Of all the racetracks and circuits around the world, which is your favourite? And which would you most like to ride? Laguna Seca, Nürburgring, Suzuka, Spa, Silverstone, Jerez, Phillip Island, Mugello? The list goes on. But how many of the world’s greatest circuits, course, or tracks can you actually go and ride, free of charge on whatever bike you wanted? The best answer to that conundrum is the 37.73-mile Snaefell Mountain Course that hosts the annual TT races on the Isle of Man.
OK, so if you don’t live on the Island then it can be a little time consuming getting your bike there via the Steam Packet Ferry Company, but I promise you it’s worth every effort to not only ride one of the world’s most iconic courses but also discover the rest of the Island which is a glorious-yet-rural, rugged and spectacular 33 x 13-mile motorcycling mecca in the middle of the Irish Sea, and one which every motorcycle enthusiast must have on their bucket list – at TT time or otherwise.
With 688-miles of roads and, in some places no speed limit, there are plenty of choices for our BikeSocial members who live on the Isle of Man. It is they who have selected the following ten which appear in no particular order but are a stunning selection of the roads to ride in either direction, although it must be said that a ‘best’ road is subjective and depends on the type of bike you ride, the surface, scenery, length, and flow.
We start in the southwest of the Island and we’ll work our way around in a clockwise direction, darting off towards the centre of the Island on a couple of occasions.
In no particular order, we start in Port Erin in the southwest of the Island – the bay, beach and tall surrounding cliffs make it a popular venue for fishing and watersports enthusiasts. But we’re here to discover the 9 ½ mile stretch of gorgeously smooth A36 known locally as The Sloc road that heads northeast up to the South Barrule Forest Park and the Ape Mann Adventure Park. Running this road in the other direction may be of greater visual benefit as you start in the forest (aka ‘plantation’) next to the Ape Mann activity centre before heading out into a wide expanse of what looks like Yorkshire where you’ll find roads in great condition and the scenery to surpass any other. The road straightens as you pass the Round Table crossroads (that links the next choice below), before the spectacular set of bends as you close in on the west coast.
Above: BikeSocial member, Jim Self, tells me about his favourite road before leading the way along it
This road actually crosses the one we’ve just ridden and is equally stunning. From the gorgeous fishing port on the west coast of the Island we head south along the sometimes-twisty coast road through Glen Maye and Dalby before heading inland towards the Glen Rushen Plantation and over The Sloc road at The Round Table crossroads (aka the A36 above).
Plenty of greenery and next to no traffic will make this feel like a calm saunter rather than a flat-out blast. It’s narrow in places but with a ‘big sky’ and wide-open fields on either side of dry-stone walls as you head towards the village of Colby, passing over a section known as ‘Magnetic Hill’ which legend has it is an optical illusion so you leave your car handbrake off it’ll appear to roll uphill!
Above: BikeSocial member, James Smith, on his Ansty rep Suzuki shows our Mann the way
Up the west side of the island running parallel with the coast and only a 6 ½ mile ride but so, so worth it. This was part of the original TT course in 1907 known as the St. Johns course.
Once you climb up and out of Peel the scenery opens up with rolling green fields of all shades to the right and farmland plus the sea to your left. Halfway along you could turn right which would bring you out onto the Cronk-y-Voddy straight on the TT Course (approximately 9 miles into a lap).
Further along and this is one of the more famous sections, and one to be wary of, is a tight uphill chicane and hairpin all in one, and it has a layby/picnic area on the outside nestled into the hills with views over the Irish Sea towards Northern Island, known as Devil’s Elbow. The closer to Kirk Michael you get, the higher you seem to be with an even wider perspective of the west coast of the Island. The A4 then joins the A3 at the village of Kirk Michael, and that’s the TT Course.
Then, three spectacular options taking in Ballaugh when the famous bridge is where every TT rider gets airborne:
Turn right and head up Ballaugh Glen to Druidale Road (a single-track road known as the C37), you won’t fancy breaking down here and you’ll need to stay focused with the crests and blind corner approaches. It’s not for the Fireblades! Keep climbing past the Tholt-y-Will Plantation then left onto the Beinn-y-Phott Road (also known as the B10) to the TT Course and Brandywell high up on the Mountain section. In fact, it’s only just after Hailwood’s Height which is known as the highest part of the TT Course. And if you like the feeling of isolation when riding then this is ideal because on this 9 ½ mile route you’ll barely see another soul. Well, maybe a sheep or two, but the panoramic views will be as wide as they are spectacular. Riding this road in reverse will be even more favourable.
As with the previous route, turn right in front of The Raven and follow the same roads until you reach the end of the Druidale Road and instead of turning left on the B10, turn right and immediately left on the West Baldwin Road which is another single-track beauty that takes you alongside a Reservoir (known locally as the Injebreck Reservoir) before you end up in Braddan just north of the capital, Douglas. It’s another that’ll suit the adventure bikes over the sporty ones, and again, you can find yourself joining the TT course here at Braddan Bridge, just two miles into the TT lap.
But turn left at Ballaugh immediately after the bridge and follow the A10 through Ballasalla and Jurby which is home of the airfield and circuit, the Motor Museum, outdoor karting, and the Isle of Man prison. Once you’ve chased the Coast Road all the way to Bride then there’s always the option of turning left and aiming for the Point of Ayre Lighthouse – just 3 further miles, and it’s the most northern point of the Isle of Man. On a clear day you’ll be able to see the Lake District in England to the east, to the north is Scotland and to the west is Northern Ireland. You might even catch a glimpse of the Belfast to Douglas ferry.
Back to Bride and you can continue on the A10 to Ramsey, the island’s second largest town.
Just rewinding back around the TT Course from Ramsey to Sulby and halfway down one of the fastest parts of the track is the A14 crossroads next to the Methodist Church. Head south here and we’re running almost parallel to the Ballaugh to Braddan route (no.5) which takes you to the east of the Tholt-y-Will Plantation instead of the west, and alongside the Sulby River. After a luscious green valley on a narrow yet smooth road, with dry stone walls either side and over a cattle grid, then after a couple of tight hairpins as the road gets higher and higher, you end up on a fast, flowing mountain section with open corners as you head towards The Bungalow. The road quality, stone walls and forest section all add to making this one of my favourites of our ten.
There’s an additional link should you opt for the Yn Claddagh road beside The Ginger Hall instead of the A14 from Sulby crossroads.
Above: our old friend, James Smith, returns to demonstrate another of his favourites
A lengthy bit of road that links the two main towns on the Isle of Man and the majority of this road, known as the A2, is the busiest during TT fortnight if the Mountain Road is closed. It follows the east coast of the island, but several readers recommended the extra loop to take in Maughold on the north-eastern point (and even the extra track up to the Maughold lighthouse for a monumental view on a clear day) before re-joining the A2 just north of Dhoon and the beautiful Dhoon beach. If you’re not a fan of the narrower roads then stick to the A2. Even riding from one to the other (in whichever direction) could easily take 45-50 minutes, as opposed to the 7-minutes for the TT superstars going over the A18 ‘Mountain Road’ on a hot lap.
Further on is Laxey and its famous waterwheel – who also goes by the name Lady Isabella – and she’s the largest working waterwheel in the world.
If you fancy a little detour then turn right in Ballacannell onto Church Road and head up the Creg-ny-Baa Back Road up to The Creg – one of the most famous parts of the TT Course. This road was part of a TT course designed for smaller capacity bikes and sidecars, used in the 60s called the Clypse Course.
Keep following the A2 and Douglas will come into sight, and you’ll end up joining the TT Course at the roundabout between The Nook and Governor’s Bridge at the very end of the lap. As an alternative, take a left after Baldrine and the tram crossing to venture onto the coast road, heading south of Onchan before making your way along Douglas Bay after Onchan Head.
In the southeast of the Island from the capital, Douglas, we travel towards Castletown in the direction of the Ronaldsway airport. However, we ride the 11-mile road via Port Soderick on the Old Castletown road that runs parallel to the busier A5 to take in some of the super scenery overlooking the sea on the south of the island.
You get a mixture of wide-open views and roads covered by trees with plenty of undulation too that demonstrates the ruralness of the Island, though I have to say, this particular road is not exactly sportsbike-friendly. What is more akin to sportier bikes is the section from Ballasalla to Castletown which takes in a portion of the Southern 100 course.
Castletown is known as the Ancient Capital of Mann and features four Manx National Heritage sites – Castle Rushen, the Nautical Museum, the Old Grammar School (originally a church), and the Old House of Keys.
It’s the shortest route on our list but one of the most dramatic in terms of its scenery. From the quaint quayside village of Port St Mary with its Chapel, Beach, harbour, golf course and more, down to the southernmost tip of the Isle of Man and The Sound Café with plenty of parking, ace ice creams and a view over to the Calf of Man – a 618-acre, uninhabited island which is popular with seals and seabirds alike. The Sound was featured in our top 10 motorcycle-friendly cafes of the island taking the top spot. And you can see why.
The road leading to The Sound is 2-way and reminds me of where Postman Pat comes from, Glendale is it? It’s not particularly wide so be careful of oncoming coaches full of tourists.
This is just ten of the most spectacular roads as voted for by our BikeSocial members who are residents of the Isle of Man, but that’s not to say that you have to stick to them. You could incorporate the TT Course into as many or as few as you wish, and there are parts of that are well worth a ride on; Ballacraine to Kirk Michael, or the Mountain Road from Ramsey back to Douglas – or in reverse, to name just two. Sometimes it’s best to go off and explore!
And don’t forget the Top 10 Motorcycle-friendly cafes and restaurants to try… and I must give a shout-out to the lovely ladies at The Dovecote Tea Room in Kirk Michael who, judging on our breakfast when we filmed this episode, really should be on that list!
If you’d like to see another episode of Motorcycle Island, then let us know what the topic should be: email@example.com
Video: Dom Read-Jones
Photos: Peter Callister