Why the Isle of Man TT matters

Photos: IOMTT

The 2017 Isle of Man TT is over. The fans have packed up and headed for the ferry, the race teams have loaded their vans, and the locals can go back to their routine (at least, until the Classic TT later this summer).

Now, it’s time for the naysayers to start their yearly refrain, calling for the TT’s cancellation. They’ll point to the three fatalities at this year’s races, and say it’s time to shut the event down for good.

They’re wrong.

The three racers who died this year are Davey Lambert, a Brit who was killed in a crash in the Superbike race; Jochem van den Hoek, a Dutchman who crashed in the Superstock race; and Irishman Alan Bonner, who died in practice for the Senior TT. None of these men were international roadracing stars, but they had achieved enough competency to earn a spot at the TT, and that in itself is a notable feat.

I don’t wish to belittle the loss of these men, or the grief and pain felt by their friends and families. But, the answer to these tragedies is not to shut down the TT. Instead, let’s look at some numbers.

The Isle of Man’s Snaefell Mountain Course is a very dangerous place. There’s no room for error in many sections, with zero run-off.

According to this document, there have been 255 rider deaths at the Isle of Man’s Mountain Course since 1911 (some sources place total number of fatalities, including course workers and spectators, as high as 270). The first casualty was Victor John Surridge, a member of the long-defunct Rudge factory team. Since then, competitors have died every decade at the Isle of Man TT. Some years see no fatalities, but other years see multiple deaths. The worst year for the TT was 1970, which saw six riders die (in 2005, the Mountain Course saw 11 deaths, including the fatalities from the Manx GP races also held there).

You can’t fudge those numbers. The Mountain Circuit is dangerous at high speed. And yet, riders show up every year to race, many of them repeat visitors. Nobody forces them to come.

Perhaps this year’s most high-profile example is Guy Martin, the working-class street circuit hero who came back to the IOMTT this year after taking 2016 off. Martin’s smashed up badly at the TT before; his fiery 2010 crash is legendary, and he had another bad accident at the Ulster GP in 2015 (a similar event, also run on public roads) that could have ended his career. In fact, he took a few months off, and was considered retired.

Yet, in 2017, Martin was back, racing again. Nobody forced him to come back—in fact, he ended up sitting out the Senior TT, after bike trouble put him off-track earlier in the week; you can’t even blame a big paycheck for his return. Despite being visibly shaken by that crash aboard the Honda superbike, he still managed a second-place finish later in the TT Zero electric motorcycle race. Martin made his own choices, to race or not to race, and lived by them. He’s survived the week to race another year, or not. It’s his decision.

His attitude is best summed up with his famous quote: “”If you think it’s too dangerous then go home and cut your lawn and leave us to it.”

Although it’s a time-honoured tradition and the fans love it, that’s not enough reason to keep the TT alive. We should keep the TT alive because it reminds us of a basic choice we all make: to live with risk, or not to.

The Isle of Man TT shouldn’t continue running simply to honour the memories of dead racers. It shouldn’t be kept alive just because it’s a ripping good set of races. It would be silly to keep it alive because it’s a time-honoured tradition. The best reason to keep it alive is because it’s an embodiment of a choice we all have: To live our lives in a matter we choose, whether or not it makes sense to our neighbours.

The Isle of Man’s Snaefell Mountain Course is a 37.73-mile throwback to times when the world was more dangerous and people lived with much more risk than we do today—and they accepted those risks, partly because they realized we’re all mortal. As Chuck Palahinchuk put it, “On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.” It’s a grim thought, but everybody’s birth certificate comes with an expiry date.

For some people, the chance to do what they love most and reach a lifelong goal before that day comes, is worth the risk of coming to that day sooner.

After all, isn’t  a decision like that how most of us end up motorcycling to start with?

2017 Isle of Man TT results

Superbike results
1). Ian Hutchinson
2). Peter Hickman
3).Dean Harrison

Sidecar TT 1 results
1). Ben Birchall/Tom Birchall
2). John Holden/Lee Cain
3). Dave Molyneux/Daniel Sayle

Supersport 1 results
1). Michael Dunlop
2). James Hillier
3). Peter Hickman

Supersport 2 canceled

Superstock results
1).Ian Hutchinson
2). Peter Hickman
3). Dan Kneen

Lightweight results
1). Michael Rutter
2). Martin Jessopp
3). Peter Hickman

TT Zero results
1). Bruce Anstey
2). Guy Martin
3). Daley Mathison

Sidecar TT 2 results
1). Ben Birchall/Tom Birchall
2). John Holden/Lee Cain
3). Conrad Harrison/Andrew Winkle

Senior TT results
1). Michael Dunlop
2). Peter Hickman
3). Dean Harrison



20 thoughts on “Why the Isle of Man TT matters”

  1. everybody is so worried about safey!!!!!!! these guys build these bike and get ready for this. your never gunna stop this the people are nuts good luck, i see these guyy shaking thier fist at the gods in a world where we think to much and do to little. this race inspires me

  2. The Isle of MAn represents what all us Sport riders want, thrill excitement and knowing one false move and it will be over quick. I ride a YZF R1 with a shorty helmut and no leathers. I have 135 000 KM under my belt on sport bikes. I know at any time I may hit a deer, a car in my lane on a corner or have a mechanical failure. Death does not scare me, what scares me is lying in a hospital bed with cancer withering away. Im hoping an avalanche, big wave or a motorcycle accident will take me away quick and painless. Am I reckless NOPE, do I take chances ! yes a few but mostly I live a life with inherent danger in everything I do. If I could get an invite to the Isle of Man I would race it in a heartbeat. Would I be scared YES but being scared if what makes my life more safe in a sense. those guys died what they love doing, and it is nothing more than that,!!!

  3. I can understand both sides of the argument. Watching the TT is totally amazing but it comes at a price. Today’s tracks are designed with safety as a top priority and yet tragedies still happen. The TT safety record speaks for its self. Could there be an alternative long distance road circuit that could minimize the casualties?

  4. I have the utmost of respect for those what can & do. I would Never tell them what to do or to not do. It would scare me to death & I would never race it. Would I go watch? I would love to do that! Would I ride it? Oh yes I would. Would I ban it? Never.

    Long live the TT!


  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5naKxnvffo
    go and watch the TT then make your comments.My son raced and won there, he is a travelling marshal of which there are seven who act as first responders in addition to the 550 marshals who are placed at strategic sections around the course. A great number of these 550 marshals are fully trained plus there are doctors and heli-meds which can get an injured rider to the hospital within 10 minutes and were a trauma team are always on duty during race periods. Nobody forces anyone to race there it is a passion just like rock climbing.

  6. When you drive the course, even in a van as I did whilst over there fishing, it has an air about it, you can’t explain it, until you’ve done it, going through Kirkmicheal at 30 knowing these guys are hitting 170 just leaves you gobsmacked….I’ve done the IOM rally in an Imp, that was great fun but the TT is something else, yes it saddens me to hear of thee riders loose their lives, but they go out doing something they love, you can’t ever take that away……I watch these guys in awe, amazing racing, amazing place…..

  7. Not to sound crass, but I wonder how the numbers show on a death-per-mile basis and how that compares with other forms of racing like MotoGP ? Not judging, just wondering.

    1. I don’t think you want to do that calculation. On-track fatalities in MotoGP and WSBK are pretty rare, perhaps one every few seasons in the entire series. Each lap of the Mountain Course is about 60 km but the races only cover a few laps. The distance covered by a given racer in the event isn’t drastically different from that covered by a MotoGP/WSBK racer in a single weekend (including practice and qualifying) – and they do many events per season and frequently the series goes a few seasons between fatal crashes. It wouldn’t surprise me if the TT is 50 times worse on a per-distance-travelled basis.

      And, so be it. The riders ride there and take those risks because they want to – so let them. The things we do in life shouldn’t be dictated by regulators and insurance companies.

  8. This season Mt Everest claimed 10 lives and while extremely sad it is accepted as the risk they take. The TT is a motorcycle racers Mt Everest and should be treated the same. Everything should be done to eliminate as much risk as possible and believe me they do but it must be allowed to continue.

    1. I came here to make the same point. Everest has claimed almost 300 people over the same span of years. Are people calling for climbing expeditions to be banned? I’m sure some are, but it ain’t gonna happen.
      I’m also sure more people have successfully conquered IoM than have conquered Everest. It is an achievable dream for the average person to shoot for. I hope for the good of motorcycling that it remains our pinnacle.

  9. The IOMTT is on my bucket list of things to witness. In our world of uber safety and sanitization it’s a refreshing reminder of how things were in the past. As long as racers want to race it, and fans from around the world go to watch………long live the TT.

  10. I could see vintage racing on a vintage track with 350 & 500cc singles. A stock 600cc sport bike makes more than double the horsepower of those bikes never mind the race bikes. The track can’t handle these speeds. Too many people dying.

    1. Don, I take your point. However, I’m not sure that a vintage bike with vintage suspension, tires, and brakes is any safer than a modern machine. And the TT was ‘vintage’ in decades past, one could say, with no lower an injury rate. Cheers!


      1. Pretty sure​ stock looking modern tires & shocks would be used, they are racers, and their chances of surviving a crash would be greatly improved with modern riding gear compared to what they used back in the day.

    2. Wrong on so many levels go there, ride it and see, every year its resurfaced in places so the. It out is evolving

  11. Well said Zac, living life is not about how long one lives, but how well one has lived. That said, while I’d try anything on four wheels, I’d never do that course on two.

    1. It’s worth a drive or a ride — I’ve driven around it, not done it on a bike — but race? Not me. Too old, too chicken. But I admire the guys and gals who do it.

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