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The Big Wight MTB Marathon
By Martin Harrison –

The Isle of Wight may not currently be on everyone’s list of ‘must-do’ cycling destinations – it is probably better known for its festivals and as a holiday destination – but perhaps it should be!

Riding-wise, the Isle of Wight has everything that the mainland has to offer plus a whole lot more! Criss-crossed by over 250 miles of bridleways and tracks, the Island offers the cyclist a huge variety of climbs and descents on a mixture of terrain from tarmac to chalk and dirt. Throw in 360-degree sea views and magnificent countryside scenery and it doesn’t get much better!

Perhaps the best way to discover the Island’s trails is the Big Wight MTB Marathon (part of the Cycle Wight Weekend in May), which takes place on May 18th in 2013. The event is organised by Trail Break, whose history with the Island stretches back 20 years.  Four distances from 25km to 90km offer something for everyone whether you’re looking for a scenic day out or a more demanding challenge.

The event is based at the western tip of the Island, which is dominated by a sprawling series of downs, climbing repeatedly from the bay side to over 220 metres before the sweeping sea views recede into the forests allowing you to concentrate on the swooping, tree-lined descents.

In the south, St. Catherine’s Down is a stubborn, jagged ridge crowned by a needle-like monument, serving as the warm up to imposing challenge of Stenbury Down.  Stenbury Down is enormous in a way that you just don’t expect south of England hills to be; take the challenge head-on and savour the eventual reward at the top of the climb; looking out to sea from here is glorious and definitely a worthy reward for the climb just undertaken! As you take some well-earned time to savour the extraordinarily picturesque south coast of the Island you can rest easy in the knowledge that the best is yet to come; the descent that follows is riotously good fun too!!

A tarmac climb of unusual cruelty brings you onto Ventnor Down, effectively the rim of a massive bowl in the far corner of the Island. At 235 metres above sea-level you’re about as high as you can get on the Island.

The Big Wight is a challenging but magnificent ride and the Island is a spectacular location for such an event.  During the event, it struck us that the Isle of Wight isn’t as small as it looks on the map; when you ride across it it feels enormous! Its rich and varied landscape really does provide you with a feeling of escaping to somewhere familiar. Having something this good and this close to the busy south-east did make us wonder about the long trips north we southerners so often make to ride our bikes.

The Big Wight Event is just one of a number of events on offer during the Cycle Wight Weekend series of events taking place across the Island from 18-19 May 2013. As well as these events in the spring, the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival takes places between 14-29 September; again offering a series of events for all levels and abilities of cyclist or cycling enthusiast, from families and couples to the serious off-roader.

Red Funnel Isle of Wight ferries offer vehicle and foot passenger ferry crossings between Southampton and Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The ferry crossing was comfortable and easy and added a sense of adventure to our day out. We’ll definitely be going back for some more!