Why I love the TT: PH Blog


I used to love motorcycling. I passed my test on a week-long course at Harley-Davidson's Welsh school, Rider's Edge, with loony instructors who called indicators "winkies" and kept telling me I was "being beaten by pizza delivery boys". To be fair, I was.

I had a Sportster 883R (crashed), then a Buell (dropped), followed by a Kawasaki ER-6f (lime green, survived intact) and finally a BMW F800 ST (ditto; I was improving). I rode pillion to Le Mans on a Harley and at considerable speed on a Suzuki GSX-R1000 with Kevin Ash, my friend and Telegraph motorcycling correspondent.

So it was a slightly different TT experience...
So it was a slightly different TT experience...
Then two things happened within a fortnight of each other: Kevin died in a crash on the BMW R1200 GS launch in South Africa, and I gave birth to my second son. I held him in my arms, aged 11 weeks, at Kevin's funeral, shoving him and a dummy into the hands of Telegraph Motoring correspondent Andrew English when I went up to do the eulogy.

"What's the point in risking it?" I thought, and put away my lovely Dainese leathers and Alpinestars boots and gloves.

Since then, I've been back on a bike twice, once for Kevin's memorial ride-out at Silverstone and once on a Honda CBR500R, also at Silverstone. Both times I loved it, but not enough to risk a form of transport where the best rider I knew couldn't avoid a fatal accident.

Still, it gnaws away at me on a sunny day. My partner is a Triumph Speed Triple man, also bereft since he sold his bike five years ago. We keep wondering...

And so I write this from the Isle of Man TT, with the Senior TT having been won by Michael Dunlop. John McGuinness was of course out, as was Guy Martin after a false neutral his Fireblade two days before caused him to crash.

John Thorpe stiill knows what he's doing
John Thorpe stiill knows what he's doing
My boyfriend and I are here with Honda, and we have already spent a day on bikes - my boyfriend off-roading on an Africa Twin and me, well, it was pouring with rain and I bottled it again and chose instead to go pillion with Dave Thorpe, three-time Motocross World Champion, on his Africa Twin. It was brilliant, the bikes whirring across the gravel, through large puddles and over huge rocks. It was fun, exhilarating, a test, an adventure over rough land inaccessible by car - all the things biking is meant to be about.

By the time we went out to dinner last night, I was picking a new bike in my head. The pubs in Douglas were rammed, drinkers and bands swaying to live music, a palpable, warm, familiar culture.

We were surprised at the amount of goodwill and general bonhomie about - no riders were out-muscling anyone on the roads, no one was sneering at lesser bikes. Everyone was clearly part of the two-wheeled community, a cheery, beery band of brothers.

I stopped to admire a Suzuki Hayabusa and the Dutch bloke let me sit on it. At breakfast this morning, BSB rider and TT women's lap record holder, Jenny Tinmouth, stopped to say hi. In the hotel bar, John McGuinness, perched on crutches with pins holding his leg in place, chatted with any passing fan. Imagine any of that in F1.

And he gets lunch too!
And he gets lunch too!
But, as usual, the counter-argument won't be silenced. As I write, three people have already died in this year's TT. I've driven around the course, looking at the dips, the corners, the damp parts of Tarmac, the stone walls and lamp posts and metal gates and trees, the houses and pubs and crowds standing right on the roadside that is the 37.7-mile course. It's insane. It would be insane to do that once, let alone six laps with an average lap speed in excess of 133mph. It takes a TT rider about 17 minutes to do 37.7 miles. To put that in context, it would take you one hour and seven minutes to ride round it if you were obeying the various speed limits.

Of course, this is as extreme as road riding gets. But the elements are the same: unprotected rider, variable grip, high speeds, countless developing hazards that you have no control of but pose huge risks such as oil spills, drivers not seeing you, or not looking. Look closer at the TT crowds and you'll see more than a handful of spectators in wheelchairs.

I've watched the Senior Race, inches from my face, with an old crumbling wall between me and riders going at 180mph. The bikes are frightening as they pass: the speed that close to your face is brutal, so jarringly violent and ear-bleedingly loud. It's too much. There's no way out of danger; you're riding straight into it, on the verge of disaster and tragedy, for six laps. You can't see or react to the course; you have to know it in your mind already: every manhole cover, kerb and undulation of the 37.7 miles. The mental concentration is extreme, although Guy Martin has said that the reason he hasn't won a Senior TT race is because he'll start thinking about beans on toast for supper half way round. A friend of Dave Thorpe who races at the TT told him last year that he spotted him watching in the crowd, and correctly recalled where Thorpe had been standing at the time. It's mind boggling.

One way to get back onto two wheels!
One way to get back onto two wheels!
My personal biking crusade is more tentative. I'm still torn, although am starting to think it's all too much. But I might have found a compromise: a Honda C90. Not any Honda C90; specifically the modified one displayed on the Bennetts stand at the TT. Enough pep and fun for short rides, or to commute, but light enough to hold up should I do what I normally do and start to drop it. The boyfriend still wants a Triumph (or an Africa Twin), so the answer might be for him to take me pillion on that and stick to the C90 on my own.

Except, it's going to bug me...

Comments (41) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Esceptico 11 Jun 2017

    Nice piece.

    What baffles me about the TT is that it is pretty much ignored by the mainstream media, despite being such an amazing event, having such a long history, being British and with events generally dominated by Brits. I had to check the TT website to see who has won and the only article I saw in the newspaper was (typically) to report the death of a rider.

  • Loyly 11 Jun 2017

    The TT is the great sporting spectacle in the world.

  • Simes205 11 Jun 2017

    It's has been televised on itv4 over the last two weeks.

  • 2wheelsjimmy 11 Jun 2017

    Who's the author? Well said.

  • Ballistic Banana 11 Jun 2017

    Nice piece and after being there myself the last week its made my itch re open after similarly ceasing riding 7 years ago.

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