The Isle of Man, set in the Irish Sea between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, is at first glance an unlikely Mecca for motorcycle racing. The island measures just 33 miles by 13 (50 by 20 kilometres) and is known for its own currency, stamps, native tongue and the world's oldest continuous parliament, the Tynwald. However, the Isle is also world famous because of its Tourist Trophy (known as T.T.) series of motor races, which have been held annually on the island's roads ever since 1904. Originally these races were restricted to automobiles. In 1907, however, motorcycles were admitted and the torturous, undulating terrain made the T.T. race series arguably the most significant motor-cycle competition in the world.
The Oxford Companion to World Sports and Games notes, "The oldest motor-cycle racing circuit still in use is the Snaefell mountain course over which the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races are run. Starting at the town of Douglas on the south-east coast, the course takes a wide sweep to the west and north to enter the town of Ramsey on the north-east coast and thence return to the starting point, each lap measuring 37 3/4 miles (60.6 km) and taking in over 200 bends while climbing from sea level to an altitude of over 1,300 ft. (396 m). This circuit is the epitome of the natural road course, all the roads used being ordinary public highways closed for the racing and practice sessions."
The first T.T. race over the Snaefell course took place in 1911. In 1957, the T.T. races were headlined by McIntyre, riding an Italian-made Gilera, who accomplished the first lap at over 100 miles per hour (161 kilometres per hour). Two years later, a new racing team, Honda of Japan, participated in the 125 cc race. Today, the premier T.T. racing bikes are streamlined technological wonders that carry riders around the Snaefell course at an average speed of 120 miles per hour (approximately 200 kilometres per hour). However, the circuit is very dangerous and, unfortunately, it has already taken dozens of victims under the racers.
During the T.T. Festival and the Manx Grand Prix it is difficult to travel across or around the island because of the road closures. There is a T.T. access road in Douglas that gives access to the centre of the mountain course during the event.
The T.T. races, traditionally held in the last week of May and the first week of June, create a carnival atmosphere that is extraordinary and unique. The picnicking crowds which celebrate the racers by flanking the 37-mile circuit are reminiscent of the community festivals that are part of another form of cycle racing in a different country - The Tour de France