We join Steven Rittey from Wheel2Wheel holidays on his day trip around the beautiful Isle of Man - famous for its motorcycle racing heritage.
A few weeks ago, Simon from the recent Leeds to Leigh MTB canal ride and myself were discussing a plan for an end of season jaunt somewhere different and we both thought of the Isle of Man. I have been to the Isle of Man in the past on my own, but I decided that it would be good to get Simon now called ‘The Northern Powerhouse’ by his friends on his new road bike with my friend Scott from previous adventures. Due to time constraints and a special cheap ticket to Douglas on the Steam Packet catamaran from Liverpool, we decided to go for the day with the aim of completing the 37 mile TT course before the roads closed for the Manx TT Classic races starting at 1100.
After a shaky start caused by two 2am punctures and a broken pedal within half a mile of setting off from the LiverpoolOne Car Park, we boarded the high speed ferry for the 0315 sailing to Douglas from Liverpool’s famous Pier Head. Considering it was nearly all over before we set off from the dock, we were glad to be aboard and despite some choppy moments at sea, we managed to sleep on the 2h 45m crossing and woke up in Douglas ready to roll! It quickly dawned on us as we were rolling down the exit deck that we were the only cyclists wearing skintight lycra on-board the ferry whilst everyone else was in motorbike leathers. We had two wheels with us, but we were in a different club!
Our original plan was to cycle the famous TT motorcycle course, however it was only in the week before that we realised that the roads were due to be closed for a classic motorcycle race, so we only had a few hours to complete the route. Whilst the distance is not that far, the mountain section up Snaefell is a dramatic ascent with exposed corners, high speed motorbikes whizzing past and ever changing weather conditions. We left Douglas and headed north towards Peel and Ramsey past iconic sections of the route including Cronk y Voddy, Kirk Michael and Sulby Straight. On the Isle of Man, in certain sections of the island the national speed limit means ‘no limit’ and it is not uncommon to see motorcycles flying past at 150 mph and beyond! You need to ride carefully here both on motorised and pedal powered bikes.
The toughest section of the route is undoubtedly the mountain road (A18) from Ramsey to Windy Corner. This is an 8 mile continual uphill to 1800ft with some sections that are challenging and steep. One of the most poignant moments on the ride was seeing the Joey’s sign at the 26th milestone to mark Joey Dunlop’s death in Estonia. He won a record 26 IOM TT titles and his family are very much connected with motorsport on the island.
As we started the descent down to Douglas and past the famous viewing corner at Creg Ny Baa, we managed to get split up from Simon in the TT road closure at the Grandstand who later appeared about an hour before we were due to catch the ferry home. We later found out that he was in the local greasy spoon café in Douglas whilst Scott and myself were searching for him out at the Laxey Wheel! It was a comedy moment as he strolled through the ferry terminal, but we were concerned and had all kinds of (over)dramatic visions of where he might be!
We had a quick ride around the sunny Douglas Promenade area before catching the ferry back to Liverpool on a millpond like Irish Sea. The island is a great place for motorcycling, but as we discovered it is a fantastic place for cycling and offers much to the cyclist. You can see why the island has produced so many leading cyclists such as Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh. It is like a cold, wet and wild version of Majorca with varied terrain and quiet roads!
As we approached Liverpool, I was chatting to one of the motorcyclists that had spent a week on the islandI asked the one question that I had been wanting to ask since the Bungalow milestone on the course – “How fast did you go up the mountain road?” The reply was simple and mildly enthusiastic. “162 miles an hour”.
I think I’ll stick to cycling and I suspect Simon and Scott will too.