I have never been big into bikes. I mean, not really. Yet for some reason they have been part of my life for quite some time.
When I first began working, I bought and rode a scooter for a good few months. My then boss’s husband also owned a bike store. My partner rides a motorbike daily – much to my dismay, but it’s not like I can tell you the make or how many cc’s it is. I do have an affinity for the Kawasiki Ninja but that would be the grand total of my biking knowledge. So thinking about it, it was a little odd that I agreed to go watch the Isle of Man TT. I can’t say I was sorry though because it was a once in a lifetime experience that was entirely unforgettable.
My boyfriend informed me that this insane race would be taking place on a tiny island in the middle of the Irish Sea, and without much thought, I agreed to tag along. I am an avid traveller and had never been to the UK before and plus my Czech passport meant that I didn’t need a visa and the flights were just so cheap that I had to say yes.
And just like that, my boyfriend, his best friend and I all decided we would take a week to fly across ocean to camp and watch motorbikes race.
Our living situation was a little dicey I have to admit. Camping on a soccer field which had some basic amenities, (including communal showers which I may or may not have ever used) and a little bar and kitchen. It was all that was needed because I am not too fussy in life, especially if there is enough alcohol involved.
The camping grounds and our tents
It wasn’t easy though, from trekking our bags up hills, to camping in the pouring rain, but every morning; we would head out to a different location to watch the races while enjoying a few drinks if the weather permitted it.
Obviously with it being a tiny island, there were a few days of rain which in turn meant that the races were cancelled, and it was on those days that we explored the island itself. It is so hard to believe that people are born and live there for their whole lives, on this little rock that is three or more hours out by ferry from the larger and I daresay drier continents.
Exploring the beautiful beaches...
Rainy weather on the island
The very first day we woke up to what is known as ‘Mad Sunday’, the turning point in the two week Isle of Man TT races. Week one is comprised of practice races where the professional riders train on the harrowing route in preparation for the following week when the real thing is set to take place. But just because it is practice, doesn’t mean that there aren’t injuries. Three people alone were injured in the opening week.
After the practice week, ‘Mad Sunday’ is what the spectators wait for. There are no speed limits on this particular day, and anyone wishing to ride the track may do so at whatever pace they fancy. With over 15 000 motorbikes having been brought over, this is the day that all the non-professional riders get to experience the track and participate in their own way. I think the idea may be a little grander than the experience itself though because nearly every one of the thousands of riders is out on the road at the same time, allowing for top speeds of about 60km/h.
Just some of the bikes that were taken over on our ferry trip
From there, Monday was to be the start of the races and we all walked down to a bus stop where we drank beers and relaxed for an hour or two, watching the world go by. That was until a marshal came past to inform us that the roads would soon be closing, forcing us to relocate to a yard a few meters down. They proceeded to pull into place, giant bouncy rubber barricades that seemed to have come from a jumping castle. These were meant to protect the riders from the sharp corners and somewhat cushion any blows, should they need to.
Relaxing at a bus stop before the races begin
The road’s closed marshals then rode around the track, to check that all was in order for the riders. A sudden hush fell over the crowds as we all tuned into the island radio station where the announcements were being made. We could hear the bike engines revving and our excitement quietened down to an electric hum. The bikers were sent off and suddenly the first race had begun.
Words fail me when it comes to describing the races, not for my own inability to do so but simply because it is something you have to see to believe.
The super bikes quickly made their way along the tracks and suddenly they were around the corner from us. The Ducati had a deep grumble that was recognisable from a distance.
If I had blinked too long then I would have missed the very first bike but luckily my eyes were wide open, along with my mouth, as my jaw had fallen to the floor. They sped past in seconds, their tyres wobbling, careening left and right as they took hairpin bends.
We all stopped to look at one another in awe and I knew that I had not made a mistake coming there.
The poor quality videos I took may be able to convey a little more just what we saw.
A quick shot showing the speed at which the bikes race
For those looking for more technical details:
The island track is just over 60km in total. The bikers managed to complete a circuit in about 15 minutes. Their average speeds reaching about 300km/h. Average speed. Meaning that on the open roads where there were no bends, they had to have been going faster.
I couldn’t believe what I had seen but it was alright because there were five more laps left for me to take it all in.
Watching the riders you have to understand that they are racing the track from memory. One mistake could easily cost them their lives. In fact three lives were taken in total this year.
Grainy image of one of the bikes
The little side cars that also raced
All I can amount this race to is insanity. The riders all know what the highest cost is and for that reason, before they head out; they set their affairs in order in case of the worst. Many are not in relationships, the most renowned being Guy Martin who is slightly off his rocker. His injury toll is immense but luckily he has avoided death each time, just barely.
I’m not sure if the prospect of death is what makes this race so popular or simply the sheer insanity behind it. We love to watch people performing death defying tricks which give us a little comfort in our not so adventurous lives. Or maybe it’s the desire to be part of something so daring. Close enough to see the action but far enough to remain safe.
Even as a woman, I can say that it was fascinating to watch. The following few days were full of racing action and I loved every minute of it.
I particularly enjoyed the day we took a long scenic bus trip up close to the summit of the mountain passes and we walked until we found a quaint pub. I was happy there because it was the best bathroom situation I had experienced for days and their ciders were great.
Each new location offered different views of the riders and also allowed for a little bit of exploring too.
Lovely cider at the pub we used as a viewing point
Our last race day was spent in someone’s garden which was near the start of the race. On this day the final fatal accident took place a short distance from us and the races were cancelled for the rest of the day. Luckily it was around the corner so we did not have to witness it.
That night before we to head home, the sky opened up and let loose torrential rains which did not make the ferry ride home pleasant. I was relieved to be back on main land but looking back I actually miss that tiny rain magnet. I am richer for the experience of watching maniacs speeding around on superbikes at an average of 300km/h.
I love exploring, seeing how others live and the Isle of Man was certainly an eye-opener for me. Next time I am in the Irish Sea though, I would prefer to be on a bigger piece of land, more like Ireland. I hear their rainfall only lasts 225 days a year in the West.