Isle of Man Classic TT: Tales of An American Underdog

The Isle of Man Classic TT honors the island’s history. The race is brutal on bikes, using the same public roads that have been raced on for more than 100 years.

| January/February 2015

  • John Munns at the Isle of Man Classic TT.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • It’s the day before the race. Kenny Buchanan trues the rear wheel while Jared Kenyon looks on. John Munns mends the clutch.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • It’s on to scrutineering, with the help of Tim Webb.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Munns’ b-bike is a well-worn 200cc race bike with lights added, which he used for unofficial “open roads” practice laps. Here it uses a fence post for a kick stand.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Munns rides through Windy Corner on his b-bike during and open roads practice lap, with plenty of company from other riders visiting the island.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Munns at the Bradden Bridge corner during an evening practice.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Riding through the town of Kirk Michael. His tiny bike and even tinier Bridgestone BT39 race tires drew lots of interest on the island.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Riding through the town of Kirk Michael. His tiny bike and even tinier Bridgestone BT39 race tires drew lots of interest on the island.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • A week’s worth of scrutineering stickers from practice dot the fairing of Munns’ bike.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Tim Webb tends to pit stop duties as Munns checks his spokes.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Andrew Mauk’s KO’d CB450 engine, now in see-through version.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Munns and his machine on the eve of race day.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Bruce Ansty rounds the Quarterbridge corner in practice on a 500 Manx Norton.
    Photo by Courtney Olive
  • Lee Johnston and his 350cc Classic TT-winning MV Agusta. Lee obliterated the 350cc lap record and gave MV its first win on the island since Agostini’s in 1972.
    Photo by Courtney Olive

Using the same 37.73 miles of narrow public roads on which motorcycles have raced for more than 100 years, the Isle of Man “Classic TT” has become the world’s premiere vintage motorcycle race. The event honors the island’s history, featuring current stars, past TT winners and seriously-fast privateers, all wringing the throttles on stunning vintage machines.

It’s fast; this year saw new lap records in two of the classes. It’s brutal on bikes; cracked frames, broken spokes, engines seized so badly they’ll be hung above workbenches and talked about for years. It’s scary; crutches and casts populate the pits in increasing numbers throughout the week. As Portland, Oregon’s Jon Munns found out, “Everything they say about this place is true.”

Munns, a two-time AHRMA National Champion for 200GP, had dreamed of racing on the storied island since he began chasing checkered flags in 1996. But he’d never been there or given it serious thought. That changed last February when, after racing Australia’s Phillip Island Classic, he was extended an invite to race in the Classic TT. By August, he was on the starting line.

To say he had little time to prepare is putting it mildly. Munns’ race bike needed an engine rebuild after Phillip Island, not to mention the chassis had been “crashed so many times I’ve lost count,” as he puts it. Fortunately, Munns has about as much experience building Honda CB160s as anyone, having been one of the founding fathers of the vibrant racing scene for the little bikes that arose in Portland and Seattle around 1999.



Munns bases his race bikes off the 160’s next of kin, the sloped-cylinder CB175 built from 1967-1968. For AHRMA racing, Munns had developed a well-tested engine platform based on boring the sloper 174.1cc to 200cc, along with a host of valvetrain, piston, and connecting rod hop-ups. For the Classic TT, Munns departed from this platform and set about making a 247cc version of a 175. It was a build he’d never done, and it was untested.

The Classic TT’s smallest class is 350cc, although 250cc machines receive a special trophy within the class. Though untried, a 247cc build made sense as it would reside in the 160 chassis Munns was comfortable with and it would have the best chance of producing enough power to have a shot at qualifying.



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