Begun as a harsh test of production machinery, the TT's 100 years of history are about more than mere motorcycles. The story is of the men who rode them, and the greatest racing tales ever told
When the great British Government refused to permit the closure of roads for racing in 1907, the Auto-Cycle Club approached the self-governing Isle of Man authorities with a proposal to hold a race there. And when the Manx government agreed, the TT races were born.
The first Tourist Trophy race (so-called because the event was for ordinary road-going touring bikes rather than the 'freak' machines being raced on the continent) started at 10am on Tuesday, 28 May 1907 on the 15.8-mile St Johns course. The honour of being the very first men to start a TT race went to Jack Hulbert and Frank Marshall, though it was Charlie Collier on a 3.5hp Matchless who picked up the £25 cash prize for winning the single-cylinder class, becoming the first recipient of the trophy which is still presented to the winner of the Senior TT today.
Winner of the twin-cylinder class was Rem Fowler on a Norton. He later described what it was like to take part in that first ever TT.
"My most exciting moment was when I had to make up my mind whether to stop and maybe lose the race, or to plunge blind through a wall of fire which stretched right across the road - caused by a bike which had crashed there. Owing to the density of the smoke and flames I had no idea where the wrecked machine was. I decided to risk it, and luckily came through okay. But I shall never forget the hot blast of those flames."
Fowler also set the first outright TT lap record at 42.91mph, at a time when top speeds were around 55mph.
The races continued to grow in popularity until WW1 interrupted, but when the TT returned in 1920 it went from strength to strength. In a time before Grand Prix there was no better way to demonstrate the speed and robustness of a motorcycle.
The 1930s produced the first TT superstar, Irishman Stanley Woods. Woods dominated the inter-war years, racking up 10 wins on a variety of machinery, even a Husqvarna. A likeable, down-to-earth man, Woods set a template for Irish stars to come.
WWII stopped the races from 1940-1947, but by 1949 the TT had the honour of hosting the British round of the first ever Grand Prix world championship - the direct ancestor of today's MotoGP series.
During the 1950s the races entered a golden era, partly thanks to the success of bike racing's first household name - Geoff Duke. Duke won six world titles and six TT races, was voted by the public as Britain's Sportsman of the Year in 1951, and was also responsible for creating the first one-piece leather race suit in 1950. He was also briefly credited with setting the first 100mph lap of the Mountain course (which had first been used in its full form in 1920) in 1955 before the timekeepers downgraded his time to 99.97mph. The honour of setting the first official 100mph lap therefore went to Bob McIntyre on a Gilera in 1957 (Duke being sidelined with injury).
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