The Classic TT: A Blast from the Past

Today’s fastest riders race on yesterday’s fastest bikes at the Classic TT on the Isle of Man.

| March/April 2018

It's about 4,800 miles from my home in Texas to the Isle of Man. Yes, it takes planning and finances to get there, but once you step ashore, smell the sea air and take a look around, you'll realize you've entered moto heaven. When it's race week on the island, you'll see classic motorcycles and those who love them in all directions.

Birth of the Classic TT

Organized motorcycle racing on the Isle of Man started in 1907. The Tourist Trophy (TT) races are traditionally held in June and feature the world's best professional road racers on top-dollar factory-sponsored machines. Since 1923, there has also been a somewhat lower profile event known as the Manx Grand Prix (MGP). It takes place in late August and features up-and-coming amateur riders hoping to graduate to the professional ranks.

In 2013, the race organizers sought to boost attendance at the MGP by creating a new event called the "Classic TT," wherein the big-name TT riders would ride older classic and vintage machines on the Mountain Course. They also arranged for a few special events to add extra incentive for fans to come back to the island for the late August event.

The plan worked — the Classic TT has become a huge success, providing an opportunity for fans to see current top-tier TT racers like John McGuinness, Guy Martin, Michael Dunlop, Dean Harrison and others riding classic race machines from Norton, MV Agusta, Paton, Velocette, Vincent and more on the famous Mountain Course. The old machines sound and look great, and the racers aren't just playing — they flog the old bikes around at average lap speeds of almost 125mph, with some bikes going through the speed traps in excess of 170mph. For comparison, the top-level bikes at TT week in June are doing laps averaging over 132mph with speeds at times over 200mph.

Ponder those numbers for a moment. The TT course looks nothing like a proper race circuit; it's a series of country lanes on a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea. The roads are narrow, with speed limits (on any normal non-race day) between 30 and 50mph. There are no run-off areas or gravel traps. Any excursion off-course will put the rider into a hedge, a phone pole, a wall, a stone house or over a cliff. The penalty for failure is extreme. Sadly, more than 200 racers have died on the course over the years, including three riders this year (during TT week, not at the Classic TT).

In the U.S., one can see vintage motorcycle racing at a variety of road courses: Barber Motorsports Park, Mid-Ohio, Willow Springs, Road America, etc. Most of these courses are 2-3 miles in length, with perhaps 100 feet of elevation change and fewer than 20 turns. Lap times are on the order of two minutes and races are eight to 10 laps. In contrast, the Mountain Course at the Isle of Man is 37.73 miles in length, with 1,600 feet of elevation change and hundreds of corners. A good lap takes a bit under 20 minutes. Race distances for the Classic TT events are four laps (about 151 miles). With only a few practice laps at each event, it typically takes three years for a newcomer to learn the course.

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

Classic Motorcycle Touring and Events.

The latest classic motorcycle events and tours.