Updated: Jan 10, 2022
Firetrail (formerly Aberdeenshire Bicycle Works) are situated in Aboyne and offer a wide range of services from those you'd expect from a "traditional bike shop" to mechanic's courses and (soon) guided rides. In preparation for this blog I rode with Richard Lawes of Firetrail spending a few fun filled fat bike orientated hours and found out more about the surrounding area than I had in 9 years.
Whilst on the bike the conversation ranged from discussing inclusivity, accessibility to the enduro scene, how we can make bike parks more safe and fun and a few thoughts on land access and where we go in the aftermath of Storm Arwen. Hope you enjoy reading about Firetrail as much as I enjoyed the research!
Scottish Adventure: Let’s start off by telling us a bit about yourself. How did you find yourself running a cycling retailer in Aboyne, what is it that you like about Aboyne and the wider area?
Firetrail (RL): I moved to the Aboyne area in 2002 after leaving the army. I had a mountaineering friend in the same para unit as I served in, who lived in Glen Tanar. I used to stay at his during leave periods and really grew to love the area, so decided to move here. The proximity to proper mountains, a major UK river and the coast is very special, and I never tire of saying we have some of the best riding in the world on our doorstep.
I did a History PhD on Modern Mountaineering at the University of Aberdeen supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Trust and afterwards worked as an outdoor instructor. I was part of the management team that created Adventure Aberdeen. I loved working at various outdoor centres but especially delivering courses for deprivation area primary pupils and the Prince’s Trust, as we were giving people opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in ways they would never ordinarily have had. As time went by the Council’s emphasis seemed to switch to profit at all costs, not delivering a service to those in need. That seemed like the right time to leave as it wasn’t what I wanted to do as an outdoor instructor.
We founded Firetrail as an events company and operated the Beast Race, King of the Mountains Sportive and the Illuminator run. We’ve also operated timing systems, did event support for other events and delivered film & TV mountain and water safety.
We’d thought about the bike industry previously, and with a downturn in the events industry as COVID struck and our children now a bit older we felt like it was the right time. A key ingredient was staff – and two or three key people who I’ve known and wanted to work with for years all seemed to be free at the right time. I’ve worked in some very professional and awesome teams over the years and can genuinely say the people I work with now are exceptional and as a group have formidable skills…you would want them on your zombie apocalypse team, trust me!
Scottish Adventure: You ‘ve recently rebranded from Aberdeenshire Bicycle Works to Firetrail Can you tell us a little bit about that and what can the previous customer base (from ABW) can expect from Firetrail?
Firetrail (RL): ABW was originally ‘Aberdeen Bicycle Works’, which we morphed into Aberdeenshire Bicycle Works. It was gifted to us by Gavin Robb, who emigrated to the US, having run a well-respected workshop near Westhill for several years. We’ll forever be grateful for the chance he gave us to build on his hard work and most particularly his intro to Nukeproof who could not be a more genuine riders’ bike brand! However, as we made the decision to go online it was clear that a regional name wouldn’t work, and we decided to change to Firetrail, which has been our Ltd company name since 2012. It’s a good feeling to have changed our business significantly yet circled back to be Firetrail…it’s who we are at heart.
Our existing customers will still see all the things they liked before but now we can offer them more choice, the ability to buy online and use local click and collect. New customers will hopefully see a genuine, female-led business (the boys are outnumbered in our staff!) that stocks gear that is carefully curated. We genuinely won’t sell things we haven’t tried and rate highly ourselves.
Scottish Adventure: You stock a lot of great gear. What is your “Silver Bullet” for adventuring at this time of year? What wouldn’t you leave home without for an adventure around Glen Tanar?
Firetrail (RL): Easy – Lupine lights. The majority of my riding in any year is at night. After having a few accidents and incidents over the years at the far end of dark Scottish Glens I would say the golden rule is: ALWAYS ride with two lights! Lupine make the very best bike lights in the world in my opinion. For reference I’ve a Lupine Wilma that is 8 years old and two years ago (on original battery) it lasted 14 hours at minus 11 degrees C at Strathpuffer. With any high-quality light from any decent brand you pay for the lensing, the colour spectrum of light (slightly warmer white helps depth perception) and battery quality in cold temperatures. There is no such thing as good cheap lights. I’d rather ride a much cheaper bike and have better lights. They are game changing if you are a serious winter and night rider. We have demo sets if anyone doesn’t believe me!
Scottish Adventure: You’re very experienced in creating and running events. What makes a great event for you?
Firetrail (RL): Great events give something back to the area as well as offering an awesome experience. I’m very proud that Firetrail over the years has raised more than £500,000 for Chest Heart Stroke Scotland, and about £500,000 for other Scottish charities including £40,000 for the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team.
I hate events that don’t pay appropriate fees for land use; all events have significant impact on ground and there is a trend at the moment to run ‘events’ in ways which avoid land charges. This needs to stop. Ticket prices in general need to rise for events with more money going to FLS and landowners/community trusts on the basis that these organisations look after the trails we’re using.
Scottish Adventure: What events are there out there that tempt you to participate?
Firetrail (RL): Not many to be honest! I raced a lot when I was younger and I’ve done so many challenges and events over the years as both a participant and organiser that I don’t feel hugely drawn to the scene anymore. I’m at a point in my life where I’d rather complete routes or challenges and visit new places. That said…I’ve unfinished business at Strathpuffer. I’ve been on the podium in various team formats, was fourth in solos (surely the worst position ever in sport) but I’ve never won in any category. My 13-year-old daughter is getting pretty quick at XC and I’m hoping she’ll drag me round to win mixed pairs one of these years. Watch this space!
Scottish Adventure: Do you set aside time from the business to get out there and ride and run for yourself?
Firetrail (RL): The last two years running a small business through COVID and BREXIT have been terrifying, stressful and like many similarly affected businesses it has involved us working very long hours. As a result, I’ve often trained at odd times of the day and night! I think I’ve learnt to be more opportunistic and reactive to the chance to get out whenever I can. It is improving though, and both Alex and I definitely make time to ride our bikes. A real highlight this year has been riding with staff from Nukeproof and Salsa – I’ve really enjoyed it and it has pushed me. Some of it was properly scary….but it’s been a buzz!
Scottish Adventure: With COVID we’ve seen a rise in “Stay-Cations” and an explosion of people getting out and hitting the trails. Do you think this a passing fad, or do you think that this interest is here to stay? And if so, how do we continue to encourage that whilst protecting the Scottish countryside?
Firetrail (RL): I think inevitably there will be a return to international holidays once COVID restrictions ease, but I do think staycation will still be bigger than pre-COVID. I am pretty concerned about the pressure this puts on the countryside and this year I saw some really bad examples of irresponsible tourism. I strongly believe we will (and should) face a future where we need to pay more to play. We are in a weird world where folk will drop £7k on a bike but the carparking ticket compliance rate at Glentress is about 30%....so two thirds of visitors don’t pay to ride at a trail centre! I’d love to see more joined up thinking from FLS and Scottish Estates where there is a common parking pass. Imagine if we could buy a £100 annual pass that would allow us to park in any carpark adjoining wild land, and that the income would be ringfenced to support that. I think lots of people would really buy in to that.
I don’t support the idea that people should stay away from nature, as one of things we are increasingly isolated from is contact with the outdoor world. There is scientific evidence that shows once people experience nature they gain empathy for it, which is crucial for caring enough about our environment to want to preserve it.
Scottish Adventure: Can you share any plans for Firetrail in 2022?
Firetrail (RL): We have a few new brands and products in the pipeline including more E-Bikes and an increased choice of gravel bikes. We will also expand our training course catalogue for 2022. Expect to see more first aid and practical training sit alongside bikepacking specific courses. I’d like to hope we’ll continue our work with SUSTRANS, as it is hugely rewarding and the volunteers we meet do awe-inspiring work that most people never hear about to get people out of cars and on sustainable transport.
Scottish Adventure: Any personal rides or challenges that you have plans to do in 2022?
Firetrail (RL): I’ve always got a few ideas up my sleeve, particularly some winter challenges in the near future but it would spoil it to give them away too early! On my bucket list in the UK is the GB Divide and the Badger Divide. If the COVID situation changes then Alex and I would Iove to visit her parents in Germany who we’ve not seen for a very long time. They happen to live next to awesome riding, and I’ve been missing that fix of winch and plummet enduro riding in 35 degrees of sunshine and dust!
Scottish Adventure: You can only ride one bike for the rest of your life. What is it and why?
Firetrail (RL): That’s a tough question! I’m not very sentimental about bikes or outdoor gear but I do love fat bikes. However, it would have to be a very practical, nearly-do-everything bike if it was for the rest of my life. A fat bike therefore wouldn’t tick enough boxes sadly.
Easy choice then – Salsa Warbird. Just about as quick as a top-end road bike if you put slick tyres on it, yet I’ve ridden pretty serious singletrack on it with gravel tyres, plus it still rides well when loaded with more than 15kgs of kit. It is an extraordinary bike and my favourite bike from Salsa. My summary two word review – quietly brilliant.
Scottish Adventure: Thanks, Richard. I appreciate you taking the time to give us an insight into Firetrail and for the guided Fat Bike Ride around Aboyne.
If you want to find out more about Firetrail then see link below: