First held in 1907 the Isle of Man TT is the oldest and argubly the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world. Held on public roads around the Island, the Snaefell Mountain Circuit is 37.73 miles of pure insanity. The course is extremely varied taking in villages, glens, bridges and country roads; oh and did we mention it goes over a mountain?
It takes around three years to fully learn the track and unlike many other forms of motorsport, outright power and technological advantage won’t secure you a win; experience is key. And with the bikes being so close in terms of performance, the racing is extremely close. For example, in 2012, after four laps and 150 miles of racing, Bruce Anstey won the supersport from Cameron Donald by a margin of only 0.77 seconds - incredible.
After the death of TT star David Jefferies at the 2003 event, TT organisers have continually tried to improve safety at the event. All marshals are now required to be in line of sight of one another, particularly at dangerous corners (though granted, all of them are dangerous), Recticel barriers have been fitted along the course, and an emergency helicopter is on call at a moment’s notice. However, it will always be difficult to make a road circuit completely safe, and with lap speeds now in excess of 132mph, fatalities are still a common occurrence. The event is one of the last bastions of old-school racing, and for that we love it.
It’s difficult to pick one event which is capable of taking the title of ‘most extreme’ National Irish road race. They’re all mad in their own unique ways - Tandragee is extremely undulating, Cookstown is incredibly fast and Skerries is unbelievably narrow - but in recent years our favourite event has been the Armoy Race of Legends.
The event has only been around since 2009, but it has a surprisingly rich history. Back in the 1970s, there was a bitter rivalry between two sets of Irish motorcycle racers, the Armoy Armada and the Dromara Destroyers (two towns in Northern Ireland). The Armoy Armada comprised of the legendary Joey Dunlop, Frank Kennedy and Mervin Robinson. Their illegal testing of their race bikes on the roads around Armoy was documented in the brilliant BBC film ‘The Road Racers’. So when it came time to organise a new event, Armoy was the obvious location.
The circuit is incredibly fast and narrow with some ridiculously huge jumps. The old-school nature of the circuit has attracted top road racers including fans’ favourite Guy Martin, and even ex-GP star Jeremy McWilliams competed in the Supertwins race in 2013 and 2015. The event has been blighted in recent years by bad weather, but the organisers usually run the races anyway. Take a look at the video above to see what real bravery looks like.
As well as the smaller ‘National’ events there are also two major international Irish road races, the North West 200 (NW200) and the Ulster Grand Prix (‘the Ulster’). Both tracks are incredibly fast and flowing, which allows riders to regularly break 190mph. The NW200 is made up of a triangle of fast B-roads running through Portstewart, Coleraine and Portrush. The vast straights allowed Martin Jessopp to hit a GPS-verified 208mph on his way down to University corner back in 2012. When Ducati engineers looked at the telemetry they couldn’t believe the throttle trace - it made Monza look like a glorified car park.
The NW200 is a fantastic event attracting top riders from road racing and the British championships, but most riders prefer the more natural layout of the Ulster GP. With its fast corners and lack of chicanes the Ulster encourages ridiculously high average lap speeds, with Kiwi Bruce Anstey setting the incredible 133.977mph lap record back in 2010.
The circuit is lined with trees, brick walls and houses making it highly dangerous. Very limited safety work was carried out in 2015, but we’re glad it was perfomed. A row of bushes and trees was removed from the outside of Ireland’s corner, which no doubt played a part in saving the life of Guy Martin. If you haven’t seen Guy’s monumental highside at the exit of the bend you can see it here. Only the brave may apply…
The Dakar Rally encapsulates everything we love about bikes; camaraderie, high speeds and adventure. The classic route, first run in 1978, started in Paris and finished in Dakar, Senegal. It was a brilliant mix of terrain including the iconic African Dunes which could trap bikers for days on end. Cyril Neveu was the first motorcycle winner in ’78 cementing bikes at the heart of the event. Unfortunately after security threats the event had to be moved to South America in 2009 which is where it remains to this day.
Riders need to have a deep inner resolve to cope with the challenges thrown at them. A good mechanical knowledge is key in order to fix any problems on the fly and navigation is very difficult with riders having to rely on nothing but vague pace notes. Being able to ride injured is also a key prerequisite, because let’s face it, you’re probably going to have an off. Paulo Gonçalves demonstrated this perfectly when he had a monster crash this year, promptly jumping straight back onto his bike and riding off - tough or what?
Most riders are just happy to finish the event, but for some nothing but an all out win will do. Australian Toby Price dominated this year’s event winning multiple stages and finishing ahead of the next best rider by a whole 40 minutes. Even more impressively, he’s the only rider to ever win the Dakar on his second attempt.
The Erzberg Rodeo is our idea of hell on two wheels. Marketed as the ‘toughest enduro competition known to mankind’, the Rodeo basically consists of the world’s best enduro riders scrambling from the bottom of a huge quarry to the top of the ‘Iron Mountain’. Competitors only have four hours to reach the finish line, with the top guys just making it across with minutes to spare.
The event has developed over the years becoming increasingly difficult with each new section added. In 2015 the last section was so difficult all four leading riders had to help one another up the otherwise impassable hill; now that’s what we call teamwork! The event has made legends of riders such as David Knight and Tadeusz Błażusiak. Even freestyle motorcycle riders have been attracted by the huge coverage of the event. Travis Pastrana famously made it across the line in 2006 demonstrating his raw talent on two wheels.
Irish motorcycle racing originally started out on the roads and it has remained there to this day. And when you look at the facts, this unorthodox approach makes sense. Ireland is a relatively small Island, so there isn’t the space for vast purpose built circuits. There is also a unique culture which accepts the danger of these events. Other European countries have the luxury of space and high investment, so very quickly after World War Two we moved off the roads and onto specially designed tracks.
So it might come as a surprise that Spain has its very own ‘real road race’. The event is held in the small archaic town of La Bañeza and it’s madder than anything we have in the UK. The event began in 1954 and has continued to battle on despite the inherent dangers. The ‘modern’ bikes are limited to 125cc but the racing is still pretty scary. The proximity of the spectators is unbelievable and the telegraph poles and buildings are surrounded with nothing more than old-school hay bales. Dates haven’t been confirmed for 2016, but can’t wait to visit.
Oliver’s Mount is one of the UK’s most awesome tracks, but very few people outside of the biking community know of its existence, which is surprising when you consider that it’s England’s only natural road racing circuit. Located just above the famous coastal town of Scarborough, the circuit is like a small Cadwell Park, only without run-off. It’s a very demanding lap with riders having to negotiate the tight Mere Hairpin and the ridiculously steep Quarry Hill.
The back straight is very quick with riders regularly topping 165mph, and to make things even more sketchy it’s lined with bushes on the left and trees on the right; you can’t make a mistake. The braking zone is equally scary with a tea room sitting directly where a run-off area should be. The rest of the lap is equally mad and features a 140mph jump (dubbed Jefferies) and the tightest hairpin in the whole of the UK.
The first race was held on the circuit in 1946 and has seen its fair share of world champion motorcycle racers. Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini and Carl Fogarty all won races at Scarborough. And even Barry Sheene, who despised the Isle of Man TT, had a soft spot for the coastal event, winning multiple races at the circuit throughout his career.
If you want to see racing here we would recommend the Gold Cup. It’s held each September and the majority of the top road racers turn up to do battle. It’s like a small Isle of Man TT on the mainland - brilliant.
So CTzens, which event gets your pulse racing? Are there any other events that you think should have made the list? Let us know!