern all-mountain full-suspension bikes with at least 150mm of travel, that can climb and descend. Whatever you end up riding around the town, most days inevitably finish with a dip in the crystal clear refreshing waters of Lost Lake or a burger and beer in the GLC bar, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have seen a black bear or two out on the trails!
The best thing about Whistler as a mountain bike destination though is the accessibility of some other incredible riding venues. Just 40 minutes drive to the South along the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway lies Squamish, a little more laid back (and cheaper!) than Whistler, with a very different feel to the trails.
It’s possible to shuttle up to the start of some of the trails here with a 4×4 but many are easily ridden as loops if you’re prepared to ride up and down. It feels more like riding in a temperate rainforest here, with magical loamy trails through the dense forest. Another short drive further south takes you to North Vancouver and the “North Shore” riding scene.
It’s not all crazy narrow wooden structures here as the name would suggest but in my (limited) experience of riding here, it’s not for the faint-hearted! The trails are steep and tough and it’s no wonder the local riders are some of the best in the World when you grow up with a backyard like this!
From nearby Horseshoe Bay it’s a short and stunning ferry ride across to the Sunshine Coast, home of more great riding again with a different feel, or to Vancouver Island where there are numerous spots to head to and some super friendly locals to show you the best trails.
Heading north from Whistler takes you to the small town of Pemberton, where I remember feeling like I’d stepped into the scene of a 1960s Western the first time I visited! It feels like a quirky kind of place but there are clearly some dedicated and talented trailbuilders hiding within the town as the trails here are absolutely awesome.
Technical and interesting singletrack climbs take you up as far as you have the energy for, then there’s a choice of dozens of fantastic descents. Steep, dusty chutes, massive granite slabs, rocky gnar or forest flow…every trail I’ve ridden there has left me with a grin like a Cheshire cat and a taste for more!
As if all of these places weren’t enough to fill a lifetime’s worth of riding, then you have the Southern Chilcotins….think float planes to remote backcountry lakes, cowboy trails, multi-day hut adventures, and ribbons of singletrack through wild sub-alpine meadows where you’re likely to see more bears and eagles than people.
It’s a pretty special area of wilderness which will quench any rider’s thirst for adventure. A 2 and a half hour drive over a rough forest road from Pemberton takes you to Tyaughton Lake where there’s a lodge and campsite and the base for trips into the Chilcotins. I can’t recommend a trip here highly enough!
4. Nelson, New Zealand
The town of Nelson at the northern end of the South island of New Zealand is probably not the first destination you think of for mountain biking in NZ but after spending a good chunk of time riding there earlier this year I would say it should be!
Home to a great community of local riders, this lovely little town loves bikes and has some brilliant trails on its doorstep. The riding is often steep, technical, rooty and lots of fun, and it’s not difficult to see why all the locals are great riders.
The town itself is full of great cafes and bars for post-ride refreshments and every kiwi rider I’ve met has been friendly, welcoming and proud to share their local trails with you. As well as the easily accessible riding around town, if you head further out there are some great trails near Abel Tasman park, and also near the Nelson Lakes.
Not to mention that there are ample opportunities for heli-riding at about as cheap a price as you’ll find anywhere in the World! The flight up and being dropped on top of a massive mountain with hours of descending ahead of you is something that every rider should experience at some point in their life!
Within an hour’s drive back towards the ferry that’ll take you across to the North Island is the Marlborough region. Home to many classic vineyards producing delicious Sauvignon Blanc and several other tasty wines, it’s an area of beautiful scenery, lush forests and giant ferns, sandy coves, as well as some great technical and non-technical trails.
The inaugural NZ Enduro was held here in March 2015 and featured 3 days of racing spectacular trails with a laid-back race atmosphere.
5. Finale Ligure, Italy
Finale Ligure is an Italian coastal resort which has for the last 3 years hosted the final round of the Enduro World Series. For that week in early October, the town is buzzing with the sound of freewheels as riders head to the cafes or bars post riding, and filled with grinning faces as stories of the day’s trails are recounted.
It’s not hard to see why racers and riders love heading back here at the end of each race season. The lure of fantastic trails, year-round great weather, the beach, cheap and tasty pizza and gelato, and a cute old town with an outdoor café culture make you see it’s no wonder it’s become such a popular destination to head for.
Gradual climbs (or cheap and easily available shuttle uplifts), long flowing descents through loamy forests, as well as steep, gnarly rocky terrain as you get closer to the coast, mean there’s something to please most mountain bikers. It’s not a great destination for beginners, but anyone of an intermediate level or above will not be disappointed.
Since 2019, Bikmo also offers adventure sports travel insurance, to cover all possible aspects of your adventures. For all of our biking enthusiasts who are looking to cover their whole trip, including emergency medical and repatriation expenses, trip cancellation, baggage damage and so much more!
With 3 levels of travel cover to choose from, and some optional extras, your single trip or an annual multi-trip policy will give you the peace of mind to enjoy your adventure.
Whether travelling alone or with the family, in the UK, Europe or Worldwide, you can choose the level of activity cover you need to meet your holiday travel insurance requirements.
It’s all about getting out there and enjoying your riding more, knowing we’ve got you covered, wherever you are.
Grab your bike, your case and explore.
There’s no better way to travel than by bike, and I’m sure Julia can vouch for that. If you’re like Julia and thrive on exploring hard to reach places on two wheels, check out our Tour Finder for some no-hassle adventures so you can spend more time pedalling.