Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Mark Mederski, from the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa Iowa, sent in this report from his recent trip to the Isle of Man to watch the Manx GP.  Mark recently displayed his immaculate, original-condition '62 Norton Manx and '67 Velocette Thruxton at my 'Ton Up!' exhibit in Sturgis.  
Here is Mark's take on a bit of Island touring:
Blowing through Ginger Hall. To the left, stone wall and phone pole. To the right, stone wall. Of course some of the thousands of obstacles to run-off are padded!
A rare chance. Something you save up for. Something to savor when your there and doing it, and for years to follow, really. The Isle of Man. The "TT" or the "Manx Grand Prix." I took a couple of weeks off from my excellent job at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa and made plans to do the Manx Grand Prix, the vintage event, which for the first time in 2013 is coupled with modern racing. The entire event is renamed the Classic TT, which is the event I'd recommend you attend.
[A gorgeous Douglas RA, ca.1923, with 'disc' brakes, and strutted Douglas forks (for sidecar racing).  Douglas won many TTs in the early 1920s, before winning a lot of Speedway races in the later 20s - pd'o]
Tucked in between the big islands of Ireland and England is a small island, the Isle of Man. It's been home to Vikings, warriors, Christians and all, but about 1907, when motor racing started to become popular with manufacturers and risk takers in many parts of the western hemisphere, this island, this little island, got its foot in the door for a form of racing that has elsewhere long since been banished, outlawed and sent away with scorn. The truest of road racing, since 1907, takes place on the Isle of Man Twice a year since the government has sent notice to its lovely island population,  closed its public roads, 37.5 miles of them, and entertained crowds with the world's most skilled riders on the world's fastest of on public roads. If your a jaded old motorcycle type, that all might sound pretty normal until you actually watch a video, or visit to take it all in. The fastest bikes now run an AVERAGE lap speed of 125 miles per hour. AVERAGE. Which means on the straights they can top 175, and whiz past stone barns, clearing them by inches, or are running a hard left when they skim past a stone wall or a phone pole. 
Early in the week we took up spectating at Hillbury. That straightaway is over 5/8 of a ile so bikes are about flat out as they enter a choppy uphill sweeper. The big modern bikes run over 170mph here, back off momentarily at the apex, and fly by.
OK. So outrageously dangerous looking road racing may the main thing enthusiasts look forward to when they make arrangements for a B&B and air fare a year or more in advance. But if you do a little research, and look at schedules the Island government publishes and talk to fellow speed freaks, you'll have a plate full of stuff to do. (Like Sturgis, the Isle of Man government, and tourism bureau, plays a big role, which is a good part of why the event has survived in spite of injury, loss of life and occasional mayhem from spectators late at night in Douglas, the biggest town on the island.) 
Tony East's A.R.E. Classic Bike Collection in Kirk Michael was a wonderful place, and Tony was on hand adding some color. While he's showing about five Manx Nortons, G50's, some Vincents and great post-War Triumphs, his thing is Greeves, and he's working to have a dozen fine ones.
Other racing? In the British Isles, Sprints have long been a popular form of competition. They are usually run on 1/8 mile strips. And sometimes they call them drag races, American influence no doubt, and run them on full 1/4mile strips at airports. Make sure you take them in at Jurby on the airstrip or over in Ramsey on the Promenade.
Laxey Wheel, or technically Lady Isabella, could pump 250 Imperial gallons of water a minute from lead mines a few hundred feet away and up to 1400 feet down. It's only 72 feet in diameter, and built from beautiful iron castings and wood, foundation, stone, of course.
And then there's Observed Trails competition, done on vintage bikes, of course in an area near Castletown, Isle of Man, south on the island. The organizers set out over 15 "sections" and about 200 entries of all types slowly crawled over each section, hoping they'd not "dab" as putting a foot down is bad in trials! Of course there's great comeradery among the competitors who are mostly Brits, but a few from Scandinavia, and the Continent come over to test their mettle. Greeves, Bultacos, all kinds of Sachs powered machines, James, BSAs, Triumphs plus some completely home built bikes, a few rigid chassis machines, even. It's all very casual and you can chat with competitors as they get ready to size up the hill; everybody is ready to discuss their machine.
Cool bikes were everywhere. The first overhead cam Norton was designated a CS1. I need one.
Shopping. I do love shopping. Douglas, the big town, south on the island is where the paddock is always located, is the start finish line area. It offers great options for event commemoratives to take home to friends, or horde for yourself. Hell, I succumbed to a special 2013 Arai helmet all done up in black and yellow, with, most important, the wonderful three legged Isle of Man logo, or symbol maybe is a better word. A few t-shirts, some posters, prints, stickers...oh man, the cool stuff and that's just at the Paddock. Head for Douglas and walk the Promenade. Dozens of shops all ready for the tourists, but they have cooler stuff related to the event than you see in most motorcycle racing towns in America.
An abandoned quarry served as a site for the Observed Trials.  Gotta stay between all the little arrows, not "dab" a foot, and not crash.
If I was to think of an overlying "coolness thing" about the IOM, and the big motorcycle event there, I guess it's the people, and the occasional 6 degrees of separation. Though I am not a big fan of "nudey calendars," damn, here's one that's different. Conceived and art directed by a sweetheart named Rachel, well it's all about icons of the Isle of Man, select bike parts she weaves herself onto, and actual tasteful black and white photos of these sights and things built into a fine large format calendar. OK, I admit it, she's cute, and sweet and autographed the 2013 and 2014 [Ha! - indeed! pd'o] calendars I bought. But this is what the IOM is about. She digs the scene, wanted to lend her ideas to conjuring the best bits of the place. I'll show you a picture. Very wholesome.

Oh, I guess I should maybe walk you through a typical day. Our hosts at the Albany House, a great B&B in Peel, just five miles off the race course, make a traditional English breakfast, to order very morning. But you can also get pancakes, kippers, about anything you want. Well stoked, we drive our hire car to a spot on the course. Most days the roads that become race track close to vehicular traffic at 9:30, so you need to pick a corner, drive there early and settle in for the races. Best shot is to pick a spot with a pub like Glen Helen, or Ballaugh, or Creg ny baa. Then you can watch racing, have some lunch and a pint, watch more racing. Typically a couple of hundred folks are at a given point on the track. Most are intense fans marking laps in their programs, following their heroes. And you'll have conversations as the day goes on, and see these same folks another day, most likely. Then the racing ends, wherever you are a radio fills you in on results, the course marshals blow by first on YZF1000's, the another group at very high speed in Jaguars, new ones, and it's OK to get on the road. Soon we are back at the B&B, dropping off the day's booty and heading for a pub for dinner and a pint or two, and conversation.
Maybe you grew up assembling great model machines from an Erector Set. In England, that kit of scale metal pieces and thousands of fasteners to whet the appetite of a young engineer was a Meccano Set. Here a couple of blokes built a sidecar rig from a Meccano, and rode it 'round the 37 mile course. It took a few days, and multiple re-torquings! As I may have mentioned, quirky stuff is everywhere.
I'm happy to get a chance to show you a bit of the Isle of Man Classic TT, and the Isle itself in a few photos. My thanks to Paul for letting me share the experience, and invite you to plan this trip, one for all serious motorcycle racing enthusiasts, and those who can't get enough of staring at old motorcycles.
The Meccano Moto!
Phil McGurk, mentioned earlier, built the chassis for this Kawasaki EN650 based bike. It's been working for Bill Werner on American dirt tracks, and works for road racing as well. Through rain and fog, Phil pulled out a 8th place finish in the Super Twins class.
The start of a race, on the street in Douglas. Riders have run their bikes through tech earlier in the day, and given them up to a fenced off limits area. When race time comes, they queue up near the start line, as many as 50. Officials release bikes at ten second intervals, one at a time,  and they fly though the streets of Douglas and out into the countryside. These guys will be back from a 37.5 mile lap in under 40 minutes, and will complete four laps total.
The Isle of Man is beautiful, has elevations up to 2100 feet. The roads are quiet today, Observed Trials competition day. Tomorrow Michael Dunlop and other riders will fly down now these back roads, making four laps, and will be looking for the checkered flag!
Home -built frame, a speedway motor, a supercharger and nitrous get this man down the 1/8 mile quickly at the Ramsey Sprints. The very casual races are run right down town on a blocked off portion of the promenade.
If you go, make sure you spend a day at Glen Helen. It's about 6 turns, fast turns, hooked together, running down to a bridge, then up a hill. Oh, the pub right at the turn makes a great lasagna if you get burned out on fish and chips, or "baps," their quickie bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches.
A good sized Manx cat. They are well known for what's missing; the tail!
Murray's Motorcycle Museum is an old treat in a new location. It's jammed with good stuff, mostly racing bikes. Nothin' fancy, just the good stuff you want to see.
Phil McGurk built a killer fast Kawasaki EN650 based race bike, might typify participants in a way. Welded the frame himself. In his hand is a replica, the award you get for placing well. Rain and fog on the Mountain screwed up Phil's solid second place, but he survived at north of 150 mph, not able to see well, and brought home the silver! The Isle of man is n his blood.
Here's the incredibly unique and cool Isle of Man insignia. It's so old even the folks at the museum where this six foot in diameter version in displayed are not sure what it means!
The town of Peel, in southwest, Isle of Man was a choice spot to stay near. Five nice pubs and two shi-shi  restaurants had all you could ask for in food, drink, atmosphere and new-found friends.
The lunch menu at Ginger Hall. "This stuff will stick to your ribs," as my mom used to say.
People on the Island seem to love the racing which takes place twice a year. Art in buinsesses and public buildings leans toward moteorcycle racing. Ginger Hall had this great piece hung; PISTON BROKE AT GINGER HALL -T.T. '95.
A fine Greeves Silverstone at the A.R.E. Museum
We saw signs on the road for Motorcycle Exhibit, and braked hard our little hire car, a Ford Focus. Never can tell what you'll see, and here is an early "disk brake" setup where the friction material is the rotor! It's a Douglas sidecar rig, and a fine one.
The tavern was probably built in the late 1800's and predates motorcycle racing, of course. So this turn is called Ginger Hall, as most turns are named for some ancient piece of history, geography of architecture, or even a racer. This is a rare day. Really only one day of racing was affected by rain. I got a pretty good sun tan. Temps were usually in the upper 60's; T-shirt weather. I ate quite a lot while here for the day, maybe consumed two pints and made a few friends.
Each day the races run, it takes officially 513 Corner Marshals to run the race. The guy with the shades is Bill Haas from Rhode Island. He cannot get enough of the racing at the Isle of Man, so works a corner each day. This year a couple of guys got busted up, but there were no racing fatalities,  unusual at the Isle of man.
Don Rosene, BMW, Kawasaki, Triumph dealer from Anchorage and I did the Isle of man experience together. Here he points out the grand goodie to take home while shopping at the race paddock. We both succumbed, but hey, my old lid was eight years old, and this is high visibility, right?
The Ramsey Sprints run on a day when there's no road racing, a 'break" day. Why let your road racer sit! Most didn't even drop to lower gearing, just gave it a go.


scottdc said...

Small world, Don was my bike dealer for many years when I was in Alaska, bought two BMWs and two Triumphs from him. He also makes a cameo in Long Way Around, heh.

Stuart said...

Great personal account - such a change from the mainstream.

I read elsewhere that the Meccano outfit was ridden by James May of BBC Top Gear with his occasional TV-sidekick Oz Clarke the wine guru. Don't know when we'll get to see it on the telly though.

Anonymous said...

What ho chaps,
Paul, I've just seen your latest blog on the above subject.. the very recent 2013 Classic Manx.
The event was shown as a 2 hour film on UK tv, I watched it and it is well worth viewing. Excellent.
I'm not altogether sure whether you chaps would be able to get this but, give it ago, if you like.
Try.. "ITV4 player"
then.. "categories/itv4 latest"
then.. a screen of thumb-nails appears and there is.. the 2013 Classic TT.
If we can get , I'm sure you'se can too. It is 2 hours but, find a little time.. give yourselves a break and enjoy this. And perhaps let me know how you get on..?

Anonymous said...

That frame Phil McGurk made for Supertwin racing is freakin' sweet. and you have excellent taste in helmets.

Ted Smart

Anonymous said...

The Isle of Man is going in my bucket list! Thanks for the story.

Thomas Rogo

Anonymous said...

The Meccano Moto - Wow!

Bernard Rosman

Anonymous said...

Good story! I had plans to go, even had my hotel booked, but my traveling complain had to back out and I didn't want to go alone, but from feed backs I've heard from people that going alone is not a bad thing, I think next year I will put my big girl panties on and go.

Barbara Barto

Anonymous said...

Great to see Mark and Don having a blast at IOM. I really enjoyed your riding sequence in the Eric Ristau film clip. Nice work.

John Lawless

Shep, brands hatch uk said...

Great blog. I'm off next week for the third time in four years, you missed out on the sheer fun and quaintness of the steam train, electric railway up the mountain oh and the horse drawn tram in Douglas! There is soooo much to do and see! Great to have people come over to see it and support it.