June 8, 2016
It’s my first visit to the Isle of Man, and I’ve been very lucky again. Not only has the weather continued to be unusually fantastic, with sunny skies and temperatures around 70F, but the campsite I chose randomly has several major benefits:
- It is about 100 yards from Ballaugh Bridge, one of the famous places you immediate recognize from the TT because the bikes get airborne over the bridge.
- It is on the inside of the track, and the road in front of the campsite goes up and over the mountain, splitting off in several different directions. This allows me to ride to several different viewing places and even to Douglas, even though the main road is closed for racing.
- The campsite is well equipped, with a nice kitchen & showers, and well organized.
On my first morning, I walk down to Ballaugh Bridge to watch the Superstock race. There I meet Kenny, a course marshal. Kenny is 74 years old, and he’s been a marshal for every TT race since 1958. He lives about three doors down from Ballaugh Bridge, so he walks home for tea between races.
The morning races are delayed due to mist and fog on the mountain. As I walk back to camp to wait out the delay, I walk past a guy on a Honda CRF with the rear wheel off of it. I ask him if he needs anything.
“I’ve got a flat. My dad had to ride up to Ramsey to find a tube, and now the roads are closed.”
“I have a tube, tire levers, and an air compressor on my bike about 100 yards from here. Bring your wheel down and I’ll change it for you.”
“No freaking way. You’ve got to be kidding”, he says.
So while he waits for his dad to find a way back, we change the tube. He’s thrilled, and can’t believe his luck.
Eventually the weather improves and the Superstock race gets off. Fun to watch these guys launch 1000cc bikes over a bridge while transitioning from a left to right turn. At times it looks a bit like cross-rutting up the face of a jump on a large sport bike and landing twisted. But everyone pulls it off.
In the afternoon the TT Zero race runs. There are very few electric bikes (maybe 8 or 9) and only the top two Mugen bikes ridden by John McGuiness and Bruce Anstey are competitive.
I’ve watched the TT on video and television for years, but it’s hard to understand this place until you’ve ridden around it.
As a former racer, I’m used to things like race tracks, choosing lines, establishing braking points, turn-in points, etc. Nothing I’ve raced is quite like this. When you walk out and stand in the middle of the racing surface at a place like Daytona, or Willow Springs, etc, the track looks like an airport runway. It’s very wide, and there is little or nothing in the way of obstacles near the track. Of course, the faster you go, the more you get tunnel vision, and the narrower the track seems.
I can’t imagine that effect here. You are starting with a narrow two-lane road with no shoulders, just curbs. And buildings, and trees, and signposts, and stone walls. At 160mph through these places, it has to be like threading a needle. Mistakes are very, very costly here.
On a racetrack, you establish reference points for shifting, braking, turning, accelerating. Sometimes there are brake marker reference signs (“3-2-1”) as you approach a slow corner from a fast straight. Here, your reference points are fixed objects near the track’s edge. And the track is over 37 miles long. That’s a lot of reference points to remember. There are no signs telling you which direction the next blind corner goes.
On the racetrack, a moment’s distraction or inattention typically means a missed line, or running wide in a turn or off the track. Here, a moment’s inattention can mean slamming into a wall. This place is brutally unfriendly.
Also, race tracks are usually very smooth surfaces. These are country roads. Yes, the pavement is in decent condition, for the most part, but it’s rarely not rolling or wavy or bumpy. Suspension setup on a large sport bike, factoring in rough roads, jumps, and fast transitions, has to be a nightmare.
Months of riding the course, and the week of practice prior to race week, repeated year after year, is the only way to excel here.
I had a lot of respect for these guys before coming here. Now I’m totally in awe of them. This is a unique place that has to be experienced to be understood. I’ll be back. I need more experience.