The Highland Trail 550 is the UK’s premier bikepacking race, taking in more than 16,000m of climbing across 880km on some of Scotland’s most remote and challenging terrain.
It’s a race that combines some of Scotland’s world-class trails with long sections of hike-a-bike, at a time of year when the weather is best described as unpredictable (is Scotland’s weather ever predictable?). Bike choice is key, but there’s no perfect machine for an event like the Highland Trail 550 – as you’ll find out.
Fifty-five riders took to the start line of the 2021 event. Here we bring you an in-depth look at three very different bikes that took first, third and fourth place overall.
Who won the 2021 Highland Trail 550?
After opening up a 50-mile lead, the race was won in impressive style on Tuesday evening by Liam Glen, riding a rigid singlespeed Stooge Cycles Scrambler and finishing in a time of 3d 10h 55m – a new singlespeed record, and a time within spitting distance of the overall record.
Second place was then taken by Andrew Hutcheson. Unfortunately, our photographer on the ground, James Robertson, was unable to catch him, with Andrew heading home shortly after his 02:14am finish.
Third place went to 2017 Transcontinental winner James Hayden aboard a Canyon Neuron CF, with Josh Ibbet, another former Transcontinental winner, taking fourth on an unreleased Mason Raw hardtail.
The women’s field is currently led by Annie Le onboard her Salsa Spearfish. We’ll be keeping our ear to the ground as this group continues towards the finish in Tyndrum and will bring you a similar gallery if at all possible.
We’ve been following this year’s racing over on DotWatcher.cc – which is one of our favourite cycling apps – and have been equally horrified and impressed by the biblical weather the riders have faced.
This has been made all the more challenging due to covid restrictions – the route is usually served by a handful of bothies (small open-door mountain shelters), but these are currently closed due to the pandemic, leaving riders continually exposed to the elements.
Good luck to all of the riders still out on the route and thanks to Liam, James and Josh for taking some time from (we assume) lying down very still and enjoying not being on the bike to let us get these photos
Liam Glen – Stooge Cycles Scrambler
Liam Glen – who also won the 2016 edition of the event – was first across the line with a provisional final time of 3d 10h 55m.
With this, he knocked a whopping 11 hours off the singlespeed record and came very close to taking the overall record.
The Stooge Scrambler is a pretty strange-looking beast that is best described as, in the words of the brand, a “radventure bike – an adventure bike you can still get rad on”.
The fork in particular stands out, with a handsome twin-plate crown sitting atop a pair of elegantly curved blades that wouldn’t look out of place on a classic French randonneur bike.
The Scrambler is designed around 29+ wheels and a commodious front triangle. This allows the bike to easily accept the largest frame bag possible.
Liam has made full use of this available space, producing his own framepack to go with the bike.
This is a seriously slick looking bit of kit, suggesting he’s as much of a maestro on the sewing machine as he is on the pedals.
The rest of the build – and we don’t think Liam would mind us describing it as such – is a lovable hodge podge of simple and dependable kit.
Looking back through his Instagram, most of the build appears to have been taken from his old On-One Inbred. The rear wheel was only borrowed in the days leading up to the race.
His make-do-and-mend approach is a refreshing contrast to the flashy-shiny-go-fast pro kit we usually feature on BikeRadar, and serves as an important reminder that you don’t need the latest and greatest kit to perform well.
Liam Glen’s custom Stooge Cycles Scrambler spec highlights
- Stooge Cycles steel frameset
- Shimano XTR M970 crankset
- Surly 20t cog
- ESI silicone groups with Giant Contact Ergo bar ends
- CrankBrothers Highline dropper seatpost
- Hope Tech 3 brakes
- Selle SMP saddle
- WTB Ranger 2.6in front tyre, Onza Svelte 2.25in rear tyre
- Mudhugger mudguards
James Hayden – customised Canyon Neuron CF 9
Third-place was taken by James Hayden – the winner of many similar events, most notably the 2017 Transcontinental – aboard his customised Canyon Neuron CF 9 full-suspension mountain bike.
The 140mm travel Neuron isn’t the most obvious choice from Canyon’s line-up for a bikepacking bike – the lightweight Lux would be our first choice – but, according to a video James made about the bike, he favours all-day comfort over out-right speed for events like the Highland Trail 550.
This approach clearly worked for James, finishing the event in a time of 3d 17h 19m.
Changes from the stock setup include swaps to a Fizik Argo saddle, a pair of DT Swiss EX511 wheels and Vittoria tyres, and the addition of Ergon’s GS1 paddle-shaped grips. He has also added a Power2Max spider power meter to keep his efforts in check over the course of the event.
James uses a selection of Rusjan bikepacking bags, including what appears to be a custom two-compartment frame pack that fits the profile of the Neuron frameset perfectly.
James Hayden’s custom Canyon Neuron CF 9 spec highlights
- Canyon Neuron CF frame
- Fox 34 Performance Elite fork
- Shimano XTR groupset with Power2Max NG power meter (10-51t cassette, 30t chainring)
- XTR trail brakes
- Exposure SixPack headlight
- Ergon GS1 grips
- Fizik Argo saddle
- DT Swiss EX511 wheelset
- Vittoria Barzo 2.5in front tyre, Vittoria Mezcal 2.35in rear tyre
Josh Ibbet – prototype Mason Raw hardtail
Fourth-place was taken by Josh Ibbet, the winner of the 2020 GBDuro, onboard a prototype Mason Raw steel hardtail.
The frame is made from Mason’s own Zero tubeset, which is produced in collaboration with Dedacciai. This, in the words of Mason, is designed to “deliver a springy, propulsive and soothing ride quality”.
In a first for the brand, the Raw is manufactured in the UK, with fabrication sub-contracted out to Fiveland Bikes.
In terms of geometry, the bike is designed to strike a balance between singletrack shredding ability while remaining “stable and safe” when loaded with bikepacking kit.
The bike is outfitted with a full suite of Miss Grape bikepacking bags and is built around a 120mm-travel RockShox SID fork.
A really neat custom bag support made from a thin alloy plate is fitted to the fork. This presumably mounts using an expanding bung fitted to the underside of the fork crown, which is pre-loaded with the top cap seen in the photos above. This should stop the bag from bouncing or swaying on rough descents.
Lighting Josh’s way was an Exposure Revo dynamo light powered by an as-of-yet unreleased Boost-spaced version of SON’s legendary dynamo hub.
This is laced to a pair of carbon rims that Hunt has confirmed are still in the prototype stage. A pair of 2.25in WTB Ranger tyres are fitted to these.
Stay tuned for a full news story on this prototype bike in the next few days.
Josh Ibbet’s unreleased Mason Raw spec highlights
- Unreleased Mason Raw hardtail frame
- RockShox SID Ultimate fork
- Shimano XT groupset
- ESI silicone groups
- WTB Volt saddle
- Shimano SLX Trail brakes
- X-Fusion Manic dropper post
- Prototype Boost-spaced SON dynamo light
- Prototype Hunt carbon rims
- Exposure Revo headlight