The Isle of Real Men

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The Isle of Man is all about being up close and personal with motorcycle racing.  On the lawn of a pub in the little town of Kirk Michael, we watch a racer flash by just a few feet away at over 100mph.  The Isle of Man TT (IOMTT) is a race over 37 miles of country roads around this island in the Irish Sea.  The lap records stands at 131mph and change.  That’s an average speed, as the racers on the big bikes are reaching 190+mph this year.

 

On the surface, the Monaco GP and the Isle of Man TT races have much in common;  both races are held on public roads, both are nearly 100 years old, both are the crown jewels of their respective worlds, and both are as much experiences as they are sporting events.  That folks, is where the similarities end.

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is at the other end of the motorsports world from Monaco.  No yachts, no Ferrari’s,  no playground for the One Percenters, no high style patrons, no $100 million factory race budgets, and no champagne for breakfast.

For a week each year, tens of thousands of bike enthusiasts cram on the ferry and cross the Irish Sea to the Island of Man, a tiny island that is a separate country within the UK.  Surprisingly, the IOM is being gentrified (is there no stone left unturned?) as its a tax haven whose major industry is banking.  But, there’s still a way to go as most of the island looks to be dedicated to sheep herds, which is logical given how many wool sweaters one needs even in June to come close to being warm.

The IOM is filled stonewall to stonewall with bikes, bikers, bike paraphernalia, bike clothing shops, biker pubs and bike museums.  In other words, this is Mecca for bikers and I’m immediately comfortable.

Imagine you’re a baseball fan and you’re in a city in which baseball fans– many in uniforms — are on every street, in every restaurant, and in every bar.  Moreover, every room you walk, whether it be a bar or a bakery shop, has at least one picture of a favorite player, both contemporary and those hero’s of another era.  Now switch out bike racers and their biker fans and you have a picture of what the IOM is like.

There is nothing in the world that compares to sitting on a picnic table on the front lawn of the Mitre Pub, having a beer, and watching, listening, and feeling the racers scream by just feet away.  We’re staying at a private home in Kirk Michael, a country village about half way round the 37 mile course, and its a perfect place to capture the feel of the TT.

The race itself is legendary for many reasons, most of which revolve the fact that its races are held over 37 miles of narrow country roads.  People get killed here every year.  Most often its a racer, but its also fans who are let out on the racing circuit every day (how else are the locals to get to/from work?) and play racer to disastrous results.

This is not a race for young men.  In fact, all the leading contenders would be old men in other sports.  Usually in their mid-30s or early 40s, the leaders have won many races each with one leading contender having 21 victories over the years.   Age is key because it takes a lot of experience to know where the road goes, where each turn goes, how fast you can take it — and more importantly how fast you can’t take it. The roads are most often lined with stone walls or hedges, meaning most corners are blind from the racer’s POV (you can’t see where the corner is going) and the consequences of a mistake can literally be deadly.

The big winner of this year’s event, Ian Hutchinson, is a hero because he spent five years recovering from a leg injury in which he almost lost his leg.  He then came back to win three races this year, averaging over 130mph in each.  He’s obviously grown some huge appendages while recovering:) This week’s favorite Michael Dunlop has had his father and uncle both killed on the Island.  His brother crashed on the first day and is out for the rest of the week.  Michael crashed as well, but he’s limping along.  He needs help to get on his bike, though.

The IOM TT is a race for real, crazy-brave men.

Here’s what the week looked like.

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The trip to the IOM starts at 2 in the morning as hundreds of bikes line up to get on the ferry. The ferry company announced it set a new record this year carrying about 20K bikes across the sea.

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The routine for the 3 hour ferry ride is cram into the ship’s bar, drink as many beers as you can handle, then pass out sitting up.

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A tiny castle in the middle of the harbor greets visitors to the IOM

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Douglas is the IOM’s capital and biggest city.  Its cute and well kept, like everything on the isle.

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We stayed in a room of a family in Kirk Michael, a little village out in the country.   They were very gracious and helpful, giving us useful tips on how to get around when the TT course is closed.

We spent a day watching the races from the front lawn of the Mitre Pub in Kirk Michael. Since the roads close for hours at a time trapping one in the same spot, being close to booze, food and bathrooms was a good strategic move. Plus it was great fun.

We spent a day watching the races from the front lawn of the Mitre Pub in Kirk Michael. Since the roads close for hours at a time trapping one in the same spot, being close to booze, food and bathrooms was a good strategic move. Plus it was great fun.

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Everyone on the island is into the TT races, especially if the track is in front of your house.

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Viewing areas varied, this one on a picnic table.  Nippy and

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occasionally rainy would describe the weather pretty well.

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Down the road from Kirk Michael we watched the races from a sheep pasture in which the farmer had erected a grand stand.  Here a motorcycle side car racer tears by at well over 100mph.  Spectators sit on the hedge just feet away from the action.

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Action is not constant.  Long delays to clear up accidents, etc. leave room for catching a few zz’s.

Notice the gloves.  Even bright sun was nippy when there was a wind, which is most of the time.

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Walking back to the house on the old train tracks we encounter this church and grave site, which is easily the neatest graveyard we’ve ever seen.

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Sheep and lots of them

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The house we’re staying in is over that bluff behind KR

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Castle in Peel, Isle of Man.  KR is in the foreground looking for “interesting” rock, which she claimed there were thousands of:)

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IOM’s idea of a super store

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Races, what race?

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The IOM TT week is a Buddy Holiday, as this crew shows sitting on a bench having lunch.

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The Groom at a wedding we happened by

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Which was held in this pub in downtown Douglas.  Pubs are flexible facilities, obviously.

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Karen went up to these two fellows,  KR: ” You’re the only guys I’ve seen in a suit on the entire Isle of Man.”  Guys:  “We’ve just come from a funeral:)”

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We took a day to ride around the island on the back roads, which proved many a visitor’s point that the IOM is worth seeing without the TT races.

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A golden blurr..

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The island is very mountainous, most of which are filled with farms of one kind or another.

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Stone walls line the TT course

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Wisdom on display at the Isle of Man as well.

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5 Responses to “The Isle of Real Men”

  1. You are living a dream, Fred. The Isle of Man is one of the races I’d most like to see, mostly because of the location. BTW: like your bike, did you ship it or pick it up in Europe?

  2. Always a treat to follow your adventures. This Euro trip far xcells South America where the veracity of your tenacity was unparralled. Continue to live the life of Riley … Look forward to your next snippet! Whip it good!

  3. Chuck & Marilyn June 12, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    Glad you two made it. Sure loved the island when I was there
    Thanks for the report and photos.

  4. Doug- We shipped the bike to Zeebrugge, Belgium and will drop it off there as well. Cost vs. renting a bike for this period of time were a toss-up. fw

  5. Sindhu & Greg June 14, 2015 at 1:07 AM

    Wow! What an amazing trip.