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Heartbreak Ridge: Aberdeenshire Mountain Bike Classic

There are loads of heartbreak ridge (HBR) videos around, and rightly so because it is an Aberdeenshire, or even Scottish mountain biking classic Trail. In this blog I've recorded my descent, top to bottom, on GoPro. The commentary incorporates a few of the points I make while guiding intermediate or average riders, like me, doing HBR for the first time.

Text of the commentary is below so that the dialogue is clear, I correct some errors and expand a bit on my comments.


I thought I’d give you an average rider or intermediate rider’s view o f heart break ridge. I’ve come up past the Pony Hut. There is a short route up, but I’d recommend the Pony Hut Route because, look at the view. There’s a fantastic view from here into the Cairngorms. Anyway, let’s get started.

I’m rolling in from the cairn at the top. I’ll not do much talking on this first bit because it an introductory section where you get a feeling of what HBR is all about. Which is, as you can see, quite a few boulder, granite-y sections. Also, you don’t want to get too excited or go to fast over this section because, you might be able to see in the distance, there’s actually a rise coming up, before you start the downhill proper. So, it’s best just to get a feel for the thing. Channel your inner Loic Bruni at Fort William.

As you can see there’s a lot of work been done on this track. Aberdeenshire trail Association have put a lot of time in up here. There’s a lot of moving boulders around and its really hard work working up here because your on to bare rock so there is no trail building material at all and it’s quite remote so difficult to bring material in. [I should mention the support for the trail from Cycle Highlands in Ballater, they have done great work with the 3 land owners, and raising funds to preserve the trail.]

I hope you can see trying to keep as much as I can on the main trail. It’s too easy to go off line and widen the trail, and widen the trail. This makes the maintenance more and more difficult.

Anyway, this is that small climb I was telling you about. There is quite a strong wind at the top which gives you extra send on the way down, so it’s worth watching out for that but it does help with the climbing. I don’t know if you can see it yet but there is the next carin.

So for the downhill run, top to bottom, the record on Strava is held by Calum McBain. He’s an Aberdeenshire downhill riding star. He’s got his own coaching outfit now as well. So you can ride with him. [Calum’s company is Dialled in coaching check out his website]. Calum’s done it in 8 mins 12 seconds. Which is not what your average rider does it in. I certainly won’t get anywhere near that, probably 4 times that, say 20 mins top to bottom. You can also do a loop from Cycle Highlands Ballater. A guy called Finn Watts, actually the son of the bike shop owner Richard, has done a loop up to he cairn round and back to the shop in 51 mins! There is now an hour challenge for that loop. Again, I’ll not be getting anywhere near the hour challenge.

Here again you can see how the track has widened. This used to be a single line through the heather, but now I’m really working to find my lines. But, Oooh, there are still nice granite-ty slabs there, and this is a chunky section. One of the first of many.

Here’s a bit of a rest section where you can reset and look to keep your flow going. Awh, isn’t that brilliant. I don’t know if you can see on the camera, but I can see the whole of the ridge stretching pout in front. (ooo look at that, that’s a real pedal stopper).

A nice flat section now, that’s less rough. Maybe with less of a gradient then the trail doesn’t cut up as much as it does at the top. And you are out on to these lovely, rolling granite slabs. There are a few puddles that have dried up there. We’ve had a little bit of rain this week, there was some even last night. You can see a few puddles still here, but they dry out quickly, and the trail is quite robust in all conditions.

It’s brilliant up here.

We’ve come through that peat section and we’re on to the granite again. The granite is really, really grippy. The downside I find with it being dry is it gets gritty. It’s not so bad at this top section, but when you get on to the slabs lower down it is steeper and quite slippy.

That’s great.

Those cobbly, boulder sections back there, I don’t think there is a go line through them. I know Ben Cathro did a great video for his Visit Aberdeenshire Series, (obviously, he made a great job of going down here). He was in the air more than he was on the ground. Again not your average rider. Not your average rider’s approach, but I find, if you just pick a line, and commit to it, I find the bike pretty much ploughs through. Particularly, if you’ve got an e-bike. I’m riding my ebike today. It’s a Levo SL so it’s quite a light one, but it still has a bit of oomf.

There’s a lovely section of off camber granite there. There great corner sections and natural berm-age. Brilliant. Then a straight run down.

You do have to watch out, because there are a few sneaky turns on the flat granite slabs which I often miss. Its around here somewhere. Ah, here it is. We shoot up and right. There are a few pedal strokes. Follow the boulders.

We’re in to the next section here. We’re on to beautiful Aberdonian granite, sorry Aberdeenshire granite, all the way to the bottom now. Until we get to the woods. Again, I’m trying to stick on the worn track. You can see how the ridge drops away from us over the top here. You can actually see the ridge line (and trail) all the way from down in the valley as you’re driving up towards Ballater. It takes in the whole skyline, it’s a really impressive feature.

Right, this used to be really janky around here, but again the ATA team have done putting these steps back together, and you can run on through them. It’s about now that it’s starting to get a bit tiring, and I back off a bit, because this is where it gets really fun. On these swoopy, swoopy.

Ok we’re coming up to a great little feature. There’s a mini-drop/roll. There’s the first one. Then the second one, waaaahhhh. Brilliant. All totally rideable, as a good friend of mine says. Again, pick out that line and look a long way ahead to set yourself up. Hiopefully, you can see that the whole hillside has opened up in front of us now. You can see the lochs below us [Loch kinnord] and into the valley.

We’re coming up to the absolutely classic slabs here. Look at this! Absolutely gorgeous. There is loads and loads of traction. This section has got a bit lumpy through here, I’m not sure how the fast boys do it, but I put my heals right down, picking a line and rolling through it. Off the brakes, and roll, off the brakes for the junky bit, and let it roll. And hope that bike and body hold on.

Keep it together. There’s another section here that is rocky, and there is a great roll/drop on the right. This is often where the tyre marks go. For intermediate riders, take the slab on the left [I said right in the video!!]. Now, while you’re thinking about having down that brilliant slab, there is actually, what I think is the trickiest, gnarliest, knobbly section. Here it is! See that little rock, it gets my pedal every time. But not hat time.

We’re just coming now to another change of terrain. You see the wood line coming up, here the trail changes again. This was super flowy at one point, but obviously with so many riders using it, it is one of the classic trails in Aberdeenshire, it is still quite bouldery at the top.

Its great through here, its mostly pine needles, but still rocky. There are plenty of drops, so I keep my body low, and work on the cornering.


There’s a fallen tree coming up, that doesn’t have much a landing after it, so it is jump to flat. Press in through the woods. It starts to level off towards the road and there is a bit more pedaling to do. What you have to watchout for is there is a dip and steep climb out the other side. So, make sure you’re in the right gear to get out the other side. And hit the narrow stone bridge.

What a great run! Its great to finish off through this brilliant woodland. We come down to the bottom and finish off at the gate. You can pedal back to the village straight along the road, but there is a nice single track double track run along the river.

[the connecting trail to the river route was barred by the branch you can see opposite the exit of the trail. It is possible to reach the riverside ride by heading east, right, down the road for a couple of hundred metres.]

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