As the 2018 Isle of Man TT wound down, the pace of activity sped up. The races, the touring, the search for the perfect cake, the pubs… more speed, Vicar! ‘You better get the final column written, buddy’ whispered the Manx fairy on my left shoulder, while the more persuasive one on the right urged me on to another romp around the island on my rented Suzuki V-Strom 650XT, and to enjoy just-one-more Shuttleworth Snap IPA at the Bushy’s Beer TT Village. You can guess which one I flicked off.
So, I’m back in the States, with the TT fortnight behind me. In that so many questions come my way regarding the TT each year, the last installment of ‘Out and About at the 2018 Isle of Man TT’ is presented in a Q&A format. Here we go:
How were the last few days of racing and events, you know, the ones that you were supposed to write about and photograph and send the column back as scheduled but didn’t, because, you know, ale? Sincerely, Ed.
Oh, they were awesome, thanks for asking, Ed! Michael Dunlop won the Bennetts’ Lightweight TT on Wednesday on a righteous sounding Paton, busting both the lap and race records on his way to his 18th TT win. Michael Rutter, on the Mugen machine, blew past the 120-mph lap barrier, winning the SES TT Zero. The electric machines are now reaching over 175 mph on the Sulby Straight.
Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki) beat Peter Hickman in the Monster Energy Supersport Race 2, breaking the race record by 8.7 seconds. Ben and Tom Birchall became the first sidecar crew to lap the Mountain Course in under 19 minutes as they swept to their second win of the week.
The pinnacle of the fortnight, however, was the Senior TT, where a new generation of top riders arrived in full. Senior Race Day is a national holiday on the Isle of Man. Schools and many businesses close, and the citizenry was treated to one of the greatest races in the TT’s long, illustrious history. Peter Hickman won a sensational race, dicing it out with Dean Harrison over the 6-lap, 227-mile contest. Harrison led for five-and-a-half laps but Hickman reeled him in, and set a new outright lap record of 135.452 mph on the final lap for the thrilling victory, obliterating the race record by 48.064 seconds. Harrison took second, with local hero Conor Cummins in third.
What do you do to watch the races? Are tickets required? How do you get around? What’s your favorite spot? Best, B.S.A.
The course is 37 ¾ miles around, the racing is free, and there are hundreds of vantage points, ranging from expensive VIP sections, to modestly priced grandstands, to free pub gardens, prickly hedges and stone walls. You can go to the TT for 60 years, like my dear friend and IOM guide Peter Thompson of Llandudno Wales has, and still find new places to watch.
With the benefits of rented motorcycles and empty back roads, we watched the racing from seven distinct locations this year. My long-time favorites are the Ginger Hall, a pub just past Sulby Bridge, The Gooseneck, and Hillberry. But this year, we experienced Cronk-y-Voddy. As George Takei would say, ‘oh, my.’
When we pulled up, a kindly race marshal suggested that, in order to experience Cronk-y-Voddy full fat, we crawl under that rickety scaffolding over there, trudge through thicket, climb a fence into a manure-rich pasture, across a ditch, and up an embankment… you know, just like spectators do at a MotoGP race… to reach a good spot. There, lying flat on a berm, survival instincts kicked in while 175+ MPH machines whipped by inches away from my noggin. It was magnificent. It was frightening. I want to go back there now.
The bottom line is that you can easily reach myriad wonderful race viewing locations via car, bus, taxi, foot or bike. I’m posting a short edit of iPhone footage from this year’s view spots, so you get a sense of how close you get to the action at the TT.
What else is there to do on the Isle of Man? I’d like to take my significant other, but I’m not sure if it would work out of it’s just about the racing. One does not live by viewing spectacular road racing alone. Right? Thank you, Noddy Isleowight.
Well, if you’ve read my columns over the last few years, like everyone else has, Noddy, you’d know that The Isle of Man punches well above its weight in scenic beauty, hiking and pedal bike touring, food, drink, music, and culture. You can amble along the Douglas Promenade, spend time mingling in pubs, or listening to dozens of bands performing at one of the three ‘beer tents,’ Bushy’s, The Hooded Ram, and The Trackside.
There are museums, electric and steam trains, and non-motorcycling cultural events everywhere. It is a stunningly beautiful island, and only a few miles off the mayhem of the TT course, you’d think you were in rural New Zealand.
It ain’t Rodeo drive, but if your SO wants to do some shopping, there are options. A branch of Marks and Spencer. Plenty of local artisan outlets. In St. Johns, Tynwald Mills offers higher end brands, and a nice tea room. Employees Ruth Stanley and Adam Crebbin helped me out with really nice deals on Norton and Barbour branded leather and wax cotton jackets.
All that being said, the TT is like a pilgrimage to Mecca, an overwhelming, non-stop motorcycle hejira, an expensive bucket list trip. If your traveling partner isn’t all-in, you won’t be either. You could consider a split trip, a few days in London or Dublin or Liverpool, along with the IOM.
Hey, you rented a nice array of bikes this year, care to share any impressions with us? Many thanks, B. Ray Hill.
Sure! We did have a fine assortment of rental bikes from Jason Griffiths Motorcycles in Ballasalla, and all of the riders were competent, experienced blokes. The Isle of Man, has hundreds of miles of winding roads that range from mountain sweepers to primitive pathways and unpaved green lanes.
My bike, a Suzuki V-Strom 650XT (another member of our group, John Pacioni, a V-Strom 1000 owner back in Jersey, also had one) was clearly the best tool for the job. Compliant suspension, good V-twin grunt and fine comfort – I’d own one in a minute if I lived on the IOM, although with a lower seat.
Terry Two Cakes had a Kawasaki Versys 650, a bike he owns back in the states, and had high praise for the versatile machine, struggling only with a lack of low rev tractability against the Wee-Strom. We agreed that the Versys was a fantastic bike, a real looker in it’s K-green livery, but a bit better suited for New Jersey roads than IOM ones.
John San, the most spirited rider in our group, had a Kawasaki Versys 1000, which, despite some snatchiness that made him keep it in low power mode for much of the trip, combined comfort with a sporty, powerful engine and light, neutral handling. He owns an Aprilia Tuono Factory V4, so consider that high praise.
Dave McClellan’s hire bike was a Yamaha MT-07, which he thought was snappy and perfect for the island, with an ideal riding position, tractable power band, and surprisingly good suspension for the choppy backroads. He’s a Ducati Supersport rider back home, so maybe he’s been bitten by the standard/naked bug.
Lothar Sroka had the same bike he had last year, a Kawasaki Z650, and found it comfortable and responsive, if a bit overmatched in the suspension department by some of the goat paths and poorer surfaced roads. But he’d still buy one!
And Eric Whitman of Minnesota had a Triumph Street Scrambler. A big bloke, he was surprised at how well it handled and certainly took to the rugged C-roads with aplomb. But it was a little out of its league when we wicked it up, and could have used a bit of wind protection. It sure looked damn good out there, particularly when we came upon one of its spiritual sources, a mid ’70s Triumph Trophy 500 out hooning in the abandoned mines of Foxdale.
So, based on the fact that I’m writing this, and it was my bike, the Suzuki V-Strom 650XT is the winner of our unscientific Out and About on the Isle of Man comparo test for 2018.
What about the TT impresses you most, other than the road races, and the ale and Manx cakes and stuff? Best, Craig Neebah.
The people. First, the Manx residents, who embrace and cherish the TT as an enduring component of their culture. Churches across the IOM open up for TT Teas during the fortnight, offering bikers homemade sandwiches, cakes, scones and other delights. The Homestay Program sees locals open up their spare rooms to visitors on an island where hotels are sparse and camping may not be a desired option.
Then there are the hearty souls who voyage to the TT every year, many for their entire adult lives. They book ferries a year ahead of time. They save their money and vacation time, and come over and work as one of the 1500 volunteer TT Marshals, putting in 9 to 12 hours a day with great responsibilities on their shoulders to ensure that the races can go on. Visitors like Dave Wilson, Gosia Szwed, and Richard Anderson, from Norwich, England, who camp out for two weeks on a rocky promontory with mind-boggling views, but little in terms of creature comforts, just to be part of the concentrated motorcycle and human experience that is the TT.
And, most of all, the TT racing community. Despite skimpy purses, logistical challenges and extraordinary dangers, this is the tightest and most open of all race fraternities. John McGuinness hanging around the paddock and pubs. Privateers like Shaun Anderson, with his dad as a crew chief and one tenth of the budget of the big teams, going out there and doing 127-mph laps, and placing an impressive 14th in the Superstock race, for a small trophy and a few hundred quid appearance fee. His buddy Ryan Duffy, fielding an older Brammo for Anderson to ride in the TT Zero against the multi-million-dollar Mugen Hondas.
Guys like Graham English, who, in the midst of three years of difficult recovery after a horrific crash at the 11th milestone, is back in the paddock lending a hand, a van, and his Supersport class bike to Shaun. Incredible men like Stan Dibben, now 93 years of age, the 1953 World Sidecar Champion, who holds court in the paddock, and regales us with stories of more innocent, but no less thrilling times.
The TT is how I imagine all motorsport was in the 1950s. But it is with us in all its glory today, and hopefully, for many tomorrows as well.
Sit tight, I’m working up the sizzle video, and already getting prepped for TT 2019.