Multi-tasking Michael Rees shelved his enduro boots to take on the infamous Isle of Man TT course and to good effect! Rees explains what it's like to go from woods racing to haring between stone walls.
The Isle of Man TT course is the most famous motorcycle circuit in the world. It’s 37 and three quarter miles and 200 hundred corners of intimidating Tarmac are lined with hedgerows, houses, kerbing and open mountain. It’s a million miles away from the muddy world of enduro riding in Welsh forests. Michael Rees knows exactly how different that is having competed in two of Britain’s most iconic motorcycle events – the Welsh 2-Day Enduro and Manx Grand Prix.
Two very different disciplines but there are parallels – man and machine against the elements in a time trial, special test-like scenario and some very hard objects lining the course which demand respect.
The famous TT circuit in the Isle of Man welcomes Manx Grand Prix race week in August for amateur and newcomer riders to stretch the throttle cable and live the dream. In the Newcomers B race Michael Rees not only took on the TT course, but won. The well-known Welshman lapped the course at 109.832mph on his way to securing the top step of the podium.
It was a dream result that was three years in the making since switching from knobbly to road race tyres. We caught up with him to find out what it was like to take on the TT course for real…
How does dodging trees through the Welsh forests compare to racing between the hedges at the Manx Grand Prix?
Michael Rees: “Honestly, because of my enduro background, I kind of felt that this was an event that was suited to me. With enduro you race by yourself sometimes for over an hour. It’s only you and your mental strength that keeps you going to push through it all and it’s kind of the same here because it’s a similar time trial concept. I’m more comfortable at that than a short circuit race when you’re 40 riders deep into the first corner. Like enduro you’re on your own here and you’ve just got to get into a rhythm. Once you’ve found that rhythm everything flows. That’s what happened on the last lap — it just all clicked it did, every apex was bang on and it felt so right.”
Your switch from enduro to road racing came as a surprise to us, when did it all come about?
“I had a KTM 350 EXC at the time and my brother Matthew, who races at the TT, convinced me to try supermoto at my local track called Aberdare Park. At the time I hadn’t got a supermoto bike so I put a set of slick tyres on my enduro bike, shortened the gearing, hardened the suspension and had a go like. That was only four years ago. I then came over to the Isle of Man and watched him race. I was on the start line watching him go down Bray Hill and I was like I'm coming here, that’s what done it – watching him go down that hill.”
What was it like to go down the legendary Bray Hill for the first time under race conditions?
“It was mega, I rolled a bit on the first lap but second and third times were flat out. Until you walk it and look, you cannot appreciate how steep it is. You’re just head down pinned towards it straight off the start line and it just bottoms out and gives you a wobble as you’re coming out – it’s just mega.
The one that frightened me the most though was the bottom of Barregarrow. Everyone talks about Bray Hill but once you’ve done it, it’s not that bad. The bottom of Barregarrow is gnarly because it goes against the grain. It’s a bomb hole that you’ve got to drive though while throwing yourself into a wall. You’re turning into a wall, it’s bizarre. It is bizarre what we do round here. This is why for me I’ve got to go home and spend a couple of weeks working out what’s gone on because it’s just bizarre. Nothing can come close to this. I used to get a buzz doing a round of Hare and Hounds – the downhill jumps, wall of death corners and jumping table tops – they were immense but this, I just dunno it’s bizarre!”
What was your favourite part of the course?
“The Mountain section – I loved it. I think that’s where I made up time but it was so windy during my race. At end of the Mountain Mile first corner I popped my head out the bubble, got on the brakes and it just blew me right over towards the edge — the edge of the road basically. I was fighting to stop going over the edge as opposed to fighting to get around the corner, but we worked it out. Once that happened I knew which way the wind was coming from and where to dive in and where to be careful.
Will we see you back in an enduro paddock any time soon?
“I'm still on an enduro bike as much as I can be – it’s my first love and has been a massive part of my life. Paul Edmondson and David Knight, they were my idols. But for now I want to stick with road racing because I’ve put so much into it. Enduro is always there to dip my toe back in — I did the Welsh 2 day a couple of years ago and will return again because it’s mega but in a different way.”
Michael wishes to thank 'Skilly' from the Purple Helmets for the massive help he gives him.
Words credit: Sophie Lowney/Gez MorrisonPhoto credit: Lucas Croydon – Croydon Photography