Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mixed Fortune and No Speed Limit. Joy and Stress on the Isle of Man

Ballaugh Bridge in the early morning at about 55MPH

Birthplace of the Titanic
Following a picturesque trip up the west coast of Ireland we turned toward Belfast to catch a ferry to the Isle of Man. Interestingly, our port of birth was adjacent to the point of assembly for the Titanic. The area was memorialized with a museum, the architecture of which mimicked the doomed vessel's bow. It gave a slightly ominous feel to the voyage, as the massive high speed sea-cat sped away from the Irish harbor.

                           The TT 

Since 1911 riders have taken to the famed 37.66 mile mountain circuit on the Isle of Man to test their bikes, as well as themselves, each participant pursuing the limit. In a world increasingly beset by rules and restrictions, the Isle of Man offers up its infrastructure for two weeks of loosely controlled chaos. This intoxicating taste of freedom isn't relegated to those with number plates adorning their machines. Members of the public with a burning desire to open throttles and eviscerate stretches of tarmac have areas of the TT course which are unrestricted havens of speed.
   I've wanted to take to the TT course since I'd first learned of the race when I was a teenager running from my hometown authorities. In those days I'd hoped to broach the course astride a racing machine but alas fate had other ideas. My Yamaha 660z Tenerer has about 47 horsepower and is better suited to hauling butt on dirt roads than paved. However, I was prepared to ride anything wheels and a spark if it came down to it. The most pressing issue facing us was our lack of local knowledge. The sum of which had been acquired from Speedvision broadcasts of the TT in the days prior to Fox's reign of NASCAR. I knew some of the corners, and what they looked like, otherwise we were flying in the dark. While perusing the fleet ferry I spied a group of likely looking lads and inquired about camping. The rest, as they say, is history.  
    We were led to free camping via the Sulby Straight Pub, just in time for Super Bike practice. It was difficult to believe that this quiet little guesthouse and bar would soon be assaulted by 200HP rocket-sleds. As the course marshals cleared traffic and set up a small barrier I found a tap and ordered a pint. The fist gaggle of bikes to pass sort of took me by surprise. I've seen plenty of fast in my life, however, this is as intimate as you can get without being the pilot. The second rider passed so closely I knew what he was thinking. He wasn't, he was reacting. The first taste of the TT came with a Guinness. I was hooked. Is this heaven? I pondered. Nope, it's the Isle of Man! 

Left to right. Top: Pete C, Malcom, Izzy, Hilary, Les, Diff, Lorrie   Bottom: Pete A, Colin(that's his happy face), Ian, Dave.  Not pictured: Lee, Mike, Dave, Rafael

After practice concluded we found the IoM common-ground campsite to await sunrise, and my first try at the unrestricted Mountain Section of the course.
 The morning that followed was moist so we waited a good bit before taking to the mountain. We were to follow Dave across the mountain to Douglas, reconvening with the others at the diciest venue on the Island, the Bushy's Tent. However, just
as we were pulling from the campsite my Tenere simply quit. Hilary continued on with Dave, and I pushed my bike half a mile to the nearest  mechanic. Unfortunately, this didn't look to be a simple fix and I was told to go to the Yamaha dealer in Douglas. On the upside, I finally got to go over the  mountain. On the downside, it happened whilst a passenger in a Citron recovery-van.  So close yet so far away. 

The news wasn't good. The folks at the Yamaha Shop were slammed and it would be two days before anyone could have a look at it. I walked from the Shop to the paddock to peruse the bikes and riders scurrying about while attempting to devise a plan. I concluded, after a lot of walking, that plans would have to wait. Did I mention I didn't have a phone? I needed to make it about 18 miles or so back to camp. Fortunately someone at a cafe overheard my plight and offered me a ride. Nice folks here on the Isle.
I walked from camp to the Ginger to drown my sorrows in a Guinness as I did some investigating as to the source of my bike's problems.
I found that there were several instances of shorts occurring due to faulty connections and cramped wiring . I told the guys back at camp and Ian, or Diff as he is better known on the Isle, offered to give a ride back over the mountain in the morning to have a look. 

After separating the wires but before stripping them
Upon arriving at the Yamaha shop we pulled the fuel tank to find a melted mess of wires. Crap, my trip was slipping into peril.
Diff's view was more up-beat than mine and he put his electrical engineering expertise to work as we made the necessary repairs. After stripping the wires and re-wrapping we reconnected the tank, cranked the starter for a "measured period", and finally, ignition. It sounded alright!
On the ride back to camp Diff stopped me and said he thought my rear wheel was bent. I couldn't feel it, ah, I thought, a problem for another day.
By this time the roads were about to close for racing and they wouldn't reopen till about 10pm so my ride would have to wait till the morrow.
  Since rain had stymied practice earlier in the week the first Superbike race was delayed until Sunday. This meant that the roads would be closing earlier than originally scheduled so I took to the mountain as soon as the dew settled. Having learned a shortcut off the mountain during my tow, I was able to ride it twice prior to the race. The Tenere performed admirably but 50 more horsepower would have been nice, 100 would have been even better. It was a somewhat humbling experience getting vaporized by all the sportbikes, however, it was still a great deal of fun. I hope you like the song that accompanies the video. It has been the anthem of the trip thus far.
  Of course racing is the star attraction and there is no shortage of top-notch viewing locations around the Island. From the tightest section at the Ramsey Hairpin where the bikes squirm and wheelie in their quest for traction to one of the most lurid straits in all of racing. The run down to Creg-ny-baa pits speed against gravity as a rise along the course is met by bikes traveling in excess of 170MPH. The riders do their best to avoid wheelies to little avail, and often their attempts to circumvent physics result in high speed wobbles.

The Superbike race was won by Michael Donlop, the first of four victories during the 2013 TT. Though a terrific week, he still has a long way to go in order equal his late uncle Joey's total of 26 TT victories. I hope to be on hand next year to see if he can add to his tally. It would make for a proper end to a Round The World motorcycle trip. Besides, the 6 days we spent on the IoM wasn't near enough and there were five days of racing left when we went to Ballaugh Bridge for an early morning photo op on the way to the ferry bound for the real world. I did my wheel no favors but ultimately the shot for this post's heading was taken on the fourth attempt.
One of many misses


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