Out and About At The Isle of Man TT 2018 – Part One
Deep into my annual hejira to the Isle of Man for the TT, my mates and I are getting out and about on motorbike, foot and the occasional electric tram, mingling with the 40,000 visitors, 14,000 additional motorcycles, 88,000 inhabitants and 2.3 million sheep on this lovely island.
By any measure, the first half of the Isle of Man TT 2018 has been one for the books. The island has been resplendent, embraced by flawless weather… warm, sunny days and delightful, long evenings. There has clearly been an inflection point in the food, drink and entertainment scenes over the last few years, turning this sleepy island into a burgeoning foodie destination in itself. And, oh yeah, the racing. Four major contests so far, four new race records. And a new generation of riders, hellbent on ensuring that this precious event lives on and thrives for years to come.
On Monday, the boys from New Jersey, with Welsh, British, German and Minnesotan accomplices, mounted a fine array of motorbikes: Honda Africa Twin and VFR800, Suzuki V-Strom 650, Kawasaki Versys 650 and 1000, Aprilia RSV, Kawasaki Z650, Yamaha MT-07, and Triumph Street Scrambler (Note to Evans, how about an ‘amateurs on rented motorcycles’ comparo? (Note back to Andrew, that’s what we do.)) We took to the inner goat paths and quiet mountain roads I’ve become intimately familiar with over the last decade and experienced what has become our signature day at the TT, the triskelion of viewing points: The Ginger Hall. Bungalow. Sulby Straight.
Ginger Hall allows fans to enjoy food and drink (Robinson’s Trooper, sponsors of Peter Hickman’s machine, was a popular choice), while viewing the riders sweeping in at 120 mph from Sulby Bridge, where they must bend their upper bodies right while leaning left to avoid the pole at the apex. Discombobulating there pays a heavy price. We then ride up the beautiful Tholt-y-Will Glen road, above the tree line to the Bungalow.
There, embankments abound, and thousands enjoy watching the bikes take on the huge, sweeping mountain section, where the film helicopter can’t keep up with the lead bikes as they ascend to the highest point of Snaefell. And then we ride down the glen to Sulby Straight. There, the bikes hit over 180 mph and run flat out for miles, accompanied by an intense sense of speed and fury along with one of the sweetest soundtracks in motorsports. And, the Sulby Methodist Church is the first house of worship I’ve ever seen with a Yamaha banner spread across the nave.
Race fans heading to the TT Grandstand and Paddock Site this year benefit from an enhanced entertainment, retail, food and drink scene. The new Trackside beer tent (a point of controversy among the hoi polloi… the TT is run on a course, not a track) is a superb hangout. The open paddock enables fans to see the machines on display and watch the mechanics work their magic, or just soak up the unique and friendly atmosphere.
Food? Yes! Artisan pie and mash from Betty’s Pies, pork and beef baps by the Manx Carvery (best I’ve ever had), American-style hot dogs by Dave’s Delicious Dogs, and local bitter from Okell’s, Hooded Ram, and Bushy’s. It’s a food fest, I tell you.
You can easily mingle with the riders. Michael Dunlop was hanging out at a pizza van near the paddock, unbothered, a few hours after his majestic race feats. John McGuinness was ambling about the Norton merchandise stand taking selfies with fans. Conor Cummins will draw you a macchiato at his coffee shop, Coffee Mann, in Ramsey, on non-race days. This place is special, and these dandy, down to earth athletes unlike any other.
The racing has been breathtaking. Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW) claimed his first ever TT win (and definitely not his last) when the big bloke captured the RL360 Superstock race by 4.4 seconds from Michael Dunlop (MD Racing BMW), with Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki) in third.
It was a manic contest. The top three exchanged positions throughout, but even after almost missing one turn completely, Hickey set a stunning new Superstock lap record of 134.403 mph on his final lap, just missing Harrison’s outright lap record from Saturday’s Superbike race.
Michael Dunlop (MD Racing Honda) captured Monday’s Monster Energy Supersport race, beating Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki) by 10.2 seconds, and Dunlop’s second lap set a new class record of 129.197 mph. It was his second win of the week and 17th in total.
Ben and Tom Birchall took their seventh Isle of Man win on Saturday evening when they blitzed the record books in the opening Locate.im Formula Two Sidecar race, shattering both lap and race records. All of these speeds were theoretical only a few years ago.
Touring the island on a non-race day, we arc up around Ramsey, where we run into Ian Coates. A legend I’ve covered before, it was Ian’s 75th birthday, and he was eager to regale us with his remarkable stories. In 1999, Coates left on a four-month loosely planned European trip on his 1991 Honda Africa Twin motorcycle. Much to his wife’s chagrin and surprise, he returned 17 years and 300,000 miles later. He visited almost every country in the world, travelling solo on his motorcycle with no GPS. Or maps. Google him, you’ll not be disappointed.
We hop on the winding and empty A10 road for the first stop on our museum tour. The Isle of Man Motor Museum, a place I covered last year, has added more motorbikes to supplement the oddball collection of American and European vehicles. And down in Kirk Michael, is a small gem of a museum, the A.R.E. vintage collection, where we strike gold. The Suter team van pulls in, unloads the 500 MMX two-stroke Superbike, and cranks it up, bathing us in glorious sound and smoke. See the video below for 90 seconds of glory and make it your ringtone.
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A couple of TT virgins from Minnesota, Dave McClellan and Eric Whitman, are emblematic of those who come to the TT and discover what differentiates the TT fortnight from virtually any other motorsports event on earth. “You can’t describe the skill and chops of these riders until you see it all in person. It is amazing to ride these same roads minutes before and after the races,” said Dave. Eric just said “I’ll be back.”
As will I. We’re posting a composite iPhone video of the spectator views we’ve done so far, along with the two-stroke porn Suter start up. Visit Motorcycle.com’s YouTube channel. We’re up at the famous Creg-ny-Baa today. Check back in a few days for another installment of Out and About on the Isle of Man TT 2018.
More by Andrew Capone