Bike choice. Cairngorm loops bikepacking.

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  • Bike choice. Cairngorm loops bikepacking.
  • yorkarl29

    Planning on bike-packing round the Cairngorm loops next year but not sure re my current bike choice. I was intending to do it on my gravel bike O rro Terra Carbon on tubeless gravelking SK tyres (38mm rear 45mm front) but the more I read and look at the remoteness,terrain and route ,the more I think this bike may not be up to it.
    I will be carrying a seat pack ,frame pack and handlebar roll.
    I was in Blair Atholl recently and rode up Glen Tilt on the bike, mostly it was fine but there were a few points when it was a bit rougher and sketchier than I would like.Even Pumped up the rear tyre a bit harder and I get the impression that this is one of the better trails!
    I would like some local knowledge or experiences of the trails on the loops to assist in my bike choice.
    The alternative is to ride on my Vitus Escarpe vrx 29 full sus but wouldn’t fancy hike a bike bits😬
    The other alternative is to buy a Hardtail frame and take the kit off my full sus, to reduce the cost.
    The Hardtail frame would therefore have to be boost rear, take a 150mm pike fork and be a 29r. I have looked and found a few to consider but most are slack head angle or don’t take a 150 mm fork, not sure if they would be suitable.

    On the list are;
    Sonder transmitter
    Bird zero 29
    Nukeproof scout 290
    NS eccentric cromo 29

    As always I really don’t want to spend a ton of money
    Any advice assistance welcome

    Premier Icon metalheart

    What is your intention for your trip, is it simply to do the route or are you after a fast ITT?

    If the former then the bike you have will do fine. Scotroutes (who no doubt will pop up shortly) used his full sus on his recent ITT and did a pretty creditable time (esp for a pensioner… 😜).

    I’ve not done the Glen tilt to Sronphadriag bit but the descent off Bynack and the Lairig & Louigh would be hard going on a gravel bike (I trashed a 2.8” rekon on my hardtail within 50m from the saddle and nursed it round the inner loop with a single tube).

    This is the descent to the fords of Avon

    It does feel pretty damn remote in sections…

    Vitus. The bits you may need to push aren’t really massive hike a bike, more shoving than carrying. If you’re CX bike struggled with going up the Glen Tilt doubletrack it’s really not the right tool for the job.


    If you struggled in Glen Tilt then much of the remainder of the Loops 300km would be incredibly difficult for you (can’t understand why you increased tyre pressures though.)

    The majority of the outer loop would be OK on a gravel bike of some sort. Much of the inner loop is much more technical.

    Jenny Graham turned up at the September group start on a gravel bike. I thought it was a gutsy decision (typical of Jenny). We all got stymied by the flooding though so I’ve no idea how she would have got on.

    For the group start, I had my Ti hardtail. I reckon hardtails make up the majority of bikes on the route.

    For my return trip, I took my Orbea Occam and just took very little kit, most of it in a rucksack. The main advantage of this is a lighter, easier handling bike (pushing a loaded bike through crotch-deep, fast-flowing water isn’t an experience I’m keen to repeat). Ability to use the dropper post on a couple of the descents was also appreciated. 30-odd hours in and on a fast, gravelly descent in the dark, it was also nice to let the suspension take the strain and not be trying to pick an easier line.

    Of course, it depends on what sort of pace you are expecting. STWer Jimmy and his mate did the outer loop on gravel bikes in the summer, taking three days and hostelling. He reckoned it wold be a hardtail “next time”.

    A bit more info (and links to my blog) at


    Happy to answer any other queries you have and, if you contact me prior to your ride, provide whatever updates on route/ground conditions that I can.


    A gravel bike would be fine for most of the route apart from:

    The singletrack beside Loch an Dun
    The section from the bridge over the Nethy over Bynack Mor to the Fords of A’an over the Lairig an Laoigh down to Glen Derry.
    The section from the Red House to the bothy in Glen Feshie.
    The section from the Geldie Burn to the head of Glen Tilt
    The bit of moorland singletrack from Loch Loch back towards Blair Atholl.

    TBH some of the ground you’ll be pushing/carrying no matter what bike you have.

    The ground covered is so varied that it doesn’t matter what type of bike you take, at more than one point “it will be wrong”. As above a HT is probably least wrong.


    Thanks to all for the replies ,local knowledge and advice. My intention is to do the route with a mate and simply enjoy the scenery and experience. One look at that photo of the descent of fords of Avon tells me the gravel bike wouldn’t be the right choice trying to pick my way through that track.The Vitus would love that bit. It was the terrain/surfaces of the inner loop that concerned me and that has been confirmed. There was a short section on Glen Tilt where the rocks on the track got bigger and I could feel the rim a few times hence pumped the tyre up which was probably too low already. Cheers Scotroutes for the offer re conditions nearer the time, likely to be mid June next year when get up there. Secretly suspect as has been suggested a HT would be the best compromise. Thanks again

    Premier Icon metalheart

    I would agree that a hardtail is probably the best option for what you describe, however the Vitus will do the job. Unless you need an excuse for a new bike in which case crack on… 🤪

    There was a reason for posting that picture 🤣


    Running out of room for new bikes but like the subliminal message


    As I’ve said a few times now, spend money on lightweight, compact kit rather than the bike. It’s a better ROI.

    Premier Icon boxelder

    The Vitus would love that bit

    I wouldn’t bank on it…….
    I’d go with the Vitus, for sure.

    Premier Icon metalheart

    As I’ve said a few times now, spend money on lightweight, compact kit rather than the bike.

    This, decent low weight/compact volume air bed, sleeping bag and shelter (and soft luggage) if you don’t have it already would probably be of much more benefit.


    I ‘rode’ large parts of it years ago on a Giant Reign (the original, much burlier version, with Fox 36 forks). There was still hike a bike, but as others said it was primarily pushing rather than carrying. The bike was fine, if a bit slow on the better surfaced sections. Based on that I would say the Vitus would be just fine as its almost certainly lighter and better suited to the task at hand than mine was!

    Your previous experience in Glen Tilt says to me that your CX is going to make things hard. Whilst a hardtail is likely the ‘best’ choice, I don’t think its worth buying a new one and stripping the Vitus to rebuild a hardtail for a few days riding when you can just take the Vitus and save yourself a lot of hassle and money.


    ive done it on various bikes from Fattys to rigid 29ers to ibis Mojo HD.

    By far the most fun was the ibis – packing was more difficult.

    the rigid 29er was the fastest by a long shot but i was running 2.4inch tires for volume over the rocks.

    Premier Icon molgrips

    he rigid 29er was the fastest by a long shot

    Interesting – I always thought a R29er would be faster only if it’s smooth. What do you think made it quicker?


    The bits where a rigid 29er would be totally out of its depth are mostly the same as if you were on any other bike. The sections as shown in metalheart’s photo are as awkward on a FS as on a rigid. Against that there are long sections of rolling estate track where a rigid 29er will just eat up the miles and leave the FS behind.

    The best bit on a FS would be the descent down Glen Derry and the upper Tilt.

    The one time I tried it was a couple of years ago. I was on my Solaris with rigid carbon forks and 650b+ wheels/tyres. I did all of the inner loop and got past Aviemore before bivvying on the first day. Then got an email from the group start organiser to say that the Burn o’ Brown before Tomintoul was impassable so decided to divirt round it and finish anyway*. As it happened the burn had dropped a lot since he’d got the info.

    I’ve now got a FS (Salsa Spearfish) but would still take the Solaris over that.

    *I later found out I was in second place at that point, oh well!

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