Vintage Italian motorcycles
Vintage bike lovers from the U.S. and Italy
Mix in some British back-road charm, Manx hospitality and Italian spice, stir slowly for 9 days, and serve!
Mark Scott posing with – what else – a Scott Flying Squirrel at the Festival of Jurby.
Like most vintage motorcycle fans, seeing the races and riding the Mountain Course at the Isle of Man has been near the top of my bucket list since I was a boy. This is Mecca for international motorcycle racing, with hundreds of epic stories of the rise of global motorcycle brands and riders over its 100-plus year history. To win on the island assures your name in the annals of motorcycle stardom.
Enter Eligio Aturi and Mototouring.com. When I saw the notice in Motorcycle Classics about Eligio offering a tour for this year’s Manx GP event, I immediately cleared the calendar and signed up. The plan was to begin in London, ride across England, take the ferry from Heysham to Douglas on the Isle of Man, ride around the island for five days during the Classic TT and Manx GP, then reverse the trip back to London. On vintage Italian bikes. Organized and led by Italians. On the “other” side of the road. Now THAT’S the way to see the Isle of Man!
As you would expect on a 900-mile ride on 40-50 year-old motorcycles over a bit more than a week, many adventures ensued. Throughout the adventure of electrical gremlins, running out of fuel, broken clutch pushrods, busted clutch cables and carb failures, the Italians always came up with a solution. Even begging around the Manx GP pits for an oil pressure sender to replace one damaged in a loose-bandana-meets-chain incident on the Honda CB500 Four.
Richard Backus at Henley on the Themes
Day by day
Day one took us on backroads from London through quaint old towns, including a stop at Henley on the Thames River. In the midafternoon, we arrived at the British Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham. What a fantastic exhibit! Room after room of stunning examples of the last century of British motorcycles. We were met there by Roger Moss, President of the Scott Owners Club, who regaled us with details and anecdotes of the various brands. We spent the night in Birmingham, with the first of our post dinner scotch and cigar debriefings outside the hotel door.
Chris, Richard, Roger Moss and I at the museum
One of the museum rooms
Debriefing outside Hotel Latour in Manchester
On day two we struggled a bit to keep the group together, which saw us take six hours to do the 100-mile run to Liverpool. Traffic on the M6 was horrendous due to construction, but that gave us the excuse to practice lane splitting for more than 20 miles. We had a couple people run out of gas, resulting in wrong turns and desperate calls to the backup truck. This led to a slightly more “assertive” ethos of the riders, who tightened up the spacing and began to see just-turned red lights as “suggestions” rather than hard and fast rules. All’s well that ends well, and we spent a couple hours at a wonderful port area in Liverpool.
The next 80 miles to the ferry in Heysham went more smoothly, but it did include the final 50-mile run on the M6 highway at night. On a 250cc Benelli from the mid ‘70s. With no lights. My buddy Chris was riding a 350cc Moto Morini whose lights also said ciao about five miles from the ferry. Fortunately, all the other bikes had varying degrees of illumination, so we managed to keep the group together. As the ferry sailing was at 1:30am, we had reserved bunks, so I did get a good three hours sleep before the landing in Douglas at 5:30 a.m. the morning of day three.
Two views of the Gooseneck, outside Ramsey, which leads up to the mountain part of the course. In the second photo you can see what awaits a rider who ends up too wide at the exit. Not your typical hay bale.
Not to waste any time, we ate breakfast at 7 a.m. and then saddled up for a run to the north of the island to catch some of the racing at The Gooseneck, a famous turn on the Mountain Course as it rises up Mount Snaefell. We rode back into town in the mid-afternoon, and then went to the paddock area, which is open to the public. It was an early dinner and early to bed that night, to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Day four was a rest day for racing on the mountain circuit. However, there was a massive vintage motorcycle festival and race meet at Jurby, on the northwest tip of the island. After breakfast, we set out to Jurby, taking our first ride on the famed mountain circuit. What a blast!
Jurby parking lot
Chris and me at The Crosby near Ballacraine
The parking lot at Jurby was a vintage bike show itself, with the brave English riding in on bikes ranging from brand new to 100 years old. The pits were open, with huge crowds wondering around between race bikes of all vintages. There was also a car show, and an air show with WWII Spitfires. We ran the mountain side of the circuit on the way home, getting back to Douglas about 3 p.m. As it was such an experience and the weather was great, we set back out to do a full loop of the course. However, the beautiful little MV Agusta 350 twin that Richard was riding had not been charging its battery properly, resulting in a dead ignition. After the rescue van left with the MV, Chris and I rode the course just about a quarter of the way to Ballacraine, where we stopped for a pint. We made it back to the hotel for dinner, followed by the now requisite post dinner scotch and cigars outside the hotel with the group.
Parade laps on the track at Jurby
Richard and the MV with a dead battery waiting for the rescue truck
Monday was day five and a race day, when the roads closed to the public at 9:30 a.m. To beat that closing, we woke up early and left for a full loop of the course at 7 a.m. Fantastic! No traffic, and I spun that poor Benelli 250 for all it had (which really only meant about a 75mph top speed). After the roads closed for racing we took the back roads to get to the Creg-ny-Baa corner to watch the action. We walked up the hill towards Kate’s Cottage, and sat on the berm along the road to watch the racers go by about 3-4 feet away. Holy crap. That would NEVER be allowed in the U.S. We spent a beautiful afternoon in the stands at the Creg, then went on to Governor’s Bridge, which is the last turn right before the front straight. Again, we were right up behind the track wall, as they came out of the last corner to the front straight. We watched the champion’s parade lap of over 150 bikes, including a replica of Kevin Schwantz’ #34. The day ended with dinner at an Italian restaurant with the group, again followed by the requisite scotch/cigar de-brief on the steps of the hotel.
Chris at Creg-ny-Baa
Richard and Davis sitting on the berm
Parade lap coming out of Governor's Bridge
August on the Isle tends to see about 15 rainy days, so the event is scheduled over two weeks with racing every other day, to allow for rain delays. This also eases the burden on the locals, who have to put up with the traffic and road closures. A TT regular said that this was the best weather he had seen in 15 years of coming to the Isle, with five straight days of mostly sunny skies and highs in the 60s.
The VMCC Concours in St. Johns
The scene across the street at St. Johns
Paulo at Peel Castle
Group shot in Peel
Tuesday (day six) was an off day for racing again and, as usual, there was still a full load of vintage events to attend. After breakfast, we rode to the VMCC concourse bike show in St Johns on the west side of the island. We then took a tour to the south side, with a stop at Peel Castle then lunch in Port Erin. We pulled in at Castletown on the way back to Douglas, with a visit to Castle Rushen, which was the Manx capital until 1869. As it was only 5 p.m. when we made it back to Douglas, we suited up again and swapped bikes for another lap around the mountain course. This time, I got to ride the much more modern Ducati ST4, which only cemented the true level of guts/insanity of those racers who lap at well over 100mph average speed.
Entrance to Quarter Bridge
Exit at Quarter Bridge
The boys at Quarter Bridge
Wednesday (day seven) was the last day on the island. Our ferry sailing was not until 7 p.m., giving us the whole day to see the racing. We began the day at the Quarter Bridge corner, where the course swings west. The ease of access to some of these corners is amazing. We parked our bikes less than 100 feet from the corner, and walked right up. For the second race, we rode back through Douglas up to Creg-ny-Baa to watch. We stopped off at the downtown shopping area to pick up some souvenirs before heading to the ferry for a melancholy 7 p.m. loading.
Me next to the course up from Creg-ne-Baa to Kate's Cottage
Emergency headlight on Chris' Moto Morini
The Manx people add a new meaning to the phrase “island hospitality.” To a man, woman and child, they were truly gracious, friendly, and very tolerant of the invasion of their beautiful island. On the road, they would stop to let our group through even when they had the right of way. The Manx are a confident, happy people, as reflected in the national moto “Quocunque Jeceris Stabit,” meaning “it will stand whichever way you throw it.”
A perfect example of the disposition and grace of the Manx was a sign on a private driveway near the hotel. Instead of a “NO PARKING” warning on the gate, it said, “Polite Notice: Please do not park in such a way that blocks access.”
The ferry made it to port in Heysham at about 11 p.m., and after the usual adventures (this time, a dead battery due to an ignition being left on), we left as a group for the hotel in Lancaster. On the ride there, we had a run in with an angry truck driver that brought us quickly back to the reality of no longer being on the road with the friendly Manx.
On the road through Shakespeare's country
What it takes to swap the BMW R60/5 for the spare Benelli 250
Novel way to secure your phone/GPS on a Benelli 650
Thursday (day nine) meant a 250-mile run from Lancaster through the middle of England back to London. We made good time, despite the usual hijinks of getting lost, running out of fuel and a weakening BMW R60/5 that was swapped out in a highway gas station. Thursday night was the farewell dinner at the hotel, with the last of the post dinner scotch/cigar debriefs in the parking lot. A truly epic adventure that will stay with me forever.
Group photo at farewell dinner
Mototouring is planning a Cuba tour, with Cuban guides on their own motorcycles. Hmmmm …
Click here to read what other tour participants thought of the 2016 Isle of Man Tour.