UCI Bike Region South of Scotland: combining the great outdoors and innovation
The ground-breaking 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships held in Glasgow and across Scotland last August shone the spotlight on a country that has a great deal to offer in terms of cycling opportunities. During the 11 days of competition that included 13 separate UCI World Championships, the South of Scotland region hosted the mountain bike cross-country events in Glentress as well as the para-cycling in Dumfries and Galloway.
Welcoming these events was part of the South of Scotland Cycling Partnership Strategy which aims to drive behavioural change while contributing to equality, health and the region’s net-zero carbon reduction targets. Recognising the bicycle’s role in reducing carbon emissions, authorities are working to interweave it into part of people’s daily lives.
“Cycling must be inclusive, and not just a choice for those who can afford it or access it freely,” says Paula Ward, Cycling Strategy Delivery Manager & Economic Infrastructure Specialist at South of Scotland Enterprise. The organisation and funding of cycling activities and events is one of the ways they are working to introduce the bicycle into communities.
A Cycle to School campaign over summer encouraged more students and teachers to use the many new cycle paths being built throughout the region to reduce reliance on cars and promote the environmental benefits of cycling.
The Scottish Borders Community Cycling Fund was set up to deliver a lasting legacy from the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships. Grants of between £3000 and £15,000 were available to community groups, organisations and event businesses to deliver local community cycling events that encourage and inspire new and existing cyclists, particularly within under-represented groups including children, girls and women.
Secondary School Open Bike Days saw students from all schools in the Scottish Borders have a chance to receive mountain bike coaching on the world class trails in Glentress, venue of the UCI Cycling World Championships mountain bike cross-country events.
As part of the Dumfries and Galloway Summer of Cycling Festival, grants were awarded to some 10 cycling events organised across different cycling disciplines for children, adults and families of all varying abilities.
OFF-ROAD RIDING AS A CATALYST
When it comes to all things bicycle, South of Scotland is probably best known for its off-road cycling offer, and it is here that the authorities can best promote the cycling culture.
Home to five of the 7stanes (seven mountain bike centres spanning the south of Scotland), Dumfries & Galloway has trails for all abilities. In addition, Galloway Forest was the location of the first UCI Gravel World Series event to be held on British soil, and is part of the internationally recognized Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere. The worldwide network of more than 700 biospheres works towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Every UNESCO Biosphere is a centre for learning and research, and for testing solutions to some of the most critical challenges.
Nearby Glentress is a mountain bike Mecca, with 71km of purpose-built, man-made mountain bike trails weaving through stunning forest. Quite apart from the Elite mountain bike community, which has regularly competed on these trails – including at the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships – the area is popular destination for enthusiasts of all levels and for cyclo-tourists. An extensive Glentress Masterplan to protect the region’s biodiversity has already seen the completion of two out of three phases.
Cyclo-tourism is increasingly popular in the region, particularly with the development of a new 250- mile route called the Kirkpatrick C2C. This route takes riders from Stranraer on the west coast to Eyemouth on the east coast, and celebrates the Scottish region’s role in the creation of the bicycle: almost 200 years ago, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a blacksmith from Dumfriesshire, created the first pedal-driven bicycle, the velocipede.
Innovation continues today in the South of Scotland, with plans for a national Mountain Bike Innovation Centre at Caerlee Mill, Innerleithen. It is envisaged that this will provide mountain bike companies with a place to develop and test ideas and new technologies. It will also be a knowledge transfer hub, and potentially a centre to train and test athletes.
This year, 141 bicycle advocates and brand leaders from more than 10 countries attended a two-day Innovation and Technology Summit in the Tweed Valley to learn more about the project, a joint initiative led by Edinburgh Napier University and DMBinS (Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland) with project partner South of Scotland Enterprise.
In addition, the renovation of the listed Caerlee Mill will help preserve an important building for the local community and for Scotland’s industrial heritage.
AND THE WEATHER?
The last word goes to Paula Ward, who brushes off any talk of inclement weather being a deterrent to cycling. For her, Scotland’s reputation for rain is no reason to shun the bicycle’s undeniable value when it comes to a healthy lifestyle and valuable tool in the fight against climate change:
“South of Scotland has a strong, healthy cycling and adventure tourism culture, and combined with the Scottish love for the outdoors and a stoic attitude towards all kinds of weather, cycling should be embraced with an open mind and a full heart.
“A muddy rider is a happy rider!”