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Scotland’s fourth largest city is small by UK standards but punches above its weight in terms of culture, science and – crucially – cycling opportunities

Scotland’s fourth largest city is small by UK standards but punches above its weight in terms of culture, science and – crucially – cycling opportunities

Dundee sits on the estuary of the River Tay, about 60 miles north of Edinburgh. During the Industrial Revolution it became the world centre for the trade in jute, a cheaper alternative to linen. Commercial production of marmalade was pioneered in the city, and media company DC Thomson (various newspapers, plus the Beano and Dandy comics) was founded here in 1905. These industries led to it being known as “the city of jute, jam and journalism”.

Desperate Dan in Dundee by Like the Grand Canyon

Desperate Dan in Dundee by Like the Grand Canyon

Journalism remains, although jute and jam are gone – as are whaling and shipbuilding. Yet you can still visit one of Dundee’s most famous vessels: RSS Discovery, the ship Robert Falcon Scott used for his ill-fated Antarctic expedition, is displayed at Discovery Point, near the Tay Road Bridge.

Dundee suffered the same post-war decline in manufacturing as many British cities but began to bounce back sooner. ZX Spectrum computers were made in the city in the 1980s by Timex, and Dundee now accounts for 10% of the UK’s digital entertainment industry. Rockstar North (Lemmings, Grand Theft Auto) is just one of the games studios here. Biomedical research and various service industries are also big employers.

Dundee’s creative dynamism is likely influenced by the fact that there are more students per head of population here than in any other city in the UK. There are two universities with a total of 20,000 students – out of a population of 150,000. Dundee is currently part way through a £1bn waterfront development, which will among other things improve facilities for buses, cyclists and pedestrians.

The best type of bike for cycling in Dundee

Dundee claims to be Scotland’s sunniest city. That’s all relative, of course: it may be less damp but it can and does rain at any time of year. Frost is regular winter occurrence, despite the fact the UK’s maritime climate makes Dundee milder than usual for its latitude. Any bike here will benefit from mudguards, and stable handling will help when the roads become slippery.

Dundee is quite a hilly city, with a ridge that includes Balgay Hill and Dundee Law running across the middle of it. The area names are a further giveaway: Hilltown and Menzieshill, for example. It gets hillier still north of the city, with the Sidlaw Hills rising to 455m. But even if you never stray beyond the city limits you’ll want a decent gear range – or perhaps an e-bike.

It’s well worth choosing a bike with some ability to go off road, in order to take advantage of Scotland’s liberal countryside access laws. A wide-tyred hybrid or gravel bike would work okay, but if you want to enjoy the mountain bike trails within the city and beyond, a mountain bike would be better.

The Kona Unit X (RRP £1,699) is rigid mountain bike that will handle technical singletrack but also comes with the fittings required for pannier racks and mudguards. Bottom gear of the 1x12 Shimano Deore drivetrain is 32/51, which should get you up any hill, while Shimano M410 hydraulic disc brakes provide powerful, weatherproof braking coming down. You could fit a pair of 29x2.35in Schwalbe Big Apple tyres for commuting duties, then switch back to knobbly tyres for weekend mountain biking.

Kona Unit X

Kona Unit X

The Canyon Pathlite:ON 5 SUV (RRP £2,899) is called an E-Touring Bike on the Canyon website but it’s as much mountain bike as tourer, having 27.5x2.25in treaded tyres and a suspension fork (albeit a basic one). While it’s not designed for technical off-road riding, it’s suitable for green-graded trails, forest roads, bridleways and the like. The motor is a good one – a Bosch Performance Line CX 25 with 85Nm of torque – and the bike is commuting ready with a rear rack, mudguards, kickstand and hardwired LED lights.


Canyon Pathlite

Canyon Pathlite


Dundee’s transport network

Dundee is a compact city so is fairly easy to get around by bike. There are few big roads; the only trunk roads are the A92 and the A90, which leads to the M90 motorway at Perth. The A92 has a traffic-free cycleway alongside it across the Tay Road Bridge so it’s easy to get south of the river.

Within the city, the cycling network is good through parks and along the north bank of the Tay but patchy elsewhere, as the Dundee Cycle Map shows. (You can pick up a paper copy of this map from libraries, tourist information centres, and so on.) There are quite a lot of 20mph streets in the city, which makes on-road cycling more pleasant there. There’s also the Green Circular, a 26-mile loop around the city that’s mostly on shared-use paths.

Dundee is well connected by rail because it’s on the line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. (This uses the Tay Bridge across the estuary, the site of one of the UK’s worst ever rail disasters when the original partly collapsed during a storm in 1879.) Another line heads inland via Perth and Stirling.

The station is served by four operators. ScotRail services carry from two to six bikes per train, depending on type. Reservations are required for longer-distance routes. CrossCountry trains generally have two reservable bike spaces, with a third available on a first-come, first-served basis. London North Eastern Railway trains carry between two and four bikes per train, with reservations required. The overnight Caledonian Sleeper train carries six bikes, reservations mandatory. Additional bikes may also be carried if they’re partly dismantled and in bags but check before travelling.


Caledonia Sleeper

Caledonia Sleeper by Train Photos

Bus services in the city are mostly run by Xplore Dundee. Only folding bikes are carried, and only if the bus has a luggage area – you’re not allowed to use the wheelchair area. Where you can take a folder aboard, it’s free.

Dundee has a small airport. There’s a sea port as well, but that only handles cargo and not passengers.

Local rides in Dundee

Much of the north bank of the Tay estuary around Dundee is served by traffic-free cycleways. NCN 77 heads west to Perth, switching to small lanes on the outskirts of Dundee. NCN 1 heads east, as well as crossing the Tay. Many of Dundee’s tourist attractions are thus easy to cycle to. You can also cycle to Tentsmuir Forest – a good option for family cycling – without jostling with cars. Within the city itself there’s a good selection of recommended off-road routes. Click on ‘Other places for mountain biking in Dundee’ if Templeton Woods (below) sounds too technical for you.

Road cyclists in Dundee are spoiled for choice: you can head in any direction and soon be in quiet countryside. While the Cairngorms are in reach of a big day out on a road bike, they’re better for mountain biking; the few roads through them carry fast traffic. Just south of them, however, lies Cateran Country, which has some excellent road riding. If you don’t want to explore by yourself, join a local group such as CTC Tayside or Dundee Wheelers. The latter group has a list of some good routes in the area, with downloadable GPX files

Off-road cyclists don’t need to leave the city. As well as the paths through parks mentioned above, there are some purpose-built trails (graded blue and red) at Templeton Woods. If you’re happy to travel, Deuchny Hill Bike Park near Perth is only 20 miles away.

Bike shops in Dundee

Dundee has three Cyclescheme retailers, all of them highly rated by customers.

Spokes Cycles opened 30 years ago in nearby St Andrews but now also has a branch in Dundee, off Anfield Road. Its bike brands include Cervelo, Cinelli, Giant, Raleigh and Trek. Customer comment: “Phenomenal service. Bike exceeds my expectations. Very happy.”

Nicholson’s Cycles is a family business that’s been trading since 1949. Originally on Arbroath Road, the current shop is on Forfar Road. Bike brands stocked include Cube, Genesis, Mirider, Pashley, Ridgeback and Specialized. Customer comment: “Really friendly, answered e-mails quickly and nothing was too much trouble… great customer service.”

Electric Bikes Scotland on Camperdown Street focuses exclusively on e-bikes, as you’d expect from the name. It stocks e-bikes from Focus, Gazelle, Kalkhoff, Riese und Muller and Wisper among others, and also hires bikes. Customer comment: “Very helpful staff who advised on the perfect bike for me.”

Keeping your bike secure in Dundee

According to Police Scotland data, Dundee’s worst area for thieves is Maryfield, which saw 193 reported bike thefts between 2016 and 2022, of which only 18 were solved. Those numbers are dwarfed by most parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and are overshadowed by the riskier parts of Aberdeen, but compared to the rest of Scotland Dundee is a relatively high-risk area.

Always lock your bike whenever you turn your back on it, ideally with a Sold Secure Gold or Diamond 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.