The 2017 Isle of Man Manx GP,
a personal account
2017 ISLE OF MAN MANX GP – THE DREAM
It took me over thirty years of dreaming to get to the Isle of Man TT. As a teenager the seed was planted by the articles I read in the motorcycle magazines I devoured instead of the 3 R’s in high school. The obsession never died, but life did have a habit of getting in the way and as I got older and older and the dream still hung on I came to the conclusion that if I was going to go I had better make the commitment and make the effort that the next approaching TT in June of 1997 was the year to do it. I contacted a fellow motorcycle buddy I grew up with to see if we could go together as we had talked and talked about it over the years, but over and over life got in the way. He him’d and haw’d several times, but my consistent leaning on him got him to commit and I knew it was finally going to happen. We spent the whole two weeks of the 1997 Isle of Man on the island getting saturated to the bone in the whole motorcycle culture of the island and the TT.
2017 ISLE OF MAN MANX GP REALIZED
But that event just planted the seed of another event on the island and that was of the Manx Gran Prix, a classic event that occurred in late August of every year, but put much more emphasis on vintage and classic racing machinery and competition and of course the enthusiasts who attend “The Classic”. Of course life got in the way again for the next twenty years, but now that I am retired and have set aside the money for just these type of events, and the 2017 Isle of Man Manx GP was the one. Again I asked several friends to go along and as usual too many said, “not this year, maybe next”. I was determined to go alone if I had to but in early February I found a fellow motorcycle nut to go and fulfill a mutual dream.
2017 ISLE OF MAN MANX GP – GETTING THERE
Despite the fact that the “the classic” is about a quarter of the size that the TT is, getting ferry reservations and finding a suitable place to stay on the island took a lot of research and back and forth emails to reserve a place for the event and we started in January, eight months before the event. Days and days of back and forth emails to find a place that fit our budget, location and transportation requirements. After a couple weeks of fretting, we got everything in place. Moral of the story….start earlier and much earlier for the TT.
In mid August we flew non stop from San Francisco to London /Heathrow and found our way very precariously into East London where we had a Air B & B room for three days of fine British museums and beer. Then off to Solihull, near Birmingham, to the British National Motorcycle Museum. I was afraid that the fire in 2003 would leave some gaps in the exquisite collection, but the museum is as good or better than it was before.
Five halls of two wheeled motorized rarity took up a day of gaping at British motorcycling history and definitely worth the visit. I could have emptied the fine bookstore attached to the museum, but had to be content with taking pictures of books to find back home.
Then off the next morning to Liverpool and get our reserved place on the Isle of Man ferry. It was full of passengers and vehicles and got us to Douglas by 1:00pm where the island was starting to hop with motorcycling activity. We grabbed some fine British beer and something to eat, contacted our Air B & B host and made arrangements to get to our room in his place about two miles from downtown Douglas. It was walking distance to a fast section of the track, close to a fine local pub (Cat with No Tail), a small store and near a bus stop that made it easy to get into town and other forms of public transportation to get around on the island. Buses, steam trains, and horse drawn trolleys would take us virtually anywhere we wanted to go with special buses set up for various events on the island to accommodate the influx of riders/attendees of “the Classic”. Any obscure locations were accessible via Uber and taxi services. Having a bike on the island would have been nice but we found it easy to still get wherever we wanted using public transportation.
The day after we got there we made contact with a Uber driver that rode and raced motorcycles on the island as an amateur and he charged us $30 each to drive us around the 37 mile circuit and explained how he set up for each corner, where the road was slippery, jumps that compromised control at high speed, rough parts of the road and off camber corners and common speeds attained in each area. He took about two hours with several stops along the way to explain tactics and bits of history in detail.
AT THE 2017 ISLE OF MAN MANX GP
The next ten days were a hive of activity, from wandering through the pits, watching practice or races from the grandstands or from the side of the road/ track as motorcycles zoomed by at 70 -140+ miles an hour just a few feet away from your face. Vendors booths offered anything motorcycling related, the local business’s put the welcome mat out and seemed very welcoming to the attendees and for the most part treated the motorcyclists like normal people instead of just the hooligans in town to spend money as I note sometimes in the US. I was asked numerous times if I “came all the way from the US just for the classic” and they seemed greatful that folks would do such a thing. Wandering the promenade along the shore in Douglas was a feast to the eyes of classic bikes which I felt outnumbered modern bikes attending the event. Riders came from all over Europe in droves, and mostly riding very vintage and rare classics to the IOM. Not just semi modern BSA’s and Triumphs from the 60’s and 70’s, but Ariels, Velocettes, AJSs, New Imperials, Rudges, Horex’s, OK Supreme, Sunbeams, Vincent/HRD’s, Rainbow, Matchless, Burney, Scott, Dunelt, and Zundapps. Many of which were from the late 1920’s and throughout the 1930’s. Velocettes and very old Nortons of every model by the droves. I have never seen so many Norton Manx’s and Internationals, even outnumbering BSA Gold Stars. Of course, then there were the specials on display too, most of which were ridden to the IOM, not trailer’d. NorBSA, NorVin’s, Egli and Godet Vincents, TriTon’s, TriBSA’s, Munchs, Rickmans, Magri’s, Seeley’s, NorZuki and a Flying Millyard that was a huge V twin made from a sectioned Pratt and Whitney radial aircraft engine. Toss in a few Hayabusa’s with turbos and superchargers added on and you get the idea that those Europeans take their motorcycle obsessions over the edge, sometimes waaayyyy over the edge. One full day we spent at Creg Ny Baa corner with a great views of a long straightaway approach to a fast right hand ‘r in front of the pub and then another long straight away a couple miles before the start / finish line. One of the classic tribute laps was Michael Dunlap taking Bob McIntyre’s Gilera four around the circuit. Scotsman Bob McIntyre was the first rider to ever average over 100 mph on the TT course in 1957 winning the senior TT in the process. Dunlop talked later of the skill McIntyre must have had doing this on a bike that now seems a rather antiquated machine with only about 75 bhp and dated suspension and tires. This bike was at the pinnacle of motorcycle technology for its time. Dunlop’s riding skills are now legendary at the Isle of Man mountain circuit and he too just made a 100 mph average on this bike. His highest average speed for a lap in the TT was 133.962mph in 2016 on a BMW S1000RR. Speeds approach 170+ mph in the fastest sections on modern bikes.
ABOVE: You see some of the happiest people at the 2017 Isle of Man Manx GP.
2017 ISLE OF MAN MANX GP RACING
Numerous races are devoted to giving amateurs time on the track on modern bikes also, as the classic was not only a race dedicated to vintage bikes racing and IOM history, but also allowing beginners on the mountain course to get saddle time on the track and getting familiar with what is required to compete here before qualifying for entrance into the TT. Just watch some of the UTube on camera videos of racers competing in any of the races on this course, this track in particular takes guts to race and survive. Just to finish is a win! Numerous events aside from racing were going on the “off racing days” such as the Jurby festival held about 15 miles away from Douglas. Special buses were set up to transport non riders there where a motorcycle and car museum is alongside the old WWII Jurby airfield. But on this day the roar of vintage and exotic race bikes were run around on a makeshift race course, mostly to get some “exercise” and make some noise and to show the old bikes still had some spirit in their bones. The pits were open to wander through, but the real entertainment was wandering through the parking lot of the attendees. Must have been 5 or 6 thousand bikes parked there, and the majority were vintage bikes of various eras. This was a show in itself of living proof that our European motorcycling brethren are a pretty devoted bunch to not only ride motorcycles, but are devoted to keeping their motorcycling history very much alive and thriving.
ABOVE: The bikes that race fans drove to the races were as interesting as the action on the track. Check out this prewar Rudge Ulster.
2017 ISLE OF MAN MANX GP – CHECKED OFF THE BUCKET LIST
Finally the trip came to an end, but to me anyway, this trip to “the Classic” was better than my trip to the TT twenty years previous, mostly because of my passion for old motorcycles and the folks that are likewise devoted to keeping them going and riding them. If you love world class motorcycling events, this event deserves a place on your bucket list.
ABOVE: The parking lots were full of gorgeous cafe racers like this Norton single with a Featherbed Frame.
EDITOR’S NOTE re: THE 2017 ISLE OF MAN MANX GP
We at Classic-British-Motorcycles.com are honored to have this excellent article on the 2017 Isle of Man Manx GP, reported live from the scene by one of our faithful viewers, Larry Orlick. Larry hails from Northern California as I do and we both belong to the same BSA Club (although I ride a Triumph). I share this item on Larry’s ‘bucket list’, as I would have loved to attend the 2017 Isle of Man Manx GP myself, perhaps sometime in the near future. We would like to encourage all our viewers to become Contributors as Larry has, sending us articles and photos about the classic motorcycle events, shows, rides, or museums you’ve been to. Expand this site’s reach, I can’t go everywhere, but you can. Please submit your articles and photos to me at ARTICLE SUBMISSIONS. You’ll get full credit for the article. All articles are subject to editorial review, of course. Thank you again Larry for this amazing story on the 2017 Isle of Man Manx GP.
ABOVE: Stuff a Vincent engine in a Norton Featherbed Frame, and you end up with a Norvin (Nor-for Norton & -vin for Vincent. This is one of the nicest ones I’ve seen.
BELOW: San headlights, this AJS is an all-out race bike.