Michael Banks went to his first Isle of Man TT Races on his customised cafe racer and is already planning his return visit. Here’s his account of why he’s smitten with the world’s best racing weeks.
For anyone with a love of motorcycles, the Isle of Man TT is a rite of passage, a ‘bucket list’ pilgrimage on a par with walking the Camino de Santiago or exploring Peru’s Inca Trail.
Riding around the TT route has been the pinnacle of things to do for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to go but the years passed and I repeatedly failed to organise the trip of a lifetime. I kept pacifying myself by saying ‘next year I’ll sort it’ – how many times are we all guilty of the mañana mañana attitude?
Then, in June 2016, I got the call I’d been waiting on since I was 14, back when I used to read second-hand copies of my dad’s crumpled-up MCNs, seeing Dunlop, Hislop and McGuinness run the show and thinking, I’ll go as soon as I get my licence.
‘It’s happening and you’re coming’
One of my best mates, Justin, announced down the line: ‘Isle of Man TT 2017, it’s happening and you’re coming’. He’d already booked the ferry tickets. There was no backing out.
Filled with excitement for the rest of the year, I enjoyed riding my bike around the South Downs in Sussex and country roads near my home town of Brighton, completely overlooking the fact that I live 400 miles away from the IOM and my bike, a customised Triumph 900 Cafe Racer, is woefully inappropriate for such a long ride. I kept telling myself to man up – it would be a laugh.
I said goodbye to my girlfriend, who wasn’t best pleased I was going without her – she’s a rider and wanted to come too but with no crossing tickets available it was to be a lads-only affair – and off I went, buzzing with excitement.
Ten miles in and the rain started; I was soaked. This was to be the theme of this year’s TT: rain, sogginess and moist pants.
I had to stop every 100 miles to fill up but at each service station stop I met hordes of other bikers on the same pilgrimage. We shared stories, complemented each other’s bike mods whilst secretly thinking our own was the best.
The ferry guys seriously know what they are doing, so any fears of my bike being dropped or scratched were quickly allayed.
Where we stayed
Our home for eight days was Douglas Rugby Club campsite. First-night beers with the lads and back to the tent for a well-earned kip, but it leaked during an overnight deluge. Long story short, our stuff got wet, really wet. I’m talking helmets, gloves, leathers, boots and, importantly, my pants. Even though we got wet we didn’t let it dampen our spirits.
We researched online and decided to spend every day in a different spot: Bray Hill, Quarterbridge, Braddan Bridge and Creg-ny-Baa. There are many more places to watch from, but these work well for us.
What exactly is it?
You’ve effectively got an oval island with a public ring road. The road which the race takes part on is open to the public during most of the day then closes for the scheduled races and then reopens when the racing finishes, unleashing thousands of Valentino Rossis on to the track to enjoy the race experience for themselves.
Why is it so appealing?
Long sweeping bends mixed with tight left and rights, some decent straights to allow warp speed to be engaged and, of course, ‘The Mountain’, which draws you in like a siren, similar to the mermaids of legend who used to make sailors beach their ships on rocky ground.
We spent all week riding up to Ramsey to ride the famous section only to be turned away as it was closed. Our penultimate day came and a rumour was buzzing around that the mountain was finally open. Everyone flocked there.
After two passes over the mountain we regrouped at the bottom, stopping at Creg-ny-Baa pub for a bite to eat.
As we took our helmets off and looked at each other, we didn’t need to check if each other enjoyed it. We knew. If you’ve ridden the mountain and not enjoyed it, you are not a true rider. It is epic.
The mountain makes you ride hard and at the end I could understand why so many have come, seen and dropped. It fills you with an almost false belief in your own abilities. I could feel myself getting faster and faster and faster until I had a wake-up call exiting a corner and I immediately snapped out of mountain fever and back to reality. After all, my bike is more of a show pony than race bike and I wanted to get home in one piece, with 130mph a good enough badge of honour for me (speed limits on the mountain are not legally enforced during TT week).
Worth the wait?
Yes the trip up was long, our stuff got soaked and some of the racing was cancelled, but the company was awesome. It was a true mates holiday and I enjoyed every bit of it. It was 17 years in the making and worth waiting for.
Over to you
I’m glad I’ve done it and would, without a shadow of a doubt, encourage anyone in the same position as I was in just to do it because that call from Justin won’t happen to everyone.
If you are currently in mañana mañana mode, get it sorted, you won’t regret it. Isle of Man TT is a must for all.