Heartless thieves have made off with top-end mountain bikes worth more than £50,000 from a social enterprise in the Highlands.
The thefts took place at Laggan Wolftrax, off the road between Aviemore and Fort William, with the robbers targeting the visitor centre and the accompanying bike hire shop, The Wee Bike Hub, nearby.
From the centre, they took eight Polygon Siskiu T8 mountain bikes worth around £12,800.
From The Wee Bike Hub, 12 mountain bikes of various makes and models, worth around £39,500 were taken, along with more than £3,000 of clothing.
The thieves also caused considerable costly damage by breaking into the properties.
Police said the thefts took place between 11pm on Friday and 3am on Saturday.
The alarm was raised by residents in nearby cottages.
‘We’ve fought hard before and we’ll do it again’
Wolftrax development manager, Cristian Pizarro, said the thefts came as a hard blow after a difficult year.
He said: “We’re a social enterprise and the business is very marginal, so it’s hard to keep afloat.
“But before the pandemic, we’d had a good year and were making a lot of plans for 2020, then lockdown came.
“We were able to re-open in July and did better than expected, but we weren’t able to open the cafe over Christmas due the restrictions.
“But we’re confident we’ll get through. We’ve fought hard before and we’ll do it again.”
The market for bikes has grown massively over the past year.
Mr Pizarro said: “Stolen bikes are almost never recovered.
“Also, for us, the shortage of bikes means we won’t be able to hire any in for the new season.”
The community has rallied round, with local tradesmen coming in immediately to secure the properties.
More than 30,000 people visit Wolftrax in a normal year.
It’s regarded as a top UK destination for mountain bikers, with more than 18 miles of free trails.
Wolftrax supporters expressed their disgust on social media, calling the thieves “disgraceful”.
David Wright wrote: “That’s shocking, and the last thing that anyone needs at any time, not least during a global pandemic.”
Mark Alexander wrote: “I’m sure the number of people who use the centre, including me, would be happy to contribute to a fundraiser.”
Detective Sergeant Andy Bilton said: “In order to steal 20 mountain bikes, someone would need to have access to a large vehicle.
“We are appealing for anyone who may have seen or heard anything in and around these premises, and who may be able to assist with our inquiries, to get in touch.
”Anyone with any information is asked to contact police on 101 quoting incident 0935 of January 16.”