MCN Fleet: SV650 in biking paradise

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If the Isle of Man is a motorcycling paradise outside of TT fortnight then only the word ‘utopia’ can conjure up the feeling of being on the Island during these special two weeks.

This is my first time of being free to watch the TT from anywhere, which means hitting the course on MCN’s Suzuki SV650 long-term test bike before the roads close.

Turn left out of my digs for the next few days and coast down Bray Hill to the famous dip, where a crowd is gathering on a grassy section to the left. The same is happening at Quarterbridge and the benches at Braddan Bridge are starting to fill with picnicking fans.

The crisp 9am air clarifies the feeling that something special is about to take place. As I guide the SV on the straight towards Union Mills, I contemplate that John McGuinness, Ian Hutchinson, Michael Dunlop et al will soon be screaming along here, one of them racing towards glory.

Marshals in orange boiler suits are getting into position, ready for the 10.15am road closures that will signal the build-up to the first race of the 2016 festival – the RST Superbike TT. Spectators take their positions, some burrowing into grass banks like photo snipers while others clamber onto scaffolding constructions to get a better perspective on impending events.

Riding these roads now is like letting a football fan loose on the Wembley pitch before a big cup final or allowing a theatre buff to tread the boards while the audience assembles for a Broadway play. Only before a pure road race can this happen, and the TT is the king of road races.

Turn right at Ballacraine and up through Glen Helen as the bikes clog up the road while trying to get the best parking and viewing spots. Eventually we reach Cronk-y-Voddy, which is the tip from my host Pat as the No.1 spot to experience the full power of the TT.

Our group of bikes disappears through a series of narrow lanes and we park in a rock-strewn layby before tackling the rest of the journey by foot. After negotiating a tricky footpath we emerge beside the track just after the crest at ‘The Cronk’. It’s a perfectly unassuming section of road. But that is about to change.

‘When the helicopter comes, that’s the sign,’ says host Pat as radios announce the departure of McGuinness and friends from the Grandstand, 11 miles back down the road. As the blades chatter into earshot, I get ready.

McGuinness is first on the road and he sears into sight, Fireblade’s front wheel soaring skyward as if trying to hitch a lift from the chopper. The engine note rises as he keeps the throttle pinned despite the front wheel’s elevation. As McG and Blade puncture the air in front of me they generate a pressure wave that creates a welcome cooling breeze on this gorgeous Manx Saturday.

This is the feeling that inspired me to take the SV on a four-hour trip to Lancashire, spend four hours floating on the Irish Sea and then sleep on a sofa. The sheer power, mixed with incredible proximity, is intimidating and inspiring in equal measures.

We listen on Manx Radio as Hutchinson sets a new lap record from a standing start, only for Michael Dunlop to quickly follow suit by recording the first-ever sub-17min lap and pushing the average speed past 133mph for the first time. This is history happening within feet of us.

Once Dunlop has driven his advantage home and won the race, we navigate the footpath again and head for our base. With roads closed this means a tour around the Island’s perimeter, towards Castletown and over Fairy Bridge before popping out near Douglas ferry terminal. Occasionally I forget that acknowledging other motorcyclists is a neckache-inducing folly when sharing a small Island with thousands upon thousands of them.

And on this ride it’s not just me perched on the little SV650. The Suzuki and I have our first pillion passenger, and it’s straight in at the choppy end with my friend Keith on the back seat – all 105kg of him. With my weight and the bike’s 197kg also taken into account, we’re only 10kg or so shy of the SV’s maximum permitted total weight of 420kg.

As anyone who’s ever ridden a motorcycle would expect, the extra load makes the SV a real handful. Acceleration dies, braking distances extend hugely and the handling qualities diminish massively. But for a short stint, when in a pinch, it can cope with two lumps like us.

The TT adventure continues today and I’m planning to complete the lap I started yesterday, carrying on past The Cronk this time and climbing the Mountain. It’s Mad Sunday, but nowadays the Mountain section is one-way through the whole fortnight so there’s no need to cram it all into one day. Still, I’m planning to start early to make sure the pressure is low.

Having finally done a proper day at the TT, I’ve got the bug. I’ll be back in future, but next time Keith can bring his own bike rather than flying in and cadging lifts around the place!

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Tony Hoare

By Tony Hoare

Former MCN Consumer Editor