Updated: Mar 1
Our tips for what to pack to cycle the NC500 route.
The North Coast 500 (NC500) is a popular long-distance route for cyclists. It’s a beautiful but challenging bike ride and it is a good idea to prepare well by packing the right kit. Most people take five to 10 days to ride the NC500.
The best way to enjoy cycling the NC500 in north-west Scotland, from Inverness to Inverness, is to book a luggage transfer company and accommodation. By doing this, you only need carry a day pack for cycling each daily section. Highland Transfers can help you with a NC500 cycling package to suit your fitness level and aspirations. See here.
There is a list of items that you will need to carry daily, as well as a list of items for your overnight luggage.
Talk to us about fully supported cycling trips on the NC500. We will meet you at regular intervals with a van so that can carry only the basic kit with you while cycling.
Carrying less will make the hills much easier on a NC500 bike ride.
What will I need?: Daily kit for cycle the NC500
Firstly, you’ll need a bicycle. The NC500 is a road cycling route so most people will ride a road bike. A sportive style road bike will be the most comfortable, or you could consider a gravel style bike fitted with slicker tyres. There will be sections of road that won’t be that smooth, which is why many people prefer to ride a bike with thicker or grippier tyres.
The weight of the bike will be another consideration. A lightweight bike will be easier to ride up the hills (and there are many hills on the NC500 route).
Make sure you have bike fitted with several easier gears. The aim will be to keep your pedal cadence high while cycling uphill and this means you’ll need easier gears to slip into.
Ensure the bike has been serviced before you start the NC500 route. Stopping to fix a chain, brakes or to make adjustments to the mechanics of your bicycle will reduce the enjoyment of cycling such a stunning route. Also, bike repair shops can be few and far between in the north-west region of Scotland.
Wear bright clothing and have layers with you to cope with changeable weather.
Other essential NC500 bicycle equipment:
Helmet: Although not a legal requirement in the UK, most people wear a cycling helmet for protection should they fall off their bike.
Puncture repair kit: This will depend on the type of tyres you have but most cyclists carry tyre levers, spare inner tubes, repair patches and glue, pump etc.
As well as taking repair kit with you, you should know how to use it.
Bike multi tool: This will be useful if need to tighten or adjust bolts and screws etc, or fix a bike chain. The tool needs to have a chain breaker, too.
Bike chain repair link: Carrying a spare link can save you a lot of hassle if your chain breaks.
Bike lock: This could be useful if you need to stop anywhere for a length of time.
There are recommended and essential items for your NC500 cycling list.
What to wear while cycling the NC500
Baselayer: many cyclists wear a thin short-sleeved baselayer that is good at allowing sweat to wick away, while still keeping you warm.
Cycling jersey: A short-sleeved cycling jersey is practical and useful. Most are highly breathable and have useful rear pockets
Softshell jersey or gilet: Scotland’s weather can be changeable so it’s worth carrying an extra layer for keeping the wind off your torso. Also, when cycling uphill, you will quickly warm up but when riding downhill you’ll need an extra layer of warmth.
Waterproof cycling jacket: A lightweight waterproof but breathable jacket will be an essential item to carry with you.
Top tip: Wear bight clothing - especially something with hi-vis pr reflective details – or use bike lights to ensure other road users see you.
Arms sleeves: Another easy item to pack or stuff into a packet, but so useful for changeable weather and body temperature.
Headwear: A thin layer, such as a cycling beanie or buff, is very useful under a helmet, especially if you start early in the day when temperatures are low, or when it is windy. This will help to keep the wind out of your ears.
A cycle cap under a helmet is useful for sunny days.
Cycling gloves: Hands often get cold, even in the summer in Scotland. Choose fingered gloves or fingerless cycling mitts, depending on what you know you will need.
Cycle shorts or tights: Again, it will depend on the season and how cold you get. Choose between cycling shorts our tights or wear cycle shorts and take leg warmers with you.
Bike shoes: Many people will choose to have clip-in shoes and pedals, such as SPDs, for the NC500. It’s a hilly route and wearing cleats shoes attached to the pedals will be an aid when riding the long or steep ascents.
Socks: Some people wear cycling-specific socks, while others wear straightforward sports socks. You could also wear waterproof socks if you are worried about wet weather. It’s up to you.
Bike shoe covers: If it’s going to be cold, wet or windy on the NC500 route, you are wise to have an over-shoe attachment. Neoprene covers for cycling shoes will keep your feet warmer.
Other essential day cycling items
Route map/details. This is most usefully loaded on to a bike computer, mobile phone or sports watch
Smartphone - for contact and photos
Small first aid kit, including pain killers, blister plasters and antiseptic wipes
Midge repellent (eg Smidge)
Food/ snacks / energy gel (there are places to stop along the route but it’s always a good idea to have snacks with you just in case)
Plenty of water
Bike lights (if you plan to cycle long days).
Highland Transfers offers support for NC500 cyclists.
How to carry your NC500 cycling kit
What you use, will depend on how much kit you have. Can you fit it all into the rear pockets in a cycling jersey, or split between the jersey pockets and a small saddle bag?
Other cyclists carry a lightweight rucksack, or you can carry all your items in a bike-packing bag attached to the seat post. Whatever you choose, make sure you have tried and tested the set up before setting off on the NC500 route.
Drybags are useful, too, so you can stow your kit in your rucksack or bike pack without worrying about it getting wet in the rain.
What else to pack for NC500: You overnight bag
The maximum weight for luggage transfers with Highland Transfers is 25kg. This is ample enough for all your kit.
Basic bike cleaning/maintenance items, such as chain lube
Spare bike items: Some cyclists pack a spare brake and derailleur cable, spoke wrench and spare spokes. This is a belt-and-braces approach in case you can't easily reach a bike shop.
Spare cycling clothes, such as a couple of fresh baselayers or cycling jerseys
Spare cycling shorts
Several spare pairs of socks (although you might not need a change daily)
Clothes and footwear for evenings (you won’t need many changes of clothing because you won’t be wearing these clothes for long each day!)
A book or Kindle.
Top tip: Clothing made of natural fibres, such as merino wool, is a good choice if you want to wear for longer. The natural yarns resist odour better than synthetics.
Book the NC500 cycling package
Cycling the North Coast 500 is a very rewarding outdoor holiday. Key to your enjoyment is preparation and ensuring you have all the basic and essential items.
If you want to discuss any of this further, please do give Highland Transfers a call. We can help with luggage transfer between your overnight accommodations, suggest the right accommodation and stops, and offer a wealth of advice about cycling the NC500.