During the first week of June we were lucky enough to attend 'Race Week' of the 2014 Isle of Man TT.
Our adventure started when we set off on the 3 hour ferry ride from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Douglas, Isle of Man. As nice as our rental Skoda was, the hundreds of bikes in the parking bay below deck were the best part of the ferry ride, and the best way to start the trip.
Upon arrival in Douglas, it was clear that this is was a destination for bikers from all over the world. Thousands of bikes lined the streets around the island.
Since hotels during the TT book up 10 years in advance, we camped at the Union Mills Football Club. The people and facilities were fantastic, though the frigid nights are going to be an equally lasting memory from our camping experience on the Isle of Man. Nevertheless, it was pretty fun camping beside road-registered Panigale R's with race slicks, and Ford Transit vans with race bikes tucked neatly in the back. As soon as the sun was up and the road surface wasn't freezing, these guys and girls would take to the open Mountain Course. On the Isle of Man this is completely legal, and as many sections of the island are without speed limits, you are free to travel as quickly as you dare. One of the best experiences of the trip was driving the course ourselves (in our 3.0 litre diesel Skoda) with bikes flying by us on the straights.
Unlike most race meets, the TT is an early starter for both participants and spectators. Because the 37.7 mile Mountain Course takes up nearly the entire island, most of the roads around the island are closed. As a result, spectators have to get up early in order to make it to their intended viewing spot. Around the circuit there are plenty of unofficial gathering areas for spectators to watch from, which are usually accompanied by a pot of boiling water, tea bags, and a donation bin. These areas are set up by local churches, soccer clubs, and charities, and they really add to the overall atmosphere of the TT.
As far as the racing, where to begin? It is really hard not to get wrapped up in it all. Listening to Manx Radio playing everywhere in the background with constant updated time intervals for the competitors, while watching riders go wide-open through the right-hander at the bottom of Bray Hill, it really is something special. There is an intense sense of speed and danger that surrounds the entire event that is quite addicting.
The bikes that race the TT range from 600s to 1000s, and from all-electric to side-cars. We were lucky enough to be at the TAS Tyco Suzuki tent while Milky Quayle talked some sponsors through the team's different bikes. The 600s are mostly street stock, even running DOT tires, but the Superbikes are just as the name sounds. They are heavily engineered, carbon fiber racing machines that look very similar to roads bikes, but are not even close. The brake assembly for the Superbikes cost more than the entire 600 super stock bike. The super stock bikes do not run any special telemetry, they come as they are right out of the factory. However, after every practice session the engines of the 600s are either rebuilt or completely replaced, because unlike the 1000s, the 600s are on the rev-limiter for the majority of time around the circuit.
If you or anyone that you know is considering attending the TT, please do not hesitate to come into the shop or send your friends into the shop for some tips. We would be happy to offer any advice we can, or tell you more about the trip.