A Morning at K-Tree

The best decisions are always born in a bar. So there I sat, just under a year ago, pint in hand at the top of The Triangle circuit on the balcony of The Tides in Portrush. Michael Dunlop, Ian Hutchinson, and Michael Rutter were screaming down Black Hill, duking it out and drafting one another for the lead of the North West 200, when my mate Mark looked at me and declared, “We’re going to the TT.” Hops, barley, a roomful of rabid fans, and the sound of superbike exhausts reverbing off of the homes and hedgerows of Northern Ireland may have lead to a snap judgment. I nodded my head and we clinked glasses. It will stand as the best decision I’ve ever made.

Mark and I recount this story amongst a pack of likeminded fans filling a plot of land near the 22nd milestone of the 37.733-mile road racing mecca. Many of them smile knowingly and welcome us to their fold. Conker Fields, as it’s called, is a popular spot for those in the know because this section of roadway is highlighted by something called K-Tree. Literally a tree with a white “K” spray-painted on it, K-Tree marks a left kink at the bottom of a small decline that immediately follows a high-speed, rising right. It’s rumored to make for some hairy visuals. At the moment it’s plugged with fans trying to get where they need to be. Most around us are enjoying lunch or queuing up for tea at a makeshift hospitality tent, while others still are jockeying for prime positions as close to the road as possible—smartphones, GoPros and SLRs at the ready—getting ready to capture the action. That’s where we are. Pressed up against barbed wire, listening to stories of TT history and sharing how a Canuck ended up here with his Northern Irish buddy. 

The roads of the Snaefell Mountain Course will be closed to public traffic soon enough, and the narrow, two-way streets will all run clockwise. We rode up here with little time to spare, and the corner marshals are already in position. Unlike at closed circuits, the silence of this empty course serves to spike adrenalin and prick up ears. The Course Inspection Subaru WRX STi is the first to rouse attentions as it womps by. It’s moving pretty damned quick, or at least that’s what I initially think, from two yards away. Minutes later, the first bike appears: a Fireblade SP (CBR1000RR) piloted by the track marshal in full day-glow orange, it makes the Subie look like it was standing still. The audience oohs, ahhs and we all do a gut check. Given his pace, we’re about 20 minutes from the first pack ripping through. I swap lenses on my rig and go through the motions of following an invisible bike through the route. Every hair on my body begins to stand at attention. A husband-and-wife team of 20-year veterans beside me bickers in heavy Scouse about whose turn it is to roll a smoke, barely batting an eye.

A sunny day Conker Fields... not a bad setting to take in a motorcycle race.  Neundorf photo

A sunny day Conker Fields... not a bad setting to take in a motorcycle race. Neundorf photo

The Snaefell Mountain Course is legendary. For 110 years, riders have tested mettle with metal in the pursuit of speed and glory. Two days ago, we gave it a run of our own. Thumbing our bikes to life in the belly of our overnight ferry at Douglas Harbour, we quickly disembarked to find the start/finish straight. Of course so did thousands of other riders. To say our pace was less than blistering would be an understatement. There was traffic everywhere, and the cops had set themselves up every five miles or so. Even still, I wouldn’t have the stones to warp a throttle-stop around here. The streets are incredibly narrow, there’s no shoulder to run off on, and undulations of all sizes are scattered amongst almost every one of the 264 turns. Fog on the mountain section was thick, too—even by English standards—so we kept things civilized. We clocked in at around 50 minutes… or 33 minutes slower than Michael Dunlop’s record-setting 133.963 mph average from last year.

My neighbors at the hedge snuff their third consecutive hand-rolled fag and finally take to their feet. Almost instantly, as if on cue, the howl of a tortured V4 and the scream from an inline unit can be heard through the trees. Within seconds Bruce Anstey and David Johnson are near touching leathers as Anstey’s Honda has clawed back the 10-second start gap from Johnson’s Norton. They quite literally blast by us. The arms gripping phones and GoPros retreat like horizontal dominos, and the hedges move with metachronal rhythm in the wake of the bikes. The force of the sliced and displaced air prompts me to flip my cap around before the next twosome goes by; nobody needs it flying off onto the road. All I can do is laugh. The second group warps past. All any of us along those hedges can do is laugh.

The bikes are hitting speeds near 150 mph through this section of turns. At this distance—roughly 3-feet—they’re a blur of color and sound. I can’t stop giggling. We move down the road a touch, closer to K-Tree, to get a more expansive view of the section. Seeing front ends aloft and front tires cocked, I’m gobsmacked by the ability, courage, and trust in rubber the riders must possess to pivot a unicycle at over 150 mph just inches from stone walls. It’s like watching the intricacies of open-heart surgery, tackled with a chainsaw. This is fucking nuts.

I’ve been up close and personal at multiple MotoGP events. I’ve watched in awe from behind Armco as a Sykes, Rea and Davies lead a pack plunging through the Corkscrew. I’ve clocked over 170 mph myself on the back straight of COTA, and I’ve poured over countless hours of TT footage on YouTube. None of it—I mean none of it—prepares you. Regardless of where you sit, the Isle of Man TT delivers the most exciting and exacting riding you’ll ever see. There’s a ferry ticket with my name on it for next year’s races. It was booked before we even left. Should you need some more convincing to join me, meet me at a bar and we’ll work on your decision-making.

It took almost 20 years for the moto bug to bite but ever since, Matthew Neundorf has been sussing out ways to work riding and motorcycles into everything he does. Working as a freelancer, in between days inspecting construction sites in Toronto, Matt has handled the bulk of motorcycle coverage on Gear Patrol and helms a weekly column on Bike Exif. Thanks to some incredible experiences through Baja, British Columbia, Eastern Oregon, and the south coast of Spain to name a few, the world of two wheels now has him constantly seeking out excuses to test and improve the limits of his riding abilities on all sorts of terrain in every corner of this world. Follow Matt on Twitter and Instagram.