The 2016 Isle of Man TT fortnight has come to a close, and thousands of people, from visitors, to racers, to now-unemployed TT umbrella girls are saddened. Our coverage of every race from the 2016 TT can be found at this link. But since my gig is to provide color on the atmosphere and goings on around the Isle of Man, I’m going to pivot now from racing to pork sandwiches.
Over 40,000 people and 14,000 motorcycles invade the IOM for the TT, a significant impact on an island with only 88,000 inhabitants. While the races are the event’s center of gravity, it is the island’s natural beauty, attractions, roads, pubs and people that magnify the overall experience. So, lets review some of the things that made this year’s trip so special, and perhaps give Motorcycle.com readers some helpful hints on planning your own visits.
1) Pork Sandwiches, Port Erin, and Pigs on the Wing
Each year, the first place I go after dropping my bags at The Arrandale Hotel in Douglas and picking up my TT Marshal credentials, is the The Carvery food truck at the TT paddock. The Campbell family serves up the most delicious pork sandwich this side of Tony Luke’s in Philly. Many of the riders agree as well, and I’ve met up with Brandon Cretu, Jenny Tinmouth and others in line or at the tables. Get the stuffing, applesauce, and a piece of crackling layered on the ‘bap’ roll, and you’re in TT pig heaven
Man cannot live on pork alone, but thankfully, there are myriad food options around the IOM. A spirited ride on the Tiger 800 XRx up and over the Round Table, on the entertaining A36 road, with spectacular vistas of verdant fields, hills, and the bright blue Irish Sea, brings you to the Bradda Glen Tea Rooms in Port Erin. On a sunny 70+ degree day, with a nice selection of homemade Manx cakes, and arguably the finest views on the entire island, it is easy to while away a few hours soaking in the Manx magic. Port Erin is a somewhat faded beach town, but with a crescent seashore and stunning surroundings, it’s the single place on the IOM that I’m most drawn to.
The Isle of Man punches well above its weight in creativity and talent in the arts. Pigs on the Wing, an IOM-based Pink Floyd tribute band, is living proof of that. They compare straight up sonically with the big city Faux Floyds, and at the beautiful Villa Marina, run through 2.5 hours of Floyd classics. High point for me; “One Of These Days” from the album Meddle. They nailed it, and for a few minutes, I’m back in my black light / high school phase. Which was a while back.
2) Practice Week Makes Perfect
Practice week offers touring and sight seeing with fewer crowds, and evenings to watch the qualifying sessions that run from 6-9 p.m (it stays light until 10:30 p.m. on the IOM at this time of year.) I find it as enjoyable as Race Week in many ways. With 37.74 miles of race course, there are hundreds of spots to watch the races, and after nine years, I’ve got my favorites. These include the bottom of Bray Hill, hedges at Barregarrow and Gorse Lea, The Gooseneck, the grandstands at Hillberry, and the Ginger Hall and Creg-ny-Baa pubs. Each allows for a different perspective, from fierce 185-mph straights to compound turns to tight hairpins.
I’m still discovering new places to watch, but having friends like 50-year TT veteran Peter Thompson of Wales lead me up oxcart trails and poke holes through the hedges to watch, really helps. If you know the back roads and access points, practice week allows for multiple viewing options, all around the course, even within the same evening.
Oh, and if you get there the first weekend, the superb Pre-TT Classic races run on the 4.25-mile Billown Circuit in Castletown, an event worth attending in it’s own right.
3) Tony, The Vicar, and TT Teas
Planning a route round the IOM to visit museums with stop offs for nourishment and natter is a fantastic way to spend non-race days.
The Manx Museum captures the entire history of the IOM and has special roadracing exhibits. I visited last week, and Stan Dibben, a man I’m proud to call my friend, delivered a presentation centered on his work on Donald Campbell’s 1960’s Bluebird land-speed record run. At 91 years of age and still vital, Stan is a revered figure in the TT paddock, and as 1953 World Sidecar Champion passenger, one of the last links to the post-war era of motorsports. I’ll do a full column on Stan shortly, but you really should download his biography, “Hold On,” here on Amazon.
The north of the island is quiet and lightly populated, and a nice place to ride, especially the A10 from Ramsey through Bride and over to Jurby. While thousands of bikes are endlessly looping the crowded main roads and the mountain section (when it isn’t closed due to a crash, which is often) you can enjoy a delightful spin on virtually empty two-lanes up there. And, you can have cake with The Vicar.
Churches across the IOM open up for TT Teas during the fortnight, fundraisers offering bikers homemade sandwiches, cakes, scones and other delights. The best TT Tea is at Bride Church, where the Vicar, Reverend Brian Evans-Smith, greets my wayward flock from New Jersey every year with warmth and a ‘devilish’ sense of humor that enhances the abundant and delicious treats prepared by the parishioners. It’s an annual highlight of the TT visit.
With The Vicar’s blessing, we ride with spirit over to the Isle of Man Motor Museum, a brand new facility built on the grounds of the disused RAF Jurby airfield by father and son team Denis and Darren Cunningham. The 70,000 square foot space is impressive, and the collection is…unusual. There are 150 vintage road and race bikes, and a special exhibit of Joey Dunlop’s bikes, leathers, helmets and trophies spanning his entire racing career. Very cool.
But there are also over 100 assorted cars, buses, trucks, fire engines and ambulances. And American funeral flower vehicles. The eight door + six wheel + vista roof Olds Toronado airport shuttle car handily wins my 2016 IOM WTF award.
Had enough museums yet? No, you haven’t. We book down to Kirk Michael where an impressive little jewel box, the A.R.E Motorcycle Collection sits. Owned by Tony East, a major figure in the IOM motorcycle community, there are over 100 vintage machines, heavy on British bikes from the 1930s and up, with a wall full of Manx Nortons. Every single bike is kept running and in pristine condition. The collection is housed in the Old Vicarage, a gem of a building over 250 years old.
Tony was quite animated in discussing the changes to the TT and Manx Grand Prix and opining on the state of the vintage motorcycle scene.
“A lot of the vintage guys are miserable old sods,” he says with a chuckle and wink, “but I’m doing my best to attract the next generation. We hold a VMCC demo day where we invite younger riders to try out some of our old bikes on the short track. Quite a few have come away impressed and ready to take on a classic bike project, so that’s a start.”
Visit Tony and his collection, and you’ll be scouring eBay for a BSA by the time you get home.
4) All the Island is a Show
One of the great joys of the TT, especially at night, is ambling about Douglas Promenade taking in the thousands of bikes parked up on the prom, with the festival rides, blaring music and heaving pubs setting the atmosphere. It’s bike nerd heaven.
Over the course of the fortnight, there are bike shows, exhibits, sprints and events in Ramsey, Laxey, Port St. Mary and elsewhere, where thousands of bikes and visitors stroll, eat monumentally good Manx ice cream, check out bikes, and submit to the charms of the TT festival.
The biggest show is held on Thursday of Race Week, presented by the Moddey Dhoo (Manx Gaelic for “Black Dog”) MC. Held in Peel this year, the show featured a nice array of custom, vintage and race bikes. And a display of the new Hesketh machines, not yet coming to a U.S. dealer near you.
I’m including pix of a number of the cool and unusual bikes seen on at the TT this year, so dig through and enjoy. I’ll wrap things up in a few days with this year’s bitchin’ TT video!