The real story from the TT breaks cover…

Recently there has been much talk of a proposed international road race series, charting a parallel course to a conventional track based season:  the ACU and the Manx authorities (respectively organiser and sponsor of the TT meet) have been involved in preliminary discussions. Ultimately, they own the key brand.  Meanwhile new regional meets have been suggested by enthusiasts from the Isle of Wight to Scotland, keen to develop road racing in their areas. The TT is estimated to bring in some £20m worth of revenue, and the Government have made encouraging noises about facilitating the parliamentary approval necessary  to suspend the Road Traffic Act locally, should any initiatives get off the ground elsewhere. All of which sounds positive, but there is a darker side to the reality which can not remain hidden.

Many obstacles stand in the way of either a one off meet or a new international series, most of them well documented, including the recent financial difficulties experienced by established Irish meets, which have cast a new and unwelcome shadow over the whole scene. But ironically, the success of the TT has exposed another problem. While most people accept that competitors make an informed decision to participate in a dangerous sport, well aware of the possible consequences, out of competition fatalities on the Island during the TT festival are another thing entirely, and are becoming a serious obstacle to furthering the cause of road meets – never mind the personal tragedies involved.  We’re talking about death and serious injury to visitors, spectators and / or locals involving at least one motorcycle.  And sadly, we’re talking about it again.

‘However you juggle them, the figures look terrible:  because they are terrible.’

In 2011, four people died and thirty two were defined as seriously injured in out of competition motorcycle related accidents during the TT festival. In 2012, five people died despite poor weather which curtailed road riding on Mad Sunday; we haven’t yet been able to access any data on serious injuries. In 2010, around 7.5 bike related fatalities per week took place in the whole of the UK (including the IoM) – from a far larger sample travelling many more miles than would have been the case on the Island during the festival. In other words, if you extrapolate the TT numbers to the mainland biker population as a whole (using IoM visitor data and UK registration stats), those 7.5 fatalities turn into a staggering 542 per week, or over 28 thousand per year. However you try and juggle them, the figures look terrible: because they are terrible. Not that you’d know it, since these are the fatalities no one wants to talk about.

The anomaly here is the lack of media coverage given to this phenomenon – both on the Island and in the UK bike press. Manx police described the 2011 meet as ‘carnage’. You simply wouldn’t have known that from UK bike media coverage. And this is a real issue, because information just might help people get their brain into gear before visiting the IoM during the TT. One can not help wondering if, on the Island at least, vested interests have driven a debate about non competition fatalities underground.

  ‘…the deaths are viewed as regrettable, but are ultimately regarded as a price worth paying ‘

The prospect of relative freedom and  no national speed limit is always going to be an issue when a bunch of petrol heads arrive en massse on a small island to sample such heady fare – which is basically the case during the TT meet. It can be argued  that this is partly down to a highly restrictive environment back home. If riders and motorists are used to operating in a highly regulated space which mediates their decision making,  it can be hard to handle a more relaxed, autonomous  environment.  Too much regulation undermines individual responsibility, and suddenly having to re-discover it is clearly a big ask for some visitors to the Island. Nothing will change until this nettle is grasped by all concerned, bikers included. We can all be blase about roads being closed while the authorities hose down the mess, but if your loved one is literally in pieces, an accident may not be quite so easy to come to terms with.

Despite all that, riding those legendary roads with brio on a half decent bike is one life’s great pleasures – which begs the question as to how to go about it for maximum enjoyment and minimal risk. The answer is simple – give the TT a wide birth and allow a couple of extra days for the weather. Early autumn fits the bill: stick around after the Manx Grand Prix at the end of August – which retains the vibe of a traditional IoM meet –  or get over there early September.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the fatalities haven’t been in vain. An senior IoM resident and bike nut told us that in certain quarters the deaths are viewed as regrettable, but are ultimately regarded as a price worth paying. We really hope he’s wrong.

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