Bike lover’s pil­grim­age to the rac­ing isle

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­SPORT/ An­drew Bon­amour ex­pe­ri­ence of the leg­endary Isle of Man TT re­ports on his

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

It’s ev­ery mo­tor­cy­clist’s dream to at­tend the Isle of Man TT, which takes place at the beginning of June each year. Roughly 40,000 spec­ta­tors de­scend on the small is­land that floats be­tween the Bri­tish mainland and North­ern Ire­land for the gath­er­ing. Many bring their own mo­tor­cy­cles, for a week of prac­tice and com­pe­ti­tion, all of which cul­mi­nates in the Se­nior Tourist Tro­phy (TT).

Leg­end has it that the start of the TT goes back to 1907, when mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­asts would head to the Isle of Man to test their ma­chines be­cause it had no speed lim­its — es­cap­ing the mainland where there was a stag­ger­ing 5mph (8km/h) cap at the time. This was the era when mo­tor­cy­cling was just tak­ing off and the need for speed was para­mount. In fact, it’s what sold bikes — up un­til the 1860s, the fastest man had gone in the pre­ced­ing 2,000 years was on horse­back.

More than 100 years later and the race re­mains pretty much un­changed. The lo­cal govern­ment still turns 60.72km of un­du­lat­ing pub­lic roads (in­clud­ing 264 cor­ners and an in­fa­mous moun­tain sec­tion) into a once-a-year race­track for com­peti­tors ea­ger to prove their skills and post the fastest time. And there still aren’t the pull-off lanes, catch fences, gravel pits or bar­ri­ers that char­ac­terise many of the more fa­mous Euro­pean MotoGP tracks.

The con­cept might not have changed much, but the speed of bikes and the in­ten­sity of the crashes have. In its his­tory, 164 com­peti­tors have been killed try­ing their luck on the TT.

Ex­treme haz­ards on the route in­clude trees, build­ings, old stone walls, even spec­ta­tors who are just a few feet away and they are all re­duced to a blur as rac­ers fly by at speeds ap­proach­ing 322km/h. It’s hair­rais­ing stuff and death is al­ways present — so much so that for­mer TT win­ner Richard Quayle once stated: “If Roger Fed­erer misses a shot, he loses a point. If I miss an apex, I lose my life.”

But while the TT is widely recog­nised as one of the most dan­ger­ous events in mo­tor­sport, it is not gen­er­ally marked by rides of hor­ror or crashes.

And equally, it might seem para­dox­i­cal, but for the most part it is a beau­ti­ful and fast­mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, one where rid­ers, pas­sion­ate fans and good friends gather from around the world to share con­ver­sa­tions and a spir­i­tual view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with one com­mon theme, “the love of mo­tor­bikes”.

And it’s only there, along with the thou­sands of vis­i­tors, many decked out in their sweaty leathers like mo­tor­cy­cling’s ver­sion of mid­dle-aged men in cy­cling kit, that you truly ap­pre­ci­ate the speed at which these iron horses travel at as they fly past.

You re­alise, stand­ing along the road on what is called “Mad Sun­day”, why so many have made the pil­grim­age to the mid­dle of nowhere, to both view and do a lap of the cir­cuit at the beginning of June. Tele­vi­sion and YouTube footage re­ally doesn’t cap­ture the sheer ex­hil­a­ra­tion and it’s no won­der that the TT’s fa­nat­i­cal fans, many of whom at­tend year af­ter year, think of it more as a re­li­gion than a mo­tor­cy­cling event.

As an avid rider, it had been a boy­hood dream of mine to ride the TT. I fi­nally had my chance prior to the ac­tual races. Head­ing into the ac­tion on the Sun­day, jostling with the swarms of other bik­ers as we en­tered the pre­car­i­ous 14km hill sec­tion with its sharp twists and turns and long straights, it was hard not to feel ap­pre­hen­sive.

This is a pre­ci­sion sport — cal­cu­late a cor­ner in­cor­rectly and things can go wrong in­stantly. My goal was to hit a speed of 100mph (161km/h) and I did it. The feel­ing was ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Un­par­al­leled. I can only imag­ine how ter­ri­fy­ing and ex­cit­ing it is at 200mph (322km/h), a speed bik­ers ac­tu­ally do.

Top: Michael Dun­lop weaves be­tween old stone walls on the way to an­other win in the first Su­per­sport TT race. Above left: Rac­ing past spec­ta­tors on roads used by reg­u­lar traf­fic the rest of the year. Above: There are few run-off ar­eas on the isle,...

Spec­ta­tors gather on hill­sides to watch rid­ers in ac­tion.

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