Trail Riding on the Isle of Man

Yours truly and my good pal Andy taking a breather, somehwere in the far distance is Ireland, but then again it might be Scotland…?

The Isle of Man has a reputation as a motorcyclists paradise and a trip to ‘see the TT one day’ is probably on the bucket list of most riders. The Island is an alluring destination for bikers, I mean , who wouldn’t be drawn to an island featuring some of the best biking roads in Europe and which, as an added bonus, has no upper speed limit? Less well known is what the Island has to offer to those of us who look for our biking kicks away from tarmac and off the beaten track. A clue lies in the fact that the Island played host to the International Six Day Trial in ’65, ’71 and ’75 and numerous trials and enduro events feature in events calendar every year.

The Island is one of the very best locations in the UK to enjoy off road motorcycling and the extensive network of trails which cover the Island have much to offer the enthusiastic trail rider. Therefore, when my good chum and riding buddy Andy called me a few months ago and asked if I fancied a busman’s holiday and join him on one of his frequent visits to the Isle of Man I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation. As well as being a TT regular during the 80s and 90s, in recent years I’ve been to see the Manx GP on a couple of occasions and have managed to squeeze in a bit of trail riding. This gave me a good idea of what the Island had to offer in the way of off road adventures and Andy’s plan was to time the visit to coincide with the GP and enjoy a combined trail riding/ race spectating holiday. What’s not to like?

The ‘Manx’ as it is known has always attracted a slightly older demographic than the TT and its emphasis on classic race bikes means the the general vibe on the Island after a day’s racing is less Wet T shirt competition and more of a Castrol R and Ovaltine type deal. It also attracts fewer visitors which means accommodation and ferry bookings are more readily available. That said, if you’re thinking of going to either event, you need to book a long time ahead to make sure you get the best choice of sailings and digs. This year’s GP featured top names such as Rob Hodson, Lee Johnston and Michael Dunlop and so we knew there would be some first class racing to watch in between our trail riding adventures.

Exciting stuff as riders peel into the very fast section at Hillberry, the faster riders will be approaching at 150+mph and the spectators are about a metre from the action. It’s one of the most impressive motorsport spectacles to be found anywhere in the world.
Racing on the Island is no place for the feint-hearted, it’s breathtakingly fast.
Fuel churns in place in the deserted pit lane shortly before road closure. In a couple of hours time this will be bedlam.

If you’ve never been to the Manx GP or the TT before it’s wise to tag along with someone who has. Getting your head around road closures and staying on the inside or outside of the circuit can be a bit daunting for a first timer. I’m relatively familiar with how it all works but Andy is a true expert and has a fantastic knowledge of the circuit, the trails, the riders, the bikes as well as the locations of the best chippies and cafes. All handy stuff. He also knows the best places to ride a trail bike.

Raised causeway crossing a marshy bog to the west of the Mountain Mile. Trickier than it looks in pic! Fall off this in winter and I reckon you’d have quite a battle on your hands extricating the bike and getting back on track.

The trails on the Island are, by and large, very well marked. The classifications differ slightly from the mainland and the main network of trails are officially termed ‘Greenways’. These are open to bikes but if you have a vehicle over 500kg you will need a permit. Obviously this is aimed at controlling 4×4 usage and doesn’t affect bikers. There are also byways, some of which are restricted. If you’ve got some experience of green laning on the mainland you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Maps of the Island are available in 1:25,000 scale and all the routes are clearly marked. A GPS is handy but not essential and could potentially save you a lot of time finding the various trails. Being a horse-drawn man I always favour paper maps but I have to confess Andy’s digital whotsit on his handlebars proved very useful and it’s a lot quicker than getting a map out.

Ben and Andy with Snaefell in the background.

The quality of trail riding on the Island is absolutely outstanding and comparable with the very best you might experience in the more remote parts of the UK. A lot of the trails are what could be termed ‘technical’ and are probably not suitable for beginners. Don’t let this put you off because there’s lots to go at and if you don’t like the look of something you can always turn back and find something more suited to your ability level. Many of the trails consist of loose boulders and these can be quite demanding, both on the bike and the rider. I suffered a puncture within the first 500 metres of the first trail and on day three the rear wheel bearings in Andy’s very well maintained Montesa gave up the ghost. Andy had brought his pal Ben on the trip, I’d already met Ben through AdventureRide knew he was a good guy to have around if the going got tough. Ben was a trooper on both occasions and with his help we managed to overcome these relatively minor difficulties but both incidents served to underline that the Manx trails can be harsh and will punish the unwary or the poorly prepared.

Ben on his way down to Pert Erin, a typical Manx upland trail flanked by gorse and heather. The Island in the distance is the Calf of Man.
Ben and Andy with the broken Montesa on the seafront in Peel. I suppose there are worse places to breakdown. As ever, Andy had lured us to a location with promises of icecream but time and time again he failed to make good on his promises. When it came to ice cream procurement I’m afraid to report Andy proved to be reliably unreliable.

We crammed so much in to our five day trip it all seems like a blur but hopefully the pics will give a flavour of our Manx adventure. If you like the idea of combining first class trail riding with the most exciting motorsport spectacle on the planet the I would suggest booking your accommodation and ferry crossing now for either the TT or the Manx GP, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Before I sign off I would like to thank our B&B hosts Chris and Lynn for the warm welcome they extended to us and also Juan Knight, trials legend and all round good bloke who opened up his workshop for us on a Bank Holiday weekend in order to solve Andy’s bearing problem. The Manx people are renowned for their hospitality and of you make the trip over there you can be certain you’ll be well looked after and made to feel at home.

Juan Knight pops a pair of wheel bearings into Andy’s Montesa wheel… on a Bank Holiday Sunday. Top man and a trials legend to boot. Like I said, the Manx people go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome.

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