Some say it’s the ultimate adrenalin rush, to others it’s “38 Miles of Terror.” Either way the Isle of Man TT is every bike enthusiasts bucket list dream come true. What draws people to a race that’s claimed the lives of over 270 motorcyclists since humble beginnings in 1907?
I will never forget the first time I heard the bikes approaching. Watching from the lawn of The Mitre pub, the growl of the engines grow closer then wham! Its hard to describe to those that havent been – the vibration goes straight up your spine as the bikes flash through the village. Its unbelievable the fearlessness of these guys, hard on the throttle along narrow country roads through sleepy little villages.
What’s it about?
The TT (which stands for Tourist Trophy) is an annual motorcycle sports event run every year on the Isle of Man in May/June. It’s often called the most dangerous racing event in the world due to its unique road racing format. The goal is to achieve the fastest lap time, so every lap is a race against yourself.
The course runs over public roads which close 30 mins prior to the riders hitting the track. The races are run in a time trial format, from a “clutch start.” Competitors start one at a time, at 10-second intervals with the number 1 qualifier leaving first, the number 2 second and so forth.
The current classes are: Superbike, Sidecar, Supersport, Superstock, Lightweight, TT Zero (electric motorcycles) and the classic Senior TT. The schedule includes a week of practice sessions (usually from 5:30pm to 9:30opm) then a week of racing from 10:00am to 5:00pm. This can change (and does) depending on track conditions.
How dangerous is it?
With the faster bikes hitting speeds of over 210 kph, its about 30 kph higher than the average on a racetrack, so pretty quick! Keep in mind, this is on rough roads, bordered by trees, stone fences and in some cases even peoples houses.
You can watch curb side anywhere from the front steps of the pub (the Sulby Glen is on the fastest section of the course) to a stone fence or hedgerow. In 2007 a rider and two spectators were killed on the mountain section so the more dangerous parts are now off limits.
The future of the event is always in doubt because of safety fears, these days however, the organisers go to great lenghts to ensure the safety of the riders and spectators.
Where to stay?
The population of the island swells from 87,000 to over 130,000 people during race week so accommodation can be predictably hard to find. Hotel accommodation can set you back upwards of €1000 a night. Thats assuming you can find one as most places are booked from year to year. We have found the campgrounds to be good value. Most are right on the track and have all amenities provided.
Douglas is the capital of the island with over 1/3 of the population residing there. This is ground zero for the TT with buzzing nightlife, merchandise shops, the starting line and pit lanes. The town itself is is a good 2km from the starting line (& lets face it, not the best spot to see the race action) but there is a good campground just outside of town on the track at the Douglas Rugby club grounds.
What to do between the practice sessions?
The island itself is pretty amazing and full of history. Things to see and do include:
- Peel Castle – Built in the 11th century by the Vikings. Peel itself is an interesting day trip. This tiny fishing port is the fourth largest settlement on the Island but still no more than a village. It has a number of good pubs, shops and restaurants (the crab “baps” or rolls are not to be missed at Moore’s Kipper smokehouse). Also a supermarket and hardware store.
- Douglas – The capital and largest town on the island. The start-finish line is here as are the pits (although quite a distance from the centre). Lots of bars along the Promenade and plenty of shops to pick up TT shirts and memorabilia. This is also the birthplace of the Gibb brothers who went on to form the Bee Gees.
- Ramsay – At the North-east section of the track. Ramsay is the gritty working class area of the island. A port town there are some great, old style pubs along the waterfront, a small Manx museum and the Northern terminus of the Manx Heritage railway.
- Bike Museums – There are a number of good museums around the island. The best ones are the Isle of Man Motor Museum with over 400 classic vehicles including 200+ bikes (entry £12.50). Murray’s Motorcycle Museum, has a huge collection of bikes from the 1800’s on (£5 entry but comes with a cup of tea and a biscuit). The Leece Museum in Peel.