Route notes – Bealach na Ba
The famous (or infamous?) Bealach Na Ba
When planning your NC500 holiday route, try to avoid crossing the Bealach na Ba and continuing north around the Applecross peninsula on a weekend or Bank Holiday. It can get quite busy with tourist traffic and the road is one of the steepest, longest and narrowest on the whole route. You will enjoy it so much more if you can complete this beautiful but demanding section on a (hopefully!) quieter day during the week.
Even better, plan to be in the NW Highlands in the spring or late summer and enter one of the two sportive events when the Bealach is closed to all other traffic for a few hours which means it is safer and so much more enjoyable. There is a shorter one of 43 miles, the Bealach Beag, starting and finishing at Sheildaig which is usually in May when the weather can be at its best, and the long one, the Bealach Mor, which is a punishing 90 miles and 9,600’ (about 2,900m) of ascent from Kinlochewe and back. It is usually held in early September. They are both organised by local events team, Hands on Events (http://www.handsonevents.co.uk
). Having done the Bealach Beag four times now, I can safely say that it is a very friendly event and is entered by cyclists of all persuasions and levels of fitness from road racers to people on mountain bikes, old touring bikes and tandems so no need to be intimidated if you have’t done a sportive before!
Bike Shops and Cycle Repairs on the NC500 Route
Whilst planning you NC500 ride, you will have noticed that settlements of any size are few and far between – the low population density is reflected in the number of bike shops! This is especially so on the west coast – going clockwise, once you leave Dingwall or Muir of Ord and enter the Highlands proper, you will not find a bike shop or formal repair facility until you get to Thurso! In the event of a mechanical issue, your only options are self-help with mail order of spare parts from one of the local shops set up for this (mainly Square Wheels and OrangeFox), help from a local cyclist or the unique mobile service of OrangeFox Bikes
at Muir of Ord. From Thurso back to Dingwall, there are five bike shops and workshops, reflecting the greater population, the long established Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle route and the mountain bike centres on the east coast. Find details at the end of this blog.
For these reasons, I would strongly advise you to ensure that your bike is suitable for the load you intend to carry, is thoroughly serviced before you leave home and that your tyres are suitable for rough Highland trarmac and have plenty of wear left in them. Your gears should be low enough to cope with the extra load you are carrying and enable you to tackle the hills, some of which can be steeper than many Alpine passes … although they are a little shorter! New or nearly new brake pads are also advised!
Carry a small repair kit including a suitable pump, puncture repair kit and multi tool, preferably one with a chain breaker, and learn and practice a few essential skills such as indexing your gears, removing your rear wheel and repairing a puncture, repairing a broken chain, and even replacing a broken gear and brake cable – I have met cyclists with all these problems on the west coast where I live. A small bottle of chain oil and some rags for cleaning the chain is also recommended – wipe off the excess oil the morning after cleaning and re-oiling to avoid picking up too much dust and grit which will make a nice grinding paste on your chain!
Do you know your crankarm from your spoke nipple?
Your selection of spares will be dictated by the type of bike you ride and the load you carry – the heavier the load, the more strain and wear and tear on your bike and the more spares you may want to carry. If cycling in a group, you could spread communal spares between you – you don’t all need everything!
Spare inner tubes are essential to get you going quickly after a puncture – you can mend the punctured tube that night in the comfort of your accommodation. I would carry 2 spare tubes as some slow punctures can be very difficult to find and repair.
What else you carry is a matter of choice but if I were travelling on a fully loaded bike, I would consider a spare spoke or two as your rear wheels will be taking a huge extra load, a quick chain link to mend a broken chain, possibly a spare tyre and a brake and gear cable. Make sure that you bring the correct ones for your bike as there is a lot of variation – ask at your local bike shop for advice. I wouldn’t have thought you would get through a new set of brake pads in 500 miles but it depends on how much you use them on the long downhills!
Bike Shops and Workshops
Inverness – useful if you have forgotten anything or to stock up before you head off.
Muir of Ord
– 16 miles west of Inverness between Beauly and Contin
has a well-stocked shop with a range of spares including Shimano, Sram and Campagnolo, and full workshop on the Industrial Estate. They are suspension specialist (all makes) and a Fox Approved Service – Marc can do a full service and tune your mountain bike forks whilst you wait if he is not too busy – and have the ability to update Shimano Di2 electronic gear shifting.
Contact Marc on 01463 870346
for out-of-hours service
Shop opening hours: 9.00-5.30 Monday to Friday; 9-5 on Saturdays
- 24 hour mobile repair service: from their well-equipped and stocked van, they will travel all over the Highland region to get you on your way. For anything requiring a workshop, they can offer a pick-up and drop-off facility. This is particularly useful if you are on the west or north-west areas where there are no other facilities. Charge: 60p per mile plus the cost of the repairs and spare parts. Payment is by cash or cheque, or card over the phone.
Marc did the 24 hour cover for Lee Craigie and her team’s recent non-stop record breaking NC500 ride.
- Mail order – Marc can get spares to you with TNT next day delivery if you have a problem that you can mend yourself but just need the spare part. Phone early to guarantee next day delivery.
– about 22 miles NW of Inverness, 3 miles off A835 between Contin and Dingwall.
is a small but well stocked shop and full workshop for road and mountain bikes including servicing, repairs and wheel building – good range of spokes held in stock and is located in The Square.
Contact Giles on 01997 42100
for emergency out of hours enquiries.
Shop opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10-6.
- Mail order – Square wheels has an established on-line and ebay shop so is set up for mail order. Giles is down at the post office most mornings and can offer next delivery by Royal Mail or TNT courier. Once again, phone early to get that next day delivery.
– 15 miles north-west of Inverness
– shop and workshop offering servicing, repairs and spares (full range of Shimano, limited Campag) for road and mountain bike; they can do on-the-spot repairs if possible.
Contact: 01349 862163
Opening hours: 9-5 Monday to Saturday. No out-of-hours service.
There is a new cycle repair service on the west coast in Scourie! Scott Barnes is in the process of building up ‘Barnes, Bits and Bikes
’, a small workshop business on the north side of the village which will be a really valuable service as there were previously no bike shops between Dingwall and Thurso! Scott’s enthusiasm for all things bikes stems from experience of working in a main stream bike workshop; although that was a while ago, he knows a trick or two and is building a reputation for resourcefulness and improvisation - valuable skills on the NW coast where getting hold of specialist spare parts is not easy!
Scott is open 7 days a week and operates from a workshop at home which is down a lane on the left (if heading up the coast) just after the war memorial – if you reach the toilets, you have gone too far. As he is building the business in a fairly remote area, he can’t promise to be at home all the time, but call and leave a message or ask in the village shop – someone will know when he will be back!
His address is Gardener’s Cottage, Scourie, IV27 4 SX; phone: 01971 502259
Make sure you're ready for biking on the NC500!
– mid west coast
The only bike shop on the west coast has now closed but owner, Pete, still has a limited range of spares from the old shop. It may be worth a phone call to see if he can help you out in the event of mechanical issues.
Contact Pete on 07516473320.
– north coast, east
The Bike Shop
on the High street is a very small workshop run by friendly enthusiasts, offering a limited range of spares, repairs and servicing. Phone or turn up if you have a problem and Gerry, Sam and co will do their best to get you going.
Contact: 01847 895385
Opening hours: 9-5 Monday to Saturday
– east coast, north
on Francis Street is a small workshop and shop which holds a range of spares for road and mountain bike. If you can get to the shop, Brian will do his best to get you on your way. Better still, the bakery is next door so you can re-fuel whilst waiting!
Contact Brian on 01955 602698
Opening hours: flexible but usually 10-5 Monday to Saturday but try outside these hours if you have an emergency.
– mid east coast on the A9 (near the Highland Wildcat mountain bike centre).
Lindsay’s and Co
. is a general stores on the Main Street which has a growing and very well stocked bike shop and workshop run by Ross who is a mountain and road bike coach and Cytec bike mechanic. He can offer a range of servicing and repairs including wheel truing – he also holds a range of spokes.
If he is not too busy, Ross will also be willing to travel about 15 miles to do simple road side repairs to help you get going but it is best if you can get your bike to the shop.
Contact Ross on 01408 633212
for limited out of hours service.
Opening hours: 9.00-5.30 Monday to Saturday.
Hire bikes available
– mid east coast on A949 12 miles south of Lairg at the head of the Dornoch Firth (near the Carbisdale and Balblair mountain bike centres).
on Main Street, is a small but very well equipped workshop run by Chris, a Cytec bike mechanic and wheel builder, who stocks a good range of spokes and other spares for road, touring and mountain bikes.
If he is free, Chris may be able to travel up to a 30 miles radius to effect emergency road side repairs; phone to see what he can do for you.
Contact Chris on 01863 766506
Opening hours: 12.30-6.00 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 9.00-6.00 on Saturdays
Hire bikes available
– east coast on A9, 25 miles north of Dingwall
Mount Tain Bikes
, Cadboll Place, is a small workshop offering a repairs and a good range of spare parts. Malcom is a master of improvisation and can even make spokes to fit your wheels. If he can leave the shop, he may be able to travel to a 15 mile radius of Tain with a mobile service to get you going quickly.
Contact Malcom on 01862 892133
Opening hours: 9-5 Tuesday to Saturday, but is sometimes in on Mondays so it’s worth a ring.
After Tain, you are back into the Dingwall-Inverness area with its good selection of bike shops.
I hope that you have found these blogs useful. Please spread the word that this information is here. I am hoping that it will eventually form a comprehensive guide to cycling not only the NC500 but cycling generally in the Highlands of Scotland!
Happy cycling – Karen.