Airborne Superbikes Prove That The Isle of Man TT Is Still The World’s Wildest Motorsport Event
Photography by Will Broadhead
The Isle of Man is a magical place for students of speed, particularly those of us that prefer our endorphins delivered on two wheels. In fact, for many of us that come here by plane or ferry, the island during the TT fortnight takes on a presence that is much larger than the sum of its parts. It becomes far more than just a time trial, its reputation and history mean that it grows into an entity separate from the rest of motorsport, like some sort of deity of crazed competition that casts upon its congregation a call for pilgrimage, that once answered, is all but impossible to resist.
The TT has a way of entrancing and bewitching those of us that experience just a little taste of what the mountain course has to offer—this is true for spectators and competitors alike—and for two thrilling weeks on the Island, we are all enchanted by the temptress that is the Snaefell Mountain Course. Indeed there is nowhere else in the world where I’ve experienced such a tight bond between members of a group: for the two weeks of the festival, we drink in the same pubs, eat in the same restaurants, and are collectively captivated by stories of past glory and tragedy, enthralled and in awe of the TT’s continued existence. We suffer together when the weather sours and track time is lost, and we grieve together when one of our own pays the ultimate price for what outsider perspectives might chalk up to a reckless endeavor.
But to them I will simply say this: you just don’t understand. This is meant with no arrogance or conceit, or delivered with any egocentric undertones, as if one person’s opinion is better than another’s, for this is not opinion but fact. I thought I “got” the TT until I experienced my first taste in person, stood on the side of the road at Glen Vine. I had been bought up with its magic, educated on its history, and watched the coverage, but nothing prepared me for the feeling I experienced when a Superbike hurtled past my face for the first time some years ago.
The way that howl of the engine confirmed its advance upon my position, the crackles in the air filled with tension, excitement, nerves, as the riders came ever closer and then the intense injection of adrenalin as the motorcycles punched through the air, just feet from me and a stone wall. It is a feeling that I will never forget, and one that I’ve since chased for many years as I photographed the brave riders and famous roads that make up the 37.7-mile lap.
Goodness knows how it feels for the ones on the bikes, as they begin a six-lap race with the tumultuous fling down Bray Hill, a road so steep that it is a real struggle just to walk up it, and one that on a flying lap is negotiated at close to full throttle input. It may appear to be a straight ray, but the gentle curve of the road becomes an absolute corner at the speeds the bikes are traveling, leaving the ground completely as they enter it at St. Ninians Crossroads and then violently grounding the bellies of the machines as they hit the fierce compression at the bottom of the hill at some 180 miles per hour.
And so it continues, the violence and speed of the circuit tamed by these gladiators, dancing a terrifying ballet with physics, controlling the pace with a balanced throttle hand and incredible sensitivity to a bike that is bucking and weaving like a demonic rodeo bull. It is somewhat hard to believe what is accomplished by these competitors as they travel the vast lap at speeds averaging north of 130mph, indeed when you give a new visitor to the island a tour of the circuit by car and then explain that the lap record around these 37.7 miles is less than 17 minutes, the sharp intake of breath and then stunned silence speaks volumes.
Each new spot that I visit provides a new thrill, and old favorites have never become, well, old, as each year I get my fix. Rhencullen provides airborne visuals as the bikes leap from the earth; Handley’s Corner provides you with the opportunity to stand inline with the bikes as they come at you head on before disappearing in a riot of color and sound below your feet; Milntown showers you with dust and debris as the blurred machinery howls through and then fires into the darkness of the trees on their run into Ramsey; and the mountain itself adds an almost ethereal dimension of raw nature that is in direct contrast to the tight and technical path through the towns and villages of the first half of the lap.
I could go on and on, at length, such is my passion for this race. A passion shared between probably millions of us that know of the legendary TT. I firmly believe that it is not something you can ever truly grasp though until you have experienced it firsthand, and whether you are a supporter or a detractor, your opinion won’t crystalize without a trip to see it up close. The TT is dangerous, it is cruel, and has and will continue to unleash pain, but it gives so much more besides that. I have found nothing else that comes even close to this level of racing excitement, nothing that eclipses the awe I have each time a bike roars by solid objects on either side, and nothing that leaves me feeling so ebullient after it’s done. This year my girlfriend Hollie joined me for race week, someone who’s interest in motorsport stretches just enough to listen to me harp on about it constantly. You can see her in the image of bike #8 in the below-right shot as it leaps past the yellow cottage at Rhencullen. Her face, in the middle of the gaggle of spectators, tells you all you need to know about this place, and it goes without saying that she is joining me next year, and I hope that many of you reading this will too.