Mark arrived safely on Wednesday evening, despite a slight flight delay, and quickly settled down to his immediate priorities: beer, crisps, and the official 2018 Isle of Man TT programme.
I did think of asking Mark to write something about the TT for this post, but quickly realised that we’d end up with either a list of his all-time top ten favourite bikes or a rant about “that pillock who went into the jungle”. So I didn’t ask in the end 🤐 Don’t worry, Mark can safely be relied upon to provide us with plenty of snippets from his cache of bike wisdom once the action gets underway….
Having heard Mark’s views on “that pillock in the jungle” on a few occasions, I have pieced together that the man in question is a certain Carl “Foggy” Fogarty, a former bike racing world champion who took Ant and Dec’s shilling back in 2014 and appeared on the ridiculous TV spectacle that is “I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here”. Mark seems to feel that he has debased himself and all of bikerdom by doing this. My comments along the lines of “Yes, but he did win and has made squillions off the back of it; presumably retired bike racers can’t be expected to live on petrol fumes alone?” generally don’t go down too well….
You see, bikers are a strange lot, with their own set of biker ethics. If they could agree on one figurehead, one überbiker to rally behind, you’d call it a religion. Bikers do tend, from what I’ve seen, to be a real bunch of softies (on reading this post in draft form, Mark jokingly protested “oh no, we bikers are all rufty-tufty”…). Put 15,000 bikes and 40,000 visitors (many of whom are bikers who’ve had to leave their toys at home) on a small island like the Isle of Man and you soon get the idea. They’re like kids at a huge middle-aged play date. All they want is for another biker to like their bike…. or failing that, their helmet… or even their leathers….. They can spend hours standing around comparing bikes, like some primary school game of Top Trumps, but with real bikes now, not pictures on cards…
Mark has wasted no time at Mooragh Park: he’s been trotting around chatting away to all the motorhomers he can find. He’s admired the bikes people have brought with them and has been having a great old time.
So, getting to the bike racing….
The thing that’s amazing about the TT is that it’s held on public roads. The course is marked in pink on the map above – from Douglas, they head West towards Peel, then up through Kirk Michael and Sulby to Ramsey on the North East coast. From Ramsey it’s the famous Mountain Section, up across the wilds of Snaefell before dropping back down into Douglas.
The organisation of the event is absolutely incredible. There are marshalls right around the course, and bang on the scheduled time each day, the road closes and barriers appear to block off all of the side roads. Nothing is overlooked; spectators are kept back in safe areas, any debris is removed from the course, and then the madness begins.
This is nothing like racing on a track (or “going round in circles” as I call it to wind Mark up). Personally, I have no interest at all in watching bikes racing round tracks, but the TT is a completely different affair. If you fall off here, you don’t just slither across some grass, get up and walk away shaking your head. It’s a 37.73 mile course (how do the newcomers remember all those twists and turns?) with all the features you expect on a normal road – straight bits, windy bits, 90 degree turns, hairpins, and even a hump-backed bridge. The fastest riders average 130mph over the entire circuit, and hit 200mph on the fast bits. It’s absolutely mental.
I do recall my initial impressions when I first arrived in 2016. I came across with the van a couple of days before practice started (Mark arrived a few days later on his bike). I remember driving out of Douglas and seeing big crash pads attached to the odd lamp post or bit of wall. At first I just assumed that they’d started putting them up but that there’d be a lot more to come. Erm, no. For every hazard with a crash mat attached to it (though how much help that’d be if you hit it at speed isn’t clear), your horrified eyes immediately spot another 5 or 10…. post boxes, more lamp posts, trees, stone walls…. It’s a bit like the “spot the hazards” computer test people have to take when learning to drive nowadays in the UK, but here it’s deadly serious. Part of you wants to grab the racers by the scruff of the neck, give them a good shake, and scream “What in God’s name are you thinking“. But there’s no point. That’s what they want to do and they’re gonna do it. So the rest of us may as well sit back and enjoy the ride….
There’s an added twist to this TT thing, one that’s as much an attraction to many visitors as the racing itself. For the duration of the TT fortnight, the Mountain section of the course (a capital “M” seems appropriate here) becomes one-way, from North to South (ie you can only drive on it, when the roads are open, in the same direction as the racers will ride it). Oh, and they scrap the speed limit.
What a brilliant piece of common sense, one that you just wouldn’t get over on the health and safety-obsessed mainland. There are no pedestrians up there, no children, nothing. The roads across the rest of the island are heavily policed, but the Mountain section is where the bikers are allowed to play….
… and it isn’t just bikers. There’s a hotel right by Mooragh Park, and when I arrived in 2016, the car park was full of Ferraris (it’s not a posh-looking hotel; the architecture is more Premier Inn than the Ritz. I guess it really is all about the cars for these chaps). Yesterday, the same hotel car park suddenly filled up with several Mclarens, a lone Lamborghini, a few Porsches and assorted other “fast cars”, maybe 30 cars in total. We really don’t need to ask what they’re all here for.
That’s a lot of money in one car park. I wonder if they’ll all come back in one piece at the end of the day?
From a non-biker perspective (you really don’t need to ask for an opinion from a biker’s perspective 🏍️🏍️🏍️), the TT is a fabulous event. The Isle of Man is a beautiful place to visit (particularly if the Sun’s shining, which it is at the moment). It’s very motorhome-friendly, as you’ll gather from the posts describing our stay, and has some great visitor attractions. The island is bustling during TT fortnight, with a real festival atmosphere and lots of both bike-related and non bike-related events taking place. Oh, and you even get some free bike racing thrown in….. There’s nothing not to like 😁
Our plan for today is to head down to Castletown in the South of the island. There’s some pre-TT racing that takes place on a short road circuit down there over the weekend. Mark has learned from our motorhoming neighbours that we can park at the football club, which is right on the course, for “£3 or £4 a night”. We’ll let you know how we get on.