Richard Fletcher, Mr Cycling on the Isle of Man

24th February 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 347: Richard Fletcher

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Richard Fletcher, Isle of Man

TOPICS: Cycling on the Isle of Man. Mark Cavendish and Matt Stephens. Bike Style bike shop, Douglas. Manxman ferry. Dot Tilbury’s funnel. TT racing. Mountain road. Pan-Celtic. Isle of Man Youth Tour.


Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 347 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Saturday 24th of February 2020. For

David Bernstein 0:29
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Carlton Reid 1:04
The plan was to record this interview while riding to Laxey on the Isle of Man with cycle guide and event organiser Richard Fletcher, pointing out the roads long used by fellow Manxman Mark Cavendish, but then weather! I’m Carlton Reid, and I was on the Isle of Man for the AGM of the British guild of travel writers. members could choose a one day fam trip activity. And while others chose spa and yoga retreats or cookery sessions, all indoors, I had asked to go cycling. I brought my road bike on the Steam Packet ferry from Heysham and was eager to hook up Richard with a radio mic and then chat, as we pootled along. The driving rain put paid to that idea. And after a bitterly cold two hour ride, we drip-dripped into a Douglas bike shop. Right. And I’ve just seen a photograph of you there that I took on the road, and you’re smiling. But there’s sleet. There’s rain, there’s basically we’re riding through it almost a river coming up through to Douglas. So that was pretty grim out there.

Richard Fletcher 2:23
Yes, as bad as it gets over here. But yeah, you’re out on your bike. And there’s the worst places to be. So as long as you don’t do more than an hour and a half in that sort of that sort of weather, then it’s fine. Right?

Carlton Reid 2:35
So warmed up, we had a cup of coffee, and a bit of cake in Noa’s bakery, and that’s Noa. And next door to that is Bike Style. The bike shops who are now sitting on very nice sofas here, in in a nice bike shop. I’d like to say overlooking, you know, the scenic wonders of Douglas, but we can’t actually see a great deal. And when we were out riding this morning, you you basically you took me out to some scenic places, but we didn’t actually see anything. So just describe the ride that we did this morning. What would we have seen if it would be a beautiful day? Because we’re kind of going towards Snaefell, weren’t we?

Richard Fletcher 3:12
Yeah, well, the hills, the route, we went on the hills all around it, basically. So and yeah, on a clear day, that’s what you see. You can you can see the island from sort of side to side and top to bottom only when you’re out it’s particularly if you get some height. But today, because it’s hilly, you get white-out effectively. So yeah, there’s quite low cloud and you don’t see a lot. But yeah, it would have been a nice ride if our view wise if it had been clear.

Carlton Reid 3:42
Because we did get pretty damn cold out there today. So the route you were originally planning to take me on would have been towards Laxey

Richard Fletcher 3:52
We’d have gone north of the east coast of the island. And you get some stunning views on the East coast. Well on all the coastal routes on the island, and the island basically has villages and towns dotted around the coastline. So as soon as you come in from the towns, you start climbing, and you go either over a hill into a valley and over another hill and back to the coast. The island is only 12 miles wide and it’s been its widest point, and 36 miles long. So you can cross from coast to coast or top to bottom in a day. But there’s lots of minor roads. I think some of the roads we went on. They were most of them were single carriageway roads to the benefit that is the nicer island because they’re quiet, very little traffic. But yeah, it’s just today was a rough day for it.

Carlton Reid 4:42
So if we had done that ride, which we’re planning to do towards Laxey would have basically written past Cav’s house, yeah?

Richard Fletcher 4:51
Well, he’s born and brought up in Douglas and Laxey still has a house in Laxey. And Laxey’s got a lot of history from it was an old mining village years ago not a big population there. It’s people have a possibly have an impression of Cav that because he’s a sprinter the same of the Tour de France with a sprint train that he’s a rider for the flatlands but the he was born and brought up over here where you there are hills everywhere you go. And in his amateur racing, I think you see that that he’s used to coping with that type of terrain.

Carlton Reid 5:29
And tell me about Dot Tilbury because Dot Tilbury you’re talking about basically before when we’re in the coffee shop about a big funnel of riders. Then at the bottom, you would spit out these well known riders that we’ve all heard of.

Richard Fletcher 5:42
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been cycling for 40. More well, more than 40 years and until Dot came around, and the cycling tended to be quite insular. And people would get into cycling because their parents had all their brothers or sisters. Dot started a children’s league on a Tuesday night, more than 20 years ago now. And it started attracting more and more children into it, who weren’t anything to do with the normal cycling scene. And within a relatively short space of time, it got to the stage where she was getting 200, then 250. And now 300 kids would turn up on a Tuesday night and be introduced to cycling as an activity. And that’s been going on now say for over 20 years. And I’d say for a small population out the Isle of Man 86,000 people, that’s the most directly cause of of the high standard of cycling because you use the word then there is a sort of wide funnel of kids becoming involved in cycling. And yes, there’s when they get to 14, 15, 16. And all the distractions come around or other activities come around, particularly in this day and age where there’s so many alternatives to to spend your time still a larger number drop out at the bottom of the funnel than would have if she didn’t run that league. And I think she’s the most direct link to the success of of elite cycling over here. I remember when did that exactly set that up? I don’t exactly 20, 20 something years ago be more than 20 years

Carlton Reid 7:20
Where Where does she where’s that is it’s just like an off road circuit?

Richard Fletcher 7:24
It’s on a perimeter road around the National Sports Centre. So it’s about half a mile round pan flat. And it’s like an oval, like a 600 metre version of an athletic track effectively, but it’s tarmac. And they race round there on a Tuesday night, they start when they’re almost just off balance bikes then through to when they’re 16. And they that’s where they get into cycling, and then as they get to the older age groups, and they then move into the more sort of traditional cycling. Dot also takes them away on trips. So they go to places like a day on the Manchester Velodrome they take part in the youth series that British Cycling runs. And we run around with that over here. So they get to perform on home soil as well. In fact that is coming up in April, this year, there’ll be over 200 kids come from the UK, the best 200 Kids in the UK will come over to ride in the Isle of Man. And about 50 of Dot’s kids will be in those races as well.

Carlton Reid 8:32
Because you’re one of the organisers of yeah, they used to it

Richard Fletcher 8:36
I recently do, the youth has been running for 14 or 15 years now. And last couple of years, the organisers sort of change over time, became involved and become involved. So Emma Dyer who has been involved for many years and organising it Rob Holden, ex professional cyclist and myself are the three main organisers but it’s a big team of people that put it together and it’s closed roads Yeah, we get Road Club full road closure which is one of the USPS if you like of them coming to the Isle of Man that the kids aren’t used to riding on closed roads they used to running on closed circuits around parks and things like that. And we get the national escort group guys come over so it’s quite a an atmosphere for the kids the it’s not to to France but it’s sort of to ride on closed roads with national escort and we bring Tony Barry’s neutral service cars over as well so they’ve they’ve actually got a almost like professional experience that they get and I think that’s why I like coming over for it.

Carlton Reid 9:39
And one of the ways you’re able to close the roads is the Isle of Man government is pretty well used to closing roads for the TT so is that part of it? You can you they are used to closing roads?

Richard Fletcher 9:53
Yeah, they are and there’s an acceptance by the public there’s always some resistance to close. as roads, whatever it’s for, and we try and minimise that. But yeah, the sort of structures and the policies and laws are in place to help you do that. The TT happens has happened for 100 years. 1907. Yeah. That that’s an established thing over here. What people probably don’t know as much about is that at this, the bicycle TT started in the 30s. And it was, again, it was because they couldn’t do it. on the Isle of Man; in the UK rather. So you had the I don’t know, whatever the governing body of cycling was then. And you had a breakaway group called British League of racing cyclists. And they, they got together with the Isle of Man. And we ran one of the first big mass start races over here in the 1930s last century. And that for a time that became the biggest race in Britain for cycling, so you had top names like Tom Simpson, and all the big riders at the time came over and race the Isle of Man, the International, before in this sort of following the Second World War,

Carlton Reid 11:12
when there was no nothing like that everybody was time trialling, yeah, famously and alpaca Yeah, you know, black alpaca going out in secret in the morning

Richard Fletcher 11:20
Yeah, so the road racing scene was established, cycling was established then right, and then became Manx International Cycling Week, which ran through till 2003, which was a week long festival where we close roads for two the whole week for cycling. That went into decline mainly because people’s habits changed. And they didn’t want to take a week off from their work holidays to come to Isle of Man for cycling when Majorca and other places were, were beckoning. So now we tend to have smaller scale races, we had the we’ve had rounds of the British National series for seniors. So the premier calendar, we’ve hosted the national championships. And consistently we’ve run the National Youth and junior two sets around the British youth series and around the British Junior series, the Peter Buckley series, which it’s still I still call it that. Peter Buckley was actually from the Isle of Man. And when the Commonwealth Games gold medal, and

you’re from the Isle of Man too, so you’re a born and bred Manxman

Yeah, I spent a little bit time off the island but mainly on the island. Yeah. My wife’s from the UK. And my dad was from the UK. So it’s, but yeah, it’s been my home is here.

Carlton Reid 12:40
And tell me a little bit about how you sort of semi funded Cav’s early career with some cash, but indirectly.

Richard Fletcher 12:51
Yes, that’s my claim. And I don’t think Mark would want to know about it or agree with it. But Mark’s mother. For many years, Adele ran a dance workshop, not far from this shop, actually. And both my daughters did ballet. So I spent quite a lot of money on pointe shoes over the years with with Adele. And so I say that and that was about the time Mark was getting into cycling. So yeah, I must have contributed in a small way to Yes,

Carlton Reid 13:16
yes. And he of course had a dance background at first.

Richard Fletcher 13:19
I believe so. I think I think a lot more is made of it than that. But yeah, when I think he was nine or 10 or 11, I think he did some ballroom dancing. So I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next three or four years, he appears on Strictly or something like that. Be a good candidate.

Carlton Reid 13:37
And he’s got a house, you said at Laxey. He’s got houses dotted around, but one of them. One of them is certainly here. So he would be a known figure here. And I’m here, obviously for the the AGM of the Travel Writers Guild, and even you know, the top big wigs. And when we had our gala dinner, they mentioned Mark Cavendish. Yeah, you know, so he he’s a known figure, quite apart from in the cycling scene, but he will appear and he will do local, local, right. He

Richard Fletcher 14:10
He comes up frequently to see his Mum and Dad, who both live on the island. And yeah, when you see, he goes out with the local lads on both training rides, and you’ll he’ll, he’ll pop up and do events as well. I run a sportif each year, and I haven’t had any contact with him. But the British Cycling entry system that was used, the entries pop up in your email inbox and there’s one M Cavendish OBE, who just paid his entry fee and rocked up like any other rider to it to just make a big thing about you made the day because he’s turned up and he was late getting to the start and we sportifs quite relaxed. But when he got to start on when went round with the lads who were strong enough to ride with him, and he because he was They started you went past everybody in the event and it made the event all you could hear in the sort of coffee shop afterwards was because Cav passed me on this hill or Cav passed me here. So it’s great, but he does. He just slots in. And I think I think I don’t know, you have to speak to him. But I think he enjoys the fact you can just behave normally over here and go about his business without getting accosted for this, that and the other. So,

Carlton Reid 15:23
So we’re about on the roads before most of the people were getting with this wide berth. But we had a couple, and it was such atrocious weather. And they were coming past at speed. Yeah. And that wasn’t that wasn’t very nice. And you might have told one of the drivers they shouldn’t have been doing. And that was it was a horrible close pass. So how much respect do you generally get? And could it be some of it down to you’ve got that funnel of riders, and you’ve certainly got somebody as famous as Mark Cavendish, that, you know, the big wigs talk about him? So might there be some, even if it’s just a small bit of people’s brains? Like why can’t you know, close past those cyclists; one of them might be Cav and then I’m in the national news?

Richard Fletcher 16:10
It’s a bit subjective, my gut feel, because I do do quite a lot of riding off the island is my gut feeling. I think the drivers over here are a little bit more considerate than elsewhere in the in the in the British Isles is a bit subjective. But generally speaking, I think the overall rise in popularity of cycling, whether it’s here or in the UK, has also contributed to maybe people being a bit more aware. I don’t I don’t think it’s it’s not malice of people in cars. I think it’s it’s ignorance of, of the fact they’re inside us. steel box, and you’re not. So it’s not something that would ever I mean, I’ve been cyclists for many years, it’s not going to put me off cycling anyway. But I think it is the it’s still the main barrier to people taking up cycling who aren’t experienced cyclists. So it’s a bit of culture change people’s personalities change when they get in the car. And then that’s, I see to unbonded really, but no, it’s not too bad over here. And the roads themselves because they’re not big roads, people have to drive with a bit of care and attention most people to give you plenty of room.

Carlton Reid 17:23
So, okay, well, a few seconds ago you said British Isles rather than the UK. So Isle of Man isn’t in the UK isn’t in the EU, ever. It’s but it’s part of the British Isles, and it’s a crown dependency. There are different rules here. Because if you’ve got your own government and one of those rules, or lack of rules, is you can go as fast as you want in a car on certain roads. And that’s partly maybe a legacy of the, the TT that’s been going on. So if you’ve got this TT circuit, and even on Ordnance Survey maps, it says, you know, this is the TT course. But these are public roads. These are these are not not closed circuit at all apart from when it’s running in June, and the roads are closed. So at those roads being no speed limits, means some drivers, not all of them for some drivers are going to be going crackers on those roads, because then you can overtake a policeman, police car 200mph nand they can’t do anything about it. So does that mean cyclists avoid that, that course, that road?

Richard Fletcher 18:31
There’s only one section that most cyclists avoid. That’s the what’s called the mountain road. It runs through Ramsey over alongside Snaefell the only mountain on the island and drops down into Douglas. So whereas 20, 30 years ago I used to commute over that road. Most people would avoid it now and I would avoid now is because and there’s a number of reasons for that. One is that yes. A lot of drivers do put the foot down when they get on a mountain road. There are safe passing places on the mountain road. If you were doing excessive speed and you took a police car, they would still pull you in because it’s below there’s no speed limit. It’s allowing us to do art drive. Um, I’m not sure the legal definition but in a safe manner effectively. So it’s not unlimited speed, it’s driving to the road conditions and if you overtook them at 70 and it was misty, they put you in so it’s them. There’s there is some control over it. But particularly motorbikes because of the history. They like to really push it over the mountain. And it’s so I wouldn’t go up there on a bike now for two reasons. One, you can although we’ve got terrible weather today, and even in on a summer’s day, the mountain in patches can be misty. So you could set off from Douglas or Ramsey in bright sunshine. And once you get above 1000 feet or whatever in the mist, and the speed differential between a car even not absolutely ragging over the mountain, and the bicycle going uphill is such that you be at risk of being hit from behind. Because the driver just wouldn’t see you in time,

Carlton Reid 20:17
Do motorists avoid it, do they also seem motorists to go I’m not gonna get that because

Richard Fletcher 20:22
I mean, I say I lived in Ramsey and commuted to work in Douglas, for 20 years. And I could, I could probably drive the mountain road blindfold. But I do know some drivers and even taxi drivers who don’t like riding, because the because it’s the TT course there are no cat’s eyes in the middle of the road. So it’s actually quite a difficult road to drive in the mist. You need to know where the roads going up ahead. So yeah, there are some motorists avoid, as well.

Carlton Reid 20:54
So that’s a 37 mile stretch of, in effect, a triangle of roads that are marked on the OS map as the as the TT course. But the island has something like 688 miles, all other roads. So we’re talking, you know, 640 Odd miles of other roads. Yeah. So that’s something that right, avoid them. You don’t have to sometimes use that road to link up with other things, you can always avoid it.

Richard Fletcher 21:23
And the funny part is that the when we have bike races or their motorcycle races, there mountain road, because it’s very, there are maybe three businesses on the mountain, or I think you went to one victory cafe, that they were allowed actually to close the mountain road with very little resistance, because they’re alternative routes around the island for motorists. And there’s not many people live in the mountain road. So it’s it’s actually a lot, it’s a road you wouldn’t use when the roads are open, it’s for an event, you can often get a road closure on the mountain road quite quite easily because of that. But now the other road, most of the active cyclists, they wouldn’t use a TT course because they are effectively the island’s equivalent of sort of arterial roads. Most of the traffic is on those roads. But it means the roads the side I mean, we went on some of them today can’t learn without being able to see where we were. But they’re the roads that run alongside or crisscross those roads. And the traffic is fairly light. Still, we didn’t have a chance to go up to the north of the island where it’s the northern plane is flat. But that’s where virtually all the local racing takes place. Now because there’s very little traffic it’s mainly just farmland, but farms and fields.

Carlton Reid 22:48
At this point we’ll cut to a break. Take it away, David,

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Carlton Reid 23:52
Thanks, David. And we are back with Isle of Man Mr. Cycling, Richard Fletcher. So describe where maybe Kev or Pete Kennaugh where they would have ridden where would they go? Do you think would they have a standard training ride? Or would they mix it up?

Richard Fletcher 24:09
No, they mix it up and I know Cav’s thing that he doesn’t like to repeat the same road on any training ride. I think he covered that when he did a piece over here with Matt Stevens. But they ride the ride all over basically. And you can it’s for small island, there are a lot of roads, you can you can mix it up. And you tend to look at the weather and see which way the winds blowing and decide a new route then rather than have a planned route, but they will know both those two and any boys have been involved in cycling over here you get to know every road on the island basically. So

Carlton Reid 24:51
you would link it up in your head and then just kind

Richard Fletcher 24:54
of criss cross and go where the coffee is really

Carlton Reid 24:59
and then Then on this trip, maybe they’re just pulling our leg I don’t know. But the bus driver everybody who’s been talking to us on this trip has been stressing the folklore element of the Isle of Man, which I wasn’t really terribly familiar with at all. So everybody is stressing, you know, you’ve got to when you go across the Fairy Bridge, you’ve got to say hello to the fairies. How much of this is would you tell that to the tourists? And how much of that is no people on the island genuinely, you know, believe in this stuff.

Richard Fletcher 25:36
I don’t know if I believe in it. A lot of a lot of the people buy into it.

Carlton Reid 25:42
And why?

Richard Fletcher 25:44
Because I’m I’m not one of those I’m not a superstitious person. But there is. I mean, there is a big Celtic background the history of the Isle of Man is interesting. So don’t buy into all the folklore stuff. The background history of the island where the Vikings were heavily involved in the Isle of Man if you look at it geographic on a map, you can see that if you’re military strategist, where would you base yourself if you want to rape and pillage all over the British Isles, you got the Isle of Man because you can bet your base here and strike out and hit violent Wales England or Scotland from it. So the Vikings were have a big influence on the islands. Longer history. And then because of that, the Scottish Lords got rid of the Vikings and then the Lords of Darby took over from the Scots. So there’s a lot of not folklore that but there’s a lot of good, meaty history about the island. The the other stuff? I don’t know, I think it’s it’s the stuff about mythical creatures and fairies is, is probably because you then you’ve got a small island race basically. So you get myths and things from a an environment like that. But yeah, it’s uh, it’s, it sells a lot of gin. Yes.

Carlton Reid 27:17
Definitely good stories. Yeah. And we’ve been given, you know, books of folklore. And so you’ve got to say, hello to the fairies

Richard Fletcher 27:25
doesn’t mean the other Celtic nations have similar things. So Irish, Irish methylene and Welsh and Scottish as well. That so there is quite a strong Celtic presence here. And there are quite, there’s quite a lot of exchanges between, particularly in the arts around the Celtic side, so you’ve got them Normandy, Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and they do get together, particularly in the art side and, and share the same sort of music and poetry and everything else. It doesn’t overlap as much in into sport. Although we’ve got a really interesting event coming over here in July this year, called Pan-Celtic, which is like an ultra endurance event. And I was amazing guy, I didn’t know anything about the event until earlier this year. And the guy who organised a guy called Matt Ryan, who lives in north Wales, the opening entries for it and had to close them within 48 hours later because he’d filled the field and it’s people from all over the world coming. We completely coincidentally bumped into a German couple on a cycling holiday and they said Are you from Alabama? We’re coming for the pan Celtic this year. And so they’re flying in, mins booked to Gatwick and Gatwick to here to do this event that starts does 100 mile loop around the Isle of Man and they’re getting on the ferry and they go off to Scotland right around there.

Carlton Reid 28:59
You know the route and what they what are they doing loose route

Richard Fletcher 29:03
it’s about like it’s about 1500 miles in total. It’s one of these ultra distance the other man is strange and it’s been set as the because we got very right it’s been set as the first stage they’ve been classed as a time trial. It’s not it is a race and it isn’t a race it’s a it’s a race where nobody wins anything is the way that if the organisers describes it, but it’s a personal challenge thing so when the clock starts normally on the pan Celtic it doesn’t stop until you get to the very end whereas for this year because the argument is being used the first stage they don’t do a ride through the night here and then get their morning ferry over to patient and then ride I think they go north then and ride around Scotland for the rest of it. But I’m seeing the rest of the room

Carlton Reid 29:48
because normally on the pan Celtic it’s if you get to the ferry port late well you’re gonna get the ferry the next day and that’s that’s added to your time. Yeah, where is this one? And usually they’re gonna stop the times there is like a time drive.

Richard Fletcher 30:04
Yeah, because it’s a three to four hour journey over I think so yeah, they’re they’ve got they’ve got a big enough window the starting at seven o’clock on Saturday evening and they’ve got to do better thing is boundary and five miles. So the very least 8.45 next day so I can’t see anybody missing that that they should have a little bit sleep actually

Carlton Reid 30:27
do what route they’re doing actually on yeah went

Richard Fletcher 30:30
through the route with the organiser because he we’ve actually got another big cycling event the next day. So we needed to avoid clashing with that. And it basically does a big loop of the island round round the perimeter mainly but they cut into they’ve got the participants left some interesting clients did it as well they go burn the client pool faulty will, which is effectively going up the mountain it’s not the mountain road TT causeway but it’s the it’s a, it’s a nicer if you can have a nice climb, it’s a nicer climb than the TT course one

Carlton Reid 31:07
and they are avoiding the TT course completely. There’s not not not hitting it at all

Richard Fletcher 31:11
on it for about a mile. And that’s it because when you get to the top of that climb, you actually go backwards along with TT good for you then go back into the interior. But that’s that’s fine. It’s then it’s the middle of summer it’ll be the middle of the night when they get there as well. So there won’t be a lot of traffic on that road.

Carlton Reid 31:31
So that’s it as you’re saying before there’s there’s there’s no cat size on that road. So that’s a road that maybe people avoided that night anyway.

Richard Fletcher 31:37
Um, yeah, this well. There are alternative routes. So yes, you will, they will fit in on if there’s not misty then you would go that way. Because the quickest way from north to say, most direct way. But generally speaking in nighttime, it’s quiet anyway.

Carlton Reid 31:55
So last night, we had a talk from Milky Quayle. Who’s one of these guys who who averages 186 miles an hour on his motorbike as he’s going around the corner, sometimes hitting 200 miles an hour. And he was one of the questions I asked him was, you would die if you hit a pothole at 30 miles an hour, nevermind 200 miles an hour. So the local authority, the government must be pumping a huge amount of money into keeping that road. absolutely pristine. And there’s never going to be a pothole on that road. However, does that mean that other roads, the roads, maybe the cyclists are on? Does that mean they’re getting short shrift there because they’re getting roads where there’s gonna be potholes, and then all the money has been pumped into that mountain road?

Richard Fletcher 32:46
The don’t know the answers are so the there’s a perception certainly that the TT course will not upset from the TT course it has a priority. And it is always, as you say, perfectly maintained. And it has to be actually sculptured sometimes to accommodate the motorcycling. So the the course has probably got faster over the years, because it’s been improved. There’s a on the mountain road section, there’s a couple of places where the road is actually been that not banked. But is lends itself to is certainly not off camber for it that way. So that there is a lot of money spent on the TT course. But that’s justified by the fact that the TT races are revenue generating. So whether the, whether that means it whether that’s to the detriment of other roads is a moot point. Some people locally would say, definitely, whether it’s financial or just resource wise, in terms of the time spent. And generally speaking, I think our roads are fairly good. I tend to ride a gravel bike now anyway, so on You seek out rough road sometimes. So it’s not as I don’t think we certainly don’t think we’re the roads elsewhere. The roads outside of TT girls over here are certainly not any worse than UK roads now. And I’d say overall, slightly better than a lot of areas of the UK. So be it as much the time I think is nCn calm the isn’t more than the money you’ve got limited resources to do road maintenance. So if you’re spending quite a lot of that time on a TT course you’ve you’ve a limited timeframe.

Carlton Reid 34:40
By the same token, you probably got some pretty good experts who are probably using some pretty good scientific equipment to spot potholes forming and that might benefit.

Richard Fletcher 34:52
Maybe not seeing that but we’ve got the we’ve got reporting so you can report potholes and they do that for very quickly to them when you report them. When it’s inevitable, you’ll get where and turn around. Look at the weather today. It’s there’ll be, I’m sure when this week is out, there’ll be a lot more potholes than they were last week.

Carlton Reid 35:15
So, so far, we’ve talked about road cycling, and you’ve talked a little bit about gravel cycling there. What about mountain biking?

Richard Fletcher 35:22
Mountain biking is is a growing thing. It’s been under exploited. I think

Carlton Reid 35:26
in that get in the bank shop here. I’m just turning my head. It some of this road bikes over there. But there’s a tonne of mountain bikes. Yeah.

Richard Fletcher 35:33
I mean, the there are 26 plantations over here

Carlton Reid 35:37
are found they are what we would call Forestry Commission. Yeah, yeah, Department

Richard Fletcher 35:41
of the Department of Government that looks after them and uses them for growing trees, basically, and harvesting those trees. But within those plantations, a lot of them have had over the years. sanctioned and unsanctioned trails built, they tended to be built, historically, they’ve tended to be built. And then forgiveness, asked afterwards, rather than permission to go and build the trails. And the government, the barn has been quite friendly in that respect, in that they generally want to encourage access to those plantations. The we tried to formalise that in the last couple of years and recognise that we’ve probably got as many trails and the quality of those trails and the accessibility Australia is just as good as some of the sort of identified cycling parks in particularly in Wales, Scotland and Ireland more recently, but we’ve never really produced a a tourism product that, and we’ve never really joined them all up. So there’s been quite a big effort in the last two years to do that. And there’s a there’s a scheme, just kicking off at the moment government agreed funding in October last year, to produce effectively a, an Isle of Man trail Park. And that’s taking a cluster of seven plantations that are quite close to Douglas, and joining them together, they’re about they’re only about four road crossings to join them together, because they either abort each other or they’re, there’s a road crossing to get into the next one. So that’s a project that’s, that’s starting now. To join those up. And then I think it will be used as a as a tourism product, but also be of great benefit to local population. And then you’re involved in that. Yeah, the I’m involved in advising the government on it. The the rise of gravel cycling as well, because a lot of it. Within those plantations, you have forestry, roads, fire fire roads. And so we’re going out from this bike shop actually, on Saturday and on a gravel ride, and we’ll take in at least two of the plantations during that if the weather improves.

Carlton Reid 38:03
So the government is pumping money into into these plantation rides. It recognises all the big wigs recognise Mark Cavendish, or they use Mark Cavendish as something to talk to a general audience and there’s not wasn’t a noise of scientists at all. It’s an audience of, of just general travel writers who they were talking to. So is their awareness that cycling is important to the economy and potentially could become even more important in future. Yeah,

Richard Fletcher 38:35
it’s growing thing that the Isle of Man’s tourism product has changed over the years. If you go back to my childhood, it was a bucket and spade tourism, where the the mill towns of the Northwest would shut down for a week and the there was Scottish week, there was Irish week. And it was that type of holiday that fell away when the trips to Spain and things like that came about. So that was one section. Then it it moved on to basically in more niche tourism, such as around the heritage railways and things like that. And that became very popular. More recently, so last three, four years. All the studies and reports that have been done around the future tourism on the island says actually that generation is these strong say flatlining because that flood that is declining. The new demographic, a tourism want the outdoors and that’s what the Ironman has got in spades. So, the activities such as I think the government does now realise that activities particularly such as walking, cycling, golf as well, there are numerous golf courses over here. And then anything, the more sort of general, outdoor and active type of activities are they will be the future tourism on the island. So cycling and walking in particular are being focused on we’ve got some I’m not a hill Walker at all. But the the that is as an asset over here this does access all around us there’s an 82 mile coastal path, go the route route fall on them that is under use is it’s not known about really, but it’s there. And it doesn’t need a lot of work to make it a top rate tourism product, like some of the the Pennine routes that you have in the UK. And cycling wise. Yes, the there’s mountain biking has been absolutely recognised and the see the money has been allocated to do that. And I think that will become a product and I think gravel and sort of lead you into road as well. So I mean, the challenge that mean chance, I think is is for cycling is getting a bike go via

Carlton Reid 41:02
the ferry. I mean, some people might fly but the ferry it’s a brand new ship. Yeah,

Richard Fletcher 41:07
they use those pretty friendly with the bikes. I mean that there’s room yeah, there’s actual

Carlton Reid 41:12
room where you put your bike? Yes, and you hang them up. And it’s like what most varies, even in fact, I don’t know any ferries where there’s a room where you put your bike? Well, that’s come about

Richard Fletcher 41:20
because I say about three or four years ago, there was a recognition that the future lay in those niche, outdoor active elements, the various brand new so we did a gap analysis effectively. And what’s the difference between the Isle of Man and an established cycling destination to take the weather out of it because if you comparing, say Croatia to the Isle of Man or basically to the weather booked the other things, the more the more basic things are the same. It’s they’re having cycling friendly accommodation, which can be the most basic thing where you don’t get looked at as if you’re from a different planet when you turn up in lycra with a bike through to the proper cycling friendly hotels, which would have secure bike storage, maybe a little workshop, side tap to clean your bike, that type of thing. So looking at the combination in the Government Department concerned has now a registered recycling friendly hotels and gives them advice as to what they need to do. In terms of that. The very youth was another one where back in my day, the crew were really friendly, but you’d roll up down the ramp and it says sticky bike over there mate. And it’d be just put against the side of the deck where all the cars work. Now as you see the new ferry the Manxman has got a dedicated cycle storage park so it’s that type of messaging if you like people coming over that actually cycling is welcome here the big ticket items are things like putting together a proper trail Park product the route became in on blinded by rain in the last couple of miles went past what’s called a nunnery estate which is an older stately home and been in talks with the owners of that put a close road title circuit in it. And they’re quite keen on that funding won’t be an issue. But but that so there is recognition particularly around so I think that it’s it’s a it can become an an important tourism product.

Carlton Reid 43:31
And when people are laughing they because maybe not in February

Richard Fletcher 43:36
no I don’t think and there’s a big push to try and encourage visitors to the island in what they call the shoulder periods. But no if I was I’m blunt about these things when people ask about the Ironman and cycling cyclists more enjoyable in good weather. It’s as simple as that. So yeah, you would come in the not this year the high season but he come between April May June July August September. I wouldn’t I personally wouldn’t do a trip outside those months I’d be them a lot of people would say well there’s no such thing as bad weather just blanket but

Carlton Reid 44:14
we had some good kit on today and we still got cold I

Richard Fletcher 44:18
know yeah the the sort of you were you can tweak the sides a bit on now are around mountain biking because you what we tend to do with the locals anyway. On a day like this, if you were going to go out you go on a mountain bike in the plantations and you don’t hear the wind and basically So building that mountain bike trail Park product could actually extend the season because yes, you still gonna get money, but you don’t get score and worse because you there’s just no wind in plantations. That’s where I would probably do my gravel riding or mountain biking Not quite not quite as bad as this but you can extend it a little bit in that respect I think

Carlton Reid 45:05
so people listening to this they thought right definitely not in February but in the months that you’ve just recommended summer basically they want to come across they want to see this this fantastic very with its dedicated bike room they want to do the same roads that cab has done and other top local riders they want to do the plantations maybe on a mountain bike How did they find out about this and how do they find out about you? So what social media and what websites can they go look at will the

Richard Fletcher 45:41
there is a cycling website we’re trying to build up quite a lot now called and that will become hopefully one of the main portals to visit Isle of Man website as well has quite a lot of information. But nowadays a loop it’s not totally reliable you can easily find on Strava or rider GPS routes on the island that aren’t somebody’s commuter route, but they are actually a decent ride. So it’s quite so much easier nowadays I think to find you yourself new routes or or you can you can hire a guide but it’s small enough Island to find your way around. What where it’s more difficult I think and that’s why we’re putting the work into is on the mountain bike side. I go out with mountain bike I’m because I’m mainly road cyclists. I’ll go to mountain bikers and I’ll go trails I never would have found if I hadn’t gone out with the group that did the old time. So the idea with trail Park is that it will just be on trail forks are one of the products like that it will actually be very well signposted. So that you can the the network we’ve designed is it’s about 64 kilometres of trails. And we agree right start the project actually although it might seem cosmetic, the most important thing is the signage. So people can without a guide or or necessarily GPS files that they can find their way around and find the know where the coffee shop or the toilet block or whatever on their ride. So that’s it’s probably going to take 18 months to complete it but the aim is we’ll have that a credible product for people wanting to do that for the start of the 25 season.

Carlton Reid 47:38
So famously Majorcar is a destination without cycling product and clearly part of the attraction of of New Yorker is nice weather yeah early season well yes or late season one and but also beautiful road but the certainly the nice weather is a is a is a pool, but here could become a cycling paradise could become either a cycling paradise in many ways already, but could become even bigger in the future, especially with like short haul stuff you having to be necessarily, you know, in the future, we’re gonna have to start basically holiday much closer to home. Yeah, I don’t like climate change and not flying everywhere. And taking a ferry is much more ego than flying to Majorca. So cyclists could come to the Isle of Man and not go to Majorca

Richard Fletcher 48:33
and I think to say the weather is important factor. But yeah, it is more the hassle of I mean, I’ve done it all my life cycles since I was 15. Taking your bike on a plane is a faff, it’s now because I’m old and grumpy when I go I do still do a lot of cycling outside of the UK. But it was hired by want to do that. Now if I go to France of France, alright, well, France is different. Unfortunately I’ve got a friend lives in France with a house and I leave a bike there. But I’m gonna go anywhere else Spain or Italy or further afield I was hired by because I don’t like the faff of going through airports and boxing it up and unboxing it and wondering whether we’ll get there. The ferry is a lovely way to do that you can just literally ride on the boat. So yeah, that that is the best way for cyclists to get the Isle of Man is to bring it to bring their bike on the ferry. That and yeah, I think it is a viable alternative is going it’s going overseas without going too far.

Carlton Reid 49:38
You’re going out of the UK,

Richard Fletcher 49:41
You are going out of the UK and the rod. There are a variety of road to get here is quite fun. That to me. The sweet spot for a visitor is about a three or four day trip. And then you can ride different roads every day and enjoy them in that way. Say they it’s been record week, we spoke to a few of the tour on cycling tour operators because one of the other things in sort of gap analysis that was done is it the Arman is not on in the portfolio of a lot of tour operators. Some like there’s a company that I’ve done some work with, they, they’ve got the Isle of Man because I did a trip for them, basically, and, but a lot of the larger ones don’t have the Ironman as a destination. So we need to convince them that the Ironman should be a destination on their portfolio, and then put together the trips for them to do. So that’s another sort of initiative that needs to

Carlton Reid 50:42
get across here before those companies put it on and they become saturated. And it’s another Majorca. Yeah,

Richard Fletcher 50:48
it’s we’ve got we’ve got lots of space that we could handle.

Carlton Reid 50:53
Thanks to Richard Fletcher there and thanks to you for listening to Episode 347 of the spokesmen podcast brought to you in association with Tern bicycles. Show notes and more can be found at The next episode will be about the bike navigation app Komoot, but it soon veers off to a discussion of a round the world cycle trip. That show will be out at the beginning of March. Meanwhile, get out there and ride …

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