The appeal of racing classic bikes

Author: Bike Social Sports Reporter Posted: 22 Aug 2014

Modern motorcycles can circulate the 37.73 mile Isle of Man mountain course at average speeds of up to 132mph. TT racers these days have to wrestle upwards of 200bhp in what is thought to be one of the toughest tests in the world for both man and machine.

Come August Bank Holiday each year, many a professional Isle of Man TT racer swaps their all-singing, all-dancing Fireblades, ZX10Rs and S1000RRs for ancient machines that are more than likely to conk out half way through a race than finish. We’re talking of course about the Classic TT. You might think of Classic Racing as a past-time for older men who, let’s say are no longer in their racing prime but you couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to the Classic TT.

Each year huge TT names like Michael Dunlop, John McGuinness, Bruce Anstey, William Dunlop, Gary Johnson and more participate in the Classic TT on beautiful machinery. But why do they do it when they’re used to bombing around the course at speeds upwards of 180mph?

Gary Johnson aboard the Harris

“Classic Bikes have got so much soul” twice TT winner Gary Johnson explains. “There’s passion in it and they’re bloody good bikes. Some of them handle well, some of them don’t! They have a lot of appeal, there’s a lot of history behind them and they do work.”

Winner of last year’s Bennetts 500cc Classic TT race, Olie Linsdell says he’s always been in to classic racing but also dabbles in the modern stuff too. He reckons riding classic bikes teaches a rider so much about set-up that they perhaps take for granted on the more technologically advanced, modern machines.

“Classic bikes are very raw and you have to think about things like carburation, tyre pressures etc things as because the bikes are so basic these are the only things you’ve got to play with” Linsdell explained.

Linsdell won the 2013 500cc race

“On modern bikes, which are effectively driven by computers, you miss out on all of that part of your apprenticeship; when it comes to setting up bikes you just gloss over it all but when it comes to feeling it through the right hand and that meaning the difference between winning a race and coming last then you truly learn about fuelling and things like that.

“With the Classic tyres, after two laps around Brands Hatch they’ve got so hot that you’re two wheel drifting everywhere! If you can transfer that skill to making a supercorsa do that you’re on British Supersport pace. I think a lot of people skip that part of learning and it’s a shame, but it’s a string to my bow that other people haven’t got!”

One of the fastest women on two wheels, Maria Costello says she fell in love as soon as she first rode a classic and since they’ve taken her all over the world.

Maria Costello rides a big Suzuki in the F1 class

“The Classic TT has all been re-branded and now gets a lot of publicity and the top TT riders are now coming but I was doing it a few years before when it was under the Manx Grand Prix banner” said Costello. “I think the first classic bike I ever rode was up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and then I got offered a bike at the Goodwood revival, then in America and it went on from there. Classic bikes have taken me all over the world, I’ve raced them in America, South Africa, Australia and I’m going to New Zealand. I feel really fortunate that I get to ride all of these different bikes. I’ve raced Manx Nortons, the Paton I’m riding here is a beautiful piece of machinery, it all adds to the beauty of racing.”

“Classic bikes vibrate like hell and don’t stop, they don’t really go and they don’t handle. Some do, the Paton I’m riding this year does all of those things so I’m blessed but half the time with classic bikes you’re worried if the drum brakes will work and they vibrate so much it feels like your foot is on fire! They are really interesting things to ride though, it keeps everything alive and fresh and interesting.”

Interested in classic motorcycles? Read our guide on owning and buying a classic.

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