We heard the scream of the engine for three or four seconds before the bikes came into view. A man standing next to me said, “This must be a superbike.” A woman the other side of sixty responded, “No, that’s a sidecar.” The sidecar came into sight and I felt the roar in my chest. The vibrations passed from right to left lung as the bike flew past us. One old and slightly tattered hemp rope was all that separated me from the sidecar that flew by at 160 miles an hour and sucked the suds right off my pint.
Welcome to the Isle of Man, where kids give a “thumbs up” combined with a fist pump to get bikers to pop wheelies and little old ladies talk motorcycle racing. This small island between Ireland and England is the focal point of our trip. The Isle Of Man hosts the oldest motorcycle race in the world, the Tourist’s Trophy or TT. For two weeks every year, bikers from all over the globe congregate here to watch, talk, and ride the Mountain Course.
Motorcyclists wave to other riders all over the world. We acknowledge the kinship to the lifestyle. Brits don’t wave. Their roads are narrow, twisty, crowded and shoulderless. Bikers keep both hands on the bars and nod their heads sharply to their right shoulders. I soon learned how to jerk my helmet to the right.
TT3D – Closer To The Edge
Nobody lines up on the start line for the money; they come for a love of the sport and a desire to test themselves against the most gruelling course in the world, 37 ¾ miles of treacherous bends, drops and walls to be navigated at breakneck speed.
Using the latest highly innovative 3D technology, Closer To The Edge captures the excitement and drama of the 2010 races as we discover what motivates these modern day gladiators who live and breathe road racing and meet some of its biggest stars.
“People’s Champion”, Guy Martin is a true maverick with movie star looks and charisma who has a sharp wit and a unique take on life and whose off-road antics continually exasperate his sponsor, mechanics and race officials. Guy, one of the most talented riders on the circuit is determined to win in 2010.
The sound of sport bikes winding up woke us just before six a.m. We grabbed bananas from the bowl in the dining room and wolfed them down while we loaded our bikes in the early morning sunshine.
Long Preston is about an hour from the ferry dock in Heysham via “A” roads. We took the “B6478” and had a wonderful three hour ride. We met loads of bikes because it’s a traditional riding area on Sundays.
I pulled my ferry ticket from my laptop case for easy access in the tank bag. I noticed when I checked to see if everything was in the envelope that the departure time was 0200, not 1400. All our tickets were ordered together over a year ago because the ferry to the Isle of Man fills up quick for the TT. A rosy-cheeked woman smiled as she fixed the error. We thanked her and got into line with the eighty or so other bikers.
The tires of most of the bikes showed obvious signs of overheating They were as chewed up as the sliders on the leathers. Those of us on touring models were in the minority.
I watched them strap all the bikes together before heading up to the passenger lounge. The energy was palpable. Bikers bank corners with their hands while talking about the roads they drove on that morning or John McGuiness in last year’s Senior Race or whatever else bikers talk about when the helmets come off. I heard German, Italian, and French mixed with the English.
I stepped outside and climbed the stairs to the upper deck to feel the sun and smell the sea. I met a bloke who hadn’t missed a TT in the last thirty years. He’d been a Race Marshall for a decade.
His accent was right out of “Pygmalia” but his advice was sound. He told me the best places to view the races, where to eat, which Isle-brewed beer to have, and how to keep seagulls from flying off with your cheeseburger. “I’m noot juking mate, a triple.”
The ferry docked just after six in the evening at Douglas, Isle of Man. The motorcycles unloaded en masse and spilled onto the street to blend with all the other bikes on the Isle. We headed to Ramsey to find a grocery store.
A group of bikers from Argentina surrounded me. One of them had noticed the “Alaska Rider Tours” sticker on my helmet. He met Phil three years before in Patagonia. His group came to the Isle to compete in the Classic Race. We wished them luck and went to find Ballivar Farmhouse and a hot shower before watching race practice.
The race consists of three laps around a 37 and three-quarter mile course that circumnavigates a good bit of the island. At just over a hundred miles, the race seems really short and easy until one realizes that the riders go through towns with first-gear corners and still average 130 mph.
How do I know that there are first gear corners? Because the course is open all day save for the three hours that the practice laps take place each evening. Did I mention that the Isle has no speed limit?
On our first lap around the mountain course, a steady stream of bikes passed us. I felt like I was stuck in granny gear. We stepped it up a bit on subsequent laps, but still had bikes flying by all around the course.
Everyone on the island takes the driving seriously, not just the bikers. We took a cab to Ramsey to watch the first night of practice laps so we could enjoy a pint. I barely closed the door before I felt like I was in the chase scene in “The French Connection.” Our cabbie, Anthony, told us that he used to race trial bikes while he hovered at 100 mph on a one-lane road with no shoulder.
Anthony suggested that we watch the first night from the same spots that we’d been told about by the man with the unusual fear of seagulls on the ferry. We accepted the advice and were anything but disappointed.
The bikes come into view on a short straight where we were told they hit just about 100 before they slam the rear brake, so the tire squirrels to the left to set them up for an “S” turn to the right. They are back on the throttle before the tire quits sliding. The rear tire bounces as it deals with all that gut-wrenching torque.
The marshals start the racers ten seconds apart, but the riders are stacked up by the time they get to Ramsey because the leader has the toughest time of it. One can chase easier through the turns because one can cue off the leader to set up, dip, and turn. It is pretty hard to draft when one is in the lead.
After the first lap, we hustled up the course to the next viewing spot. The Mountain Course has more than two hundred corners, sixty of them named. The S-Bend, Ballaugh Bridge, and Laurel Bank are geographical names. Other corners are named after riders that have crashed there over the years. Two corners, Dukes and Joey’s, are named for TT legends Geoff Duke and Joey Dunlop.
The Gooseneck was a long straight that gave way to a near perfect circle as it climbed a small hill out of sight like a shepard’s staff. The bikes hit 140 on the straight before braking hard to start the tight corner. Some of them looked over their shoulders while taking the corner to see how closely they were being followed. It’s hard to imagine being able to see anything with your head bouncing around and your mind on not smashing into a wall.
The sidecars had a go of it after the superbikes. The Gooseneck becomes a more impressive viewing spot while watching the sidecars. The bikes are low to the ground with the driver lying nearly prone across the tank, his feet on pegs that come off the rear wheel.
The drivers get most of the glory, but the monkeys are the real story. The monkeys have to curl up in a ball to fit on the passenger platform while on the straights, but be agile enough to swing where ever needed to help the bike make the corner. Sometimes the monkey is right behind the driver, other times, the monkey hangs way off the platform so the bike can turn left.
The monkey needs to memorize the course even better than the driver because he or she needs to set up for the next corner at the last second so little drag is created. One monkey told me that she counts the bumps on Sulby Glen, which is a straight, so she knows when to pop up and get behind her driver to get the bike to turn right.
Many sidecar teams are husband and wife, while the first father/daughter team began competing for the Centenary Celebration. All female teams are quite popular. Rosie, the proprietor of the tavern with the same name, has sons that compete. “One is a driver and the other is a monkey. Not on the same team, you understand, they’re brothers.”
The sidecars come screaming up the straight, the monkeys pop up and slide behind the drivers to make the Gooseneck to the right. The monkeys dive back to the far left of the platforms to get the sidecars around the Hairpin to the left and onto the Mountain Road section of the course.
We only saw six sidecar teams because a crash further up the course required lots of clean-up and darkness overtook the course before it was cleared, but it was plenty to get hooked on sidecars.
The Isle of Man is named for Manannan, a Celtic sea god, said to cloak the Isle in clouds to protect it from invaders. Two days of rain and low-lying clouds cancelled practices and slowed traffic on the Course. Five ferries full of bikes stacked up waiting for the weather to break.
We woke on the 29th to sunshine and blue skies. We enjoyed a full breakfast and hit the course. Traffic on the course was stacked with riders that held a bigger comfort zone than we did. Locals set up on favorite corners to watch traffic all day long, not just for the practice. Police held radar guns through all the town sections to keep riders honest.
We bought picnic supplies after a day of riding and headed up the Canyon Road. A footbridge crosses the course at about the halfway point on the Mountain Road so one can get to the inside of the corner. Phil and I crossed the bridge and headed up to the top of the ridge.
One sheep shared the ridge with us. We had a great view from the Mountain Hut to Windy Corner, about four miles of the course. That section has a few gentle bends, but is mostly straight. The bikes hit 200 mph as they draft, slingshot, and pass each other. We packed the remains of our picnic onto our bikes after the practice session as the sun set on our final night on the Isle. We would be up early to catch the eight a.m. ferry back to England.
We took one last lap on the Mountain Course with fully loaded bikes. The early morning sunshine and the most famous road course were all ours. The early bird gets 37 and ¾ miles of sweet tarmac. What a great way to say goodbye to the Isle of Man.
The ferry ride back had a different feel. Instead of a lounge full of leathers and sliders spouting off about John McGuiness this and Guy Martin that, it was families taking advantage of the schools closing for the TT to get away from the madness that is the Isle of Man for the two weeks of racing.
We got off the ferry and the gray sign with the line through it no longer meant, “Go as fast as you like.” Somehow, sixty mph felt sluggish and slow. We were back with the mortals in the land of laws.