Arriving on the Isle of Man for the TT during the somewhat quieter Practice Week allows for a visiting motorcyclist to make number of adjustments. Not the least of which is that you are no longer on Earth, that place where most people don’t like you. You are now in a parallel reality, where folks are warm and accommodating to bikers, and the average citizen knows that Bruce Anstey is racing a Honda RC213V-S this year. On the IOM, motorbikes are abundant and admired, the beer and air are pure, meaning-of-life vistas greet you at every turn, and race bikes achieve astounding speeds on public roads. All dogs may go to heaven, but we go here, and it’s better.
I’ve written previously about being ‘off the grid on the Isle of Man,’ and it’s not like I’m traversing a vast wilderness, face painted with primitive religious symbols, eating grubs for survival. It simply means that I am as remote from my regular responsibilities and surroundings as I can realistically be. And on the IOM, remoteness is relative, as you’re never more than a few miles from a pint of Bushy’s Piston Brew (A pleasant, malty ruby colored ale, 4.7% A.B.V.) And one of the places that serves a great deal of Manx Ale is The Rover’s Return, a tiny, bustling pub in the cobblestone lane behind the Town Hall in Douglas.
There, I meet up with my pal, Manx Radio DJ Ed Oldham, and his come-over friend Kes for several pints, as the crowd spills out into the lane, TT chatter building. This primes us for the pilgrimage to the Bushy’s Beer Tent, the center of gravity for entertainment during the TT. Thousands of people, all in good spirit, pounding cask ales, watching a string of bands on a big stage, priming for a fortnight of incredible racing, right up the hill.
Speaking of hills, that morning I took my rented Triumph Tiger 800 XRx up and over the Mountain Course and into the quiet, winding roads of the IOM. As an aside, this Tiger is the ‘Low Suspension’ model, and I’m not digging it. I own and love a Tiger 800 back home, but the changes made to achieve a lower seat height have greatly compromised the handling and feel of this bike. It grinds like a Sportster even in modestly spirited riding. The ‘Low’ business case might make sense, but the execution is off.
Up near Druidale (population 0) I park at a quiet spot and meet Pete and Kev from Leicestershire. Childhood friends and Speedway, TT and MotoGP racing devotees, two-up on a Triumph Sprint, they are typical of the folks you meet here; keenly enthusiastic about motorbikes, and eager to talk and share stories. And they will come back to the TT, year after year.
On down single track roads to Greater Foxdale, the Tiger grinding its pegs and plonking its bash plate, I encounter a group of off-roaders, having an absolute blast on the trails and terrain that the IOM has set aside for such activities. Sean Attard of Liverpool and his mates strap their bikes down on the ferry and come to the IOM every year. ‘What can I say, it’s beautiful, riding is great, racing is fantastic…I love it!’ says Sean, and I concur. I’m renting an enduro next year.
I Marshal a few sessions at the races each year, and there is nothing that connects you to the TT more than being a part of the Orange Army. A critical part of the TT ecosystem, over 520 Marshals must be on duty, within eyesight, around the 37 ¾ mile course, for each practice and race, They work tirelessly and selflessly for the entire fortnight, and the TT Marshals are the unsung heroes of this unique event (see IOMTTma.com).
My stations are at Ago’s Leap and Bray Hill, where Deputy Sector Marshal Julia Rounce does a fantastic job of positioning the Marshals and assigning their duties, ensuring crowd control, monitoring race control via the Tetra radio system, and generally keeping calm while preparing for the worst. Bray Hill is one of the epic locations to take in the racing, and my orange vest, while not flattering, allows me to be within a few feet of the blisteringly fast race bikes.
Marshaling the TT is a serious responsibility and can be stressful if there is a racing incident of any sort. You’re standing, no facilities, and sessions can run as late as 9PM, with race days being 10 or 12-hour affairs. While this may not seem to fit the ‘off the grid’ theme, it does. While I’m out there, bikes blowing by at 185 MPH, contemplating what I’d do in case of a crash, I am completely detached from my work, commute, bills, electronics, deadlines and quotidian day-to-day tasks. In other words, off-the-grid.
More from the Isle of Man TT in the days ahead.