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 ( 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


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

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