Motorcycle racing is a dangerous endeavor, something we have been reminded of heavily in the past few weeks. Losing Simon Andrews in the North West 200, as well as Bob Price and Karl Harris at the 2014 Isle of Man TT, the usual debates have once again surfaced, namely that motorcycle road racing should be abolished because of the toll of dangers, injuries, and fatalities it demands.
Despite death’s inevitability, the Isle of Man TT is a spectacular event, just ask anyone who has sat on a Manx hedgerow and watched these two-wheeled gladiators race past. The speeds on city streets are astounding, the atmosphere in the paddock is warm and friendly, and the Isle of Man itself is a picturesque locale that could come from some child’s storybook.
Modern media does a great job of translating the first-hand experience of the Isle of Man TT into an approachable hour-long TV format, but it still falls short of the genuine article.
Through a television set, you can’t breathe the fumes of unbridled horsepower from the racing machines, you can’t see past the riders’ determination through their helmet visors, and you don’t witness the hours of determined work, sweat, and sacrifce that occur in the paddock to get a racer to the starting line.
I would challenge any person, motorcycle enthusiast or not, to lay witness to a TT fortnight, and still walk away unimpressed with the spectacle that they have laid witness to — there is simply nothing else like it on Earth. It’s almost spiritual.
But why is it though? Scratch the surface a little deeper on the idea why the TT is so special, and you arrive at the notion that the Manx road race holds our wonderment in captivity because of how far outside the standard deviation of safety it operates — even under the skewed perspective of risk management that occurs in motorsport — and that forces us to take some major stock in our own mortality.
It takes a tremendous amount of mental fortitude to study, learn, and remember the 37.773 miles of the Snaefell Mountain Course…and then ride them at racing speed.
However, it takes an even greater mental power to swing a leg over a TT race bike in the first place, because in order to do that, one must first conquer the the mind-killer that is fear. Fear of the conditions, fear of the 100+ parts that can fail on a motorcycle, and the fear of death itself.
Society in general has a funny metric when it comes to measuring life, because we tend to default to the opinion that duration is the most appropriate criteria. It’s a hard thing to process, the inevitability of our existence ending, so our instinctual reaction is to hedge our bets and to be risk averse, to avoid the inevitable for as long as possible, to refrain from processing our nothingness.
I would argue however that quantity should not be put over quality, and that seems to be a sentiment prevalent, if not in the motorcycling community as a whole, then surely at least within the ranks of road racers.
The riders who line up on Glencrutchery Road do so because they want to challenge themselves, by challenging life and leaving the confines of closed-circuit racing, or even the confines of closed-circuit living.
When we come around to it, the Isle of Man TT is more than a festival and a motorcycle race, it is a celebration of actually living. Unfortunately, that celebration needs to be grounded in reality, and the reality is that in life, no one lasts forever. To live truly, we have to face our one and only true guarantee: that at some point, we will turn to dust.
That reality, that foundation, that subtle truth exacts an amazing toll of sacrifice – it requires its pound of flesh. When I hear people refer to the deaths of riders like Simon Andrews, Bob Price, and Karl Harris as tragedies, meaning that their deaths were needless occurrences of an abhorrent event, I take pause.
The greater the grief of their passing, the greater the influence that they had on our life. Grief is a selfish emotion, in that it is a feeling we have that reflects our own personal sense of loss.
When detractors to road racing or the Isle of Man TT place the lives of the riders lost on such a pedestal, that they then call for the sport’s dissolution, they create a circular argument regarding the value of these individuals, and the race itself.
For, the loss of people like Simon, Bob, Karl, and the racers who died before them, cannot be truly so great if they weren’t great people when they were alive. However, for them to have such an impact on our lives while they were with us, they surely must have achieved something remarkable in their living.
That remarkable event is of course the Isle of Man TT, which would not hold its spell over us if it weren’t such an undertaking in the first place. We as a society place value in undertaking hard things, and we put even more value in achieving those lofty goals. It is the challenge, the talent, and yes the risk, that makes the TT such a remarkable racing event.
That power gives credence to its competitors, who we then idolize. When we lose a racer on the course, as we have done so twice already this fortnight, we should have a reaction, but not the one being argued. Instead, it should be a reminder that life is best not measured by the number of heartbeats, but is instead valued by the number of times that heart raced.
Boys you will be missed, but yours were lives truly worth measuring — truly worth living — we should all be so lucky. The loss we feel right now, is the life you put in us. Godspeed.
Photo: © 2013 Daniel Lo / Corner Speed Photo – All Rights Reserved