Robin Miller: Is cycle racing an extreme sport?

TT and Roads

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Is motorcycle racing an extreme sport? Many people, including the governing bodies, consider it too dangerous and try to make it safe or at the very least safer.

No one would dare to oppose it and the organizers of the TT, a race known as the most dangerous race in the world, are doing everything possible to promote their risk reduction efforts. Very different from many years ago when they put all the blame on the rider 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 by the ‘furniture’, much more by the quantity of bicycles circulating faster than ever.

That’s the call just as watching John McGuiness battle his 200 horsepower Superbike up Bray Hill at speeds close to 200 mph had even hardened watchers cringe while newcomers couldn’t believe their eyes.

And even WorldSBK Estoril had fans gasp in disbelief as they watched the dozens of bikes, fairings go head-to-head in 150mph to 50mph braking battles, to get through the first corner and beyond.

And the three Superbike races are no longer a procession with three or four riders, maybe even five, competing on rival brands and taking risks rarely seen in recent years to win the Championship. And unlike MotoGP, we have British riders, led by Jonathan Rea, surely one of the best we’ve ever produced, capable of being on that podium.

Whether it’s an extreme sport or perhaps just spectacular, the question remains as to why World Superbike or MotoGP doesn’t attract rating levels or media coverage, except perhaps in countries like Spain or Italy, far from that reached by F1.

And yet, even when non-bikers catch a glimpse of such two-wheeled battles, they’re often dazzled by the pilots’ antics on those 200mph missiles.

When four-wheelers became largely invisible and the utter dominance of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton was extremely boring, it led to a decline in the public. When F1 was bought by US media conglomerate Liberty Media they recognized that changes needed to be made, new stars discovered and marketing was stepped up with a Netflix series based on life outside the cockpit which did very well attracted new audiences.

“Drive to Survive” even inspired the horse racing fraternity to copy F1. Daily Telegraph journalist Charlie Brooks, describing F1 before the change of ownership as “the most boring sport in the world”, suggests that domestic chase racing in particular, i.e. racing on jumps, should copy what Netflix did for F1 by not making people in the race look nice or extremely talented but shine a light on what was really going on, the rivalries on every row of the grid. He cites an F1 incident when Fernando Alonso, having just crashed his car, asked his McLaren teammates (the film crew) to be here at the moment? “The answer was that they did! Referring to horse racing, Brooks adds: “It would also be fascinating to better understand the hardship and bravery of jockeys, the extraordinary injuries from which they recover and the cruelty of diets. starvation that some of them experience.”

The Isle of Man is setting an example for motorbike racing promoters by recognizing that its audience 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 defined by the Oxford University Dictionary as “Denoting or relating to a sport practiced in a dangerous environment and involving great risk”. But the TT certainly falls into a category which can also include Base jump or rugby and as such motorcycle racing even on emasculated European circuits.

Brooks’ suggestion that “Ride to Survive” would be an appropriate title for horse racing should surely apply to our sport as well. Anything labeled “extreme” has its own appeal and motorcycle racing while much safer than it used to be, is also much faster and much closer.

The product, whether it’s World Superbikes, MotoGP or the TT is very marketable. Kudos to a government department, the IOM Enterprises Department, for pushing the boat.

About Todd Wurtsbach

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