Isle of Man TT: Some things cannot be explained, they must be experienced

As motorcyclists we experience the world differently, more intensely and more intimately than those who don’t ride. Even so, there are some things that just cannot be described––they must be experienced. For instance, riding through Canyonlands National Park is breathtaking and even as a photographer, I cannot convey in my images what it feels like to be riding through the park as the sun rises. It’s a feeling that transcends mere words and photos.

An even more singular experience is a visit to the Isle of Man for the Tourist Trophy. In the three years I have been visiting, shooting and experiencing the Isle of Man, it just keeps getting better and better. Having said that, I know I have barely scratched the surface of the experience. I asked some of the top riders how they would describe it to friends in America, and although they experience the TT in a way we can only fantasize about, they also struggled to put it into words:

  • “Get on a plane and get over here, because there is nothing else like it, it’s so special.” –Peter Hickman
  • “I tell people that if you don’t believe me how amazing the TT is, they should go buy their ticket, book their place to stay, and if they don’t love it, I will pay for everything! It’s that amazing.” –Lee Johnson.
  • “Just get yourself over here, it’s worth it. Come over, support the American racers, it really is the greatest show on earth.” –Sam West

The experience begins long before you ever set foot on the island. Waiting to check in at the gate at Gatwick or Dublin and while boarding the ferry, there is an energy in the air, a nervous anticipation of what is to follow. It’s not just the mechanical marvels and their pilots out on the course, but what seems to be something that can only happen on an island, an island that becomes the center of the motorsport world for a fortnight. Almost as if contained in a bubble, the excitement reverberates.

The Isle of Man’s rite of spring begins each year in early May with hedge trimming, house painting and other preparations as the island residents get ready to show off their small speck in the Irish Sea to the rest of the world. The pubs are booked with live music for practice and race week, and spirits are high. New friends are made from around the world, while connections from prior years are renewed and celebrated.

As I got off the plane from Gatwick, expecting to see my buddy Pete, I see a guy in a BMW Rallye jacket waving, and it looks like he is waving at me. When I finally connect with Pete in the airport lobby, the guy who I saw waving earlier comes up and says, “Hi, Paul, it’s Mark, we met here the last two years.” And that is how it is on the Isle of Man, where friends, enthusiasts and racers become your road family.

I have only watched MotoGP from the comfort of my couch, but it has a different vibe and lacks the intimacy and immediacy of the TT where you can wander around in the paddock and have a casual conversation with the riders and crew members. For the first time, my son Jonathan joined me for a week at the TT to share the amazing experience, and although he only got to see one night of practice, he shot videos of my interviews with Peter Hickman, Michael Rutter, Milky Quayle and others.

Along with the celebration comes the suffering, and when there is a tragedy on the course the entire island mourns. In 2018, we lost local hero Dan Kneed and this year, Daily Mathison. Amidst the daily life and jubilation, there is a profound sadness all share, and we collectively grieve. We gain strength from their loved ones who share the passion of their fallen mates, take a deep breath, and are moved by the experience of the greatest show on earth—the Isle of Man TT.

All I can really say about the TT is get it off of your bucket list and onto your schedule. This fall I will again be working with Motorrad dealers in the USA as a National Presenter. If you are in the area, please come see me. If you have questions, I am happy to help.


See more of Paul’s photography at Competitive Image.