Back in 1907, an event took place that would change the shape of motorcycle racing, and over a century later remains the ultimate 'must see' event for two wheeled enthusiasts…
Seemingly out of place with the modern health and safety world in which we live, the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy attracts tens of thousands of fans from all over the world to this beautiful island in the Irish Sea, an annual migration that sees the population almost double.
Steeped in its own unique Manx culture and heritage, the island remains a quaint and peaceful retreat for the majority of the year. However, for two weeks in June the island comes alive with the thrill of adrenaline fuelled 'between the hedges' racing as the TT kicks off.
There is little doubt in the dangers of the course, with average speeds of over 131 mph over a 37 ¾ mile lap that features some 264 corners between hedges, lamp posts, phone boxes, stone walls and houses. That is part of the attraction though as many riders are drawn to the Island to test themselves with massive risk against the world's toughest course.
For fans, the very nature of the public roads course means they witness the action unfold less than an arm's length in front of them– something you cannot experience at regular, short circuit race tracks.
Fan favourite and TV personality Guy Martin is inherently aware of the dangers of racing at the TT...
In the 2010 Senior TT, the blue-riband event, he lost control of his motorcycle at Ballagarey – one of the fastest corners on the course – and crashed at over 170mph, turning his machine into a fireball, before finally came to a halt 400 yards up the road. You could then forgive Martin for retiring there and then, yet the accident had an opposite effect, recalling the crash he said, "The buzz from that was just unbeatable. That moment between crashing and almost dying? That raised the benchmark. I want to get back to that point. Money can't buy it, everything has been so sanitised with PC nonsense and health and safety that there is nothing else like it. If it was dead safe I wouldn't do it." The statistics speak for themselves as 240 riders have passed away chasing the ultimate two-wheel dream since 1907.
In the seminal film 'Closer to the Edge', Bridget Dobbs, the New Zealand widow of the late Paul "Dobbsy" Dobbs, offers a pragmatic view on the unconditional love the TT attracts, "You don't stop because you stop winning.
You don't stop because you have a scare and you don't stop because you see someone else have a fatality. None of those things change the fact you love racing. Once you are in, you are hooked!"
So what exactly entices a fan or a racer to the TT? The 2013 event saw British Superbike star Josh Brookes become the highest profile debutante to the TT in years, as he stunned the paddock by setting a 127mph lap on his Tyco Suzuki to become the fastest newcomer ever at the TT on his way to tenth place.
Track racing and road racing are two completely different disciplines, Brookes was stepping away from his comfort zone of short laps with large run off areas and air fences to hurtle between hedges and stone walls. The TT used to form part of the Grand Prix calendar, and while it still attracts high profile riders to watch, (a certain Valentino Rossi watched and rode the course in 2009) it has been unheard of for one of these to be so blown away that they actually resolve to compete in the event. For Josh, his first visit was also 2009, "I wandered up to the wall and watched the bikes come down Glencrutchery Road and I was just like 'wow, this is impressive!' I couldn't single out one particular thing that impressed me, it was just the whole environment which I found overwhelming and I instantly thought this is something I want to be part of. Now I've ridden the event one of the things that is so alien is the idea of actually aiming at a piece of wall or signpost as an apex marker, now your brain tells you that is all wrong!"
Öhlins technician and MotoGP veteran Richard Brendish was looking after both Guy and Josh from the old style TT paddock had this to say, "We get so used to seeing every second of every race on live TV but at the TT you have to wait over 17 minutes for them to come into view, it kind of sums the place up, it's a throwback to a simpler time...
Because the lap is so long, there is not a lot of time to sort things out, so it's a real challenge to make the right adjustments when the rider comes back in. You also have to consider the fast sweeping corners up on the Mountain combined with the bumpy rippled roads at other points so it's all about finding the right compromise.
The bumps, jumps and different cambers put so much stress on the engine, chassis and suspension it's the ultimate test of both set-up and durability, so it's also an amazing test laboratory for us."
Almost incredibly, Guy has never won a TT, despite the throngs willing him along from the dry stone walls and bankings. This year's man of the moment was Irishman Michael Dunlop who won four of the five major races, including two on Öhlins equipped Honda CBR600 machinery. A hard, seemingly angry young man, Dunlop also has his legions of fans but does not enjoy the attention that Martin attracts.
Of course it is not just the racing that entices thousands of fans every year, the fortnight long event is known as the Isle Of Man TT Festival and throughout both practice and race week the island is awash with entertainment. From beer tents and bands to stunt shows, drag racing and the Red Arrows - the TT caters for visitors of all ages. Douglas Promenade remains one of the most popular nightspots for fans. Stunt shows outside the Villa Marina, aptly dubbed "TT Mayhem", is the best way to begin your night as the motorcycle stunt display teams perform gravity-defying displays to a packed audience.
For the thousands of fans who ride over on their bikes, part of the attraction is to ride as many laps as possible following the wheel tracks of their heroes. 'Mad Sunday' as it is known, is the day when the police turn the legendary Mountain section of the course into a one way virtual race track for the public with no speed limits. It has to be seen to be believed!
It is quite possible to enjoy the TT festival without actually having seen any racing, but with all things considered, it is easy to see what makes the TT so unique. Not only is it the thrill of seeing the machines incredibly close at 200mph but the course is steeped in history, making the Isle of Man TT a Mecca for all two-wheeled enthusiasts.
"With the spectators so close you feel almost like you are in a stadium than a race track," explained Brookes after his first TT, "the fans also get to see your lines and see what you're doing with the bike much more, so they really feel the experience. You can definitely feel the fans presence whilst you're riding and that's something unique for both racer and the guys in the hedges."
So if you've not been, make sure that one day you make the pilgrimage to this incredible and unique event!