I love motorbike road racing. Not doing it – watching it. I can’t even begin to understand what it must be like to travel at the speeds these guys (and girls) do on roads – to blast past ‘road furniture’ at full throttle on a race tuned bike takes a special sort of person.
Besides the absolutely amazing speeds, and the astonishing skill it must take to handle a bike at such speeds, there’s the human cost that sits behind it. I don’t honestly know why that speaks to me so much, but it does. I can’t watch the Closer to the Edge film without at times being moved to tears – when they discuss Joey Dunlop’s death, the Robert Dunlop being killed at the Northwest 200, and 2 days later his son, Michael Dunlop raced and won, and brought almost everyone to tears – astonishing.
Then, also on that same film, we hear Paul Dobbs talking, see him leave the start line at the TT, and then he clipped a wall hurtling past at race speed, and was killed instantly. His widow talks so movingly of understanding the racers, the excitement of it all, and how “you can’t love the death, but you can’t have the excitement and adrenalin without knowing that those risks exist”.
I can watch the most heartbreaking hollywood film, and I’ll never shed a tear – that’s make believe – but this is REAL – the sport is incredibly dangerous and people die. Fact. It’d bring tears to a glass eye to hear it from the mouths of those that live with it day in, day out.
And when you start to see what they do, it’s just amazing, to me, a motorcyclist who covers 12,000 + miles a year on public roads I watch these guys with total awe – I would never, NEVER, take a corner that fast, or leave braking that late!
Of course, the TT on the Isle of Man occupies most people’s thoughts when you talk about motorcycle road racing, but last year I had the pleasure of going to watch the Tandagree 100 road races in Northern Ireland. Amazing to see, hear, feel the bikes blasting past – and the roads seem so unsuited to racing, yet the racers give it everything on every lap, pushing the limit of man and machine all the time.
Listen to Michael Dunlop thrashing a 600cc race bike around Tandagree back in 2009 (he’s even FASTER now!!)
The circuit racers are fast, and they probably take the bikes even closer to the edge – but it’s tame compared to the raw danger of the road races! I watched Shaky Burn drop his bike in a race at 170 mph braking for a fast corner – bang, down he went – yet up he got, and in the 2nd race of the day, he wasn’t just competing, he won it! The difference for the road racer is if they lose the front at 170mph coming into a corner they are probably going to be seriously injured at BEST! And possibly far, far worse. Yet to watch them they don’t appear to be taking all that much extra care! Watch Guy Martin and Michael Dunlop battle it out at the Ulster GP in 2012 for an idea of how hard fought the races are!
So why do I say “All hail the Road Racers”? – because these are ordinary guys, doing extraordinary things, and they are doing it at races that you and I can go and watch and get so, SO, close to the action. And that makes it so much more accessible, and real.
I can tip my bike into a corner and think hey, that was better, much faster – but I can be utterly confident that in race conditions these guys would have flown round that corner SO much faster than I could ever hope to get a bike around it (and live)! They are doing something that I can understand, and experience a tiny, tiny, little bit of – but I’m acutely aware that my riding a bike ‘fast’ on the road is so far removed from the realities of a motorbike road race it’s not really comparable in any way beyond the fact we’re both on bikes, and there the similarities end.
All hail the Road Racers!!