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When it comes to racing, most fans conjure images of open-wheel Formula 1 or howling stock cars. However, one of Motorsport’s most riveting, shocking, and dangerous races isn’t much of a conventional race at all– it’s a motorcycle time trial. That’s right; the Isle of Man TT is a ferocious battle between iron-nerved motorcyclists and narrow roads at break-neck speeds. So why is the inherently dangerous motorcycle race still popular in 2023? 

What kind of motorsport is the Isle of Man TT?

The Isle of Man TT is a time trial race that draws bold, skilled, and arguably crazy motorcycle riders from all over the world. However, rather than a series of overtakes from a starting grid, these two-wheeled gladiators face off with the clock, starting at 10-second intervals.   

Every year, over 40,000 motorsport fans flock to the Isle of Man, a 221-square-mile island off the coast of the United Kingdom, per RideApart. Moreover, the event isn’t a recent development; the diminutive isle has hosted the event for over 100 years. Further, the time-based race hosts five large classes, from aerodynamic sidecars to the 1000cc Superbikes that spectators crave. 

How fast do Isle of Man TT riders go?

A black and white motorsport photo shows Bob McIntyre leaning a Honda at the Isle of Man TT.
Bob McIntyre on a classic Honda | National Motor Museum via Heritage Images via Getty Images

Impressively, the average speed that seasoned riders manage is over 135 mph. Of course, that’s not the maximum speed they reach, mind you. Instead, it’s the average speed over the entire lap. Moreover, Peter Hickman managed to hit 200 mph on the Sulby Straight, a 1.5-mile stretch of the motorsport course. 

The savage speeds of the bikes make sense; in the Superbike Class, riders straddle 1000cc motorcycles that routinely produce over 200 horsepower with weights well under 400 lbs. 

How long does it take to do a lap of the Isle of Man TT?

Steve Hislop gets air at the 1992 IOMTT on a white classic racing motorcycle.
Steve Hislop gets air at the 1992 Isle of Man TT | Howard Boylan via Getty Images

The fastest records at the Isle of Man TT are sub-17-minute laps of the 37.73-mile course. The outright record belongs to Peter Hickman, who managed an average speed of over 136 mph at the 2023 race. 

CategoryMotorcycleRiderLap timeAverage speed
AllBMW M 1000 RRPeter Hickman16:36.115136.358 mph
SuperbikeKawasaki ZX 10RDean Harrison16:50.384134.432 mph
SupersportHonda CBR 600 RRMichael Dunlop17:31.328129.197 mph
SuperstockBMW M 1000 RRPeter Hickman16:36.115136.358 mph

Figures courtesy of the IOMTT Database

Is the Isle of Man TT the deadliest race in motorsport?

The Isle of Man TT isn’t just awe-inspiring scenes of riders doing 160 mph past spectators on closed public roads. It’s also one of the deadliest races in all of motorsport. Sadly, on average, at least one rider perishes in the race every year. 

Furthermore, six competitors died in the 2022 event, marking one of the deadliest years in the event’s history, per Crash

Has there ever been an Isle of Man TT with no deaths?

Since its inception in 1907, at least one rider has died in the Isle of Man TT every year, with one exception. Specifically, in 1982, the race went ahead as planned without spilling the blood of any competitors. 

Still, despite the danger, riders insist on hurtling down the narrow streets, often becoming airborne on fiendishly powerful race bikes. These competitors seem hell-bent on breaking records, all the while soaring just above the surface on the border of exhilarating freedom and certain doom.

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