The Isle of Man TT officially began two days ago, and from now until June 6 the grandest spectacle of two-wheeled sport will captivate viewers and race fans for yet another year. Personally, I love the TT. The grandeur of racing through the town of Douglas, with the sight of walls, homes and pubs whizzing past at triple-digit speeds is exciting in a way few who have never ridden a motorcycle will ever know. 

There was a brief period in time where I had contemplated putting together an effort to race at the TT. I had known some people who had done it and figured it would be the ultimate motorcycle racing experience. But then a trip to the Isle quickly changed my mind.

I had been invited to the international press launch of the Triumph Street Triple R, taking place at none other than the Isle of Man. The route would encompass much of the TT course, and though the roads wouldn’t be closed off to opposing traffic, it would be the closest I would get to experiencing the TT without actually competing in it.

Siahaan STR Isle of Man

I’ve been fortunate enough to ride a motorcycle at the Isle of Man. And although I wasn’t traveling anywhere close to race speeds, the experience was enough to convince me I’m not cut out to race there.

Arriving at the TT start line and seeing a row of identical Street Triple Rs lined up for us only added to the excitement for many in attendance, myself included. I remember pinching myself in awe that this was really happening. However, the amazement of the moment soon passed when the reality of the weather was relayed to me. Light drizzle was expected with fog likely in the mountain section. Ambient temps hovered below 60 degrees. Locals to the Isle and the surrounding area don’t think twice about conditions like this, but I was slightly concerned. Needless to say, conditions were less than ideal.

I remember the pace of our ride being mighty brisk, evidence of the many laps Triumph’s ride leaders had done while scouting the route. In fact, at the lower elevations of our ride the pace was quite fun. By no means were we traveling at race speeds, but it was quick and I was getting excited about possibly competing on these same roads someday.

Everything changed once we started to climb the mountain, however. Under most circumstances I would relish this route and the pace of the leaders, but the conditions, combined with my lack of track knowledge, made me uncomfortable. The fog was setting in and it was quite thick. Meanwhile, the leaders were still maintaining their quick pace, forcing me to ride quicker than I would have liked for the conditions. Looking back, on one hand the ride was quite thrilling. The mountain roads had very little traffic, giving us greater confidence to ride fast. However, at its worst, the fog really limited visibility and I was relying on the riders in front of me to see where I was going. The element of danger was very real, and I was later told the race likely would have been postponed under these same conditions. Little consolation after the fact, but good to know…

James Hillier Isle of Man TT

Now imagine this road being slightly wet with enough fog to  completely cover the white home in the background.

Once safely back in my hotel room I had a long look at myself in the mirror. If this press ride was enough to have the butterflies spinning in my stomach, how on Earth would I make it through the actual TT? It was a question I didn’t have any reasonable answer to other than to say I couldn’t. And just like that, my personal TT aspirations faded away. But if nothing else, it has only strengthened my admiration and respect for those who do decide to compete. From the first place finisher, down to the last person to cross the line, their personal resolve to challenge themselves and machinery in the most dangerous race in the world is uncanny. Their dedication, focus, bravery and skill is on another level — so much so that some, like the wildly popular Guy Martin, have stated that short circuit racing bores them.

Critics of the race, and “real” road races in general, argue that the event is archaic, asinine, and downright criminal, given the dangers involved. There’s no denying the Isle of Man TT and other road races carry with it an element of danger beyond that already seen in typical “short circuit” road races. Unfortunately, the tragic passing of Simon Andrews at the North West 200 races this year was a harsh reminder of these realities. However, many counter arguments have been written, and many by more experienced and/or better qualified authors than myself as to why these critics have it all wrong. Personally, only one of these rebuttals is necessary and renders other criticisms moot: the fact that the race is entirely voluntary. Andrews, as well as everyone else who has lined up on the grid, was well aware of the danger involved, and to motion for the TT and other road races to be outlawed strikes me as insulting.

Simon Andrews NW200 2

RIP Simon Andrews.

But this space is less about debate and more about praise. Instead of debating the ethics behind the TT, I’m going to do what I do every year. I’m going to look forward to this year’s TT, while wishing everyone competing the best of luck for a safe and successful race. While I’m aware tragedy may strike, here’s hoping records get broken, the racing is exciting, and the weather is perfect. This is a chance to see a particular set of athletes showcase their skills on the world’s biggest stage, and I, for one, can’t wait.