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IoM 500 Rally Moto

TOURIST TROPHY – THE IOM 500

Back in September 2019 RUST rode the final round of the Adventure Spec Challenge, the IoM 500 by Rally Moto. The big finale to this three-event roadbook rally series, it offered probably the most technical riding, but also the most dramatic scenery. Something special for sure.
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The Isle of Man 500 by Rally Moto was always going to be something special. The Manx isle has a vibe all of its own, even outside of the TT or Manx GP weeks. It’s stunningly beautiful, too. And of course as it took a boat ride to get there, that was special in itself.

RUST’s pair of JBs – Jon Bentman and July Behl – went full orange for this event, JB on his KTM 1290 Super Adventure R long termer and July managed to grab a 790 Adventure R off KTM UK. Given it was the Isle of Man, two days wasn’t going to be enough, so the pair stretched it to a five-day long weekend. Travel on Thursday, Friday a play day riding the TT circuit and investigating the island, then two days on the roadbook competition and Monday the return home. Luggage was pleasingly modest; for each bike an Ortlieb roll bag, a tent and a tank bag.

IoM 500 Rally Moto
July and Steve Ross explore the Island's back roads
IoM 500 Rally Moto
July was feeling it – what 'it' was...?

This being a ‘500’, camping was the go – you get all the onsite camaraderie that way. Equally, no vanning the bikes there, no trailering either, the whole idea being this is for road bikes not pseudo competition bikes.

The campsite was set in a lovely paddock just behind the village of Ballaugh (famous for the bridge which the TT racers jump). The pub was a 100 metre walk, then there was the wee stream that the bridge spans and a backdrop of mountains, while the onsite amenities were all generous and clean. Perfect.

Being September, this was summer at its most mature, before the onset of autumn. It got cool in the evenings, but not icy, certainly not the -2ºC we’d endured at the Kielder 500 at the beginning of the year.

Robert Hughes and his Rally Moto team were at full stretch on the Friday as recent bad weather and road closures had played havoc with his road book. So while we teamed up with mate Steve Ross (who we’d met at the Kielder 500) and had fun checking out the island’s sights Robert and the boys were scouting diversions and trying to get these into some format that we could insert into the pre-printed roadbooks. A big task for sure.

IoM 500 Rally Moto
A pair of properly used Super Tens wait in line for the Saturday start
IoM 500 Rally Moto
Feeding the road book holder – a tricky affair
IoM 500 Rally Moto
Stunning Manx weather – not always guaranteed

Saturday morning came and sure enough the riders’ briefing was a detailed one as Robert read aloud the changes while we all made the amends with our assortment of biros and felt pens. The event is run in conjunction with a rally event (enduro bikes) so we had a delayed start.

Robert had done a great job on the roadbook, creating a long-long lap that took in the length and breadth of the island. The 500s are not all about off-roading and the first part of the ride was a chase around the small lanes of the northernmost part of the island. Good to get back into the practice of road book reading and good to remind us that this isn’t some kind of rally raid, it’s meant to have that kind of 50:50 road/track mix which makes adventure bikes the pick over lighter enduro/trail types.

When we got onto the trails proper they were stunning, running up and over the mountains that run along the spine of the island. It looked like slate type rock base on these, and they were two-track where farmers’ carts then 4x4s had evidently spent centuries going back and forth. The riding was more technical then on the Kielder 500, but not hugely so. Where it was tricky – such as a couple of descents down from the mountain – it was just a matter of taking a moment to plan your path (and not panic!).

We lost July at about the halfway point. He’d taken a dive in a mud bog (the only mud bog – and not that bad a bog to be fair) and he’d pulled a muscle in his shoulder, he said, although equally he was probably remembering the expansive lunch menu back the pub. So JB tagged onto a pair of KTM singles for a while only, this impromptu trio then got a little lost having made a wrong choice at a five-way junction – pays to take your time.

IoM 500 Rally Moto
JB's 1290 and Clint Smith's GSA having a post ride wash

After reaching Calf of Mann at the bottom of the island, JB then teamed up with Tiger 800 riding Darren Williams and given odometer and roadbook issues (having done a poor job of revising the roadbooks in the morning) this pairing rode the next section with one calling – literally – the distances while the other read the roadbook. Hey, it worked.

Such was the length of the ride, when this pair got to the bottom of the island’s highest mountain, Snaefell, along with others they were instructed to take a shortcut back to the finish, or face the prospect of an after dark finish. Rally Moto certainly offer plenty of riding!

Day two was a repeat of day one, only in mist (sometimes choking fog) and rain. Actually given reasonable waterproofs – and heated grips – this was no less enjoyable. A little more attention was needed on the now slightly slippery trails, and even more so on the roads which – off the TT course itself – turned super-slippery. A few riders took tumbles, nearly all on the roads.

Riding with Clint Smith and Reuben Molina on a [air of BMW R 1200 GSAs), JB had a great day’s riding. And keeping the pace going – now knowing the distance – the trio made the full distance. In the evening prizegiving JB scored a gold medal for his efforts, although in the final official results this was downgraded to a sliver medal – that shortcut at the end of the day one probably!

In all a great weekend, having fun with a bunch of like-mined guys (and the odd gal) on a beautiful island. All the riding you could want over stunning scenery. And some great Manx teas and cakes along the way (not to mention the dinners and beers). It’s a must-do, for sure.

THE ISLE OF MAN 500 – PICTORIAL

IoM 500 Rally Moto
Leaving the bay at Port St. Mary on the south coast of the Island
IoM 500 Rally Moto
James Nethell makes his final preps to his KTM 990 Adventure. Like many inductees to the Adventure Spec series he’s been bitten by the roadbook bug and has splashed out on F2R pro roadbook kit. His only issue was getting it, and the screen, to fit. A few spacers and all was well.
IoM 500 Rally Moto
Ahh yes, marking up your roadbooks. Actually this was more than just ‘painting’ (putting colours to the instructions for easier reading) – between highway road closures and heavy rain washing out sections of the off-road course there were nine amendments to make to the roadbook before it could be wound into the readers. All part of the roadbook fun. Hair is optional.
IoM 500 Rally Moto
The series has seen many a seriously upgraded single-cylinder trail bike, mostly KTM 690s and Husky 701s. But Stephen Clifford trumped them all with his old school rally-spec’d BMW F650 GS Dakar. Long range tank, upgraded suspension, full rally fairing – it was making even Jonathan Palmer’s high-spec KTM 690 Enduro R look average.
IoM 500 Rally Moto
Tucked around the back of Ballaugh was this river crossing – not exactly Road of Bones challenging, but with ornamental (live) ducks and stunning woodland surrounds it was supremely pretty. Adam Lewis took the time for a good look around on his KTM 990 Adventure.
IoM 500 Rally Moto
Michael Robson canters along this 15-mile stretch of mountain trail that led south through the island from the event base in Ballaugh. Mostly easy riding, there were some tricky parts that required trials-type skills. On day two this trail was covered in a thick mist (in fact low cloud), which gave it extra atmosphere!
IoM 500 Rally Moto
The near 250-mile loop took in some forest plantations. In the dry it was a nice ride, but in the wet of day two you needed to take care, it got plenty slippery. Dan Preece (here) had entered a KTM 1290, but rocked up on one of those new 790 Adventure Rs, so was guaranteed a great ride!
IoM 500 Rally Moto
Darren Williams paid JB good money not to publish this picture – alas it was still not enough. This is what happens if you pay too much attention to the cameraman and not the trail. However, the bike never left the track and Darren rode his Triumph Tiger to two almost faultless days of navigation to finish second in the competition (this was probably the moment that cost him the win!).
IoM 500 Rally Moto
This is Stephen Clifford’s GS Dakar again, showing just how flash you can go with a roadbook reader and ICO (for distance reading). RUST has used a similar system for the R3 rally raids in Portugal, but for the Adventure Spec series the converted sandwich box (supplied by the organiser) and a free App on a cable-tied mobile phone (for resettable distance reading – satellite linked) does the job just as efficiently.
IoM 500 Rally Moto
Reuben Molina eases his BMW GSA through a misty forest on day two. This was midday, and it was this dark. Quite a few riders were caught out by the slippery conditions (more on the road than the trails!), definitely putting equal emphasis on good machine control as much as accurate navigation. Placing fourth in the competition, Reuben clearly had both (we’ll not mention his spinning the GSA a full 360º on the wet grass of the camping paddock!).
IoM 500 Rally Moto
No Isle of Man story would be complete without an obligatory Ballaugh jump shot. Clint Smith, here, wasn’t speeding, you can get air off this bridge at 30mph quite easily. The IoM 500 crossed and followed the TT course in quite a few places and with many parts having no speed limit that kind of made sense of taking the RUST KTM 1290 to this event. You can go fast, just don’t abuse the privilege, eh?
IoM 500 Rally Moto
The Irish Sea can be unforgiving on a bad day and quite the navigational challenge for shipping, but this day in September it looked more Pacific than Atlantic. A great backdrop to this cool track that led up from Peel, that was attacked maybe a little briskly on the RUST KTM 1290 (ahem). Alan Maguire (here) rode it more sensibly, good man.

FANCY A GO?

Up until the arrival of Covid-19 the Adventure Spec Challenge was back for 2020, again with three rounds: Kielder 500, Wales 500 and IoM 500. Series organisers Rally Moto also had a complementary Cannonball Adventure series (six dates), that offered a shorter distance one-day roadbook experience (but equally on and off-road, and big adventure bike friendly). There was even an expedition to Portugal in the offing. Oh yes, and a night roadbook event up in Kielder! How much of this will now be possible, if any, we’ll have to wait and see but if you want to know more check out the details and look for updates at www.rallymoto.co.uk

IoM 500 Rally Moto
Robert Hughes of Rally Moto

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