I have been incredibly lucky. I’ve ridden motorcycles all around the world, both on- and off-road, as well as competed in various disciplines. I’ve met most of my boyhood heroes, and many are now friends. As a result, I have many memorable rides. But one stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Isle of Man TT.

Riding the circuit

Two years of riding production and vintage bikes convinced me that I was neither good enough to be a top-level racer nor talented enough to race at the TT or the amateur Manx races. However, thanks to friends calling in some favours, I was on the start line for the famous 37.75-mile mountain course as part of the ‘Classic’ lap (a chance for fans to see machines and famous riders from the past) at the 1996 TT meeting, sat aboard a compact, historic Suzuki 250.

That year was already a special event, as legendary Italian manufacturer Moto Guzzi was celebrating its 75th anniversary. Founded in 1921 in Mandello del Lario, the company is famous for creating the first motorcycle centre stand and using wind tunnels to perfect its machines’ aerodynamic designs. At the head of the parade were two magnificent ’57 Guzzi V8s, one ridden by legendary works rider Bill Lomas, plus a host of other glorious classic solos and sidecars, ridden by the great and good. And me.

From where I sat towards the back of the grid, I had time to reflect that I’d first sat on the Suzuki only the day before, and I’d adjusted a few of the controls but never ridden the bike. When the flag dropped, I accelerated hard towards the awesome Bray Hill descent and started to question my sanity as thoughts of two-strokes seizing under race conditions entered my head, not knowing if the brakes worked and wondering if I could remember my way around. Despite having ridden the public road course numerous times, I suddenly realised that having the entire closed road to use made things look very different.

Having successfully made the right turn at Quarterbridge and found that the brakes did work, I settled down to enjoy the ride despite several riders coming past me before reaching Braddan Bridge. However, I soon caught up with a rider who clearly knew his way around and I sat on his tail – a friend who was marshalling at Quarry Bends close to halfway round later told me they waved as I passed six riders.

Onwards and upwards

I was really looking forward to the climb from Ramsey up the mountain road when my guide missed a couple of gears, appeared to be in trouble and pulled in, leaving me on my own. Due to the massive altitude change on that section of the course, two-strokes often seize, so my left hand started resting on the clutch lever in case the engine ‘nipped up’. But I needn’t have worried, as the bike, a previous entrant in the race, was well set up to deal with the change in air density. I thundered down to Creg-ny-Baa and started to relax, realising I was going to finish.

Rounding the sweeping left in style, I headed towards the finish line at Douglas. The bike coped with the tight turns in the Nook at Governor’s Bridge and I crossed the line feeling like I had just won a TT – and, for a split second, like a works rider. For that reason, it really stands out as the ride of my life.

This is an edited extract from IMI’s MotorPro magazine, received free as part of IMI membership. Time to find out more about becoming a member of the most influential community in UK automotive…?


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