Pedalling Scotland to the world creates cycling tourism boom

Scotland, birthplace of the bicycle, is enjoying a boom in cycling tourism.It’s estimated that almost half a million visitors are getting on their bikes and exploring the Scottish landscape each year and the numbers are growing.

cycling tourism 2

Photograph by: Gerry McCann

Road cycling and mountain biking trips by domestic visitors alone over the last three years has contributed on average £114 million to the Scottish economy.

Latest statistics reveal last year there were 284,000 road cycling and 191,000 mountain biking trips across the country. Visitors stayed more than 2 million nights and spent £123 million.

According to VisitScotland, the national tourism organisation, increasing interest in exploring Scotland by bike has been sparked by a number of high profile events, including the recent Aviva Tour of Britain. With a potential worldwide audience of more than 200 million viewers the race is expected to encourage even more domestic and overseas visitors to discover the country’s unique cycle routes.

Stage two of the Tour of Britain took in parts of Dumfries and Galloway before finishing at Floors Castle, Kelso in the Scottish Borders, while Stage three from Holyrood Park in Edinburgh went through East Lothian and the Borders to Blyth, Northumberland.

The last time the Tour of Britain came to Scotland in 2013 some 21,000 spectators lined the Peebles to Drumlanrig Castle stage, generating £427,404 for the local economy in Peebles and £334,404 in Dumfries.

After the event a survey found that 70 per cent of spectators were ‘inspired to cycle more regularly’ as a result of their attendance.

cycling tourism 1

Photograph by: Gerry McCann

Mike Cantlay, Chairman of VisitScotland described the Aviva Tour as a high profile, prestigious event which would inspire even more visitors to get on their bikes

“Our country is already world-renowned for being one of the best destinations for mountain biking. With the Tour of Britain and the launch of the North Coast 500, given prominence by record-breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont’s epic non-stop ride, the country can boast that its incredible journeys on two wheels are not limited to the off-road tracks and trails,” said Mr Cantlay.

“With continued popularity in cycling tourism there is a huge opportunity for the Scottish and local economies. From cycling tours around the incredible Highlands to mountain biking in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway, hotels, restaurants and accommodation providers are amongst those businesses which can capitalise from this year-long leisure pursuit.”

Scotland’s relationship with the bicycle goes back a long way – to the birth of the bike.It was blacksmith Kirk Patrick Macmillan (1812-1878) from Keir, Dumfries and Galloway who invented rear-wheel driver pedal cycle.

His invention, consisting of a wooden frame and iron-edge wooden wheels, meant he could cover the 14 miles from his home Dumfries in less than an hour, and he could cover the 68 mile journey to Glasgow in just two days, a major improvement on travel times of the day.

Replica of MacMillan's bike

Replica of MacMillan’s bike

Macmillan’s legacy is in part kept alive by the drive to attract more bikers to the country by VisitScotland. The organisation recently launched the Cyclist Welcome Scheme, part of its quality assurance awards, with a total of 1,106 establishments across Scotland already signed up.

The popularity of cycling led to the creation of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling in 2013. The festival celebrated its third year in June when it boasted more than 80 individual events – including film showings, drama, art, talks and almost 20 cycle routes – over 15 days with visitors from as far as Italy, Germany and Norway, and some even cycled to Edinburgh from London.

It also featured the inaugural Capital Trail – a mountain bike adventure ride which covered 147 miles through the stunning landscapes and remote trails of southern Scotland.

Kim Harding, Director of Edinburgh Festival of Cycling said: “The Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, now starting to prepare for its fourth year, has been increasingly attracting visitors from further afield, with its reach now extending well beyond central Scotland, and has been listed as one of the UK’s top cycling festivals.

“Edinburgh is the perfect stage for the festival, with its huge opportunities to explore, from the coast to the rugged hills and a wide range of visitor attractions which are accessible by bike, and its network of cycle paths giving easy access to the surrounding countryside in the Lothians, Borders and beyond.

“In 2015, the Capital Trail 230km ‘Bike Packing’ showcased the amazing opportunities on Edinburgh’s ‘door step’ to explore the beautiful and rugged countryside. The Original Edinburgh Night Ride took participants on a magical mystery tour round the lanes of East Lothian before returning to Edinburgh for a well-earned breakfast.”

The growing interest in Scotland as a holiday destination for cyclists has inspired a number of new businesses, such as Edinburgh Bike Tours.Entrepreneur Kathy Jarvis was inspired to set up the company after almost 20 years running adventure tours in South America where she saw bike tours readily available.

The Leith-based company organises tours that take in stunning attractions both in and around the city with one of the most popular passing the Water of Leith, the New Town, Edinburgh Castle and North Bridge.

Now in its third season, and following increased interest in longer tailored trips through Scotland from visitors as far flung as South America, USA and Australia, Edinburgh Bike Tours looks set to expand to the Highlands following a team-up with Inverness-based cycle guide, Caroline Williams.

“Scotland has to be one of the best countries in the world for cycling,” said Kathy.
“ The scenery is stunning and we have a lot of superb cycle paths and very quiet roads and an increasing array of options for off-road riding. The tea and cake is also excellent!”