by Shawn Downey
The month of May echoes with the promise of Spring. We humans elect to celebrate the warming month by recognizing May Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Sid and Nancy day…well, I am still petitioning for that last one. And as soon as I get off the ATF’s “Watch This Loony” list, I feel that I will be able to make some real progress in turning May 20th into a nationally recognized Sid And Nancy day.
Lawns metamorphose from brown to green and the sweet smell of flowers begins to permeate the air. All of my friends are scrutinizing their caller i.d. systems hoping to avoid the yearly ritual of dragging my bikes up from the cavernous pit I call a basement.
All of these milestones mark the start of the riding season but the one announcement that really gets my fuel flowing is the announcement of the start dates for the Isle Of Man TT. This is an event for legends and myths–mortals need not apply. It all started back in 1900 when some cage driving fanatic came up with the brilliant idea of pitting nations against nations in the form of auto racing. The nation to win the race would be the host for the following year’s race. Well jolly ol’ England won a race in 1902 and found themselves in a rather embarrassing predicament. Racing in jolly ol’ England was strictly prohibited by an Act Of Parliament thereby ensuring that England would not be able to meet it’s grandiose award…and then, as usual, the Irish came to save the day. You see, the formal title of the winning team was the “Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland”. So the British hosted the race in Ireland and everybody got drunk on quality beer versus that crappy ale.
Fast forward a few years to 1904 and we find an enterprising Secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland by the name of Julian Orde. He quickly realizes the importance of the racetrack as a proving ground for future mechanical developments so he does what all political activists do he shakes the family tree in search of a relative in a high ranking political position. Lo and behold, he just happens to have a cousin serving as Governor of the Isle Of Man. Fast forward the VCR to January 1907 and we see the editor of The Motor Cycle proposing a motorcycle race–ahh, those editors, prolific and influential. Yes, I am bucking for special treatment from the editor, now just move on to the next column while I grovel.
It is 1907, motorcycles are outselling automobiles and you are about to launch the first ever Tourist Trophy race. What is your largest obstacle? Is it supplying the island with enough hot dogs? Proper positioning of the porta potties? Of course not. The most debated subject is the rules. How does one divide the classes? Six weeks before the start of the race, the officials decided that fuel consumption was to be the determining class factor. Two classes, but one race. The single cylinder machines averaging 90 m.p.g. were scored separately from the multi-cylinder machines averaging 75 m.p.g.
Once the rules were established, the officials were faced with yet another challenge. How do we keep score of the 19 competitors? Call it a holiday and remove the chalkboards from all of the village schools? Sure, sounds like a great idea.
As is expected during the initial run of such a magnificent event, several controversies raised their ugly heads. Is it fair if the winners have pedals? Answer: Sure, but only this year. All future races will ban the use of pedals. Does one receive special consideration for having to pull over and assist in removing livestock from the course? Answer: No. No special consideration–ride over or through next time. Should we spray the entire course with an acid solution in an attempt to keep the dust factor minimal? Answer: Judging by the remnants of the riders clothing and the strange activities of the livestock, we recommend refraining from this practice in the future. And to answer the question burning in everyone’s mind yes, Monica’s book sucks. And to answer the second question burning in everyone’s mind, the winning marquees in the Single Cylinder class were Matchless, Triumph, Triumph and in the Multi-Cylinder class the winning entries were Norton, Vindec, and Rex.
The year of 1908 marks an interesting turn of events. The King decides that he hates automobile racing and outlaws the practice. Demonstrating his wise ways, he allows the motorcycle racing to continue sans his influence. Until about 1910 when the officials noted that the two recently developed classes, the 500 c.c. singles and 750 c.c. twins were rounding the course at breakneck speeds of 50 m.p.h.
Obviously these speeds were about to culminate in serious disaster for the spectators so the officials modified the rules and reduced the upper limits of the twin capacity to 670 c.c. Manufacturers were now using the race as a proving ground for new technology and saw the displacement barrier as nothing more than a new challenge. Despite the lower displacement, they were still breaking records and rounded the course at an unbelievable 53.15 m.p.h.
Ninety-two years later, the Isle Of Man is still being used a testing ground for many manufacturers and determines what the factory race teams will and will not be employing for the remainder of the race season. For my friends, it still serves as an announcement not to answer their phones for fear of recruitment into dragging my bikes up the ten steps to Springtime.