Motorcycle Mecca: The Isle of Man TT

Making the pilgrimage to the Isle of Man TT - why you want to go.

| January/February 2012

Every self-respecting gearhead has a running list of places he or she wants to visit before the end of the gasoline age. When I was a kid, seeing photographs of salt-encrusted streamliners at Bonneville earned the Salt Flats a spot on my list. Images of Superbikes in the Eighties on the banks of Daytona added the raceway to my list. Seen On Any Sunday? Yup, Baja is on my list, too. And then there’s the Isle of Man TT.

Crossing one motorcycle race off the list

The thing that put the Isle of Man TT on my list was seeing a video of Dave Roper doing a lap of the TT course on the Team Obsolete factory Benelli 350 in 1993. The first time I saw it, there was no voice over, just the sound of the Benelli four-cylinder winding up and down through the gears, the camera looking from behind the bubble with the tachometer bouncing around at the bottom of the screen. Since then I’ve seen many videos and photographs of the 100-year-old TT road course, but that on-bike footage is my favorite.

Watching stone walls, trees, villages and signs blurring past while listening to the rider’s overdubbed recounting of shift points, brake points and general wisdom of the TT course makes it difficult to sit still. I find myself leaning involuntarily and gripping my armrests in an attempt to process the Star Wars-like warp speeds. Watch the footage of Guy Martin doing a lap in 2007 on a liter bike. You’ll do the same. (Go to the Wheels on Reels blog to see this and other IOM racing footage).

In the past, I made excuses why I couldn’t go. But when I heard Dave Roper was going to parade a 1911 Indian for the 2011 event, I decided this would be my year. I have gotten to know Dave over the years at USCRA (United States Classic Racing Association) Moto Giros and events at the races at Louden, N.H., so I called him to see if he had anyone taking photos of his efforts with the Indian. Dave was enthusiastic, so I rounded up a travel partner in friend and gearhead Bill Burke (aka The Minister of Transportation), who had been to the IOMTT three times and doesn’t need much convincing for such a trip.

First things first. How do I get to the Isle of Man TT?

I quickly bought a non-refundable ticket so I couldn’t change my mind. I settled on an Aer Lingus flight from Boston to Dublin, then a prop plane from Dublin to Douglas, Isle of Man, on Aer Lingus’ partner Aer Arann. I bought my tickets in late February and had many choices through the websites of the two airlines. A fellow Bostonian I ran into at the TT bought his tickets in late April using Orbitz, and despite being only about five weeks before the TT Celebration he had no problem getting flights and a place to stay.

This self-governed U.K. island is in the middle of the Irish Sea, so you can fly to Dublin, Belfast, London or any number of European cites and take a plane or ferry there. While at the races we met American Courtney Olive, who stuck out of the crowd because of his rare-in-Europe Aerostich suit. Courtney flew from Oregon to Belfast and rented a KTM 690 Duke from 11-time TT winner Phillip MacCallen’s dealership in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, and rode around Ireland before taking a ferry to the Isle of Man. He said that renting a bike was fairly easy, and once it was lined up, he got the plane and ferry tickets easily online.

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