Our columnist-at-large reminisces about the various formats of racing (not necessarily on the road), talking about his preferences, and about how real thrills involve just getting on two wheels and gunning it!
Being around motorcycles for about six decades, one is constantly asked by others and yourself what the ‘greatest’ form of motorcycling is. Over decades I have asked myself this, and changed my views several times as the sport and equipment itself underwent many changes. Till the end of 1970s, as far as road/track racing was concerned, the Isle Of Man and the ISDT, International Six Days Trial, an endure event, were no brainers. They were the most exciting events that one looked forward to in the calendar year.
The IOM started in 1907, a road race around the Isle Of Man, a 37.73 mile (60.72km) course. It stopped between 1915-1919 due to the First World War and between 1940-1945 due to WWII. Between 1949-1979 it was the British round, of the FIM Motorcycle World Championships calendar, now know as MotoGP. Then it had every class of racing from 90cc to 500cc and side-cars. The event was a week-long affair with all the factory teams from participating nations. Then, our heroes were those who not only won World Championships, but especially those who won the IOM.
As for the off-road, or now known as endure racing, was concerned the toughest event was the (Scottish) International Six Days trials. This was a race through rough terrain and weather, where riders had to service manage their own machines for the duration of all six days. It was strictly based on time-trial rules and speeds were not the most important aspect, but durability of man and machine.
In 1976 the IOM was taken off the World Championship calendar, as it was too dangerous. The World Championship event was shifted to mainland Great Britain after riders and manufacturers protested, and began to be known as the British GP. It is definitely the most dangerous road race in the world. The MotoGP circus had another issue, that was the length of the track (about 60km), meant it was not really a spectators circuit, as the bikes would come round only once every 20 odd minutes! So all MotoGP racing then was held in closed circuits having between 4 to 7km of track length, plus enormous run-off areas for safety. The IOM, by the very nature of the terrain could not accommodate such strict norms.
There was complete overhaul of off road racing when the Paris-Dakar rally was introduced in 1978. The race was from Paris to Dakar in Senegal, North Africa. The terrain, speeds, endurance of machines and riders putting every other off-road event into the sun set. Now just known as the Dakar Rally, it remains the toughest and most severe form of motorcycle racing.
So now, what would I rate as the greatest motorcycle racing events today? You may call me old fashioned or conservative, but I feel the IOM TT races are the most demanding, fastest, most dangerous and thrilling races in the world. The speeds are as fast as MotoGP bikes, the track is far from being ‘clinical’ and the run-off areas in many places is an inch from the rider’s head. So, those men and machines still racing at the IOM remain my heroes. Joey Dunlop has won the TT 26 times in various classes. By many, he is considered the fifth best motorcycle racer ever.
The Dakar Rally over anything else in that category remains first choice for me. The terrain, danger, speeds, the technique and endurance of the riders and durability of the machines have gone way beyond anyone's imagination. So those who race in the Dakar Rally, like Stephane Peterhansel of France (who has won the Dakar six times), I vote as super-heroes.
And now, it’s open to debate…