For the past 41 years I’ve been on this planet my parents have had their annual conversion about visiting the TT races. My Dad visited the Isle of Man during the 50’s and 60’s, making his annual holiday to the little island in the Irish sea on board one of his Veteran Motorcycle sidecar outfits. His last visit was back in 1969, when he took my Mum with him.
Since then he has played his LP records of the famous races over and over again. It felt like we had a Manx Norton running through the living room several times during my childhood.
The closest we ever got was a day trip to the Island whilst we were on holiday in Blackpool when I was 15. With a four and half boat trip each way, you can guess how much time we got in Douglas!
Now all grown up, no really I am. I have been to most of the famous motorcycling Mecca’s. I’ve seen live WSB, MotoGP, the great 500cc Grand Prix’s. Visited the big famous race tracks including Spa Francorchamps, Jerez, Valencia, Daytona, etc. But I’d never been to the famous TT races.
To be honest it has never really appealed to me. Maybe it is the fact it is a time trail more than a head to head race or the horrendous cost of the Stream Racket ferry. But I suspect it is more that I have an image of a TT fan in my head. Black leather jacket, Status Quo t-shirt and lots of beer drinking.
Well my parents are not getting any younger and finally 41 years of them whining on about the IOM, I said lets go. I suggested the Manx GP, as it is cheaper, warmer weather and most of all real racers. The Manx is the proddie race of the Isle of Man, plus there are classic bikes. So my Dad would recognise some of the bikes from his era.
A week after we booked our ferry, the Classic TT was announced. Great more old bikes for us to take in and a selection of famous racers. Perfect our trip was planned.
Arriving at the Classic TT:
Finally the 22nd August 2013 came. Van packed with my two rides for the trip a RD350 YPVS and a Yamaha FZ750. Why two, I’ll get to that in a bit. Hitched to the back of the van was my Dads BSA M21 Sidecar outfit. This bike has been in our family since 1978. Back then it would take our Family of 4 out for day trips, etc. These days my Dad rides it to the MOT centre every year and maybe the odd local classic show, but that is about it.
Now why did I take two bikes? Well I couldn’t go to the IOM without trying to get a lap in on the famous 37 mile road. I had done my homework during the winter and got myself an entry for a closed road parade being held on the Saturday after the 500cc race. The parade was for bikes over 25 years old, so I dug a 1983 YPVS out of the garage and prepped it for a lap of the TT.
Having had the bike and myself checked over the day before we arrived at the Grandstand Saturday morning for the parade. The TT course is public roads, which sounds great. But the reality is these roads have to be closed for the racing and a period before and after. So getting around the island on a race day is a bit of a pain and requires some careful planning and studying of a map. With this in mind we had to be at the Grandstand complex several hours before we actually needed to be and therefore had to watch the first 500 Classic TT from the paddock area. Not the best view of the course, but it was an experience and the sound of the 500 singles and twins flat out heading down Bray hill was one to remember for life (I’m sure my ears will be ringing that long).
With the 500 race done and a re-enactment of the famous Ago/Hailwood TT race, we were called to the collecting area. Well side road next to the start line. We were briefed the day before to go out in groups and that the travelling marshals would be showing us around the track. We were also told it was a 60 mph parade. Now to be honest this didn’t worry me. As I’ve said before I’ve never visited the Island and therefore never even seen the course, let alone ridden it. Not being a big TT fan I haven’t even watched much of it on telly. I knew the famous parts like Ago’s leap, Bray Hill and the mountain section Connor Cummins fell off on. So 60mph sounded just right to me.
The Classic Parade begins:
The collection of bikes gathered for the parade was mainly classic race bikes, a handful of Laverda’s (as Piro Laverda himself was riding) and a variety of road bikes. Mine was one of the newest to line up and in my power ranger leathers I looked a bit out of place.
We were off, I tucked in behind a marshal on a FZ8, with the idea he will know the track and I can follow him nicely. 60mph! No chance, I could barely keep with him down Bray Hill, I hit the dip at the bottom and it hit me I was riding the TT. It was then into the roundabout, sorry right-hander at Quarterbridge and along the short straight to the next section.
Along the course there are mile markers, so you know how far into the lap you are. Also each bend has a sign with the shape and name of the section. We got to Ballagarey – I recognised this name. It is the section Guy Martin binned it back in 2010 or balla scary as the riders know it. My concern was I knew the track by sections riders had crashed at. Not good when you have another 33 miles to go. I carried on through some more corners (no one famous crash there I guess) and after a few miles behind the marshal I was wishing I could go quicker. Then a rider passes us both, the marshal never did anything, so game on I passed him as well. I felt like a naughty school boy riding pass a policeman on a stolen C90. But I was free from the marshal and could enjoy the track.
Trouble is I didn’t have a clue where the track went now! The signs were helpful, you could tell if the road was going left or right, but how sharp you found that out when you got there. The early YPVS’s are not known for their great braking and mine was no exception. By now a few bikes had passed me, but I had passed more. So i was feeling good about my riding. Then a certain Mr Mick Grant passed me, the big number 10 on the back of his leathers gave it away. We were just entering Kirk Michael. Now I had seen this on the telly, very tight and close to the houses, stone walls. I think, I’ll follow Mick Grant, he will know where to go. Right in my head I was going fast, but compared to Mick Grant I was on a parade. He was gone in a flash. So back to the road signs for me then.
I got to the famous Ballaugh Bridge; this has to be one of the most famous sections of the course. Not for its name, but for the hump back bridge you see all the riders jump off. I hope no one was there to capture my moment in the air, because they would have been wasting their time. Then the Sulby straight, this feels very fast. Trees, stone walls, houses, they all flash past at a rate you are not used to on a public road like this. But the thing that really worried me was the vibrations I was getting from the bike, I was thinking I will have to stop, as something must have loosened or fell off of the bridge. Then I went across a small new section of tarmac, the bike was ok. You hear the riders complain the course is very bumpy in places and I’ve always thought yes but it is a public road. Not a perfect smooth racetrack. However I know exactly what they mean now and I have a lot more respect for these riders. I was worried riding a 50bhp two stroke. How that feels on a 200bhp superbike I can only guess.
Then it was into Ramsey, loads of people watching from here and this was the first time I realised I was living out a once in a lifetime experience in front of spectators. Some riders were waving, I was holding on for life. Sorry if you was watching, but two hands was not enough most of the time!
Out of Ramsey and the climb up the mountain begins, by now I had passed several marshals and I was on my own. A sign comes up for the Ramsey Hairpin. It looks a tight loop on the sign, so down a couple of gears, start breaking hard, then the corner appears. It goes to the left! I had read the sign like a book from left to right, so in my head the bend when the same way. It was a complete surprise it went to the left. Panic over I made the corner and onwards and upwards. Waterworks, Gooseneck and onto the Mountain mile, the road just kept on climbing. It felt quite lonely now, no one in front of me at all. This section must be a relief for the real TT racers, almost time to relax. Then into the right hand Verandah bends. We all know these from the footage of Connor Cummins 2010 crash. Now you know when you watch racing on the telly and the commentators say the TV flattens out the corners. Spa’s Eau Rouge, Laguna Sega’s Corkscrew and Brand’s Paddock Hill come to mind. Well the drop Connor crashed down is no exception. How he is back on a race bike now is a miracle to modern medicine.
Then into the Bungalow and I was catching a big bunch of riders. The next couple of corners I tried to pass, but there was a BMW at the front of the pack who was not moving off the racing line and with a sheer drop off the side of the mountain road. I was happy to stay behind. Then the famous run down to Creg-ny-Baa, I had to go for it, I followed a TZ race bike down the outside. Flat out in 5th and the corner was approaching quicker than I would have liked. But I’ve seen this on the telly, I know which way it goes, so I’m up on most of the course.
Out of Creg-ny-Baa and the roads drops away, your speed building up all the time. A few more corners and your back into the town of Douglas. The mile markers had been building up quickly and the lap was nearly over. The last couple of corners and I don’t think anyone knew where the road goes. You use an old road, which is not in use as a public road anymore. Very tight right hander, when all you really want to do is use the roundabout. Then you’re back onto the start/finish straight. Chequered flag waving and I have completed my first lap of the TT course.
Riding back along the return road you feel you have joined an elite club of motorcyclists that have ridden the famous TT mountain course. I’m sure it was not the fastest lap ever seen, but it felt scary to me. All the riders parked up in the pit lane once they returned. Happy to have returned in one piece or happy to say they have done it; who knows. What a way to start my Isle of Man trip.
The festival of Jurby, the IOM’s Festival of 1000 bikes if you like, was the place to be Sunday. Very sunny and plenty of race machines to drool over, the place was packed. With the car park full in a couple of hours bikes were parked everywhere. Highlight for me was watching Bruce Ansty wheelie the Britten over and over again, the sound of the Ducati MotoGP Desmo around the small airfield circuit at Jurby and John Mcpint’s Yamaha TZ250 Loctite replica. I know the last one is a bit normal, but for me it was just perfect.
The rest of the week was spent being a spectator at various points around the track. To be honest after a while one bike looks like another from behind a wall. The Formula one and two race was the highlight for me. ZXR750’s, FZ750, OW01’s and add in the mix of TZ250 two-strokes was a joy to watch. Add Michael Dunlop flat out on the Suzuki XR69 replica and you not help but be impressed by the guys commitment riding around this the most dangerous race track in the world.
What is amazing about this place is you have Michael flat out risking his life one side of the wall, on the other we are enjoying the local WI’s cooking skills in the Methodist Church garden. Sorry but these ladies cakes were to die for and the pie and mushy peas we had to return two days later to enjoy. We can always watch the race highlights later in the week on telly.
The Isle of Man experience:
However I have to say some parts of the TT experience were not quite as you imagine it. This might just be me, but take the motorcycles out of the island and your left with a rundown holiday resort. You could be in Devon or Cornwall somewhere and not been ripped off for the ferry. Although being part of the UK and floating between the mainland and Northern Ireland. For some reason the mobile phone networks think your abroad. So you have to pay overseas call charges, rely on WiFi hotspots to get your emails. Maybe I’m too reliant on my smart phone, but it felt like I had my left hand chopped off, I had traveled back to a world of public phone boxes and snail mail.
Reading this article you might think he knows his way round this course now, he knows all of the corners names. Not at all, but you don’t have to look far to find someone wearing a TT T-shirt, cap, jacket, etc, etc with the course on it. The TT logo is everywhere; I’ve never seen so much merchandise anywhere else in the world. The shops in the high street all sell it, the promenade shops are open into the night so you can buy it. They even made the Ace Cafe stand look un-stocked and out of their league. You got the feeling the rebranded Classic TT was more about selling t-shirts than giving the race fans something to watch. It is one big money making week. I can only imagine what it is like for the main TT in June.
Talking to fans whilst there, you had people who travel every year without fail. One couple we spoke to travel to the TT and Manx from Australia annually. That’s over 40 hours travelling time each way and I was bored on the ferry from Liverpool! We watched from the Creg-ny-Baa one day with the whoops and awesome cheers of a group of Americans in our ears. They were all there on hired bikes they had picked up in London. Complete with Ace Cafe patches and silly leather caps, they loved their time on the IOM.
So what brings these thousands of people to the Island? I have to say I’ve grown up listening to vinyl records on the TT action, stories from my Dad of the great racing there. I’ve been a race fan all my life and ridden motorcycles since I was 4. I got to ride a lap of the TT course on closed roads. Will I go back? I honestly don’t think I will. I’m happy to watch it on the telly and save the money for some other great events.
For my Dad it was still the place he loved going to as a young man with his parents. Now he can say he has done it again with his Son.
What I do have now is a great respect for the riders and their teams that take on this famous mountain course. Seeing John McGuinness with his family out there; enjoying his own classic race machines, riding with Ago and all the time having time for the fans around him. He is just normal motorcycle fan like the rest of us; just he doesn’t need to rely on a t-shirt to remember the corner names.