ROUGH TIME AT THE TT
Mention the Isle of Man to a motorcyclist and the TT is the first thing that comes to mind, but all-yearround attractions lie off the beaten path
Grinning fools embrace the dirty side of the Isle of Man during the Classic TT
Riding round the Isle of Man, I sometimes sense what’s now known as ‘FOMO’ – fear of missing out. Groups of muddy figures burst from nowhere on dirt bikes, pause, then scuttle across the road like giant hedgehogs to merge again with the foliage; they’re plainly having fun. I knew it – I am missing out.
The Island actively welcomes motorcyclists of all sorts, including trail riders, so every year some riders bring trailies to the Classic TT to enjoy the magnificent scenery from a different perspective. Many stay on after the races for the Manx Two-day Trial the following weekend.
It’s been a while since I rebuilt my dad’s old TRIBSA scrambler and I’d been hoping to try off-roading ever since. Anyone seriously interested in greenlaning can do no better than join the Trail Riders Fellowship (trf.org. uk), an organisation that actively defends rights of way as well as offering advice, organising runs and offering support to its members in the event of disputes. But the last thing I need right now is another hobby. I just wanted a quick go to see if I still enjoy off-road riding – and if I’m physically up to it. So when my mate Gav Curtis offered to take the TRIBSA to the Island, along with his trials BSA C15T, I decided my chance had come.
On the Isle of Man things seem way simpler; maybe it’s just being on holiday, but it’s a small place with a lot of inviting trails and you get the feeling that, as long as you behave responsibly and stick to the path, nobody minds you riding bikes through their beauty spots. I’d recommend picking up an Isle of Man Outdoor Leisure Map – I bought my copy on the boat for £7, but they are available from the tourist office and elsewhere. This 1:25,000 scale map shows all the ‘greenways’ – the roads open to vehicles under 500kg. You can’t just ride anywhere you like, but trails are clearly signed, so with a bit of forethought you won’t go wrong.
Experienced hands tell me that the north of the Island tends to be rocky (the very top being flat) while the south is softer but more likely to be boggy, so there’s no shortage of variety. We found a nice spot high up in the hills to the south of the Island, where it wasn’t too testing for novices – but it was enough to prove that neither I nor the bike are entirely fit for purpose; the TRIBSA’S suspension is awful and my own was no better. Days later I could still ‘feel the benefit’ of the exercise in my quadriceps, while the Roadholder forks were happy
‘DAYS LATER I COULD STILL “FEEL THE BENEFIT” OF THE EXERCISE IN MY QUADRICEPS’
to top and bottom out, with the elderly AJS rear shocks bouncing along in sympathy (well, it was a test ride...). The gearbox (standard BSA, geared-down with big sprockets) is no fun on the road, either, with top feeling like second and over-revving at 40mph. A proper trials ’box isn’t just geared down, it has a high top ratio to make life easier between sections. But all that aside, I had a great time. The 500cc alloy Tiger 100 engine is a peach; surprisingly flexible, given its sporty E3134 cams and a lightened flywheel, it has a rapid pickup and storms up hills; although as Gav pointed out the quickaction twist-grip makes the bike unpleasantly ‘spontaneous’ in a tight spot.
After wearing myself out on the TRIBSA, the little trials BSA was a revelation. If the TRIBSA is a bit of a machete – aim at the problem and hack your way through – the BSA is a scalpel, enabling deft movements that give you time to plot your route with minimum fuss – although that didn’t prevent Gav crashing into the camera equipment at one point!
Our afternoon’s fun left me puzzled. I’d enjoyed myself enough to want more, but was it just a holiday romance that I’d struggle to commit to back home? There’s little point if it only gets used once a year on the Island. And do you need a pukka off-roader to go trail riding on the Island anyway?
Friends of mine have had a go on road bikes before, so with a morning to kill before loading up for the ferry, I decided to try it. Admittedly my Norvin isn’t ideal, but encouraged by the fact that I once rode it to spectate at some of the trials sections, I headed down a rutted track covered in slate chippings. After a testing half-mile, I came across a surprised-looking mountain biker travelling up the other way. The track seemed to be getting steeper and the ruts deeper, so I decided to heft the bike around and return while I still could – but it
Gav was in clover after a trail ride across the Island’s greenways. Or should that be gorse? LEFT: Gav’s trials BSA C15T is an offroad scalpel compared to...
BELOW: Rick’s TRIBSA is another blunt instrument
RIGHT: ...Rick’s cudgel-like Norvin, especially unsuited to this vertiginous Island track