The Biker Bucket List: Isle of Man TT
Why go to the Isle of Man TT?
Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing compares to the moment when the first TT superbike passes you at full chat, less then a metre from your eyes and ears.
When you are sitting on a grass verge.
With no barrier between you and the two-wheeled missile.
On days when Hutchie or Guy Martin are wearing clear visors, they’ll wink at you. Kidding.
The famous clip of ‘dad’ experiencing the TT for the first time.
The feeling of utter astonishment at the speed, sound and the fact that you are allowed to stand and sit so close to bikes doing 190-200mph doesn’t really fade either. Which is why many people, most of the B&B team included, become addicted to the TT, vowing to visit every year.
The TT isn’t just the racing itself. It’s the fact you can take your own bike on the Snaefell Mountain Course where, including on the infamous Mad Sunday, the mountain section of the course becomes a one-way track, with no speed limit conditions. You will never experience anything like this – it even grips seasoned Moto GP and Superbike racers.
Guy Martin in his Suzuki days
And then there is the fact that between the towns and towns and villages there is no national speed limit in place. That’s right, there are places on the island that you can push your 180mph super bike to 180 mph. Don’t be surprised if the police do ask you to refrain if you are found to be doing excessive speeds in inappropriate places and conditions. Even on The Island, it’s not quite ‘anything goes.’
Even away from the roads, the festival atmosphere of the two weeks’ of TT practice sessions and racing means The Island, as many bikers simply call it, is just a great place to be, with many events put on especially for the hordes of bikers and their bikes.
It’s a bike spotters heaven and a bike rider’s paradise. And it’s all just a little bit bonkers during TT.
Where to go
The Isle of Man isn’t very large – the course lap is just under 38 miles on an island just 32 miles long and 14 miles wide. Which means you can easily cover the main points of interest in a single day when the roads aren’t closed due to practice and racing.
From your base, which will normally be in either the main town of Douglas or the smaller Ramsey to the North, you can be on the other side of the island in less than an hour. You’ll want to do this a lot, so we’d recommend a minimum 3-4 day trip during the TT to get the most out of the no-national limit roads.
Ramsey is the start of the Mountain section of the TT course and even when it’s not Mad Sunday you’ll be drawn to the Mountain Road for its epically-long, sweeping bends where you can see the road ahead for what seems like miles.
The police leave the Mountain Road one-way after practice and race sessions for the duration of the fortnight, meaning you can do the Mad Sunday experience at other times of the week. There’s no guarantee though. You will also find yourself having to wait for access to The Mountain as the emergency services deal with yet another over-enthusiastic biker coming off. It happens a lot up there.
Ramsey features a pretty little harbour with biker-friendly pubs. In fact, everywhere is biker friendly. Most locals we meet absolutely love the atmosphere on The Island when TT comes round – they say it’s like the place wakes up and they put up with the road closures because they love the racing and everything associated with it. Many of them are riders themselves. They will be better riders than you. They live on a small island with the best biking roads in the world.
If you’d like to get a feel of what the Isle of Man is like during TT, search YouTube for ‘TT Blues’, a documentary series on the island’s police force during the TT. There are normally a few episodes on there.
On Mad Sunday, Ramsey is also home to the Ramsey Sprint, a drag and sprint race that attracts racers from around the world trying to enter the sub 5-second club (only 14 have achieved this in 38 years). The best bit is anyone, including you, can take their driving licence to Race Control on the day of the event and enter. We bloody love the TT.
Peel is the smallest of the four towns but on Mad Sunday, the middle Sunday of the two weeks of the TT, Peel has it’s own TT Festival complete with stunt displays, rides and fair games, The charity ‘Kipper Race’ and pit bike racing on a closed course. It’s also home to a glorious beach.
Douglas is the home of the TT, with the paddocks lining the Grandstand Straight forming the epicentre of the two weeks’ of TT unleaded-scented magic. Paddock’s which, by the way, you are freely allowed to wander into and get close the the teams prep’ing the race bikes. You’ll also find catering and hospitality tents aplenty, along with merchandise stands and stalls, so it’s an easy place to hang out in for a couple of hours. Or, let’s face it, if you’re a proper petrolhead, a couple of days.
The true spirit of the TT even takes over the local police
During the TT, Douglas also hosts a huge funfair along the Promenade which rubs shoulders at the port end with Bushey’s – a huge bar tent and entertainment stage seemingly crammed with 1,000 locals and bikers at a time. It’s very easy to down a few at the beer tent, cross the road for a curry, come back for more beers than have a go on the gravity-drop ride, throw it all up and then start all over again. All before staggering back to the campsite and tripping over someone’s guy line.
What to see
Obviously, the practice sessions and the racing are what you are there for. We’ve found a great round-up of all the best spectator points here.
We have to say though that the spot that really does it for us, and many hundreds of others is the strip of raised mound next to the pub at Crag ny Baa. Not only is it one of the faster places on the course as riders come down from the Mountain, with a sweeping right-hander full of downshifts before getting on the gas, you can sit with your feet (or head if you have a death wish) literally two feet from the racing. And the pub’s food is pretty good too.
Beyond the racing, The Island has plenty of bike-themed activities such as the Manx Museum which has a rich collection of memorabilia. Elsewhere and dotted around the towns there are classic and vintage shows, motorcycle entertainment from the likes of the Purple Helmets, stunt shows and many more at various places and times during the festival. Details are available in a download from the TT website.
Much of the Isle of Man is very pretty and unspoiled. The views over the Sound (keep going south from Port St Mary), looking towards the mini-island of the Calf of Man, complete with basking seals, are well worth heading down to. And there’s a decent cafe to relax in if you tire of taking in the scenery and plentiful local wildlife.
Talking of decent cafes, the best Full English breakfast to be had on any trip we have done, anywhere in the world, is at the beach-side Cosy Nook Cafe in Port Erin. Hopefully, that sentence will earn me a free brekkie next time we are there… But it is absolutely true.
Cashtal yn Ard, dating back to around 2000 BC is the largest Neolithic tomb in the British Isles and is a short ride from Ramsey. For a slightly more up-to-date experience, Castle Rushen down in Castletown is one of Europe’s best-preserved Medieval castles, originally built for a Norse king in 1265. As well as dining in the Great Banqueting Hall (that’s if the tour of the Medieval kitchen hasn’t put you off) before climbing to the top of the castle walls for a magnificent view across the south of the island.
What to do
You have to ride the full course of 37.7 miles yourself. It takes the top racers around 17 minutes but seeing as they are lapping at 130mph average speed and can ignore traffic lights and other annoyances, it’s more likely to take you 45 minutes to an hour.
We have to give you fair warning, though. Once you understand just what it means to be riding at full pelt, if that’s your thing, past Joey’s, onto the Mountain Mile, then along the Verandah before sweeping into the Bungalow section, it becomes addictive. For you and hundreds of other bikers. Riders may not have the same skill level as you or indeed you may not be as quick as them. One year I was overtaken by a Pole on a ‘Blade who was going so quickly I thought he’d never make the bend ahead. I became target-fixated and it was me who was more in danger of not making it. Riding on The Island during TT is more dangerous than at other times of the year, simply due to the volume of wannabe racers.
Beyond the course, the riding is glorious, with plenty of quiet, fast roads to play on. We have to say that, surprisingly, even on the course itself, much of the tarmac isn’t perfect – we suspect on purpose to keep speeds down – but it doesn’t detract too much even on the stiffest set-up sports bike.
The Simon Andrew’s Legacy Lap at the TT
The Simon Andrew’s Legacy Lap, in honour of the rider of the rider who lost his life road racing in Ulster, is a must-do part of Mad Sunday. Last year over 7,000 bikes took part, stretching for nearly nine miles. The parade takes in the whole course.
All types of bikes are welcome on The Island – the locals love their bikes, which explains why the world’s most dangerous racing is still allowed to continue year after year. So bring your Hog, tourer, trials, naked superbike or whatever. You’ll be in plenty of good company. A couple of years ago there was even a troop on monkey bikes tooling around.
We mentioned Bushey’s and it might not be your thing, but a visit to the TT isn’t complete without tasting the unique atmosphere in the tent, over a pint of Bushey’s ale. To watch anything from burlesque dancers to a pissed local falling off the rodeo bull.
If you can’t make it to the TT
Outside of the mad two weeks that is the TT, the Isle of Man hosts plenty of bike motorsports events including the Classic TT in late August/early September, the Southern 100 road races, the Isle of Man Festival of Motorcycling, Manxduro and the Max Classic Sprint and Hillclimb.
Of these, the Classic TT is closest in spirit, if not quite as extreme as the TT itself. Bike classes include Junior and Senior classics, MGP Lightweight, Supertwin and Superbikes and you still get the same access to the pits, riders and teams.
When to go
TT normally straddles the end of May and start of June. The first week is practice and qualifying week, when ferry tickets and accommodation are generally a little cheaper, but no more available if you haven’t booked early. The second week sees alternating days of racing, starting on Saturday (followed by Mad Sunday).
How to get there
You are taking your bike, right? Here’s the downside of the TT. There’s plenty of accommodation options, but only a limited amount of room on the ferries, even though they practically run 24 hours during the TT. You book at Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, but due to limited availability, when the tickets are released for the following year, during the TT itself, all tickets are pretty much gone by the end of practice week… You have to be quick. Sign up for their email to be notified of TT tickets release dates. They sometimes get returns that are related in late January/early February, but again you have to be on your toes.
And if you are not taking a bike? We’ll pretend between us that you are hiring one.
What about flying in, like some swanky-nuts Moto GP rider? Yes, you can do that. During TT fortnight there are up to 30 flights per day from various airports in the UK. If you’re coming in from further afield, there is no direct flight from Heathrow, so fly into either London Gatwick, Manchester or Birmingham, all of which have plenty of international connections.
There are also plenty of charter and helicopter flights available during TT. Your PA will know how to book them.
Failing that, you can always use the ferry as a foot passenger. Unlike bike bookings, foot passengers have a much easier time and generally you can still get a ticket even a few weeks before the TT starts. All that would be needed then is for you to get together with your mates to send the bikes over at a quieter time and have them collected once all the fuss has died down. Now there’s an idea…
Without a bike, there are options for getting around the island by bus and it being so small, if you’re a rich bastard, you could probably take taxis everywhere. Uber? Maybe.
Where to stay
Some locals prefer to leave the island if they are not into the racing and they rent out their homes. Some who do stay open their homes and rent our rooms on a bed and breakfast basis. Both types of accommodation are searchable through the TT Homestay service who also inspect every property listed.
There are plenty of camping options. During Race Week there is a minimum 4-night stay. We normally camp in a ready-erected tent at either the Rugby club at Quarterbridge in Douglas or the Metzler Village at the sports centre, again in Douglas. The advantage of both is they are only a short cab or medium walk away from the bars, restaurants and nightlife of Douglas. And like most of the campsite,s they are right next to the TT course. The Metzler Village has the advantage of being in the island’s sports stadium which is outside of the circuit, meaning you can get in and out during road closures for racing and practice session. Vital.
Other notable campsites are at Union Mills and the Sillymoos near Ramsey. Each has a unique, festival-like atmosphere. There are normally at least 10 other campsites around the island too. It’s probably the cheapest way to do the TT, especially if you take your own tent. The only downside is paralytic bikers tripping over your guylines in the middle of the night, but hey, you can always get them back the following evening.
You can, of course, go down the hotels or bed & breakfast route. The better ones do get booked up quickly for TT but you should be able to get somewhere even if you leave it a bit late. If you want to be near all of the festival action, go for Douglas – the nearer the seafront you go, the closer to the night time you’ll be. Outside of Douglas, Ramsey will definitely have the TT feel in spades but if you want a quieter time head for Peel or the Castletown/Port Erin area.
As we mentioned with campsites, it’s best to base yourself outside of the course route so that you can be on the move when the sessions are on. There is only very limited movement inside the course area itself.
Rules of the road on the Isle of Man
Here’s the biggie: Outside of restricted towns and villages, most of the island has no speed limit. Let’s just repeat that so it sinks in: There is no national speed limit in place on the Isle of Man outside built-up areas. And as we’ve mentioned already, when the Mountain section of the course is one-way, well, you get the idea. There is also a very good emergency services helicopter.
Be warned, though, the police will pull you over if they think you are doing or in danger of doing something stupid and they do patrol on unmarked bikes. There’s £120 on-the-spot fine if they catch you being naughty. You can sometimes spot the unmarked plod because they are much better riders than you – they live and ride on the best biking roads in the world. You can get an idea of their general attitude in the video below.
Unmarked police bike in action on the Isle of Man, with gun-at-his-head description by Connor Cummins
Another tip: The famous Sulby Straight is limited to 40 mph (yeah, we know, boo!). Mainly because there is a crossroads, by the pub, halfway down.
Generally, though, the speed limits in the towns are the same as the rest of the UK, 30 mph, which some zonal areas between 40 mph to 60 mph to prepare you / calm you down, between the unrestricted areas.
Drinking and Riding
The Island follows the same limits as the UK, 80mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. However, as at Summer, 2016 there is a proposal in place to reduce this to 50 mg per ml.
Using a mobile phone
Eh? Oh right, you ride a Harley with an open-faced helmet and you like to tuck it in the side and take calls. £1,000 fine right there.
One other thing to know: The Isle of Man has a Reciprocal Driving Ban Agreement with the UK so if you get a ban on the Island you’ll also be disqualified on the Mainland.
Get yourself sorted:
Tickets for the ferry are hard to get. Sign up at the Steam Packet Company’s website to get their email, which will inform you when TT bookings can be made, including the returns period.