7.00am Midsummer’s Day 2006 – the sun is already high in the bluest of skies and I am pointing my motorcycle between the dry stone walls to my left and right. The overnight storm has lent a sheen to the tarmac, vision isn’t good and I’m struggling to keep the wheels in line. The speedo tells me I’m on the legal limit. I let loose an involuntary cheer - immediately lost in the hurtling wind blast - for the sheer craziness of this legal pleasure: the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
That rush lasted for 10 miles or so at 60mph. What must it be like to feel that for 37 miles at 125mph average speed, lap after lap, day after day, on The Island.
This year marks the centenary of the Isle of Man TT, the annual week of motorcycle racing through the streets of its small towns and over its brooding mountain, where speeds can reach 200mph. It is a week that exists in a bubble, separated geographically from mainland Britain, separated from the mainstream motorcycle championships and separated from the sanity of self-preservation.
Well over 200 riders have lost their lives at the TT and unlike other areas of motorsport, it’s not getting any safer. The open-roads course claims all-time Greats like Big Dave Jefferies, along with scores of weekend racers. 25 years on, I can still recall the shock in a race commentator’s voice as he described a rider’s fatal collision with a horse that had wandered on to the road. On-board cameras capture the seductive danger of the event, but also show how it exacts its random culling of those willing to face down the monster. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IebbX9-YZ4E gives us a rider’s eye view and that’s close enough for me!
The TT can’t attract the sport’s superstars any longer – Agostini led the charge away from the Island in the early seventies, and no MotoGP team would ever risk its investment by allowing its riders to dance with this green and grey devil. The compensation is a pleasing lack of corporatism. You can still get close to the competitors – even with 26 TT wins under his helmet, Joey Dunlop was there in the pits, a woodbine wedged under his lip, getting his hands dirty.Soon the boats from Belfast and Liverpool will be laden with bikes as they have been every May for 100 years excepting war, and it’s a fair bet that not all of them will come back. Should the TT’s death toll be allowed to build still higher? Probably. Everyone swinging a leg over the saddle, gunning the engine and hearing it scream, stares down Bray Hill knowing what awaits, knowing that the course’s bite is so much worse than its bark, knowing that more skilled riders than them have failed to return to the pits. But they also know that as the shadow of death draws closer, they will never feel as alive again.