Get on your bike
PEDAL POWER! Exploring the islands and west coast by bike
Cycling is a great way to explore the islands and west coast, and with free bike transport on ferries it's no surprise that's is such a popular activity. Thanks to a varied landscape there is a wide network of road and off-road trails to suit all types of cyclists. Although we provide some example routes below, why not plan your own journey at CycleStreets.
Gently does it
A rewarding goal for many cyclists is to ride the length or a circuit of an island. Many smaller islands can be cycled in a half or full day, such as a 13-mile round-island ride on Great Cumbrae which is ideal for families. The route starts and finishes at the ferry, four miles from the town of Millport. Another gentle ride is an out-and-back route along Lismore's 'spine' road. Go as far as you fancy on this island, rich in wildflowers and birdlife, or cycle the full 22 miles south-to-north and back again.
The island of Tiree is mainly flat so a 23-mile road circuit from Scarinish, passing the beautiful bays of Crossapol and Balephetrish, requires only leisurely pedalling (as long as it's not too windy!). Another easy-going route can be found on the famous whisky isle, the Isle of Islay, where you can cycle the 21 miles from Port Ellen to Port Askaig, both of which are served by ferries. The small islands of Colonsay and Coll also boast delightful quiet road cycling, especially suited to families or beginners.
Moving up a gear
For cyclists with more energy, try a hilly 23-mile circuit of Bute or tackle the tough but short climb of the 14-hairpin-bend Serpentine Road in the port town of Rothesay. Arran offers a 56-mile circuit that mainly hugs the stunning coastline - there are some challenging climbs but your rewards are amazing views and breezy downhills! You could always add in the cross-island String Road for extra miles and a stiff climb to more than 750ft.
Arran also has two fantastic mountain bike routes - an undulating track into atmospheric Glen Rosa from Brodick or the forest trail that travels east to the trig point at Dun Fionn, from the top of the hill road between Brodick and Lamlash.
The wildly beautiful Outer Hebridean archipelago provides the perfect setting for both road cycling and mountain biking. A newly signposted Hebridean Way (also the Sustrans route 780) links the small southern Isle of Vatersay to Ness at the northern tip of Lewis - over 10 islands and 185 miles (visit Hebridean Way ). And for a spirit-lifting mountain bike ride, the Postman's Path is hard to beat. The trail zig-zags along the coast and over a mountain pass from Rhenigidale, South Harris. Easier mountain bike trails can also be found in the grounds of Lews Castle in Stornoway, Lewis.
Up for a challenge?
For bigger cycling challenges head to Skye, renowned for its remote single-track mountain biking routes. Two fabulous rides include a 50-mile loop around the hilly shoreline of the north-western Trotternish Peninsula and the 44-mile Sligachan circuit surrounded by majestic Cuillin scenery. Road cyclists also come to Skye to ride beneath the backdrop of magnificent high rising mountain scenery. Each August, hundreds of riders take part in two popular sportives, the 95-mile Skye Mor and 48-mile Skye Beag (www.handsonevents.co.uk).
The wildlife Isle of Mull also has a cycle sportive each June. A choice of two routes, 44 and 87 miles, start from the brightly coloured town of Tobermory and showcase the beauty of the island's coast and inland areas.
Hop on, hop off
Having trouble deciding which route to take? Then an island-hopping journey might be the answer. The ferries make it easy to hop between islands and the mainland over one, two or several days.
For cyclists travelling from Glasgow, the Kintyre peninsula is a great weekend destination. Get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and take the train from Glasgow to the ferry connection at Ardrossan. From here you can cross to Campbeltown in the south of Kintyre and cycle up one or both sides of the peninsula.
A popular Five Ferries Ride tours the islands of Arran and Bute (home to the Bute Cycling Festival in September, www.rothesayweekend.co.uk) and two peninsulas, Kintyre and Cowal, and another cycle sportive, on Cowal, takes place in August (www.nofussevents.co.uk/events/the-cowal-peninsula-sportive-2015-august-22). Taking a ferry to Rothesay, on Bute, you can follow a cycling route to the Rhubodach ferry connection, across to Colintraive, and then on roads to Dunoon. The views as you climb above the Kyles of Bute are simply breath-taking.
Cycling on the west coast islands is truly the stuff that memories are made of, so don't forget to put your camera in your back pocket!