Motorcycle mayhem: the Isle of Man TT

Each summer, the tranquil island in the Irish Sea becomes the home of one of the most exciting road races in the world, as Richard Holt reports.

The Isle of Man is a self-governed tax haven sitting midway between Belfast and Blackpool. For most of the year, it is a sleepy, picturesque island where children are entertained by tales of Celtic folklore. But for two weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June, motorcycle mayhem is unleashed.

The first Tourist Trophy race took place in 1907 around a 15-mile course on the island's public roads. In 1911, it was expanded to the Snaefell Mountain Course, which is just under 38 miles long. The first long-course race was won at an average speed of just under 48mph. The current lap record is held by TT legend John McGuinness, travelling at an average of 132.7mph. McGuinness is the unmistakable star of the TT, who, as well as holding that lap record, has 23 wins to his credit, fast closing in on the late Joey Dunlop, who won 26.

H R Armstrong Competes in the Junior International TT Isle Of Man In 1952. Daily Mail /REX/Shutterstock
H R Armstrong Competes in the Junior International TT Isle Of Man In 1952. Daily Mail /REX/Shutterstock

If you don't think it is possible to be frightened by your own laptop, go to YouTube and search 'Isle of Man TT'. Watching from the vantage point of a helmet camera as the bikes tear around the course totally recalibrates your perspective on what it means to drive fast on a public road.

The TT is a time-trial race, with the bikes starting at 10-second intervals - so they are racing against the clock, not each other. Of course, over a race of up to six laps, those starting intervals can be breached, so riders frequently encounter each other on the challenging street circuit.

The race is widely accepted to be one of the most dangerous in the world. If you fall off a bike on a racing circuit, the environment is designed to give you the best possible chance of sliding to a halt, bruised but not broken. The TT course, however, is lined with buildings, trees and stone walls - none of which is designed to forgive.

More than 250 people have been killed since the race began - mostly riders, but also a handful of race officials and members of the public. But the danger does nothing to deter competitors and tens of thousands of spectators from making the trip to a race that inspires near-mythical levels of awe as the ultimate test of skill and bravery.

There are five major classes, Superbike, Senior, Superstock, Supersport and Lightweight. The Senior race is the final one of the competition, as well as the inspiration for a Belstaff coat that dates back to the golden age of British motorcycling.

TT Race in 1997. John Marsh/EMPICS Sport
TT Race in 1997. John Marsh/EMPICS Sport

Belstaff’s Senior TT Competition coat was first produced in 1933 to meet the extreme physical demands placed on it by a motorcycle industry producing ever-faster machines. It was available in either heavyweight black rubber-proofed ‘beaverteen’ or a deluxe model in double-texture waterproof cashmere.

The company that would become Belstaff was started by Eli Belovitch in 1909, just two years after the first Isle of Man TT. During WWI, Belovitch supplied capes, tents and groundsheets to the military. When hostilities ended, he put the expertise learned during the war to use for the growing army of motorcyclists and other adventurers who needed protection from the elements - something that the company continues doing to this day.

Richard Holt writes about motoring for The Telegraph

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