Michael Dunlop’s demo lap on the 1957-replica 500cc Gilera might have appeared like an unpressured doddle, but in fact he had to draw deep on his motorcycling skills to put on a great show for the public.
Consider this: the four-cylinder Gilera represents the peak of fifties’ grand prix technology. The rider is stretched out with his backside over the rear wheel, instead of being bunched towards the front end as on today’s bikes. The alloy dustbin fairing puts an additional 10.5kg (23lb) over the front wheel, which required Black Eagle Racing, who built this bike 13 years ago, to stiffen the front front fork springs.
So Michael had a lot to adjust to, especially as he'd never ridden the bike before his demo - not even a test spin at Jurby. Add to that the anticipation of a 100mph lap, and the boy had a handful to contend with.
A 100mph lap 60 years after Bob McIntyre first achieved one on the Mountain Circuit on the Gilera? The course is faster and tyres and suspension are better, so no problem, surely? But the Black Eagle bike is a pretty close copy of the Gilera. It's got just 65-ish bhp, and there's that weird wheel-enclosing fairing to deal with. And McIntyre’s bike was a full factory entry, while the Black Eagle crew also had to get four MVs to the grid for the 350 and 500cc races.
“It was so strange to ride,” Dunlop said after his lap. “It wanders at the front end - it was just dancing about all the time. But it was the best experience I’ve ever had, just to be out there on your own on that thing.”
Michael lost the clutch half way around, and he was always looking for a sixth gear because no one had told him that in 1957 hi-tech meant a five-speeder. He lapped in 100.5mph, which couldn't have fitted the storyline better. McIntyre’s 1957 mark was 101.12mph, and no one wanted to better the great Scotsman’s effort.
That Michael Dunlop pitched into this gig with passion and finesse says a lot about the 28-year-old Northern Irishman. They once said he was hard on a motorcycle and jumped teams too often. This of a stocky rider who won his most unlikely event last year, the Junior Classic TT, on a little 350cc MV. And he’s loyal year after year to his classic teams, Team Classic Suzuki and Black Eagle.
Thanks for a great show, Michael.