David Sumner has previously shared a couple of his motorcycling journeys with us – most recently he gave you a preview of Colorado Norton Works. After his last trip, I sent him a Bike-urious t-shirt as a thank you and asked if he’d send a photo of him wearing it to add to the gallery. His response was ambitious – a photo of him and his wife at the Isle of Man Classic TT! He also documented his trip, and I want to share it because it should be quite helpful to those of you that want to plan your own trips to the Isle of Man for one of the world’s greatest motorcycle races.
Our Great TT Bucket List Quest
Story and Photos by David Sumner
I have long been in awe of the fabled racers of the Tourist Trophy (TT) races of the Isle Of Man (IOM). Thus, a visit has been at the top of my bucket list for many years. This series of races among motorized gladiators has been an annual event since 1907. In the opening year, the fastest lap of 46 mph was set on the 37.75-mile course by a Peugeot-powered Norton. Over the years this figure has steadily grown to over 135 mph (by Peter Hickman last year) – this done on surface roads, not a bona fide track! There are heaps of fine videos about this race series on YouTube:
My wife and I have enjoyed several self-guided trips in North America, Europe and New Zealand over the years, so I had high confidence that an economical IOM trip could easily be set up. I was soon humbled! Two years ago, I attempted to assemble the components of a journey, which included not only planes, trains, and automobiles, but
boats, buses, and motorcycles, too. I looked for advice online and spoke to a couple people who had been there. Even so, the task of coordinating the whole shebang seemed too daunting. I could imagine arriving at a transfer point, having missed a stitch somewhere, and ending up marooned. I postponed the attempt for one year. It seemed like I was building a clock from a bag of bits – at least for my limited imagination.
Granted, the simple course would have been to fly directly to the IOM and pay a consolidator, such as Duke Travel, for a package deal. However, doing the coordination myself would save some bucks and add flexibility.
Many months passed before I set out again to build the trip. This time the pieces clicked! We decided to dip our toe into the TT experience by going to the Classic TT in August, rather than the main TT in May. As a bonus, the Manx Grand Prix, operated since 1923, is held at the same time on the same course. Our goal was to take in all that we possibly could of the TT experience, while avoiding the crazy mobs, high cost, congestion and transport issues that come with the May event. My order of bookings was as follows:
1 – Air travel to – where??
2 – Lodging on the IOM
3 – Ferry to and from the IOM
4 – Book a bike for a day to ride the course
5 – Book a car for three days to tour the island
6 – Race event tickets for grandstands, etc.
7 – Dining reservations at Creg-Ny-Baa
Flights directly to the IOM are rather precious. After evaluating ferry destinations, such as Belfast, Dublin, and Liverpool, we decided to fly into Manchester, about 35 miles east of the port city of Liverpool. We booked the intercity train from the airport to downtown Liverpool.
From the terminal, it was an easy ¼ mile walk to our centrally-located hotel, The Liner. We made a few great discoveries about Liverpool. One, food and drink are cheap for a big city. Taxis and Uber in the city are cheap, too. The most we paid was £4.50 anywhere we went. The big bonus was that we arrived on the first day of Beatles Week. The event takes over the city, with a dozen music venues occupied by nearly 75 artists!
Liverpool is a fun and interesting city – a great place to overcome jet lag before setting out for the Isle Of Man. Besides Beatles mania, there are many more serious sites, such as the Liverpool Cathedral, the second largest such in the world, after St. Peter’s in the Vatican. Also, the waterfront played a critical part in shipbuilding during WW2.
The next morning, we taxied to the docks to board the Isle Of Man Steam Packet. This cavernous ferry boat quickly devoured scores of motorcycles, cars and trucks for the three-hour crossing to Douglas. The ship offered comfortable seating, a snack bar including cappuccino and Guinness, casino machines and even a theatre room.
From the Douglas ferry terminal, we caught a city bus to our hotel. After check-in, we hurried off to the nearest pub for a bite and a pint of Okell’s, the local brew. Lots of fans choose to pitch tents for the duration, but that choice is for the young. There is also “glamping”, offered by a couple vendors, which is an improved experience, including raised platforms and good bedding in yurt-style tents. Still, crowds, noise and shared baths were not desirable to our brides. Instead, we found our way to the Best Western Hotel & Casino in Douglas on the Queens Promenade. Their amenities were equivalent to a Quality Inn in the U.S. The hotel could use a face lift, but it is ocean-front, comfortable, quiet and convenient to the Noble Park grandstands. Visit www.iomtt.com, www.isleofman.com and www.visitisleofman.com for some useful resources.
Soon we began the fun part of the trip. We moseyed up toward the Grandstands area and watched a bit of practice. The lovely boom of Norton Manx thumpers and other makes echoed off old stone walls and buildings. Lots of people were watching, but it was not really crowded; nor were we ever crowded out of great viewing anywhere during the trip. Our choice to make our maiden visit during the Classic TT rather than the May TT had been entirely the right decision! By the way, the Classic TT festivities have a shorter time frame than the May TT, so the promoters pack a lot into it, such as the Festival of Jurby across the island from Douglas and a performance by a troupe of comic daredevils known as the Purple Helmets.
As we wandered around Douglas and the rest of the isle, we saw a few unusual motorcycles, such as a 1928 Norton with sidecar, a steampunk HRD and a magnificent herd of German Horex 1200cc 165hp turbo V6 hooligan bikes. At around $45k per copy, we had never seen a Horex before. Now before us were ten or so, scattered along the Promenade like flotsam!
We budgeted four days to enjoy motorcycles, racing and the IOM culture. In that time, we were able to view the course from three prized vantage points, including the Grandstands, Ballaugh Bridge and Creg-Ny-Baa. At the Grandstands you can watch the starts and some speedy passes.
At Ballaugh Bridge you can watch the riders get airborne as they leap over. The preferred vantage point here is from The Raven pub, where you can get food and drink as you watch. Before practice on Friday, a local ambulance zipped by and caught more air than any of the racers. Clearly, he was just hotdogging it for the crowd, but yeah – it was pretty cool!
Our third spot was the pub at Creg-Ny-Baa, which is situated at the apex of an “ell”. Riders approach on a ½ mile straight, round the corner, and depart on a one mile straight. Wheee! The Creg was fairly packed, but we were served an excellent fish and chips dinner, with Okell’s, in record time.
We rented a motorcycle for a day from Mike Banks at Isle of Man Motorcycle Adventures. If you’re interested, be sure to book one early! Mike outfitted us splendidly, including helmets and jackets. We rode the track one leisurely lap in each direction. I had expected the road to be rough and cobbled, but it is well paved and smooth. It was a pleasure to travel, at least at the posted speed limit. At race pace it would be a different animal! Incidentally, when riding counter-clockwise, reverse of race direction, the view of the city of Ramsey as you slip down 2034-foot Snaefell mountain, is a special surprise. Racers don’t get a chance to see that glorious view.
On Saturday, we stationed ourselves at or near the Grandstands. We watched the legendary John McGuinness win yet again astride a Paton, a racing bike campaigned since 1958 by Giuseppe Pattoni, a former racer-cum-tuner for Mondial motorcycles. Vendors abound at the Grandstands, with tee shirts as cheap as £5. Plus, you can walk around the pits and chat up the riders, the crew and the camp followers.
Both racing and practice sessions are scheduled after workday hours on weekdays. Thus, there is plenty of time to explore the course and the rest of the island in between them. You can completely circumnavigate the island in about three hours, even touching the extreme points.
We rented a Hyundai Santa Fe from Ocean Ford. In my opinion, a slimmer car would have been preferred as we bounced amongst typically narrow British hedgerows. Motoring anxiously on the wrong side, it’s easy to scrape paint from a shiny new side panel, so a wise driver will spring for full insurance coverage. As we travelled around, we came across a most unusual vehicle, a boat-tailed three-wheeler Miata! We never got to speak with the proud owner, but I snapped a couple photos.
A few of the interesting non-racing sites include the Laxey Wheel, a huge steampunk water pump from the 1850’s, the wonderful Murray’s Motorcycle Museum, the Fairy Bridge, where racers go to ask the fairies for protection, the Chasms, Rushen Castle, the 3500-year-old Meayll (Mull) Stone Circle and photogenic Peel Castle. There are expansive overlooks aplenty around the island where you can stretch your legs and take in wonderful rugged scenery.
A local in Peel suggested that we lunch at The Creek Inn, a pub across from the marina. It was a great choice. I got a meal of “queenies”, small clams with big flavor. We were seated next to the team of John McGuinness, who were in full pit regalia. I had to congratulate them on their win. I added that I knew that they were the true heroes of the victory. They concurred, of course!
The Isle Of Man reminded us of Ireland – rolling pastures of grazing sheep, craggy coastline, changing sky. As with all of the British Isles, travel by motorcycle is the oyster’s ice skates! As stated earlier, driving a six-foot-wide car down a squiggly, rock walled seven-foot road – shared with oncoming traffic – is taxing to one’s nervous system. If you can get your hands on a bike, motorcycling is an improved way to travel. But now I’m preaching to the choir!