There is nothing quite like the Isle of Man TT. It is the most spectacular race on the motorsport calendar. The Senior TT is the Superbowl and Indy 500 combined. It is a national holiday where the race track takes center stage.
It is also one of the most dangerous races in the world. For every rider that swings their leg over their bikes at the TT, they know the risks and they accept them.
But what is it that makes a rider willing to take those risks? The “buzz” is obviously high on the list but another factor for some is a simple basic fact of life; they need to work.
Last year he broke the lap record and claimed the Senior TT, and while Peter Hickman might start this year’s TT as the firm favorite for overall honors, the 32-year-old faces the end of his career unless he was willing to race on the roads.
“I initially went road racing because I just wanted to keep riding,” reflected Hickman at the recent North West 200. “I was thinking at the time that the only way I could keep racing was if I had a big cheque book for a team.”
“I didn’t have that, so I had to find another way. My goal was always to stay in the British Championship, I wanted to keep racing bikes and one of the ways I could do that was to try road raing. It was also one of the cheapest ways to keep racing at a high level.”
“I didn’t fancy doing the Irish national stuff, but I fancied doing the big races. That was the North West 200, the TT, the Ulster and Macau. That’s was why I decided to have a go at it and it turns out I’m alright at it!”
“I ended up getting a good BSB ride from it, and I’ve never really looked back since then. With a decent BSB ride, I was able to actually win a race and since then I’ve never looked back.”
He mightn’t have looked back, but speaking to the Englishman he also acknowledges that he moved to road racing at the right time.
Having built up experience in the British Superbike paddock, and having gained lots of experience, and made lots of mistakes, he felt ready for the unique challenges presented by racing between the hedges.
“At the time I first raced on the roads, I felt that I was mature enough for it. I was 27 and had been riding big bikes for ten years. I’d ridden Superstock and Superbike, and I felt that I had more than enough experience. I was more than mature enough in myself to not ride like a dickhead and to keep myself alive.”
“Would I have raced earlier than that? Probably not. I’m not sure whether people should race either. I had learned all my craft on short circuits, which are pretty safe, and in all the crashes I had I was, 99% of the time, absolutely fine.”
“Young lads that road race make their mistakes on roads with massive consequences. That’s tough. They don’t have the safety barrier, if you like, to be able to push beyond the limit, get it wrong and understand why and how and learn from it because the consequences are so high.”
Those consequences are well known and clear to see around the Mountain Course. There’s no challenge greater as a result. There’s also nothing that can be taken for granted any longer.
There’s no way that riders are able to leave a stone unturned, and that’s why we’ve seen more and more road racers take to the short circuits. Dean Harrison has made the switch to complete a full BSB season so that he can get more track time and get more accustomed to riding on that limit at short circuits.
“There’s more and more riders racing in BSB again now. You have to push a bike to the limit, and a lot of the time to figure it out you need to beyond it, to find out where that limit is. Racing in BSB will help roads riders because riding on the roads isn’t riding at 95%.”
“You push at 100%, but you do ride in a different way because of the circuit. You don’t push the front anywhere near what you do at BSB because the key is exiting the corner right. You don’t ride the front into the corners, you don’t lean over as much, there isn’t as much grip and you have to find the limit in a different way.”
“A lot of the corners, especially TT, not so much North West, but a lot of the corners lead onto really long straights, so any kind of corner like that you need to lose a little bit going in to gain lots coming out.”
“If you do that in BSB, because there’s not really ever long straights, you’ll just get hammered down the way. Because of that you’re braking earlier. So to me, I’m way more relaxed because I’m braking way earlier than where I know I could.”
Braking early, rolling through, and carry speed down the straight. Rinse, wash, repeat for the riders at the TT. For Hickman he will certainly be aiming to repeat his feats of 12 months ago.
Photos: © 2019 Steve English – All Rights Reserved
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