The 2015 Isle of Man TT festival has been a corker. McGuinness, Hutchinson, Anstey and a host of up and coming riders set lap records and made history. And to cap it, the island has bathed in near-perfect weather. Save for a few days in practice week where the a storm and the misty ‘Cloak of Mannanan’ descended upon the island, wreaking havoc with riders, campers and race organizers, we have been blessed with sunny, warm Northern California-esque conditions for virtually the entire meet.
Standing on North Quay in Douglas, thronged with locals in summer clothes in marked contrast to the visiting bikers sweating in leathers, enjoying Okell’s Bitter and other libations, my buddy John and I recounted the last few days of pubs, events, riding the island and spectating from one fantastic vantage point after another. Starting at the grandstand and start line, all the way around the 37.7-mile course, there are myriad viewing spots, and we did our best to take in some of the finest ones.
To check out Sidecar and Superstock races, we rode out to The Ginger Hall Hotel. A historic inn and pub in Sulby, 20 miles along the TT Mountain Course, The Ginger offers a warm atmosphere, good food, a bar with serious roadrace cred, and essential cask ales. There is a beer garden, ample parking, and a ridiculously close-up, unimpeded view of the bikes approaching at speed from Sulby Bridge, braking, then accelerating out of a complex turn towards Ramsey. It makes for one of the best places to view and enjoy the TT, and I would argue, any motorsports event on Earth. The Cain family runs the joint, son Mark is the manager, his sister pulls pints at the bar, and granny offers weapons-grade homemade Manx cakes of every flavor at the service window.
Here’s the bonus. If you are on a motorbike, the twisting, beautiful Sulby Glen road allows you to wind your way up from the Ginger to The Bungalow, at one of the highest elevations on the Mountain Course, to watch the races from an entirely different vantage point near Hailwood’s Rise, the highest part of the course. Then, a ride down and shoot off on another lane (with a stopover at a beautiful little gem of a Tea Barn at Tholt y Will Glen if you’re so inclined) takes you to the Sulby Straight, with 180-mph-plus missiles blowing by a few feet away. The golden triangle of TT viewing, powered by Granny Cain’s cakes, makes this the essential TT day.
The following race day, joined by my Welsh buddy Peter Thompson on his ’99 VFR, gear-driven cams whining with purpose, we took our Triumph Street Triples up the back roads to the Famous Creg ny Baa, arguably, the most iconic spot on the TT course. Strike that. According to Sandrina Teece, who manages the Creg, it is the most iconic spot.
The restored landmark overlooks the long drop down from Kate’s Cottage, with a tight right and another 1-mile run down to Brandish. We spent race day 3 in the pub and on the balcony watching Sidecar, Superstock and TT Zero races, part of a ‘VIP’ experience, at the hand of Sandrina’s superb team. You’ll pay a good bit for this, but it’s worth it. On a budget? Do the grandstands next to the pub or just park your ass on a nearby hedge and enjoy the Creg’s beer and burger tent.
Thursday finally brings a day with no racing, so we’re off for some spirited yet sane riding around the IoM, avoiding, for the most part, the mountain section, which has been closed numerous times due to accidents over the fortnight involving squids and McGuiness wannabes. The A10, which sweeps across the desolate northern part of the island, is uncrowded and undulating, with enough complexity to make the 10-mile run more than a little interesting.
Churches around the IoM offer ‘TT Tea’ fundraisers and comfort stops during the fortnight, and wheeling into the tiny village of Bride, we are greeted by The Vicar of St. Bridget’s, the Reverend Brian Evans-Smith. The Vicar, who has a keen ‘pull my finger’ sense of humor, welcomes back his favorite Yanks, busts our chops for a while, and strongly suggests we go for the top-of-the-rate-card ‘Full Hit’ tea. Of course we cannot deny the Vicar, or anything called a Full Hit, and more examples of superior Manx cakes are consumed in the garden before setting off for more touring.
Come nighttime (with sunlight lasting until after 10:30pm, that’s a relative term), thousands of bikes are parked up on the Douglas Promenade, allowing for some nice motorcycle gawking and chat, and the pub crawls begin. Rock ’n’ Roll joints like Jaks Bar and Steakhouse on the Douglas Promenade and O’Donnell’s on Strand Street have overflow crowds and live music, and the Bushy’s Beer Tent packs in over 1000 people with a stream of local and come-over bands rocking until late.
John and I took a different turn, however, and joined Manx Radio host, and font of musical knowledge, Ed Oldham, at an underground spot in Douglas called New Social Studios for some excellent DJ sessions and two psych/post-punk bands, accompanied by light shows and BYO wine. A budding scene, very cool, completely unlike what was going on above ground.
I suggest all Motorcycle.com readers download the Manx Radio app, and check out Ed Oldham’s excellent radio show, Saturday Night Live. It runs 1- 4pm U.S. Eastern Time, followed by three more hours of more mainstream classic rock, and it is one of the great eclectic music programs on the air today. As a bonus, you can get the superb live commentary from the TT and Manx Grand Prix when they are running.
The annual Laxey TT Motorcycle Show, organized by the Moddey Dhoo Motorcycle Club, drew hundreds of bikes, vintage and new, with some particularly sweet two-stroke and ’80s race-rep bike porn on display. There we met Ian Coates, who, 14 years after telling his wife that he was going on a four-month trip, has covered close to 300,000 miles on his 1991 Honda Africa Twin, visiting almost every country in the world, without detailed maps, GPS or much planning of any sort. His story can be found here. If I were the Honda marketing department, I’d have this guy as the official spokesman for the new Africa Twin, and his bike in the Honda Museum.
Later, after a spirited romp over South Barrule and the Round Table, we take a break at peaceful Fleshwick Bay, and I enjoy a spare piece of lemon drizzle cake from the Ginger Hall that somehow found it’s way into my jacket pocket, while John and I reflect on our rented Street Triples. Their character-laden powerplants and utter flickability are particularly suited to the smooth, fun sections of Manx tarmac. Rougher roads were a different story, with the Streety’s suspension yielding a choppier ride than the Tiger 800s we had last year. I’d pick the Tiger as an ideal IoM all-roads and paths touring bike, with it’s plusher suspension and modicum of protection from the elements. But man, that 675cc three-pot is a sweet motor.
Heading down the A4 coast road, round the infamous Devil’s Elbow curve, we paid a visit to Peel Castle, one of the finest examples of its type in the British Isles. Originally built in the 11th century by Viking King Magnus Barefoot, who despite his chill name, was all about aggressive military conquest, the castle is the perfect place to photograph a Goth or doom band album cover. Oh, wait, they don’t have album covers anymore.
South of Peel lies Niarbyl, a promontory that extends into the Irish Sea, and one of the most scenic places on the island. I come here every year before I head home, stare out at the magnificent Manx coastline, the sea, and on clear days like this, the outline of the Mourne Mountains of Ireland in the distance, and just give thanks for another top-flight visit to this really special place. And for Granny Cain’s cakes.
The 2015 TT itself was one for the ages, and Motorcycle.com has all the race wrap-ups and analysis. I’m working on a few related stories and a video, so stay tuned.