Bikes of Highland Trail 550 2023

Bikes of Highland Trail 550 2023

24 May, 2023

One of the most hotly anticipated races on the calendar starts again this weekend and we couldn't be more excited.

An excellent forecast during the race and fair weather of the past month means this year's edition has been dubbed the "Drighland Trail 550". This race has one of the highest proportions of hike-a-bike of any race and riders need to balance their bike weight with being adequately prepared for the Highlands and its usual fickle weather.

This is undeniably the most competitive lineup in the HT's history and given the forecast, we can't help but wonder if it's a question of how many riders will break Neil Beltchenko's course record, not whether it will be beaten... So don't miss a beat with our commentary here, from veteran racer and Contributing Editor, Beccy Waters.

Taylor Doyle

Name: Taylor Doyle

Age: 30

Location: Nomad

Bike: Custom Stayer Cycles Hardtail. Stayer 29er MTB wheels, dynamo hub, Sinewave Beacon light and charger and DT Swiss short travel suspension fork.

Key items of kit: Full Restrap bags: mix of Race bags and traditional, Nalgene down below :)

Philippa Battye

Name: Philippa Battye

Location: Bath, UK

Bike: Steel Mason RAW with HUNT All Mountain Carbon H_Impact wheels and 2.4 Maxxis Ardent tyres.

Key items of kit: A bespoke Restrap frame bag for extra food carrying capacity plus the new Albion snack vest which will hold a water bladder too.

Sleepwise bivvy with a super comfy Sea to Summit matt, sticky inflatable pillow and Spark 2 sleeping bag. Dreamy. Albion Zoa rain jacket. Exposure Toro and Joystick lights. Garmin eTrex for navigation, and probably some sun cream!

Rob Phillips

Name: Rob Phillips

Age: 31

Location: Bristol, UK

Bike: Cannondale Scalpel HT3, Schwalbe Racing Ralph Rear & Wicked Will Front, 120mm Sid Fork, Exposure Lights, PNW Suspension Dropper Post, massive mudguards.

Key items of kit: Working in the Tailfin design team I've got a full Tailfin set-up with a mix of production, prototype and custom bags.

Annie Le

Name: Annie Le

Age: 33

Location: Scottish Highlands

Bike: Salsa Timberjack Ti, running ss with 27.5x3 wheels. I've chosen an easy gear, so if you see someone looking like a windmill that will be me! Hoping it will help my legs survive till the end.

Key items of kit: I'm using all Revelate Designs bags. Taking a synthetic quilt, lots of suncream and extra money for ice cream. Luxury item: Jenny Graham on audio book to keep me company if it gets lonely.

Andrew Strempke

Name: Andrew Strempke

Age: 30

Location: Van, UT, USA

Bike: Chumba Sendero Ti Singlespeed 32x20, Maxxis Rekon 2.4" tires and Magura MT7 brakes.

Key items of kit: Dispersed Bikepacking bags. Synthetic quilt! Garmin Edge 1040 solar.

Rup Hoyland

Name: Rup Hoyland

Age: 35

Location: Darlington, UK

Bike: Sonder Broken Road titanium frame, RockShox Pike Ultimate forks, travel adjusted to 120mm. DrJ0n Bagworks barnacle fork mounts for water bottles. Zipp 3ZERO Moto carbon wheels, front built onto a SON 28 hub dynamo. Maxxis Rekon+ 29 x 2.8" tyres. SRAM GX Eagle mechanical drivetrain with 10-52t rear cassette and AbsoluteBlack oval chainring.

Key items of kit: Mix of Altura Vortex and Blackburn Outpost bags, expandable Blackburn Outpost framebag for extra snacks. Exposure Revo and Redeye dynamo lights. Igaro D2 USB charger and electronics in Altura direct mount top tube bag. Alpkit Soloist tent, Alpkit Numo sleeping mat, Rab Mythic 180 sleeping bag in Altura 10l drybag / Blackburn front harness. Alpkit Mytimug cooking system with Kraku Ti burner. Garmin inReach Mini 2 tracker & Garmin Explore with OS maps for navigation.

Danny Lane

Name: Danny Lane

Age: 32

Location: Leeds, UK

Bike: I'll be riding a Windover Bikes MTB (prototype) with 120mm travel forks. Rolling on a Hope 29" Fortus wheels set with Vittoria Mecals 2.25. Shimano SLX drivetrain 1x11 34/51, Thomson finishing kit and Ergon grips.

Key items of kit: I'll be riding a complete Restrap Race set up. Custom double zip full frame bag in VX21, 7L saddle bag, 7L bar bag, stem bags, top tube bag and the Hike A Bike Harness!

Sleeping kit will be a Naturehike tent and lightweight down sleeping bag with some extra merino layers just incase. Full Albion kit including the Zoa rainshell, waterproof trousers and lightweight insulated jacket.

Josh Ibbett

Name: Josh Ibbett

Location: Cambridgeshire, UK

Bike: Mason Raw hardtail with a Shimano groupset. Hunt Proven wheels with a Hutchinson Taipan front and Kraken rear tyre.

Key items of kit: Tailfin packs and Albion clothes.

Tom Hall

Name: Tom Hall

Age: 42

Location: Brighton, UK

Bike: Santa Cruz Chameleon aluminium hardtail. Bike has SQlab Innerbarends for comfort, good ol' Bontrager XR4 tyres 29x2.4 and 140mm travel Rockshox pike forks.

Key items of kit: Apidura dropper friendly saddle pack, frame pack, bar roll and top tube packs. Apidura hydration pack holds all the snacks and water. Exposure light and headlight + Wahoo Roam for navigation. Sleeping in a 6 moons single skin tent. Let’s hope it’s enough. 🤞

Carl Hopps

Name: Carl Hopps

Age: 36

Location: Leeds, UK

Bike: Fairlight Holt 29er, Rockshox SID 110mm forks, Shimano XT groupset, PNW dropper, Hope Fortus 26 with Vittoria Mezcal/Barzo 2.35's, Brook Cambium C15, Sonder Confucius handlebars, Ergon GA3 grips, Exposure lights and Restrap bags.

Key items of kit: Bags - Restrap Race Range 7 litre saddle bag and 7 litre bar bag, full custom frame bag, X2 Race stem bags. Restrap HikeABike harness for all the "sometimes hiking always biking". Led Lenser MH10 head torch with Exposure Toro on the bike to light the way. Albion cargo bibs for extra replenishment and Albion Zoa jacket to keep me dry/warm!

Jade Saskia Simpson-Field

Name: Jade Saskia Simpson-Field

Age: 31

Location: Leeds, UK

Bike: I'll be riding my lovely purple Cotic Solaris Max, a steel hardtail with 130mm forks. It's a 29er with 2.6 tyres on. Gearing is 1x11, 30t x 11-46t. After a lot of deliberation I'm leaving my dropper on and I'm borrowing some special ergo bar ends for more hand positions.

Key items of kit: I'm hoping to fit everything I need in a Revelate bar harness and bag, Restrap stem bag and top tube bag and Apidura stem bag and 7L saddle bag. Essentials (electronics and cheese) will go in my bumbag. I'm taking a new tent (seam sealed by myself and yet to be tested in the rain) and I need to buy a new sleeping mat this week as mine's just failed!

Christophe Dijkmans

Name: Christophe Dijkmans

Age: 31

Location: Liege, Belgium

Bike: Cannondale Scalpel SE. No lefty this time because of the Dynamo SON hub so let's go for a FOX 34SC. Erase wheels with Maxxis IKON 2.2 and liners. SRAM X01 EAGLE 34-10/52. XTR brakes with Galfer discs and pads. Fizik Argo 3D adaptative saddle and BikeYoke Divine SL dropper seatpost.

Key items of kit: Full tailfin bags kit. Outdoor Research Helium bivy, Termarest uberlite and Cumulus X-Lite as sleeping system. Klite dynamo and Lupine Piko lights.

James Hayden

Name: James Hayden

Location: Catalunya, Spain

Bike: Fairlight Holt with 140mm Pike fork. Handbuilt Beast wheels by Parallel Handbuilt with Son 28. Hope components V4 brakes. Sram AXS. Tailfin Bags. Rab clothing.

Key items of kit: My mind

Rebecca Good

Name: Rebecca Good

Age: 44

Location: Llangollen, Wales

Bike: Clockwork Orange, 29er with 2.4mm tyres. 120mm of travel thanks to my mate Mark's old forks.

Key items of kit: Lunar Solo tent to hopefully keep the midges out and some tablet is the emergency item (not electronic - it's like fudge but with more sugar). Hopefully the wonderful Scottish latitudes will provide the light because I have no idea how I'll charge anything let alone lights and packing is a last minute activity so this is a pic from last year.

Lynne Davies

Name: Lynne Davies

Age: 49

Location: Peebles, Scotland

Bike: Pipedream Cycles Sirius steel hardtail, DT Swiss F232 fork, 29er Hunt Trailwide wheelset, Vittoria Barzo 2.25 front and Mezcal 2.1 rear tyres. Shimano SLX 11 speed (11-46/32) 165mm cranks, XT brakes, SQ Labs Handlebars with Ergon GA3 grips and Spirgrip inner bar ends.

Key items of kit: Tailfin Aeropack. Frame and top tube bags custom made by Poca Bags. Wildcat Gear front harness paired with Wildcat Gear drybag. Wildcat Gear Lioness front pouch. Fidlock water bottle.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir mat, Therm-a-Rest Corus 20 quilt, Vango Neon F10 tent. Lots of merino layers, Rab PrimaLoft jacket, Endura leg warmers and 7Mesh Slab shorts. Wahoo Elemnt Roam bike computer, Exposure Toro front light. Anker powerbank. Garmin Inreach Mini tracker.

Leanne Wrightson

Name: Leanne Wrightson

Age: 38

Location: Glasgow, Scotland

Bike: A very new Canyon Neuron 7 WMN, her name is Lana Del-railleur. An out of the box drivetrain and wheelset; Shimano Deore XT, 1x12 (10-51) and DT Swiss M 1900 wheels but, will be running Teravail tyres (27.5)

Bags/Kit: I'm grateful to have the Apidura Backcountry range and will be using the 11L Handlebar bag plus 4L accessory pocket, the 6L saddle pack and 1L pouch for sweeties! I'll also be using the Apidura hydration rucksack which has a 2L bladder and will hold most of my snacks and tent pegs too. I've decided on taking a tent (Alpkit, Soloist) in the hopes I'll feel more relaxed having adequate shelter regardless of the weather and comfort to recover throughout the ride. Depending on weather I'll take my Thermarest Neoair or Thermarest uberlite sleep mat with my Mountain Hardwear Lamina sleeping bag. My Exposure MaxxD Mk14 front light, Axis Mk9 helmet light and Boost ReAkt rear light will be getting lots of use, I'll take support cells to get even more battery life from them.

Katie Strempke

Name: Katie Strempke

Age: 30

Location: Goldie the Promaster, USA

Bike: I’m riding a steel Chumba Sendero set up singlespeed (32x20) with front suspension. I’m running Magura brakes and 2.4” Maxxis Rekon tires on 29” wheels.

Key items of kit: For my sleep kit, I have a tarp, lightweight bivy, and synthetic quilt, all made by my partner Andrew and me. I’m taking along an inflatable sleeping pad for some extra warmth. I’m using Dispersed bikepacking bags, also made by Andrew and me in our van.

Donald McIntosh

Name: Donald McIntosh

Age: 47

Location: Glasgow, Scotland

Bike: Customised Kona Unit X

Key items of kit: Everything!

Martyn Stottlaw

Name: Martyn Stottlaw

Age: 41

Location: Carrbridge, Highlands, Scotland

Bike: Steel Pipedream Sirius Singlespeed (30x20T) with Rockshox SID Ultimate 120mm forks. 29x2.5” Maxxis Ikons on Hope Enduro wheels. Charge Spoon saddle, Ergon GS2 grips, flat pedals with 5:10 rubber (Trailcross).

Key items of kit: A combo of Ortlieb and Alpkit bags. Rab Raider bivvy with Alpkit Pipedream 200 and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleep system. 1x Exposure Joystick and some other older lights.

Kylie Jones Mattock

Name: Kylie Jones Mattock

Age: 41

Location: Wales

Bike: Bird Zero 29er - one bike does everything.

Key items of kit: Bar bag with sleeping kit, seat pack with gas and food, frame bag will carry the tools and all the small heavy items, backpack with clothes and water. Optional snack pouch and phone case. Photo will probably annoy people who want their cranks level.

Alex McCormack

Name: Alex McCormack

Age: 25

Location: South Devon, UK

Bike: LIOS Hellfire Frame. Rockshox SID WC forks, Shimano XT brakes, Shimano XTR pedals, SRAM GX AXS Eagle groupset, Vittoria Barzo 29x2.35 Tyres, Roval Control 29 rims built onto DT Swiss 240 hubs. PNW Dropper post, Xcadey Power meter, absoluteBLACK chainring.

Key items of kit: Tailfin are on bag duty with the flip top snack pouch and roomy aeropack. Sleep will be covered by the Terra nova moonlight bivvy bag paired with a Alpkit Numo pad. Any free space will be taken up with STYRKR tukka and Albion clothing will be keeping me comfortable.

Paul Caldwell

Name: Paul Caldwell

Age: 37

Location: Trim, Co. Meath, Ireland

Bike: 2020 Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon. Roval Control SL Wheels. Rockshox SID Raceday Forks. Shimano XTR Brakes and Drivetrain. Rotor Kapic Cranks. Specialized Fast Trak and Ground Control GRID protection tyres.

Key items of kit: A Trekmates Storm Bivvy that is like a mini tent. I went for a light yet functional setup so I don't get caught out there! I will also be running a 1.5L Hydration pack for fluids and water filter to free up the frame bag. There's plenty of water out there so the water filter will save me lugging more weight around. Garmin eTrex 32X for navigation with a spare Wahoo Roam for backup. Exposure lights to light up the night!

Liz Tromans

Name: Liz Tromans

Age: 60

Location: Oldham, Greater Manchester, UK

Bike: Giant Anthem carbon frame. Suspension - 120 front, 100 rear. 1 x 12 SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain with 30t front chainring and 52t back (great for steep hills). Wheels - 27.5; Wolfpack 2.40 tires, Cross on the front and Speed (wishful thinking) on the back.

Key items of kit: Lanshan tent - single skin (midge net incorporated), single carbon pole. Sea to Summit women specific Flame sleeping bag. Xterm Therm-a-Rest (for a warm sleep). Bike bags: Acepack bar bag and food pouch, Alpkit top tube bags, Wildcat seat pack, Apidura food pouch (I like to keep everyone in business).

Rachel Fox

Name: Rachel Fox

Age: 37

Location: Edinburgh, UK

Bike: 2017 Giant XTC carbon frame, Alpkit Confucius handlebars, RockShox forks with 120mm travel. SRAM NX 1x11 drive train with a 28T in the front and an 11-46 in the rear. Wheels: 27.5+ with 2.8” high roller tyres.

Key items of kit: Navigation: Garmin 840 solar, with a monster battery pack in case there isn’t any sun. Sleep system: Terra Nova Laser 2 tent, Western Mountaineering Nano quilt, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite. Luxury item – patchwork pillow case made by my mum!

Pete Aylward

Name: Pete Aylward

Age: 51

Location: Cumbria, UK

Bike: Cotic Cascade with 100mm Rock Shox Reba forks. Rival shifters with Ratio Technology cage to allow a 11-51 cassette. 2.4" Wolfpack Trail/Race tyres on Hunt Trail Wide wheels.

Key items of kit: 'MYOG' frame pack and top tube bag. USE Exposure Diablo and Joystick lights. Six Moons Design Gatewood Cape Tent/Serenity net liner.

Phil Clarke

Name: Phil Clarke

Age: 52

Location: Dunfermline, Fife

Bike: I’ll be riding a steel Jones plus LWB, which has been round twice before so should be fine, dunno about me though… It’s a singlespeed (32/21) and sporting Middleburn cranks, Hope hubs, light bicycle carbon rims, Bontrager XR2 tyres 29+, Shimano XT pedals and SLX brakes, Jones carbon loop bars, WTB speed seat, KS dropper post. Mudhugger rear guard, muckynutz front.

Key items of kit: Revelate Designs Sweet Roll, Gas Tank for tools, Jerry can for odds and ends, custom Wildcat gear frame bag and wildcat gear tiger harness with a 9l dry bag under the seat. DCF flat tarp, carbon pole and pegs, borah bivvy, full length mat, Cumulus 150 quilt. To keep the weather out I’ll take paramo velez smock (heavy but waterproof and warm, essential in the Highlands,) Berghaus goretex over trousers and montane gaiters, neoprene over gloves. On my feet will be a pair of Lake MXZ200 boots which are warm, waterproof and give good support for mountain walking, of which there is a lot! I’ve kept my feet dry on all 3 of my successful completions and I aim to again this time. Final clothing choices will depend on temps. Hoping the frosts of late and cool temps next week will mean no midges! Nav will be via my memory backed up by a Garmin Dakota. Frame bag will carry water and food. No stove this year as I aim to hit all the re-supply points when they are open.

Cat Magill

Name: Cat Magill

Age: 43

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Bike: I'm riding a titianium Titus El Viajero with a Rockshox 35 Gold 100mm fork, 11-50t SRAM cassette and 30t chainring, Maxxis Rekon 29 x 2.6 on the front and Maxxis Ardent Race 29 x 2.35 on the back.

Key items of kit: Sleeping: Therm-a-Rest women's NeoAir XLite, Rab Neutrino 400 sleeping bag, Terra Nova Laser Competition tent. Electronics: Wahoo Elemnt Bolt, Exposure Diablo or Toro front light, LED Lenser MH10 headtorch, Anker 20,000mAh power bank. Bags: Tailfin, Apidura, Lomo, Restrap. Clothes: 7mesh Skypilot jacket, dhb merino arm and leg warmers.

Roisin Daly

Name: Roisin Daly

Age: 45

Location: Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Bike: I’ll be riding my Titanium Sonder Broken Road built with SRAM GX Eagle 12 speed gear set, Rockshox Reba 100mm front shock and 29’’ Sonder Alpha Dynamo wheelset (probably not running the dynamo) with Goodyear Peak tubeless tyres which are 2.4’’ wide. I’ll also be using a Sonder Confucius handle bar for extra mounting points and a Rockshox Reverb Dropper. I’ve taken a little tube clamp, along with other tools and spares, as I slightly fear air spring dropper failure with the heavy seat pack.

Key items of kit: Main Frame bag is a custom Alpkit Stingry. Saddlebag is the Ortlieb 13l QR which has a handy bungeed top where I keep a spare drybag for overspill or easy access gear. Top tube has a little Rockbros bag for tools and spares, a Specialised bag full of electrics and Spokwerks feedbags. Upfront I've bodged an old worse for wear Specialised harness to Confucius bars keeping a dry bag securely in place with all sleep kit. Going full comfort at camp with the Ultralight Insulated mat and Spark II sleeping bag from Sea to Summit, Rab silk liner, merino head to toe of various brands and Nordisk Telemark 1LW Tent, kindly lent by 2017 Female HT550 finisher LG. Just panic bought an Exposure Race MK16 Bar Light so that will be coming too.

Steve Wikeley

Name: Steve Wikeley

Age: 40

Location: Devon, UK

Bike: I'll be riding a Sonder Broken Road equipped with an Eagle drivetrain modified with a smaller 30t chainring and SID suspension forks upfront. I've opted for the intriguing Infinity saddle, hoping the £££ will make a comfortable experience. I have Ergon GP3 handlebar grips with SQlabs inner bar ends for allll the hand positions. Rolling beneath me are Vittoria Syerra tires (Not pictured), and I've also added an airliner insert in the rear tire as I've heard the water butts gobble up tyres in the Highlands. Instead of a dynamo, I'll be relying on a couple of 20k Anker power banks.

Key items of kit: For this adventure, I've chosen the reliable and waterproof Tailfin bags to brave the river crossings and unpredictable Scottish weather. I have all the bags! Front and rear pannier bags for dehydrated food, stove and clothes, accompanied by the aluminum Tailfin rack and bag full of sleeping kits and electrics along with my favorite... the downtube pack for tools, and quick access stuff, and the all-new flip top tube bag to store my snacks. On my back will be a Camelbak Chase backpack as an option for hydration but i'll probably just use the bottles .

GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: The exposure Six-pack can go for 36hrs so hopefully that does the whole thing without a recharge, with a handy stem mount to keep the cockpit clean. For sleeping arrangements, I've chosen the OR Helium bivy paired with the Sea to Summit Sp1 sleeping bag. To ensure a comfortable sleep, I've brought along a Berghaus insulated mat and my beloved Sea to Summit down pillow. As a backup, I've packed a RAB tarp for additional shelter if a mega Scottish storm engulfs me.

Chris Brettell

Name: Chris Brettell

Age: 26

Location: Dorset, UK

Bike: Trek Supercaliber Carbon Frame, SID Ultimate 100mm travel front & 65mm travel rear. OneUp 125mm dropper post (Bontrager 3 in 1 lever). Salsa Rustler Carbon handlebars 720mm. 70mm zipp stem. Specialized MIMIC Phenom Saddle 143mm. Ergon GP2 Grips Small. Hope Cranks 32T chainring. Cassette Deore 11 speed 11-51T. Shimano SLX Brakes 180/160mm. Front wheel rim DT Swiss XM421 32H with Son Delux Dynamo (into Sinwave usb charger). Rear wheel rim DT Swiss XM421 32H with DT Swiss 240H hub Tyres: front Maxxis Rekon 2.35 and rear Maxxis Ardent Race 2.35

Key items of kit: Electronics: Exposure Toro, Cateye Ampp 800, Exposure TraceR, 2 power banks & dynamo USB charger (Sinwave) and Wahoo Roam x 2. Sleeping gear: OR Helium Bivvy, Sea to Summit Spark SP1 and Inertia X Lite Short Mat. Bags: Apidura saddle 4l, Apidura toptube long, Apidura small frame bag, Revelate Designs Handlebar holster and dry bag. Tailfin fork pouches x 2 and Evoc Hydro pro 1.5l vest.

Manu Cattrysse

Name: Manu Cattrysse

Age: 34

Location: Hamme, Belgium

Bike: Chiru Divider. This time with a 120mm Rockshox Sid ultimate, tuned with a RLC-damper. Wheels are Hunt Proven carbon XC-race setup tubeless with cushcore inserts and Vittoria Syerra 2.40 tyres. SRAM AXS 12-speed gearing 34 front and 10-52 rear. Crankbrothers highline dropper to make the downhills more fun and mostly getting on and off the bike easier.

I will put my gear into a Tailfin aeropack plus their 1,5l toptube and 1.7l downtube. Food pouches are Revelate designs. Race-vest is the Osprey duro 6L, mainly for food and quick access to smaller items.

Key items of kit: Battery lights are twice Lupine Wilma, one on the handlebars with remote and one for the helmet. Sea to Summit Spark 2 sleeping bag and pad. For navigation I will use a Garmin eTrex 30x and Edge 1040 solar.

Clare Walkeden

Name: Clare Walkeden

Age: 41

Location: Warwickshire, UK

Bike: Sonder Dial SLX with SID Fork and Ergon GP3 bar ends. Shimano SLX Shmano 30t (front) 10-51 (rear). Sonder Alpha XC 29’ with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tubeless 2.25’.

Key items of kit: Lights: Front Exposure Race MK12 and Diablo. Bags: Apidura 14L front roll, 4.5L Pocket (layers and more snacks!), 2 x Fuel Pods (snacks and charge bar, suncream etc) Alpkit top tube and bilbie (cables and a few bits) and Ortlieb rear loader 11L (kit). Probably also my EVOC hip Pack with bladder.

Tech: Garmin Edge 1030. Alpkit 20,000mAh power bank and Garmin cache battery. Sleep Kit: mountain equipment Helium women’s specific sleeping bag, Alpkit Hunka Bivvy, Numo air mat and Soloist tent. Key Clothing: 7Mesh CoPilot and Revo Shorts, Endura Primaloft jacket, Fizik Atlas shoes, Sealskins waterproof socks.