Read a good book lately? The Isle of Man documented in "Riding Man"

With possibly the maddest of all motorcycle events in the world about to begin May 24th, I've finally put down my copy of seasoned motojournalist Mark Gardiner's novel "Riding Man", and I'm ready to watch the races.

Though most of us motorcycle nuts will never even make it to the Isle of Man in person to see one of the last great remaining road races, even fewer of us will ever get to twist the throttle and ride it. "Riding Man" details Gardiner's struggle to get to the Manx TT and complete it - preferably in one piece.

The book is unconventional in writing style. Jumping from past to present, it gives outsiders a glimpse into the mind of a racer, however, and more importantly, the book eloquently and in extreme detail describes a historic corner of the world that is obsessed with motorcycle racing.

From young to old - the population of the island live and breath motorcycles.

"The Manx Motorcycle Club annual dinner is pretty much the social event of the winter on the Island.... I show up a couple of hours early, to attend the club's annual meeting. Picture a large room full of men in blazers. Several men with snow-white hair announce their retirements. In order to fill their positions, gray haired men are nominated. Nominations are seconded. All in favor say Aye. The deputy clerk of the course's term was not up, but he's unfortunately deceased. He too is replaced. Finally, a new president literally assumes the mantle, as a large medal is hung around his neck on an elaborate sort of necklace... I am the youngest person in the room, or so it seems."

Gardiner paints a picture of a biker culture that's foreign to most North Americans, and definitely unique to the Island.

"The wall is only a couple of feet high from the road, but it's a five foot jump to the damp musky forest floor on the other side. The Neb, a little stream, gurgles a few yards away. Hidden here behind the wall among the fiddle heads are three little plaques devoted to Mark Farmer, a popular rider who died in 1994 while riding a Britten.

"I came here once and noticed that one of these plaques had been removed," said Steve. "I thought 'Boody hell, someone's stolen one of them,' but the next time I looked it was back and all polished. They'd just been removed for cleaning""

With thousands of riders descending onto the track for the parade lap during the week's festivities. Laguna Seca's parade lap carnage has nothing on the Isle of Man's...

Along the way we catch up to a huge crane truck loaded with at least twenty crashed bikes stacked up like cord wood. At Windy Corner, it pulls off the road to collect several more that have come to a stop in the gravel trap. On the Isle of Man, there's no blanket speed limit, there are laws against reckless riding. To add insult to injury, every one of the riders of these bikes will be ticketed. By Manx logic, crashing proves they were riding without due care and attention.

When I first visited Britain, it took me a while to get used to how things are done "over there". Street signs on sides of buildings, postal codes instead of addresses... Imagine the reaction to the scoring system at the TT...

The scoreboard is about a hundred yards long. Structurally, it's a rambling iron framework shedding huge scabs of rust. The facade is made of slowly delaminating plywood that's repainted black every so often. It's entire hand-operated, so the area behind the board is warren of runways, catwalks and hidey-holes. It's open at the back but the high wall that separates Glencrutchery Road from the graveyard casts a gloomy shadow.

At the north end, there's a tiny glass hut where the official timer sits with an assistant or two. As riders come by, the timer writes a note on a slip of paper. A relay of Boy Scouts runs these slips of paper - several hundred of them over the course of a race - back to a painter who paints the racer's lap time on a black slab of plywood. This, in turn, is handed off to another relay of Scouts who put them up on the 'board for those in the grandstand to see. Yet another group of Scouts puts the names of the top six riders up on the leader board. Scouts manually turn the hand of a "clock" associated with each rider that indicates his position around the course. And they flick lights on and off as he approaches the start/finish line.

Entertaining and at times enlightening, Riding Man gives you the chance to experience the Isle of Man first hand. The writing style might not be everyone's cup of tea, and with no real beginning and no real end the book is more a compilation of journal entries than it is a story.

If you're a rider, a race enthusiast or you've ever wanted to know more about the Isle of Man tune into and order your copy today. The book will run you $16.00 + shipping and handling.

The Isle of Man TT runs May 24th through June 6th and more info can be found online at

Photos: Peter Riddihough, Mark Gardiner

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