Robin Miller: Is bike racing an extreme sport?

| | TT and Roads
Picture: Impact Images

Is motorcycle racing an extreme sport? Many people, including the governing bodies, see it as getting too dangerous and are trying to make it safe or, at the very least, safer.

Nobody would dare argue against this and the organisers of the TT, a race known as the most dangerous race in the world, are going out of their way in promoting their efforts to reduce risk. Very different from many years ago when they put all the responsibility on the rider by saying ‘the throttle works both ways’.

But despite all the ‘Improvements’ made to many circuits, especially in Europe, it remains an extreme sport, much less from the ‘furniture’ , much more from the quantity of bikes travelling faster than ever before.

That is the appeal just as watching John McGuiness wrestle his 200 horsepower Superbike down Bray Hill at a speed not far short of 200mph had even hardened watchers stepping back while newcomers cannot believe their eyes.

And even Estoril WorldSBK had the fans gasping in disbelief as they witnessed the dozens of bikes, fairings clashing in outbraking battles from 150mph to 50mph, to get round corner one and the rest.

And all three Superbike races are no longer processional with three or four riders, maybe even five, fighting it out on rival makes and taking risks rarely seen in recent years in order to win the Championship. And unlike MotoGP we have British riders, led by Jonathan Rea surely one of the best we have ever produced, capable of being on that podium.

Whether an extreme sport or maybe only spectacular the question remains as to why World Superbikes or MotoGP does not attract the audience levels or the media coverage, except perhaps in countries like Spain or Italy, anywhere near that achieved by F1.

And yet even when non-bikers catch a glimpse of such amazing two-wheel battles they are often gob-smacked by the riders antics on these 200mph missiles.

When drivers in four wheelers became largely invisible and together with total domination by Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton extremely boring it resulted in audience decline. When F1 was bought by US media conglomerate Liberty Media they recognised that changes had to be made, new stars discovered and marketing was stepped up with a Netflix series based on life outside the cockpit which went down very well attracting new audiences.

“Drive to Survive” has even got the horse racing fraternity being urged to copy F1. Daily Telegraph journalist Charlie Brooks, describing F1 prior to change of ownership as being ‘the most boring sport in the world’, suggests that national hunt racing in particular, ie racing over the jumps, should copy what Netflix has done for F1 by not making people in racing look nice or hugely talented but shining a light on what was really going on, the rivalries on every row of the grid. He quotes an F1 incident when Fernando Alonso, having just crashed his car, asked his McLaren team-mates (the film crew) need to be in here right now? ”The answer was they did! Referring to horse racing Brooks adds: ”It would also be fascinating to better understand the hardship and bravery of the jockeys, the extraordinary injuries they bounce back from and the cruelty of the starvation diets some of them live on.”

The Isle of Man is giving a lead to the promoters of motorcycle racing in recognising that it’s audience base is local, narrow and to survive it must promote its unique brand of racing beyond the UK. They do not describe it as an extreme sport which is defined by the Oxford University Dictionary as “Denoting or relating to a sport performed in a hazardous environment and involving great risk”. But the TT certainly falls into a category which can also include Base jumping or even rugby and on that basis motorcycle racing even on emasculated European circuits.

Brooks suggestion that “Ride to Survive” would be an appropriate title for horse racing should surely also apply to our sport. Anything which is labelled ‘extreme’ has its own appeal and motor cycle racing while being much safer than it was is also much faster and much closer.

The product, whether World Superbikes, MotoGP, or the TT is very marketable. Full marks to a government department, the IoM’s Department for Enterprise, in pushing the boat out.