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The UK’s most northerly big city is famous for its oil industry but if you’re confident in traffic it’s well suited to vehicles that run on cornflakes: bikes.

The transformation of Scotland’s third biggest city began with the discovery of North Sea oil in 1969. What was once a centre for fishing, shipbuilding, textiles and paper production evolved into the oil capital of Europe. Aberdeen Heliport, which serves the rigs, is one of the busiest in the world. The city has a disproportionately large number of millionaires. And five of Scotland’s top ten businesses are based here.


The black gold will run out, of course, and that’s reflected in more recent signs that declare Aberdeen to be ‘the energy capital of Europe’, a nod towards renewables like the wind turbines off Aberdeen beach. A very gradual switch away from fossil fuels is also taking place on the city’s streets. The cycling network is more backstreets and bus/bike lanes than segregated infrastructure but work has at least begun.

Aberdeen’s nickname is the ‘Granite City’. Rubislaw Quarry in the west of the city supplied hard grey stone for countless houses and historic buildings, as well as setts for roads and paving slabs for paths. Because granite doesn’t weather like softer stone, much of the city’s architecture is near pristine. Rosemount Viaduct and Marischal College are particularly imposing. Forty-five parks and gardens add colour; Aberdeen has won ‘Britain in Bloom’ and ‘Scotland in Bloom’ competitions numerous times. The best views by bike, however, are of the countryside this northern city is set in.

The best type of bike for cycling in Aberdeen

Although it’s not as wet as Glasgow, Aberdeen is the UK’s coldest city. You can expect some snowy days from November to April. Its northerly latitude also means well under seven hours of daylight in the middle of winter. Year-round commuters must have lights as well as mudguards – with enough space underneath them for slush not to jam. A fair spread of gears makes sense: Aberdeen’s hills aren’t huge but you’ll encounter elevation changes on most journeys.

Another factor affecting bike choice in Aberdeen is accommodation. It’s expensive. As a result of that, apartments are far and away the most common kind of home, accounting for almost half the total. You don’t necessarily need a folding bike in this situation but it helps to have a bike that isn’t too heavy to carry up steps, and that won’t take up too much room when parked against (or hung on) a wall.

Cube NuRoad Race FE

The Cube NuRoad Race FE (RRP £2,049) is a good choice. It comes with full mudguards, a rear rack, dynohub lighting, and chunky tyres that will cope with granite setts as well as gravel trails. At 11.6kg it’s light enough to shoulder and, with a drop bar rather than a wide flat bar, is easy to stash indoors without jabbing occupants walking past it. Cube’s NuRoad FE (£1,099) is similar apart from having less expensive components and weighting a kilo more.

Aberdeen’s transport network

Aberdeen may be Scotland’s third biggest city but it only makes it into the top 40 of the UK’s most populous urban areas. It’s compact enough to get around by bike quite easily, assuming you’re okay mixing with cars. 

There’s not much in the way of segregated cycle facilities aside from the Deeside Way (Sustrans NCN 195), which runs west to Peterculter, and the new Aberdeen-to Westhill cyclepath between Westhill and Hazelhead Park. Work is (slowly) ongoing to improve NCN 1, which runs roughly north-south through the city. Sign up to  Aberdeen Cycle Forum to press the council on this and other cycling issues. You can also report road defects like potholes on the council website.

The Aberdeen Cycle Map is available from libraries or council buildings, or can be downloaded in segments. For on-the-bike navigation, you’re best off with either Google Maps or Komoot (use ‘bike touring’ for route selection) because Citymapper doesn’t yet cover Aberdeen.

There aren’t any motorways near Aberdeeon; the M90 at Perth is the closest. As a result, dual carriageways like the A90 and A92 carry a lot of traffic. Even though you can legally ride on them, they’re best avoided.

Aberdeen is well connected by rail, despite being so far north. For journeys within Scotland and into Northern England there’s ScotRail, whose trains carry up to six non-folding bikes (reservations required for some journeys). You can get direct trains to and towards London with LNER (usually two to four bikes per train). For journeys right across the UK, even as far as Penzance in Cornwall, there’s CrossCountry (usually two reservable spaces and one unreservable). Rail journeys into and through England are time consuming. Don’t fancy staring out of the window for hours? If you take the Caledonian Sleeper (six bikes, must be reserved) you can board late at night in Aberdeen and arrive in London for breakast – or vice-versa. Alternatively, Aberdeen’s second railway station, Dyce, is handy for Aberdeen Airport.

The main bus operator in Aberdeen is First Aberdeen. Only folding bikes are carried.

Bikes (not just folders) are freely carried on Northlink Ferries from Aberdeen to Orkney and Shetland. They must be booked. Select ‘one vehicle’ then ‘bicycle’ from the drop-down menu.

Local rides in Aberdeen

Away from the development at the port, Aberdeen has easy access to some  spectacular countryside. The Deeside Way is an excellent option for families. Beginning as a former railway line in the heart of the city, it takes you west to Ballater in the Cairngorms, a 41-mile journey that’s almost entirely off-road. For shorter days out, turn back at Drumoak (10.5 miles) or Banchory (17.5).

The Formartine and Buchan Way is another cracking long-distance route on railway paths. From Dyce in the north of Aberdeen it runs up to Maud and then either north to Fraserburgh (31.5 miles) or east to Peterhead (39.5 miles). Shorter sections are possible, of course. It’s fairly flat but largely unsurfaced so best suits bikes with some off-road capability (MTB, gravel, tourer, hybrid).

Either of these routes would be good day or weekend trips for more adventurous cyclists. There’s also the aforementioned Sustrans NCN Route 1, which heads down the coast to Dundee (and ultimately Kent) and north and west to Inverness and beyond – mostly on lanes in both directions.

Aberdeenshire Council has a good selection of road rides on its website, with downloadable maps. They’re spread all around the area and are designed as loops, so you start and finish in the same place. There are also some shorter routes around towns and their outskirts, also loops but only a handful of miles long.

Mountain bikers have a near-endless selection of ‘natural’ trails to ride thanks to Scotland’s enlightened access laws. Good ones have been mapped locally and in the Cairngorms; be sure your outdoor gear, provisions, and navigation abilities are up to snuff for the latter. For trail centre singletrack and airborne thrills there’s Tarland Trails and Aboyne Bike Park, both accessible from Aberdeen (30-35 miles away).

biker in Lairig Ghru in Cairngorms by Kit Carruthers, FlickrCC

Bike shops in Aberdeen

There are several Cyclescheme retailers in Aberdeen. The highest rated by Cyclescheme customers is Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative (Aberdeen), the local branch of the workers’ cooperative cycle retailer. Brands include Brompton, Gazelle, Genesis, Giant, Kalkhoff, Merida, Pashley, Ridgeback, Specialized, Tern, and Whyte. Cycleschemer comment: “Overall very helpful and knowledgeable about all things cycling.”

Alpine Bikes Aberdeen is popular shop run by another Scottish retailer with stores across the country. Bike brands stocked are Cannondale, Cube, Santa Cruz, Specialized, Trek, and Whyte. Cycleschemer comment: “Fantastic service. Staff were very helpful, informative and knowledgeable. Will definitely buy with them again.”

Evans Cycles (Aberdeen Berryden) is one of two outlets in the city from national retailer Evans Cycles. Its most popular bike brands are Brompton, Cannondale, Hoy, Norco, Pinnacle, Raleigh, Specialized, Trek, and Whyte. Cycleschemer comment: “It was the first time that either of the employees had deat with a Cyclescheme transaction. Considering this they did an excellent job.”

Keeping your bike secure in Aberdeen

Bike thefts rose by 20% across Scotland during Covid lockdowns. While Aberdeen has nowhere near the number of bike thefts of Edinburgh, which has recorded almost one in three stolen bikes in recent years, it wasn’t immune to this surge.  You can check out thefts in your part of Aberdeen (and other places in Scotland) using this tool. As you’d expect, thefts are highest in city centre areas. The following wards see significantly more theft: George St/Harbour, Tillydrone/Seaton/Old Aberdeen, Torry/Ferryhill, and Midstocket/Rosemount.

Always lock your bike whenever you turn your back on it, ideally with a Sold Secure Gold rated lock. Lock the bike through the frame to a sturdy piece of street furniture or a dedicated cycle stand. If you have a high value bike or will be leaving it locked up for an extended period – for example, overnight – use two locks.

The vast majority of bike thefts take place not on the street but in ‘semi-private’ locations at home. That means on your property but not in the house – for example, a garage, shed or garden. Lock your bike to a wall or ground anchor if it will be in one of those locations. Alternatively, park it indoors.