Isle of Man TT: Still Relevant After All These Years

The ultimate test track.

Isle of Man TT: Still Relevant  After All These Years

Isle of Man TT: Still Relevant After All These Years

If you visit the Motorsport Memorial website (, which catalogs the now 2734 deaths known to have occurred in motorcycle racing since sport became motorized, you can see that some 246 of the fatalities (including one marshal and 2 spectators) have taken place on the Isle of Man since 1907. No other circuit comes close, for any kind of vehicle. You could thus wonder whether such a fatality roster could possibly be worth its cost in lives.

Racers who are drawn to and become obsessed with racing on The Island are not among those who wonder; for them, nothing else equals what the TT course offers and demands. People who don't race there tend to think it's about courage in the face of the obvious dangers of racing fast motorcycles on 37.73 miles of city, village and country roads. Well, maybe somewhat. But what racing on The Island actually delivers is the unique opportunity to challenge yourself with a test of skill, talent and concentration unlike anything else in racing. Yes, a mistake there can cost you your life; but so can a mistake on the road or track anywhere. The TT Mountain Course is the ne plus ultra of such tests of rider competence.

Twenty-five years ago, Team Cycle World put me in the saddle of a new …

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Considering that the first Isle of Man Tourist Trophy in 1907 was almost …

It is also something more important to people who are not on the course with the racers. Because the track is well-used everyday roads, not a carefully groomed purpose-built circuit, it pounds machinery mercilessly. As a result, the TT is, and has always been, a crucible for testing motorcycles as well as riders. It’s not just a matter of going fast; it’s a matter of survival. The course eats machines that otherwise seem rock-solid, as many a rider has discovered.

The speeds being achieved by the current crop of superbikes seem in themselves to be reason for some kind of change in the structure of the races. My now-deceased very good friend, Allan Robinson, MBE, long the secretary of the TT Riders Association, argued that the bikes were beyond the skill levels of too many riders—too fast, too brutal, too much. He thought that the usefulness of the TT lay in helping to develop alternative-energy motorcycles, opening the rules to allow any sort of powerplant or chassis. The sheer spectacle of speeds, he believed, was too dangerous for the riders and for the sport itself, since the media could never resist making every bad crash or fatality front-page news, especially in Britain.

The e-bike TT races show that Allan’s view is being tried, just as the Superbikes continue to let their riders crack 200 mph on the straights and record lap speeds of more than 130 mph. Apart from the issue of rider skill, what the big increase in lap speeds shows is the immense development of powertrains, chassis and suspension. And this is why every street rider should care about the TT: It is a laboratory unlike any other for testing and development of tomorrow’s technologies.

And, of course, if you’re a roadracer of a certain sort, it’s paradise. But don’t take my word for it. Go there yourself. Whether you race or watch, The Island is almost sure to captivate you.