Isle of Man TT

June 3-10, 2022

We left Morecambe early in the morning for a ten minute ride to the Heysham Steampacket Terminal, headed to Douglas on the Isle of Man for the annual TT motorcycle races. We and Lukasz, Marcin, Michal (another friend from Poland), and Glen (from Australia) had planned this trip for 2020, but of course Covid canceled that. Glen and I had actually bought motorcycles in Ireland in 2020 in preparation for the trip; the last I heard, Glen’s bike is still sitting in Ireland (he’s never even seen it in person) since he wasn’t able to be here with us in 2022. I was lucky enough that the dealer/distributor in Ireland was nice enough to refund my purchase price since the bike hadn’t even come out of the crate yet, and was in high demand. Our ferry tickets rolled over from 2020 to 2021, which then rolled over again to 2022 when the 2021 races were also canceled. Unfortunately our lodging reservation did not roll over, and we were left to find alternative lodging for 2022, which can be difficult in a normal year for the TT, as most lodging is reserved two to three years out.

It rained during the night, and we awoke to light rain. We packed and rode to the terminal, where we joined the queue to check in; there were several hundred bikes ahead of us, along with a few cars and a couple of dozen bicyclists and pedestrians. While sitting in line, the rain picked up. By the time we check in and lined up in one of five lines of motorcycles to board, it was raining fairly hard. We sat in line in the rain for just over two hours before finally boarding the ferry. Everyone was still in a good mood, as this is normal weather in England, so nobody was really surprised. Somehow we checked in ahead of Marcin and Lukasz, but they lined up in a different line, and ended up boarding long before us. We were actually one of the last twelve or so motorcycles to get on the ship.

Waiting in line to check in at the ferry, before the rain got heavy.

On board the ferry, headed to Douglas. This is one third of the width of the bikes in the ferry, plus the second level (you can see more bikes upstairs on the right). There are usually between 350 and 500 bikes on this ferry per crossing.

We docked in Douglas about two and a half hours later and rode straight to our campground in Laxey, just north of Douglas. We would camp here for the next seven nights; Lukasz and Marcin would stay five nights before heading back to England and Wales to meet Michal and his family at a friend’s place in Cardiff. We set up our tents on the Laxey Association Football Club’s pitch, then rode up to Creg-ny-Baa to watch the Supersport qualifying.

Tents cover the Laxey Football pitch. Our home for seven nights.

The pub and restaurant at Creg-ny-Baa is a great place to view the races. They have grandstands set up entering and exiting the corner also.

Panoramic shot of the corner at Creg-ny-Baa. Riders come down the hill, round the corner in maybe 2nd gear, then accelerate all the way to top speed down the straight towards Douglas.

Saturday was the first day of races, and we headed to Douglas to watch the morning Superbike race from the Grandstand area. Diana and I excused ourselves for a bit of the morning as we had an appointment in Douglas for the past two years that was finally happening…

Simon was a riot, and we had a great time at Manx Tattoo. You can tell from Diana’s expression just how painful it was.

Diana’s first tattoo. She’s very happy with it.

The Isle of Man has been a special place to me for a while now, and the country’s triskelion emblem on their flag is very identifiable with the Manx.

Afterwards we met up with Marcin and Lukasz at the Grandstand in time to watch Peter Hickman win the Superbike race. For those who may be reading this that aren’t familiar with the TT, it’s a 37.7 mile course run on public roads around the northern half of the island. The roads are closed to public transportation during the race obviously, as riders reach speeds of just under 200mph. It takes the top riders about 17 minutes to cover the 37.7 miles, averaging over 130 miles per hour through small villages, past stone walls, and over the mountain back down into Douglas. Coming from the point of view of a former roadracer (on tracks, not streets), it’s terrifying just to ride the roads at normal speeds and think about what these guys are seeing (and not seeing) as they fly past at three to four times the normal speed limit.

Over 40,000 people attended this years TT. A large percentage of them are on motorcycles. The races are typically run every other day (Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and usually begin between 11am and noon. Spectators begin lining up alongside the road before 7am to claim their favorite viewing spot. The roads are closed an hour before the races begin, and open again after the last race ends. This means that, for the most part, you pick your spot for the day and stay put. There are ways around between locations but it’s still best to plan your day; we did one day “inside” the course, and a couple of days “outside” the course. However, in the process of moving between spots inside the course, we discovered that there is a way “under” the course at one point that allowed us to get “outside” while the course was closed.

Unfortunately, the Saturday afternoon sidecar race was canceled before the first lap was completed when a French team crashed just beyond the start, killing the driver (it was originally reported that the passenger had died, but it has since been changed to indicate that it was the driver that died, with the passenger suffering severe injuries). This was the second fatality this year, as a rider was killed earlier the prior week during qualifying. This is a terribly dangerous event, and all of these riders know it going in. The race has been run for well over 100 years now, and is still incredibly popular. Michael Dunlop, one of the top riders now with 20 race wins, has lost his father, his grandfather, and his uncle to this racing. No one understands the cost more than he does.

We spent most of Sunday wandering around Douglas, visiting the pit area and the vendors. The sidecar race was shortened and rescheduled for Monday afternoon, and the other races on Monday were also shortened by one lap to make room for the added race. In the evening, Lukasz & Marcin magically produced a bottle of Soplica (a Polilsh quince liquor), and Maciej, our chef from the campground (the Laxey Football Club provided breakfast and dinner at an extra charge), who also happens to be from Poland, joined us for a round of shots.

Maciej (everyone calls him “Magic”) prepared some great meals for us and the other campers at Laxey AFC camping during TT week. When he found out there were two guys from Poland camping there, they struck up a conversation, and by the end of the week, we all left as new friends. In fact, Magic invited us to stay with his family when we are in Poland.

On Monday we rode to Ballaugh Bridge before the roads closed, and watched the morning Supersport race from there. Riders here scream down the road from Kirkmichael, slowing as they approach the humped bridge, then leap across the bridge (on roadracing bikes!), landing well clear of the bridge and accelerating hard again.

As we parked our bikes for the morning race, a woman walked out of the house beside us, and nicely mentioned that we shouldn’t block the farmland access drive next to her house. I asked if she was Kenny’s wife. She looked startled and said “Yes”.

Six years ago I had met Kenny at Ballaugh Bridge. He is a course marshall here. Kenny is 80 years old now, and has been a course marshall for the TT since 1958.

This photo of Kenny and me was taken in 2016 when I was here on my 250. I saw Kenny from a distance this year, but due to some changes to the spectator area at Ballaugh I wasn’t able to get to him to say hi or take another photo.

I joked to Kenny’s wife that she could expect me for lunch, as six years ago Kenny told me that he lived so close that he could walk home for lunch between races.

We watched Michael Dunlop win his 20th TT race, then rode up the mountain via the backroads to watch the sidecar race from Snaefell.

These guys go by so fast that I just got really lucky and caught the Birchall brothers, winners of the sidecar race, with Marcin in this photo on top of the mountain.

The last race of the day was the Superstock race, and we rode back down to Douglas to watch from Bray Hill. Unfortunately, the race was postponed for a couple of hours, so we decided to ride back to camp, then up to Creg-ny-Baa via the backroad and watch the Superstock race from there.

As Tuesday was an off day for the races, we did a “tour” of the island, first visiting the Fairy Bridge…

This small bridge is known as the Fairy Bridge, and local folklore says that you should always greet the fairies as you cross it. TT Racers have taken to crossing the bridge and greeting the fairies for good luck, but others have taken to placing tributes and memorials to lost loved ones at the bridge.

Then riding the course up to Ballaugh, and veering up to Jurby to the Motor Museum.

There’s a bit of everything in the Manx Motor Museum.

A wall of motorcycles. There are also two elevated platforms full of early motorcycles. Below them are everything from a Japanese funeral hearse and flower cars, to military vehicles, and…

Even an unmanned space capsule.

Displayed inside the capsule are three Haynes Repair Manuals, for owners of Saturn V rockets, NASA Space Shuttles, and Lunar Rovers. I assume that, like other Haynes manuals, they give you suggestions on how to get around using the factory-required special tools, substituting things like 2×4’s and baling wire.

In the parking lot of the museum we spotted this bike from Italy. Where we carry water bottles on the back of our panniers, this one had a large bottle of wine. And why not? It’s cheaper than water there! (The bike also had three helmets locked to it on the right side; I’m hoping this was just doing a friend a favor, and not three adults on it, but hey…Italian.

We left the museum and took the backroads to Ramsey, where we again jumped on the TT course and rode up and across the mountain. Leaving Ramsey the road is limited to one-way traffic on the mountain, and there is no speed limit, even for those with no common sense on the wrong type of motorcycle. Sport bikes were passing us at well into triple digit speeds, while we rode along at a modest 75 to 80 miles per hour. It’s common for the local authorities to close the mountain road several times during the off-days in order to pick up the pieces and riders who exceed their skill levels. One gentleman from Germany in our campground joined that group. Fortunately he was not badly injured, but what’s left of his bike will be going back to Germany on a pallet.

Over our last TT dinner together at a small local Italian restaurant just down from our campground, we already started discussing plans to meet back at the Isle of Man for the 2024 TT Races.

It rained most of the night Tuesday night, and Marcin and Lukasz packed up early Wednesday morning to catch the ferry back to Heysham. We said goodbye in between rain storms. Due to weather, only one race was completed on Wednesday, with the second Supersport race postponed until noon on Thursday. Then it rained again Wednesday night and Thursday morning, and the race was again postponed. So that’s all the racing we’ll see this year.

Tomorrow morning we catch the ferry back to Heysham, and will spend the day riding the Yorkshire Dales before heading south to meet up with Michal and family in Wales on Saturday.

Here’s something you don’t see everywhere: Trust. In two different locations in the campground, people just plug in their phones, tablets, and computers to charge them, and walk away, leaving them for the day/evening.

UPDATE: Sadly, we learned that a father/son sidecar team were both killed in the Friday sidecar race. This brought the total death toll of 2022 TT racers to five.