In the US, roundabouts lie somewhere between uncommon and unheard of. But despite rarely coming across them back home, I don’t really understand the confusion that they can bring about…it seems to be a pretty simple idea. But I must admit that one in particular threw me off…I’ll call it the double roundabout. I think the goal here is to enter, complete two figure eights, and exit without crashing…upon completion, the mayor presents you with the key to the city.
This little clusterfuck of an intersection was in Douglas, on the Isle of Man (between England and Ireland). It probably wouldn’t have been on my must do list if it weren’t for the fact the Manx GP race was going on. But after going, I’d have to say its worth a visit even if it isn’t during any of the races…it’s a beautiful and secluded little space.
In motorcycling, the Isle of Man is well known for the TT race, which is a 37+ mile loop around the island entirely on public roads (closed for the race, of course). The Manx GP is the amateur version of the TT, and follows the same course. Unfortunately, the reason a lot of people have heard of the course is because of how dangerous it is…since 1907, there have been 240 deaths between the TT and the GP.
When I realized the GP was starting when I was set to be in the UK, I decided it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so even if it was a quick trip, I had to go.
Unfortunately, I only had one solid day there, so I’d have to take advantage of my limited time.
The whole island was starting to fill up with motorcycle nerds, but it was still a week until the actual race, and I’m told it gets much busier by then. I spent hours sitting by the road, watching bikes go by, and I might have never seen the same model twice. Everything from the latest sportbikes to chopped up cafe racers to ancient British bikes, perfectly restored and worth a fortune. And best of all, everyone was out riding them too…I would’ve expected more of them to be out solely for display purposes.
I rode the course (leisurely) in the morning before they shut it down for practice in the evenings. It’s absolutely terrifying to think of how much faster the racers take it at, especially when riding through the little villages, inches away from the stone walls lining the roadway. Part of me wishes I had the balls to do something so crazy…a small part…most of me is perfectly fine with riding the course at an average of 50mph, then watching someone else ride it at 120mph.
The practice runs from 6-9pm, and with how intense it was, I can’t imagine what the actual race is like…also taking into account a lot of the guys riding are first time racers, I really can’t imaging the TT, with not only the best of the best, but also guys that know the course perfectly.
Barriers are put up on the side streets so no traffic can get onto the course, and once thats done, a race marshall (the marshalls are all former racers) rides a lap on a Yamaha R1 to make sure it’s clear to start the race. It’s a staggered start, with racers leaving every ten seconds, but it doesn’t take long to get some groups of two or three bunched together.
For a first (and potentially, only) time spectator, I feel like I had a pretty great spot to watch from. I was camping near Ballaugh Glen, and there are three good spots to watch from at that point. The first spot gives a great view of the riders coming in quickly down a long straightaway, which ends when them hard on the brakes, preparing for a left hand turn.
The next section has the little left turn, followed by a bridge with a healthly lip on it that sends everyone airborne…even after seeing this 100+ times, its still doesn’t really make sense. Dirtbikes can launch in the air all they want, but as soon as a sportbike comes off the ground, even the smallest amount, a cringe follows.
And the final section sees the rider hard on the throttle through a nice big lefthand turn. Once out of sight, you can hear the engine screaming for hours, upshifting to some ungodly speed.
Each of these sections is great on it’s own, so to get to see all three was pretty incredible. At each of the three it was really crazy how close you were to the racers…this wasn’t your typical grandstand seating. Oh, and how could I forget the sound…any chatter amongst the crowd stopped when a bike came by, not only because we all were focused on the bike, but also because you couldn’t hear anything over the deafeningly beautiful exhaust note, whether a perfectly tuned new 4 cylinder sportbike, or a early 70s Norton with straight pipes.
Here’s a couple bits of video I took…if it’s not enough, search for “Isle of Man TT” on YouTube and you’ll find plenty more, and better, footage.