Lieback’s Lounge: The TT Perfectly Blends Technology and Insanity

Dunlop Isle of Man TT
Michael Dunlop aboard the BMW S 1000 RR

Lieback’s Lounge, June 2019

There’s MotoGP, World Superbike, British Superbike, and MotoAmerica—a few of the popular sprint-racing series that challenge both riders and machines at circuits of various lengths and difficulties. Then there’s the Isle of Man TT.

The TT is a race like no other, one that showcases endurance racing at its finest. Circuit racing gets the pulse pumping—I haven’t missed a GP race in over a decade—but the TT disrupts the mindset, influencing thoughts of sheer, on-the-edge madness.

I have watched more TT videos than anything else on YouTube. If onboard footage from John McGuinness or Dean Harrison’s outright-record lap doesn’t increase the heartbeat, the viewer, even one without a passion for motorcycles, just may have no soul. The same can’t be said for circuit racing which can appear to unknowledgeable moto heads to be something like a well-organized philharmonic orchestra.

Michael Dunlop on BMW S 1000 RR at Isle of Man TT
Michael Dunlop aboard the BMW S 1000 RR

The TT is hands down the ultimate challenge of both riders and machines. As for the riders, there’s no other way to say it—they are nuts. Gonzo. Bonkers. Absolutely not wired like most of us.

Just like in any other sport, many consider the older generation of riders as the craziest—think Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, or Phil Read. These guys rode at speed on tires that I wouldn’t trust on a pedal bike, never mind a motorcycle. Yes, they had guts and helped inspire the next generations of TT competitors. And the latest generation of riders—Michael Dunlop, Ian Hutchinson, Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison, to name a few—is the most impressive yet.

This says much about the dedication these riders have towards conquering the 37.73-mile Mountain Course during the two-week event, and also about the motorcycles themselves.

This new group of riders endless train, both physically and, more importantly for the TT, psychologically. Many race British Superbike basically as practice for the TT and other international road races, such as the North West 200—an event in Northern Ireland leading up to the TT.

As for the motorcycles, the progression of both engine and tire technology over the past decade has intensified more than ever before. A perfect example of this is found in the outright TT lap times.

Back in 2006, McGuinness, known as the “Morecambe Missile,” piloted his Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade shod with Dunlops to a new outright lap record during the Senior TT—the prestigious six-lap race that is saved for last at the TT. His speed? An average of 127.933 mph.

Impressive. But everyone wanted to see that elusive 130 mph lap, and McGuinness achieved this during the 2007 Isle of Man TT—the centenary year of the event that began in 1907, though no racing occurred during the two World Wars. McGuiness posted a 130.354 mph, becoming the first rider in history to break the 130 barrier.

As technology further developed, many riders were breaking the 130 mph mark. In 2015, the top-10 Senior TT riders lapped in excessive of 130 mph. That year, McGuinness set another record—132.701 mph.

Fast forward to 2018, and Peter Hickman did the unthinkable. Well, first it was Dean Harrison, who broke the lap record with a 134.432 mph during the RST Superbike race. But this feat was surpassed during the Senior TT when Smith’s Racing BMW S 1000 RR rider Peter Hickman broke the outright lap record with a 135.452 mph.

Dunlop Isle of Man TT
Michael Dunlop aboard the BMW S 1000 RR

That’s absolutely insane, and shows just how much things change within a little over a decade, and, most impressively, over the past two years. Regarding the motorcycles, I attribute much of this whacko speed to tire technology.

Yes, traction control and cornering ABS are huge motivators for speed, but where the tire meets the pavement is what truly matters. Over the past few years of tire testing, I ask myself if things can truly get better, and the tire OEMs continue to surprise me with just how better these tires get.

Technology is the means, but the riders are the force behind these insane lap times on public roads. These are roads that change slightly throughout the years, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. And talk about pissy weather conditions, qualifying for the 2019 TT began Saturday, the opening night sessions and two full days were canceled due to visibility and damp issues on the island.

For a rider to overcome the numerous fears associated with the TT—including the death toll, which stands at 252 riders in both TT and Manx Grand Prix races at the Isle of Man since 1911—they must be super-strong in the psychological department. Or, they must be plain crazy. Either way, I’m fine with it. I respect what these riders do, and anticipate the battling for dominance on the mountain.

My bet for this year? Michael Dunlop claiming three wins, and breaking the outright 136-mph barrier aboard the Tyco BMW S 1000 RR. The motorcycle is capable, as are the Dunlop tires. As for Michael himself, his mind is more than capable—even if I think he’s downright crazy.