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TT Isle of Man – The Greatest Show On Two Wheels

Published on January 11, 2022 under Blog
TT Isle of Man – The Greatest Show On Two Wheels

Shift through the gears as fast as possible, tuck in the elbows and get behind the windshield … hard on the brakes, downshift 3 gears and look out for the stone wall on the left. Accelerate out of the curve and watch for the telephone pole… take a deep breath as you come down the hill at 150mph and go airborne! Try to keep the bike level when the wheels come down and remember to stay to the right, never the left. Do this for 37 miles and then repeat it five more times while avoiding buildings, fences, poles and other motorcycles.

Every year the world converges on a small island between Ireland and the United Kingdom in the Irish Sea. They come to witness and experience the only motorcycle race of this kind in the world. It was time for Carla and me to check it off our bucket list and record it in photos and words for the Born To Ride readers.

What we found out after investigating this trip is you have to book at least a year in advance if you’re looking for a hotel. Most of the action happens in Douglas, the biggest town on the island, so we called the Rutland Hotel home base for the week. There are plenty of campsites, bed and breakfasts, and the very popular home stay where you rent out a room in someone’s house on the island. This includes some of your meals and is very economical. They also have the Snooze Box, which is a small city made up of steel containers stacked three high. It is like sleeping in a storage trailer, no windows, steel walls and a door. They sell out every year as they are next to the grandstand area. Next step is getting to the island either from England or Ireland. If you are riding a bike or driving a car, you will have to take the Steam Packet ferry. There are quite a few different flights if you want to fly, but remember, if you miss your flight you may not be able to book on another, they are just too full. Steam Packet ferries are already taking reservations for 2014, but the airlines usually don’t release flights till 6 months out.

After unpacking we made our way up a very steep hill to the grandstands to pick up our media credentials. One thing became quite clear, that this was sport bike territory … not a Harley-Davidson in sight. Thousands of sport bikes from all over Europe were parked everywhere. The most remarkable thing was nearly everyone was wearing full sets of leathers, a helmet, gloves and boots. You won’t see that in the USA! It didn’t stop there; the whole island was motorcycle crazy! Every store front we went by, from hairdressers to clothing stores… they all had sport bikes in the front windows. A drug store even had a bike in the window. What is going on here? We have been to all the major rallies across the country and have never seen the communities so involved with an event. You could literally walk into any kind of store on the island and purchase some kind of TT memento, EVERYONE was on the bandwagon! We had arrived to motorcycle nirvana!We didn’t know a lot about the TT other than it was a road race on an island like no other. We didn’t even know the riders names or who was even the current champion.

That all changed in a hurry just by talking to all the race fans who had arrived on the island with us. We bumped into a gentleman who had been to the TT 35 times and he proceeded to tell us all about Joey Dunlop, the all time record holder, his brother John Dunlop and the 2 nephews, Michael and William Dunlop. Then he bragged about the current reigning king of the TT, John McGuiness. “He hasn’t been beat on the Superbikes in over 10 years,” the man said with a gleam in his eye. “He’s the one to watch.”

We barely got any sleep the first night because of the anticipation of actually witnessing the Isle of Man TT in person. After a quick breakfast of fried eggs, baked beans and stewed tomatoes (not a good combination, but traditional we are told) we made our way to the starting line area after passing through the massive pits. The race of today would be the sidecars with about 60 of them participating. After they all left the starting area at 10-second intervals, we packed up and headed to a section of the road called Governors Bridge. I knew there was a slow switchback and I should be able to get some decent shots. The Track marshals waved me over and told me I could get right next to the street because I had photographer credentials. To these guys, I was a “snapper” and needed to take some “pickys.” I am used to being around cars and motorcycles on a track … but not this close. I could have reached out and slapped their helmets if I had really tried. The sidecars coming down the hill and then swinging around the corner with the passenger shifting from side to side was an awesome site. This was the first time I had ever experienced sidecar racing and I will never forget it. Today was the only race because the Superbikes did not get enough practice during the week. I was just getting warmed up with my shutter finger! Now that we had the first day out of the way, we knew what was going on and where to go. It was time to hit the pubs and try out some pints of beer and maybe some fish and chips with the others mates. The Superbike race was being held on Sunday, which traditionally was called Mad Sunday.

It is a day reserved for any bikers on the island to actually make as many laps on the race surface as they wanted. A lot of bikes headed out early and took advantage before the streets closed at 1 p.m. Today was the big bike race, the 1000cc motors with all kinds of modifications to them, the top dogs! We made our way over to the track and searched out the legend himself, John McGuinness. We found him sitting in the staging area doing interview after interview, it comes with the territory. He looked like an average chap to me, an occasional smile came out while he was talking, but you could tell the race was on his mind and he was chuffed (proud) to be here. There was some serious competition out there who wanted to take him down. It should be some good racing. You could always pick John’s bike out on the paddock as his name appears on the windscreen as John Mc with a pint of Guinness next to it.

The main point of this race is how fast you can navigate the 37.75 circuit. Today was a 4 lap event and whoever has the best times combined would be the winner. We had to get out of the pit area and make it down to the bottom of Bray Hill about a mile away before the race started. One thing to remember is once the streets close you cannot cross the road again until the racing is over and the temporary barricades come up. There are over 500 marshals around the island and their job is to keep everyone safe. They are dead serious and they don’t play games. We witnessed a French man crossing the road and before he got halfway across there were 3 marshals and 2 police officers on around him. “No Prob blem, no prob blem,” he kept shouting. They hauled him off so who knows what happened. I heard stories of people being banned for life on the Isle of Man because of serious infractions during the races. At the bottom of the hill we could hear the first bike screaming down the course. Within seconds, James Hillier’s Kawasaki flew by us and our jaws dropped. I didn’t even have time to get him in my camera’s viewfinder. I had to figure out how to photograph these bikes … and quick. I finally got in the groove and started to get some decent shots.

The bikes were going by so fast it felt like they were creating a vacuum and were trying to pull me off the curb and on to the street. Words can’t describe what we were witnessing… hundreds of people behind hedges, walls and small metal barriers, just feet away from instant death if anything should go wrong. I finally understood what the TT was all about, no other race in the world like it.

This was a four-lap race today and the lead switched back and forth a few times, but it would be Michael Dunlop taking his very first Superbike win and dethroning John McGuiness, who must have really been gutted.

Over the next few days, the Superstock and Supersport classes would take to the roads of the Isle of Man. Superstock were the 600cc bikes and Supersport were 1000cc, but more closely resembling a bike you would buy from the dealer. Both classes were still lightning fast and kept our adrenalin pumping through the entire races.

We made our way around the island using the Manx electric train that has been in use for over 100 years. Traveling through glens and green fields full of sheep and lamb, everything was peaceful and laid back and gave us a taste of times gone by. We got some more great shots up in Ramsey at the other end of the island. We listened to the radio to hear the results of the days racing and again it would be Michael Dunlop winning both classes. Dunlop was on fire and it seemed no one could catch him. There would still be one more 4 lap Supersport race during the week and then the final Superbike race of 6 laps on Friday. Could Dunlop keep his streak going? Could Guy Martin or Bruce Antsley jump into the fray? It’s a day off tomorrow with no racing and a time to recharge our batteries and relax … so we thought.

Our Hotel room looked out over the Promenade and the beach and after another lovely (sarcasm) breakfast, we headed up the promenade to check out Douglas. We noticed some backhoes and bulldozers on the beach that were not there the day before. Being curious, we starting asking about, what was going on? It turns out they were building a full-blown 3/4 mile racetrack with jumps, tabletops and whoops for an afternoon of Motocross racing. Can you imagine this ever happen on Daytona Beach? Not in a million years! So, off we went to Bushy’s beer tent for a few pints to kill a little time. When you order beer you better ask if it is hot or cold as they serve both. The crowds started gathering about an hour later along with a couple hundred MotoX bikes lining up on the beach. The first race had about 30 bikes of the most experienced riders and they tore up the beach, throwing rocks and sand everywhere including into the crowd. I was hit by a very large stone in my right leg, but nothing serious. There would probably be about 50 lawsuits already being filed if this race was held in the USA, but not on the Isle of Man. Toward the end of the racing out of nowhere appeared the RAF Red Arrows acrobatic team, just like the Blue Angels. What were you suppose to watch … jets or motorcycles? Brilliant! No… it didn’t stop there, at the other end of the Promenade, the Monster Energy FMX stunt show was starting with 3 worldclass daredevils performing the sickest tricks imaginable 70 feet into the air, ramp to ramp! We are getting sensory overloads from all the action taking place around us. We thought this would be a bit of a relaxing vacation … NOT! What the hell could be next?

How about something called the White helmets vs. the Purple helmets. The competition took place on the closed-off promenade right after the FMX show ended. The White helmets were a military looking bunch of guys on Triumph motorcycles and they performed amazing pyramids and stacking of riders while they rode down the promenade. These guys were tight and synchronized and you could tell they had practiced hundreds of hours. So … the Purple helmets came out next … on scrappy motor scooters wearing dirty trench coats and such. They didn’t even have purple helmets and we were told it had nothing to do with helmets on their heads … Oh! These guys were just as talented, but they were pure comedy that included a rather large naked biker … you had to be there, it was too funny.

As the night wore on, we realized we still had two more days of racing left, but we had already seen more things this week than in the last 5 years. We hoped we would hold up. I am going to cut to the chase … the second Supersport race was won by Michael Dunlop. Only 3 other racers in the 100-year history had won 4 races during the TT.

“He was riding like no one I had ever seen before,” said John McGuinness. Looks like it’s time to pass the baton on.” That comment wouldn’t last too long as McGuinness at age 41 snatched the last race of the week out of Dunlop’s hands, the 6 lap senior race. The king still had a little bit left in reserve over Dunlop who was 24. We also survived the last sidecar race where Ben and Tom Birchall became the first brothers to win a TT. Bloody brilliant!

It was a lot to take in, so much to see and not enough hours in the day to do it. As we sat at our favorite restaurant on the island for the 4th time, an Indian cuisine establishment called Chillies where you know you will great food every time, we had a chinwag (discussion) of the week. The Isle of Man TT is the last great race on the planet where every rider looks at the Grim Reaper every lap. It wasn’t about the money; the overall winner gets 10,000 pounds. It was about the glory and bragging rights. There were some serious accidents where one rider lost his life and some spectators ended up in the hospital in another incident. You accept that when you come here, it is no surprise. How long will this race go on is the big question? The facts are chilling … since the year 2000, 50 riders have died on the course and over 200 in its 100-year history.

We said “cheerio” to the island and flew over to Dublin, Ireland and tried our luck at pouring a few pints of Guinness at the factory. The Isle of Man would be on our minds for a long time so we fancied the diversion the Guinness tour gave us. It was going to be a long flight home. …