“It was 20 years ago today”, the Beatles’ timeless lyrics seemed appropriate as I weaved through Liverpool to catch the ferry to the Isle of Man for practice week, especially as it was 20 years since my last visit to the Island.
Then, I was riding FireBlades and GSXRs road-testing on MCN until a big crash stuck me in a wheelchair a month later in ‘93.
So now I am onto four wheels with a BMW 330d convertible, so at least I’ll have similar grunt to a bike and I can get the Snaefell wind into my rapidly thinning hair once the top’s down.
There are six of us making the pilgrimage, me, Jez, Scott, Andy, PHC and Bruce. Four of them for the first time, in what we think is a respectable manifestation of the mid-life crisis as we are all 50 (gulp) this year, apart from Bruce.
So in the final tradition of MCN challenges, the four virgins have decided to acquire a motley collection of road-legal dirt bikes and explore the green lanes and trails all over the Island.
Riding them up from Surrey would have been foolhardy, so they are in a van, but Jez and Bruce take the scenic route up on a KTM SMT990 and a BMW R1150GS through the Cotswolds, Herefordshire, Shropshire and are rewarded with beautiful weather and an app-planned route that has them waxing lyrical about GB’s roads.
“It was sublime,” said Jez “I didn’t realise how beautiful our roads are. It equalled any European ride I have been on.”
I am last man on so I’m next to the lift, which gives me more time in the first decent sun of the year, and puts me in pole position for disembarking.
PHC attempts wheelchair balancing in the bar and gives it the best dying ant impression, flat on his back, much to the amusement of a returning hen party of Manx girls.
The crossing is quick and that big moon is soon rising on the seafront as we head to our hotels, mine is called the Mereside, and is a mercifully well-adapted guest house with a bar and good-value restaurant.
Glorious sunshine greets us on Sunday and we break out the dirt bikes for a first foray up the coast road to Ramsey. Scott is on a £750 1998 Suzuki DR360S, PCH has got a 2005 Yamaha WR450 which cost him £2500, Andy is on a 2005 CCM404DS at £1850, and Jez has a raucous X-reg Alfer 250 which Coxy, who sold it to him, is convinced he is going to kill himself on.
While Bruce and I tackled the Mountain section for the first time, the others headed off up Millenium Way, tackling an “interesting” boardwalk over a bog, then on across to the Bungalow for a magnificent cream tea.
Then bits started to fall off the bikes: they’d just rejoined the course a t Ballaugh when the Alfer’s chain skipped off the rear cog and wrapped itself around the swingarm and crankcase.
After watching the others head off oblivious, Jez had just sat on the kerb to plan his next move when a van pulled up, and off-roading Manxman Rob Kelly leaned out and offered him a lift back to Douglas.
So his first lap finished astride the bike in the back of a van. “I have ridden off-road for years, so I know what it feels like.” Says Rob.
Bruce and I kept going to Castletown and the Classic paddock to drop in on old mates of his, Charlie and Louie Cope, a father and daughter sidecar crew from Edinburgh, who have raced classics for years.
We kept up our back roads tour of the southwest before hopping back on the course at Kirk Michael for another bite of the mountain (I’m getting hooked already).
A good meal at coast, then a nightcap or 4 at the Mereside with a bunch of Ulstermen meant I poured myself into bed a 2.
Bank holiday Monday
A lazy day with lousy weather and hangovers to deal with ends with our first exposure to the beautiful craziness of the bottom of Bray Hill at 140mph.
Open mouths for some, reconnecting with it all for others. The sparks from bottoming out exhausts add extra spice.
The Alfer is spread out outside a Yamaha dealer in Douglas as Andy and Araldite Rapid repairs a rear brake pipe that’s been sliced open by the chain.
The off road crew head off into the fields again, getting waved down by a solitary chap in a high vi vest whose big quad had bogged down three miles from civilisation, much heaving and the use of wooden stakes levered him back onto terra firma.
I headed off for a couple of early-morning laps in the Beemer, made more interesting by low cloud on the Verandah.
I then chilled out in the paddock, hanging out with Chad as he sweated away while his bike was on the Dynojet dyno, 81bhp, not bad, but not the 90+ of the top boys.
Bruce and I zero in on a stretch of grass on the inside of the circuit at the bottom of Kirk Michael high street which should have them yellow line, to yellow line at 160mph plus.
But the weather forecasters were too accurate and their prediction of rain at 6 was bang-on with a mix of wet and dry making it too dangerous for anyone to set a meaningful time, so no joy. At least the Queenies at the Mereside were delicious.