Tips for safe summer riding in the Scottish Highlands
It’s the height of summer and we’re seeing many holidaymakers visiting our wonderful part of the country in their droves, particularly as lockdown restrictions start to ease. This is terrific for Scotland’s tourism industry, but it introduces a high volume of drivers and riders onto the roads who are unfamiliar with the twisty and unpredictable nature of rural roads, and with this comes an increase in risk for riders.
There’s an abundance of articles online that help you hone your roadcraft, but we’ve not really seen anything that addresses the particular nuances of riding in the Scottish Highlands. So we thought we’d share a few of our top tips with you, which we feel will help you avoid some of the more common hazards on our roads.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s just a focus on some of the key areas we feel might be helpful.
In the summer months, you’ll be sharing the road with many tourists who are unfamiliar with the roads. Not only are there high levels of unfamiliarity, but it’s possible that many drivers have little experience of driving on rural Scottish roads, and the unique challenges these roads present. Throw in the distraction of jaw-dropping scenery and you, my friend, are now in a battleground.
What can I do?
Your position on the road is critical to your safety.
On left-hand bends, position yourself as far right of your lane as you feel comfortable with. This allows you to see oncoming vehicles sooner, and it allows you to be seen by oncoming vehicles sooner too. The ability to see an oncoming vehicle (which might be poorly positioned on the road) that split second earlier gives you the opportunity to counter-steer yourself away from potential danger much sooner. The same principle applies to right-hand bends. Position yourself as far left in the lane as you’re comfortable with.
You may already practice riding like this, which is great. You’ll just need to be a bit more extreme with your positioning.
You should also be conscious of possible loose gravel. The remnants of grit spreading in the winter months last long into the summer months. Rain can also throw debris onto the road. So even if you’re traveling back along the same section of road you were on a few hours ago, conditions can change very quickly.
I’ve come up behind fellow bikers in recent months who don’t ride defensively, and it’s truly terrifying to witness how close they come to almost hitting oncoming vehicles.
There’s a high number of holiday lets in the Scottish Highlands, and it’s not uncommon to see holiday-makers reversing their vehicles out of driveways onto the main road, where poor visibility may be at play.
What can I do?
Keep a lookout for driveways and entrances to houses/cottages. Again, think of your road position. You’ll be spotted much sooner if you’re out towards the far offside of your lane if a vehicle is exiting a junction or a driveway from the nearside.
You know the roads are twisty and windy, so think about what this might mean to other road users when you’re exiting a junction, and in particular other bikers. When you’re exiting a junction, you’re in an extremely vulnerable position. As you committed to leaving the junction, you probably didn’t see any traffic, but this situation can change in a fraction of a second.
What can I do?
On your approach to a T-junction, make sure you know which direction you’ll be taking and position your bike so it’s pointing at 45 degrees to the exit direction you want. While this means you’ll need to crane your neck a bit more looking over your shoulder, it also means your bike is straighter sooner, so you can get up to speed and out of that vulnerable position much quicker.
I’m sure you’ll be familiar with chevron road signs, indicating a bend or a corner. Did you know that the more arrows on the chevron, the tighter the bend you can expect? If you see these in the Scottish Highlands, we mean it.
The best tip I’ve picked up over the years for avoiding the big stuff, like deer, is to be aware of sections of your run that are likely to harbour, or shield, deer. If you have sections with forestry on either side of you, check if there’s high fencing next to the road. If there’s no fencing, or it’s just normal fencing that you could hop over, it’s not going to stop deer crossing the road. You may also think that loud pipes save lives, but wildlife can be so unpredictable. The fruity sound of your Akrapovič may startle deer, causing them to take flight … right across your path.
What can I do?
If you find yourself traveling along a section that fits into the above criteria, roll off the throttle, give your peripheral vision more attention, cover your brake and have a plan for how you would react if a deer crossed your path. It’s always worth thinking about what your worst-case scenario might be and have a plan.
Your position on the road is also an important factor to consider. Think about the optimal position on the road, should you need to take evasive action.
If you’re out riding in a group, it’s a good idea to discuss this plan with your fellow riders in advance, so everyone’s on the same page and your mates aren’t flying past you when you’re slowing down in deer territory.
Bear in mind that deer are most active during dusk and dawn, so a heightened level of awareness during these two periods of the day will be required.
Some fuel stations sell deer whistles for a couple of quid, which are easily attached to your bike. The jury’s out on how effective these really are, but it won’t do any harm to fit one. Just don’t let this lead you into a false sense of security.
The high levels of concentration required to apply these simple techniques, especially if you’re not used to them or a little bit out of practice, can be mentally draining. Bear this in mind and give yourself plenty of breaks. Use these breaks to hydrate and enjoy the scenery.
If any of these techniques are alien to you, or if you’re perhaps a little bit rusty, slow down a little bit and actively practice these techniques. It won’t take long before your speed picks up again to your desired pace. Be sure to check in with yourself mentally, to ensure you’re still applying these techniques. If you find yourself drifting from them, take a break and reset.
Forget the scenery:
Yep, you read right. There’s a lot of stunning vistas in the Scottish Highlands, and it’s tempting to soak this up when you’re riding. However, bear in mind my earlier reference to the battleground. If you’re taking in the scenery as you’re riding, no matter what speed you’re traveling at, you’re leaving yourself exposed.
If you pass a beauty spot, use it as an opportunity to stop and take a break. Fill your camera with photographs. Above all, ride safe!
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