• Cycling in Orkney's west mainland

Cycling in Orkney

Pedal power is the perfect way to explore Orkney. We have mile after mile of quiet country roads here, island routes to discover, and not too many big hills to tackle.

Granted, the Orcadian breeze can sometimes be a challenge, but remember, at some point it’s going to be behind you. Whether you’re a road racer, tourer, or mountain biker, there’s something for everyone in Orkney.

Explore our routes below, including information and advice on points of interest you can find during your cycle, as well as fabulous food & drink stops for all the cake-fuelled energy you need.

Top tips for cycling in Orkney

Hopefully our selection of cycling routes will help you plan your Orkney adventure and give you the chance to see as much of our islands as your time here allows. We’ve compiled some useful information on how to stay safe whilst cycling in Orkney, as well as details about bike hire across the islands.

  • General cycling advice

    As you’ll find across the UK, the main roads in Orkney – especially on the mainland - can be busy at times. Traffic can move quickly, particularly on the A965 between Kirkwall and Stromness, and the A961 between Kirkwall and St Margaret’s Hope. Please read up on the Highway Code for cyclists before setting off to make sure you can stay safe when cycling.

    Be mindful that road repairs are often carried out by the local authority during the summer months which could result in loose chips over treated surfaces, so be careful if your route takes you through conditions like these.

    Most of Orkney’s attractions and main sites can be accessed by bicycle and many locations offer bike racks. Our routes feature nearby points of interest as well as public toilets, playparks and local cafes, bars and restaurants. Most routes travel through a town or village, or past a community shop, so there should always be an opportunity to fuel up with some food and drink if needed.

    Orkney is relatively flat with a gently undulating landscape, particularly in locations like Sanday, Shapinsay, and Stronsay. If you’re looking for more challenging cycling conditions then we’d recommend a trip to Hoy or Rousay, Orkney’s two hilliest locations. There are some steep climbs to be enjoyed – and endured – but the stunning scenery more than makes up for it.

    You can bring your bike on our local ferries for free.

    If you’d like a guided cycle tour, the Ride Orkney team offer a range of sightseeing cycles, including routes through Orkney’s World Heritage Site and island excursions to Flotta, Hoy, and Westray.

    There’s an enthusiastic local cycling club scene here in Orkney too and members will be more than happy to welcome visitors to club rides and events. The St Magnus Way's cycle route is another excellent way to explore the Orkney mainland.

  • Exploring our islands

    While a bike is a great way to explore our various islands there are a few things to be aware of.

    In the islands that lie to the north of the Orkney mainland, ferry terminals tend to be at the south end of the island. This means that, in summer months, it’s likely you’ll have a head wind on the return leg. Keep this in mind when assessing how long you need to get back to the boat.

    Isles roads are laid with a softer grade of tar (which stays more viscous during transportation). In warm weather some road surfaces can become quite soft. This is no big deal if you’re in a car, but on a bike you can find that your speed is significantly reduced. Again, bear this in mind when assessing distances.

    Many isles’ roads fall somewhere between a single track and a standard B-road. While there may often be room for two vehicles to pass in either direction there generally isn’t space for a vehicle to safely overtake two bikes cycling abreast. Try and be prepared to move into single file to allow overtaking when needed.

    Both Sanday and Westray have ferry terminals which are a considerable distance from the main centres of population. For those who don’t fancy a long day in the saddle we’d recommend pre-booking bike hire and making use of the excellent community bus services in both islands (we’ve included short and long routes for Sanday and Westray to suit whichever way you decide to roll).

  • How we've graded our routes

    Grading is always going to be slightly subjective but generally we’ve tried to keep to the following criteria:

    Grade 1: All ages and abilities Generally no longer than five or six miles with few steep sections. Suitable for self-propelled toddlers right up to grandad's penny farthing.

    Grade 2: Active families Suitable for most abilities. Families with energetic young ones and a few motivating sweeties should manage this route with a couple of rest breaks.

    Grade 3: Moderate These routes are suitable for occasional cyclists with a reasonable level of fitness who are happy to spend half a day in the saddle.

    Grade 4: Experienced These routes are more challenging. A person of moderate fitness will feel they've had a good workout and will have deserved their dinner.

    The grading has been carried out with self-propelled bikes in mind. E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular in Orkney and for good reason. They are a real game-changer in terms of tackling our ‘occasional’ headwinds (did we mention the wind?) If bringing or hiring an E-bike you may well find that you’re able to move up a grade or two and see more of our fabulous islands with a little less effort.

    Do keep in mind that the routes in this section are purely to provide some inspiration. It's always worth taking a look at the map, doing some research and tweaking them to suit, or come up with your own. Don’t forget to let us know all about them.

  • Cycle hire in Orkney

    If you haven’t brought your own bike but still want to get out and about on two wheels, cycle hire is available at a number of locations throughout Orkney.

    Cycle Orkney in Kirkwall and Orkney Cycle Hire in Stromness both offer bike rental on the Orkney mainland. You can also rent bikes in the following island locations:

    Adult bikes can be booked and picked up at the airport. Helmets and panniers are available, as well as a child trailer for up to two smaller children or one larger child (which needs to be booked in advance). Phone 07778 182844 or email bikehire@northronaldsay.co.uk for more information.

    Contact Trumland Farm via 01856 821 252 or trumland@btopenworld.com to hire bikes - expect some hilly climbs, but spectacular views too.

    A range of adult and children’s bikes, including the latest electric bikes, a selection of bikes for less mobile people, and cargo bikes, are available for hire at the Sanday Community Shop in Lady village.

    A range of E-bikes and push bikes are available to hire from the local development trust in Shapinsay to help you explore the island at your leisure.

    Bicycles and E-bikes can be hired from the Stronsay Development Trust at Wood's Yard in Whitehall. To book call 01857 616 207 or 01857 616 410.

    W.I. Rendall's shop in Pierowall offers cycle hire - phone 07796 538 035 or 01857 677 389 for more information.

Still looking for inspiration? Check out our gallery below to see just some of the scenery you can enjoy on two wheels across our islands.

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