For round-the-world cyclist Markus Stitz bikepacking is the purest way to discover Scotland off the beaten track.
An evolution of cycle touring, bikepacking sees riders head out with everything they’ll need to spend the night strapped to their bike.
And few know more about it than Markus who founded Bikepacking Scotland after becoming the first person to circumnavigate the globe on a single-speed bike in 2016.
In his new book Bikepacking Scotland, Markus maps out 20 wild routes – from island hopping adventures to the Cairngorms National Park, and his own take on the North Coast 500.
‘For me, cycling is one of the purest ways to discover Scotland off the beaten track, leaving no other trace than a few tyre marks,’ said Markus.
‘All the bikepacking adventures I have had in Scotland have created lasting memories, even though at times it was a steep learning experience.
‘Scotland isn’t an easy country to cycle in when it throws its weather at you.
‘You will fondly remember the first time you sink your feet into its famous bog, or when a cloud of midges surrounds you.
‘But you will also be blown away by the wonderful scenery, no matter where you go.’
Here Markus chooses five of the best bikepacking routes in Scotland.
Dunoon Dirt Dash (70 miles)
This route was inspired by the annual event with the same name, which offers people a great platform to get into bikepacking in a very social environment.
The Lezyne Dunoon Dirt Dash event starts on a Saturday morning, and Carrick Castle, situated right next to a sea loch, provides a stunning backdrop for the overnight campsite for the event.
Markus said: ‘On day two there is an excellent breakfast stop at The Blairmore, in the wee hamlet with the same name, before the Benmore Botanic Garden invites you to linger for a while too, with its majestic array of trees.
‘The Dunoon Dirt Dash route itself is easily accessible from Glasgow with regular trains to Gourock.
‘Although short, the ferry journey over the Firth of Clyde feels like the start to a proper adventure.
‘The Dunoon Dirt Dash has only a few technical sections, most of the route is on smooth gravel tracks and quiet roads.’
Capital Trail (153 miles)
This was the very first route designed by Markus and it also provided the narrative to his round the world trip on a single-speed bike.
The Capital Trail starts and finishes on the Portobello Promenade, the exact same location where Markus started his epic 34,000km-journey.
He said: ‘Don’t worry, if you can endure two long days in the saddle, the Capital Trail is a great weekend adventure, but there are also good B&Bs and hotels along the way to make this a week-long adventure.
‘Otherwise this circular route through East Lothian and the Scottish Borders can also be ridden as a point to point route by using the Borders Railway or the X62 service from Borders Buses, both transport bikes free of charge.
‘What you can expect from the Capital Trail is stunning views, some splendid singletrack and loads of great places to stop and explore.
‘Put your climbing legs on for this route, and while the route can be ridden on a gravel bike in dry conditions, wider tyres are highly recommended.’
The Cateran Gran Fondo (68 miles)
Taking you through a museum without walls, this is a great weekend adventure on the southern edge of the Cairngorms National Park.
Markus said: ‘This route, for all bikes, fully accessible and mostly on quiet roads, provides you with a great tour to marvel at stone circles, standing stones, old churches and the beautiful landscape of the Cateran Ecomuseum.
‘The steep sided valleys in the north of the route provided the perfect hide for cattles thieves, the Caterans, while the much flatter section in the Vale of Strathmore is home to some of Scotland’s finest Pictish sites and, if you visit in summer, loads of berries.’
From Forth to Fife (45 miles)
Starting from Haymarket station in the heart of Scotland’s capital, the second shortest route in the Bikepacking Scotland book travels across the Firth of Forth on the Forth Road Bridge, then traverses the Kingdom of Fife from south to north on a network of forest and gravel tracks, before finishing in Kinross on the shores of Loch Leven.
‘This is a great route for a bikepacking microadventure, with more history crammed into a short distance than you can imagine’, said Markus.
‘There are plenty of coffee stops along the route, and it also takes you to the best spot to admire the architecture of the Forth Bridge and Scotland’s smallest lighthouse.
‘For those who want a longer adventure, this route can be combined with the John Muir Way and another route in the book, Discovering Perthshire’s heritage.’
An Alternative North Coast 500 (192 miles)
As the name suggests, this 192-mile route is an off-road alternative to the North Coast 500 route.
Markus said: ‘You get to tackle the world-famous Bealach na Bà and can taste some of Scotland’s finest seafood in Ullapool, before the route takes you on an adventurous coast to coast journey to Ardgay and back over the Black Isle to Inverness.
‘You can either take your own bike, or make use of the excellent service of Ticket to Ride in Inverness, who hire bikes, and bags, and can also arrange transfers along the route.’
Plus, don’t miss the June issue of Scottish Field magazine.