And you thought the modern racers were brave!
The Isle of Man TT races are legendary in motorcycle circles. And some of the most famous motorcycle racers are TT legends. People like Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Mike Hailwood participated in the event in 1965, which has long been hailed as one of the greatest races in TT history.
If you’ve watched modern motorcycle racing you will have seen some amazing saves. You have watched some racers do magic with their machines. But modern race motorcycles, even the versions that you and I can purchase, are technologically advanced, and have things like anti-lock brakes, launch control, ride modes, electric starters.
The bikes in the paddocks are tuned with laptops these days, not carburetor jet needles. The race tracks have plenty of room and runoff in case the racers lose control and leave the track.
Imagine the technology available in 1965. Have you ridden an old motorcycle, one from that era? Would you ride it at an average of 100mph around a twisty road on a single-cylinder 2-stroke engined bike wearing bias-ply tires and outfitted with drum brakes? Knowing that miles of the course run through small downtown areas with stone walls, buildings, curbs and light posts right next to the road?
The TT course is nearly the same today as it was in 1965 with, of course, some additional buildings. There is no runoff for bikes gone off the road; you hit a building, or a hedge row, or sometimes roll right off the side of a mountain. It is dangerous enough with modern motorcycles; indeed, many MotoGP racers have said that the road racing guys were the crazy ones. In 1965 though, the people who piloted their motorcycles around the TT course were made of extremely stern stuff.
The bikes had no electric start or kick start; they had to be push-started. There is a fantastic story of Mike Hailwood, when upon crashing during the Senior TT race, had no choice but to roll his bike downhill (against race traffic and against all race rules) to get it started again, and then ride it back uphill again, sputtering and steaming in the pouring rain, the man and the motorcycle both bruised and bleeding, but finishing the race in first place anyway (read this account for a real window into the past).
If you have a chance to ride an old bike, do it. If you get the chance to watch old bike racing, do that too. Nothing quite compares to the noises and smells those old race bikes make.