About the Cairngorms Loop
The Cairngorms Loop is a self-supported mountain biking challenge, open to anyone at any time. The intent is to time-trial the route under a rules framework, with no designated rest periods or set distances to travel daily. The inspiration for this challenge, and the self-supported philosophy based rule-set, come from North American events the Tour Divide, Colorado Trail Race, and Arizona Trail Race. The guiding principal is that you 'do it all yourself', only relying on any commercial services that allow 'equal opportunity' to all riders attempting the challenge. The rules are designed to create a level playing field for all attempts so they are comparable, and respect must be paid to the honour system upon which this challenge sits. There is no organisation, no entry fee, no prizes, no sponsors, or commercial interests hidden anywhere.
The US events mentioned above are longer and take you to more exposed areas, where some backcountry skills and gear are necessary, but within the confines of the UK it is hard to find that remoteness. For this reason the rules have been tweaked a little to increase the self-reliance of the rider and ensure an equal playing field. The Cairngorms Loop is pitched toward giving a taste of the style of riding in the US, but over a three day weekend. With the start and finish in the same place, it allows the rider to finish within the specified time limit and travel home. For anyone considering travelling to North America to tackle one of the Grand Tours of mountain biking, this is an ideal training ride, and the opportunity to test your shortlisted gear.
This style of long-distance non-stop riding is nothing new, and on road randonneuring or audax riding is global, and has been around for a long time. In mountain biking, over in the US there are countless 100+ mile mountain bike events, and dozens of free-to-ride self-supported challenge routes from ~140 miles right up to the 2,700 mile Tour Divide. However in the UK there are presently more 100 mile trail-running events than 100 mile or more mountain bike events. People have always been doing big things unpublicised, but the UK’s mountain bike media have conveyed a general belief that mountain biking for 24 hours or more without support is an off-the-wall thing only a few talented athletes do, and commercial interests have driven a trend to pack out short and expensive events.
Recent times have seen more and more people in the UK realising they are perfectly capable of knocking out big multi-day rides off-road, and that support and media attention is not only unnecessary, but also lessens the challenge and experience. Supported rides also add great complexity and cost, take up other people’s time, and create an uneven playing field so times are not comparable. With just a few months structured and committed training, tackling a ~200 mile mountain bike route self-supported at the weekend is within anyone’s reach, and along with a little adventure, provides the opportunity for deep personal rewards. The Cairngorms Loop is ideal for anyone taking their first step into self-supported multi-day riding off-road, and once accomplished learning to travel further and quicker through more remote areas will come easily.
Although recent developments in lightweight bikepacking gear have made this style of travel easier, the Cairngorms Loop is perfectly achievable without the need for buying anything specialist. People have been off-road touring these trails since mountain bikes were invented using just a small backpack. If you want to take some weight off your back, carrying your water on the bike can help considerably. To make more space, a small drybag with your sleeping bag can be strapped to the handlebars and one under the saddle. Racks with panniers are not ideally suited to rough terrain, being heavy, unreliable, and effecting handling. Weight is worth considering, but not critical to finishing; more people fail in these endeavours due to being ill-equipped, rather than because they were carrying an extra kilo of gear.