James May attempts to build a motorbike and sidecar entirely out of Meccano to take him, and passenger Oz Clarke, round the Isle of Man's famous TT circuit.
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This is a nut and this is a bolt.
And without the nut and bolt we would be nowhere
because nuts and bolts hold the mechanical world together.
That's why this tiny, tiny nut
and this tiny bolt
are the most essential elements in the most iconic constructional toy
of the 20th century - Meccano.
And, if you're good at Meccano, you can make things like this,
or even this. And, if you have lots of Meccano,
you could make something like this fully-operating crane.
Or, if the amount of Meccano you have is measured in tonnes,
you could do something like this...
'In 2009, we built a full-sized bridge over a canal in Liverpool...'
Behold, the Meccano bridge of no return.
'..thus proving that toy engineering could unite communities
'and support the weight of a slightly fat bloke.'
'This left us wondering -
'just how far can a big box of these self-assembly components be pushed?
'We decided to subject it
'to the most fatiguing test of metal and mind yet devised...'
'..the TT racecourse on the Isle of Man.'
Motorcycles have been raced around the Isle of Man
for well over 100 years
and, in that time, there have been many classes of racing.
Now, in the early days, it was a simple matter
of single-cylinder or twin-cylinder machines,
but since then we've had lightweight, superstock, supersport,
superbike and sidecar races.
'There's F1, newcomers, juniors, seniors, formula classic,
'senior post-classic, and classic superbike.
'It's an exhaustive list that took ages to learn,
'which is why it's in voiceover.'
And yet, in all this time, there has never been a class for -
or any records set by -
a home-made motorcycle
built from a classic constructional toy.
Now that is a terrible oversight
on the part of the road-racing motorcycling fraternity.
Something has to be done.
'This dapper chap is Sim Oakley, Toy Stories' chief engineer.
'For the next six weeks he has been banished to his shed,
'where his job is to conceive and build
'a full-size, working motorcycle
'made entirely out of this flimsy stuff.
'To complete one lap of the Isle of Man's famous circuit.
'It's a 200-corner blur of city streets,
'twisting country lanes and treacherous mountain bends.
'Get it right, and a top rider can reach speeds of over 200mph.
'But get it wrong...'
'Thankfully, local hero Connor Cummins recovered and raced again.
'So what drives this apparent lunacy?
'Africa may be the cradle of mankind,
'but the Isle of Man is the cradle of his motorcycle.
'Since 1907, all the great names in motorcycling have been here,
'treating the island as a testing ground for new bike technology.
'And we plan to join them...
'with the Meccano Mark I.
'But first, to the pub,
'to consider some fundamental engineering problems.'
So will I have to sit on a...?
I mean, what would a seat be made of? These, bent...
I'm just going to have an arse full of nuts and bolts, aren't I?
It's funny, I've done a bit of motorcycle restoration
but when you look at all the bits you sort of think,
"Well, yeah, that's actually a small motorcycle in bits,"
but when you look at that...
I can't see the motorcycle in it.
So if we've got a whole motorcycle held together with those,
it's going to completely disintegrate within...
a quarter of a mile.
-It is just designed for making table-top cranes, isn't it?
'But hang on a second.
'There was a time when Meccano was responsible
'for the fledgling dreams of generations of engineers.
'And as its inventor, Frank Hornby, would tell you -
were he not dead - "You are limited only by your imagination
"and the blood spouting from your fingers."
But while building the bike is daunting enough,
getting permission to drive around the hallowed TT circuit
is proving even more complicated.
What sort of thing would be in it?
'In return for letting us ride,
'The Isle of Man Government wants us to promote
'the island's many attractions on the way round.'
How are you going to do that, anyway?
Well, I don't know cos I'd have to learn it all.
Could I take someone else with me?
What if I put a sidecar on it?
A sidecar?! Really?!
'That's settled then.
'The bike will have a sidecar and I need a crusty historian.
'Oz Clarke, then.
'He has a razor-sharp relationship with relevance.'
French cheeses. Don't trust French cheese.
'He's bound to know a thing or two about kippers.
'So, while Sim locks himself in the shed
'to study a fascinating selection of tiny metal rods,
'I head over the island to learn the circuit.'
So that's like doing 140mph past WH Smith's.
That's how absurd it is.
Even though, obviously, he's wearing a full-face crash helmet
and it's got a tinted visor,
I could tell by the attitude of his head...
..what he was actually doing was going, "ARRRRRGH!"
and then putting it back down again.
'This isn't teaching me much,
'apart from the perils of crossing the road during the TT.
'So I decide to track down an expert.
'This is multiple Manx Grand Prix winner
'and TT champion Richard Quayle.
'He's known as Milky
'because he looks a bit like the Milkybar Kid...
'although sometimes he looks more like a Crunchie.'
'He's a local lad and knows the course better than anyone.
'Especially that bit.'
All we want to be able to say is that we've completed the TT course.
-We're not after a speed record, obviously.
We don't even know if we can do it in one day -
but we want to go all the way round.
Right, OK, well that's quite an unusual thing really, isn't it?
I mean, it's got to carry two people also?
Yeah, it's got a sidecar.
I'm going to put Oz in the sidecar, ideally. Oz Clarke.
This is the standard reaction to news of Oz's involvement.
Coming here as a newcomer, it takes at least three years to get to the position
where you'll be in the position where you can finish on the podium.
-It's probably best to have a sighting lap, sort of thing,
and see what you're going to encounter.
'Right, this is what we'll be up against.
'From the grandstand at Douglas,
'we immediately encounter a terrifying descent down Bray Hill
'before braking hard for a sharp right-hander
'at the roundabout at Quarterbridge.
'As the bike climbs out of Douglas, inviting high-speed sections
'give way to sudden treacherous bends with unforgiving stone walls.
'Storming through the three-mile marker at Union Mills,
'we head west towards Greeba Bridge
'before the challenging twists and turns of Laurel Bank,
'where Milky went a bit flaky.
'At mile ten, the course heads north,
'up the piston-bursting Creg Willey's Hill
'before flashing through Kirk Michael village
'and flying towards the 200mph Sulby Straight.
'Racing through Ramsey at the 23-mile marker,
'the bike must defeat the vertiginous climb
'up Snaefell mountain, past the Water Works,
'and the tyre-shredding hairpins of Gooseneck.
'Next, the deceptive bends of the mountain section await.
'Sheer drops and stray sheep menace the intrepid rider
'as he zooms past Verandah, the Bungalow and Duke's Bends.
'At 33 miles, the course descends rapidly
'towards the right-hander at the Creg-ny-Baa Pub,
'then races back into Douglas to reach the start/finish line -
'37¾ miles of mental and mechanical torture.
'Having seen the scope of what our little bike must survive,
'I remain resolutely upbeat about our chances.'
How do you make a brake out of Meccano?
Do we make a little drum? It won't work!
There's a mountain, you've got to get up it.
How do you make the wheel bearing? How do you make the steering head?
It's all got to work really well,
otherwise it'll just fall apart and we'll be killed...
at five miles an hour. And that's embarrassing.
Me and Simmy are working on the basis of an idea
we had last Friday in the pub.
We don't even know if it works.
We haven't put a single nut and bolt together yet.
You may never see this -
this could be a complete waste of everybody's time.
We could get in to the shed and say, "Right, Meccano motorcycle!
"No, actually, it's not possible. Thank you and good night."
But while I'm having a small paddy,
Sim is beginning to solve some of these very problems.
Starting with the wheels.
By assembling a sandwich of Meccano plates
and surrounding them with ball bearings,
he's managed to make a fully-functioning Meccano wheel bearing.
The middle bit is going to be bolted to our frame,
this will be bolted to the wheel and the wheel will turn.
And, like the visionary that he is,
he's looked at Meccano strips and seen spokes.
That's pretty good, isn't it?
That is half a wheel.
Cut in half that way, obviously.
That's as tight as Graham Norton's face.
'One thing Meccano doesn't make is full-size tyres,
'so we're having to make a small concession
'by using some from a mountain bike.
'Now we can see if the complete wheel is fit for purpose.'
Now, of course, we have to account for the weight of Oz Clarke.
I haven't asked him yet if he wants to do this
but I know he's not very busy this year.
So we'll start off by representing a bit of Oz with this bag of potatoes.
This can be his head.
Now, we're using potatoes to represent Oz
because they were the first thing that sprang to mind
when I thought of him and also they are needed at the pub
at the bottom of the road for today's roast.
So, if this wheel works, the potatoes will be delivered.
If you're in the Chequers on Sunday
and you don't get any potatoes with your lunch,
it's because it doesn't work. It's that simple.
Keep your eye on it.
The total weight on this wheel now - ignoring the wheelbarrow itself -
is me, 85 kilograms, plus 20 kilograms of spuds.
So that's 105.
If we've got Oz on board - he weighs a bit less than me -
there's going to be about 160 kilograms of person.
-Oh, it's good at that!
'This is just a collection of half-inch metal strips
'with over 400 tiny bolts holding them together.
'There's more air than wheel here and yet, arranged like this,
'it'll carry me and Mr Potato Head with no flexing whatsoever.'
That is me and Oz Clarke on one Meccano wheel,
except that Oz isn't saying anything.
I like this version of Oz.
'This is 70 kilograms - a full metric Clarke -
'plus me, on one wheel.
'On the actual bike, we're going to have three.'
-The pub's shut.
Oh, it's only quarter to ten.
That is magnificent, Sim.
Everything about that is perfect -
the tyre stays up, the spokes are strong enough,
the bearing's good enough.
So what about the rest of the bike then?
Let's get to it.
Wheels are a good start.
But a motorcycle will have an engine to drive the one at the back,
which means we'll need a Meccano chain.
You can see the basic elements of it - the rollers down the middle,
the plates either side, and then the rivets that hold it all together.
We're going to replicate that in Meccano.
'This is like transcribing the Bible with Letraset.
'Each one of the 180 links we need
'is made from ten separate Meccano pieces,
'and they all have to be minutely modified before assembly.'
That only took about four hours, so we're doing well.
'Like a real chain, it must be made to extremely tight tolerances
'if it's to run smoothly on the drive cog,
'or sprocket, as it's properly known.
'Too tight and it will seize and destroy the engine.
'Too loose and it will jump off the sprocket and mangle the wheel.
'Soon, the tiny bolts start driving us nuts.'
The sharp end of the hardened spring steel pin
tends to mangle the plate,
but if I give it a gentle squeeze with a needle nose
and then I tap it in.
Obviously, I can no longer squeeze the pins
and there's a tendency for the plate to get chopped.
'Once the chain is complete, we're left with just one big problem.
'The thing that makes this motorcycle not a mere bicycle.
'Now, the standard Meccano electric motor develops 0.0025 BHP -
'the equivalent pulling power of me in a night club.
'But Sim's come up with a revolutionary system
'of making dozens work in harmony to produce the power we need.'
Right, you join us at a very exciting moment.
These are our motor clusters, there are 16 in each cluster,
three clusters on each side.
They form the Meccano engine. We're about to test run it.
I'll give you...three volts.
That's three volts.
That is quite fantastic.
'Simmy's six-cluster engine is as ingenious as it is complex.
'The clusters combine to turn the main shaft
'via multiple miniature Meccano chains.
'The front sprocket then sends raw power
'via our full-size Meccano bike chain to the back wheel.
'Yes, Meccano is just a toy.
'But look at this. It's art.'
-Give it a bit more beans.
Now that I'm... Just in...
I was just going to say, "Just in case all the chains snap."
Whoever designed that little motor
can't possibly have imagined it would be used in this way.
'It's amazing, but behind schedule.
'By the time we ship our Meccano creation over to the Isle of Man,
'we're still not sure if it's actually going to work.
'With race day looming, Simmy and his team set up shop
'in the local college to make frantic finishing touches.
'And there's still one vital, full-size
'but thankfully simple component missing.
'Our minister for tourism - Oz Clarke.'
MUSIC: "Bad To The Bone" by George Thorogood
Right, Oz, here it is, the big reveal of the all-Meccano motorcycle
that we will ride round the 37¾-mile TT course.
'Our stirring music is playing, our crap smoke machine is sputtering.
'It's time to reveal the machine that'll win us
'our very own Tourist Trophy.'
And here it comes now.
And it works?
We think so.
'As I teach Oz the intricate and technical
'arse-first technique for getting in,
'it seems that, for the first time, our bike is truly complete.'
How fast will it go?
Well, to be brutally honest -
this isn't making it up for television -
we haven't tried it yet.
It's only been the length of the workshop.
-It's got to go round the TT circuit and you haven't tried it?
You weren't doing anything for the rest of the week, were you?
'And so with my sidecar sommelier impressed
'and our bike ready to go, we turn in for the night.
'Tomorrow, we race.'
MUSIC: "All Right Now" by Free
'Grand Prix day.
'We should be down in the paddock, prepping for our 4:30pm start.
Last night, during a bit of late-night testing by Simon and Simmy, the motorcycle...
'When testing our bike's stopping ability,
'the front brake gripped the flimsy Meccano wheels so hard
'that the whole thing folded in on itself.'
That used to be part of the front forks.
That, in fact, is a bit I did -
that's the front brake calliper mount.
That's all mangled and gone,
the front wheel was completely mangled and collapsed -
all that's had to be done again.
Thousands and thousands of nuts and bolts and components,
the equivalent of, what? Three days' work?
Pretty much three days' work.
And it did all that damage?
But it's weak. Look, it's just weak, it's rubbish.
It's just rubbish!
'Simmy and Simon have been up all night, trying to fix the damage
'but, as they race to rebuild and reinforce the wheels,
'we learn that the Isle of Man Government
'is insisting that the bike must take a real MOT test
'to check that it's safe to go on the course.
'With just hours to go before the start, we haul our untested rework
'down to the Mot centre and try not to pace about nervously.'
The tester's taken a few steps back, he's shaking his head slightly.
It doesn't mean anything.
I hate this.
It's like sitting outside the X-ray place in the hospital.
'After what seems like hours, I'm called inside.'
-Well, it's all good.
Well, there's a few minor little tweaks here and there
but, mechanically, it's all right.
So what that means, viewers, is this...
..is now not merely a decoration, this will always wear that
and it will always be roadworthy here. That's right, isn't it?
It will always be roadworthy in the Isle of Man?
In the Isle of Man. That's right, yeah.
'We decide to leave quickly, before they realise their mistake.'
There you go, James.
There's your certificate of approval for your Meccano motorbike.
Thank you very much, sir.
OK. Thank you.
Look at that.
Oz and I are legal.
That sounds like we've had one of those new-fangled male marriages, doesn't it?
I don't mean that, I mean we're allowed to ride this on the road.
'Right, let's try that again, shall we?
'With just a couple of hours to go, we dash down to the grandstand,
'where the gathering crowds are already rabid with anticipation.'
I mean, he's not seriously going to ride the thing round, is he?
I think it's going to go over Ballaugh Bridge and land
and just disintegrate.
I think the wheels will fall apart very quickly.
He won't make the first hill.
'Everywhere you look,
'there are signs of professional and meticulous preparation.'
'Over at our own tent, I take Oz through the map.'
We're starting off with the roads closed
but given that I'm fairly confident
this is going to take us at least half a day,
the roads will open again, so we do have to keep a look out for people.
By sunset, hopefully, we're about here?
Well, ideally, yes.
'I hope he's right, because we've been given a very tight window
'in which to make the attempt.
'Leaving straight after this practice session,
'we must finish before the Grand Prix
'gets underway 40 hours later, 'on Friday morning.
'But, as bikes are banned from racing at night,
'we've actually only got 18 hours of daylight
'to complete the whole circuit.
'Back in the paddock with an hour to go,
'Will, our cameraman,
'is trying to make our bike look like the height of cool
'in our slightly grubby white tent,
'when this suddenly happens.'
'With practice postponed, the whole schedule has changed.
'The officials make it very clear
'that if we don't set off this second, we'll lose our slot.
-'All unauthorised personnel, please keep off the road.'
'As the crew grab Oz and scramble to set up cameras,
'I realise we haven't even had time to test the new brakes properly.'
If we can't stop, for example, the sign for that from me
is me cutting my throat with my index finger.
'Any mental preparation I'd been hoping to do
'is forced out of the window
'as we're shoved out in front of an expectant, waiting crowd.'
'We're simply not ready.
'We have no idea what will happen when we switch this thing on.'
Here we go.
'It hasn't worked.'
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
What do we think of that?
Look at that. Look at that.
All ye mockers, look at us now.
'This is the single slowest GP start in the history of the island.
'But, for my money at least, it's up there with the most triumphant.'
As John F Kennedy said,
"Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly."
-Is that what he said?
'All those weeks, 15,000 pieces of Meccano,
'all of it's come together in one glorious paean to speed.'
Check the chains, Oz, are they all still on?
Er...they're all going round, so they must all be still on.
'As we finally leave the grandstand, the Works Meccano
'prepares to take its rightful place in the pantheon of racing legends.'
MUSIC: "Road To Nowhere" by Talking Heads
This is tremendous. It works!
# We're on a road to nowhere... #
# Come on inside... #
'We flash along like a silvery Meccano mackerel.
'But coming up fast is our first major challenge -
'Bray Hill, a half-mile descent followed by a steep climb
'that will test our brakes, and then our engine, to their limits.'
Now this is a hill, James.
Has this thing done a hill before?
Not like this, it hasn't.
So this is the road test of the hill, is it?
I'm going to check the brakes.
-OMINOUS CREAKING AND GRINDING
-Oh, my God.
-Is that the brake pads?
CAR HORN HONKS
The brakes are pretty feeble. Oh!
'These boots cost a few bob.
'But they're better brakes than the ones on the bike.
'It's not an auspicious start
'and we've still got the much tougher uphill bit to come.'
-OK, now, a nice uphill...
-Not sure I can manage this.
Oh, I missed. Thank you.
Slightly uneven on this side, James.
I'm going to go towards the middle a bit, the equal camber.
'Simmy's plucky Meccano motor is giving it everything it's got
'but it's only just enough.
'It's already groaning under the pressure
'and this is only the first hill.'
I wonder if it's just worth checking to reassure ourselves -
I'd hate to break it.
-That sort of hill is far too steep for Meccano power.
So we're going to go on to Plan B - buggy power.
'To explain Plan B, here's something we made earlier.'
If this bit's made it on to your television,
it must mean we've got to a hill and we've come across a problem
with the power of our Meccano motor array.
We've come up with this.
It is our second motor, which is the one from a golf buggy.
Now you're all going to cry, "Cheat! That's not Meccano!"
But this isn't without precedent, actually
because Meccano themselves told us
that when they make a big exhibition model -
a giant windmill or a giant crane or something -
they often use something like the motor from a golf buggy
or a washing machine or even an electric drill
because they don't make an electric motor big enough.
They only make these puny little things.
So this is going to drive the same rear sprocket with a Meccano chain
to take us up the hills and then, back on the flat and the level,
we shall revert to pure Meccano power.
'With our exhibition-sized unit backing up Simmy's engine,
'we start flying along at almost seven miles an hour!'
Right, here we go, Oz. Here's our first big bend - it's Quarterbridge.
I'm adding power.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
I think this is extremely relaxing.
CAR HORN HONKS
'As we eat up the mile, Oz starts regurgitating random facts.'
We've just passed Braddan Bridge.
There are two things about Braddan Bridge.
One, it's very close to one of the breweries on the island,
which I think is important.
And, secondly, Kirk Braddan is the open-air church
where up to 30,000 people go and worship at Kirk Braddan.
St Braddan is the patron saint of voyagers.
-Is that right?
-So we ought to just say,
"Thank you, St Braddan, for how far we've got."
'Thanks are duly offered but, only a few metres up the road,
'it becomes clear that St Braddan really hates Meccano.'
I think the wheel is starting to go crooked.
Yeah, it is. We've broken.
We've lost the beading off the back wheel, chaps.
-The outside beading has come off.
'We've only been riding for an hour
'but the circuit is already taking an ominous toll on our bike.
'We can't risk further damage,
'so we have to move to an adjacent car park for an emergency pit stop.'
The problem, at two miles in -
the tyre is held in position by these one-by-one angle plates
and they're not strong enough - they bend outwards.
So we have to double them up.
Doubling them up means sawing two-by-two angle plates in half
cos we haven't got any of the right ones left,
peeling the tyre off, undoing all those nuts and bolts,
adding the new bit, re-tightening them,
moving on, we've had to make marks so we know where we've got to.
It's fantastically, painfully fiddly.
And we hate Meccano.
'Strengthening the wheel is not only time-consuming
'but is using a large chunk of our limited supply of spare Meccano.
'But ignoring the problem would be risking disaster.'
Within 20 yards, we'd stopped to make sure we don't do any damage.
-So long as we don't do any damage...
-You've got a long way to go!
A quick repair and off we go again.
It's only 35 miles left.
-It's only 35 miles left and we have to make it.
'This sort of thing took long enough in Simmy's shed
'but here, remaking the wheel on the fly
'ends up costing us three hours of precious race time.'
Has Oz gone to pub?
Has he? Seriously?
That's just insulting.
'Finally, the bike is ready
'and we take the bike back to where it broke down.
'Meanwhile, Oz, having thoroughly road tested the local beers,
'moves on to another of the island's hidden treasures.'
Not a local landmark, a global landmark. A landlark...
This landmark, this local lang...
"The Bee Gees family connection
"with the Union Mills Post Office."
Is this where Barry bought his Premium Bonds?
'I arrive in time to save us from the worst tourist information film
'since Oliver Reed Does Legoland.
'But the spirit of Barry returns at the next hill.
'The engine's gone and I can't go on.'
We haven't got enough juice for the hill.
-Are you doing this on purpose?
-No, I'm not.
This is a bit baffling
because, according to my battery condition meter,
we've still got half of our juice left
but it wouldn't quite go up that hill with us both on
and, towards the end, not even with just me on.
Which doesn't sound quite right
because this motor and this battery arrangement
should power a golf buggy, as I said earlier,
with six colonial golfists on.
'We check everything but the mystery problem remains.
'We're nearing the end of day one and we've only covered three miles -
'a twelfth of the total course.
'As the bike limps and stutters onwards,
'we have no choice but to make plans to camp out.'
Right, what's the time, Mr Clarke?
Er... Oh, 7:20.
Right, it's going to get dark fairly soon
and we're not allowed to ride this at night,
so we're going to have to stop somewhere.
See, it doesn't like these hills.
Oh, actually, this is as fast as it can go, is it?
It's going to stop.
-Do you want me off?
OK, one sec.
Can you jog ahead and find a campsite for us,
or a suitable camping location?
-Are you serious?
Yeah, well, you're not going to have to go very fast.
'So, much to the relief of the four-mile queue of traffic behind us,
'we have no choice but to stop everything,
'cart the bike to a nearby field, and set up Base Camp Meccano.'
We've done three miles out of over 37.
Well... We've tried.
Yeah, I know, but that's...
We haven't done it - we've got 34 miles to do tomorrow
and then the race starts.
We've got until sunset tomorrow to get to the end,
otherwise we have to come back next year.
'This was not the glorious first day of racing I was hoping for.
'The local scouts hear about our plight
'and kindly offer to sort us out with a tent and some grub.
'But we barely notice as the tent goes up
'and the sun goes down -
'all our focus is on the bike.
'We've even called in Milky to take a look at it.
'The mystery problem is that our rear wheel sprocket is too big.
'It's like driving a car and being stuck in top gear.
'Machining a new sprocket out of Meccano
'is a precision engineering job.
'Not something you can easily knock up in a field.
'There's no choice but for Simmy and Simon to take the bike
'back to the workshop for overnight emergency repairs.'
-All right? Come on, then, guys.
I really would love a beer.
So would I.
Where's the bottle opener?
Where's the bottle opener? Have you got a bottle opener?
You haven't brought a bottle opener?
Haven't you got one on you? A Swiss knife?
Well, I do normally, to be honest, but...
We'll think of something. Let's get this going, cos I'm freezing.
This kindling's damp.
Pretty much everything is damp here.
Here we go.
You could put the cardboard face-upward like that...?
That's gone out.
Hang on a minute. Let's think about this.
What would one of those proper survivalist blokes do?
Someone like Bear Grylls.
'We return to the bike at 6am, raring to go.
'Thanks to the overnight efforts of Mr Simmy Oakley,
'we're off to a flying start.'
Well, this is brilliant.
With my new sprocket,
the Manx Oakley takes off like a stabbed rat.
'I've told Oz to continue his voyage of cultural exploration on foot
'and to bring me back some local delicacies for lunch.
'I'm sorry he's missing all the fun
'but today is all about less weight, more speed.
'There's a lot of catching up to do
'and the rush hour traffic to contend with.'
Oh, thank you(!)
Think Meccano biker.
'The vacant sidecar is like an empty bar stool
'in a Spitfire squadron's mess.
'But the bike IS going better.'
This is going so well,
I think we can allow ourselves some Steppenwolf.
Come on, you knew it was going to happen eventually.
Let's just get it over with.
MUSIC: "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf
-'Right, that's your lot.'
Come on. Speed up, tracking car, we're putting in a hot lap here.
Look at it go up this hill!
Five miles, ladies and gentlemen.
We'll be back in Douglas for lunch.
'By 8am we've already covered as much ground as we did yesterday.'
Coming up to seven miles.
Look at this thing go!
It's Meccano, let's not forget that.
'Blazing through the beautiful Isle of Man scenery,
'dotted with examples of ancient torture equipment,
'I'm starting to enjoy the high-octane,
'thrill-seeking lifestyle of the racing motorcyclist.'
Down a gear... Brrmmmm!
Climb over the bike, push it in and then back on the power. Meeem!
There, I've wrestled it through the bend
Oh! Manhole cover!
'Meanwhile, many miles across the island...'
-This is such a delight for me, I can't tell you.
TRAIN WHISTLE BLARES
I think James has got this all wrong.
We should be doing a steam train tour
all the way round the Isle of Man.
In fact, we could have done in the old days.
This is the only steam train line left.
You used to be able to go right the way round...
Frankly, following the TT track most of the time.
James could have done what he likes with his bicycle -
I'll be on the steam train.
'Meanwhile, back on the bike, there's no room for complacency,
'as I'm approaching the very spot
'where even TT champions can get it very wrong.'
Right, we're just coming in to Laurel -
this is where Milky binned it.
I think he...
struck his shoulder on that wall
and then flew in to that so... a bit of care.
Are you watching, Richard "Milky" Quayle?
That's how you do it.
'But as soon as we start the long ascent up Creg Willey's Hill...'
Ooh, this is steep.
Oh, come on, mate.
Feather the power.
Oh, I'm not sure it's going to do it.
'Having been fine all morning, the bike suddenly slows to a crawl,
'until finally it stops entirely.'
I'm moving again now.
I do need to talk to Sim about this a bit, I think.
I'm having to let the battery recover a bit -
it's getting a bit low - but this is moving under its own power.
I'm not pushing it,
I'm merely steering it and operating the thumb throttle.
'Having made such a good start to the day,
'we're convinced that we're only dealing with a flat battery.'
All motorcycles benefit from regular servicing
at prescribed service intervals.
This is no different, it's just the service intervals on this bike
are sort of 20 minutes or two miles.
It'll be fine.
'But as my pit crew examine the bike,
'Simon finds a tiny tell-tale piece of broken Meccano.
'It's not the batteries letting us down
'but that Meccano wheel bearing,
'and it's almost completely shot.'
If you have any knowledge of wheel design at all,
you should know that it's not supposed to move that way,
it's only supposed to go round and round.
The problem is that we've already worn that home-made bearing out.
At about... What have we done? ..11 miles.
And that is a tricky job because you can't just drop the wheel out
like you can on a normal bicycle or motorcycle - it's all...
part of the Meccano-ness of the thing.
What can we do?
-I thought they would be fine.
-I did as well.
I think we have to mend it because if we keep going
until it completely mangles, it'll destroy the wheel as well
and we definitely can't build another one of those.
It's... It's a few hours' work, that.
There will now be a short intermission.
'A few miles back down the road, we find a man called Tom,
'who runs the only motorbike and clock repair shop on the island.
'Well, most likely the world.'
-17 and a half?
-17 and a half.
I've marked it anyway.
'It's a frustrating process.
'We've completely run out of spares
'and we're forced to make our own replacement Meccano from scratch.'
We can always make it smaller but we can't make it bigger again,
that's the rule.
'It seems absolutely barking mad
'to be taking pieces of sturdy, dependable metal
'and deliberately turning them in to a flimsy toy.'
OK, so it's 17.5 and 13...
'But it's all in the true spirit of Meccano.
'It's also unbelievably time-consuming.'
The thing is, this is complicated stuff - this is like building
the back wheel of a motorcycle from scratch, not even from Meccano.
There are no pre-drilled holes, no pre-ordained sizes or spaces
or anything - all we've got is pieces of metal.
'An hour of precious daylight passes. Then another.
'Even if we somehow got the bike repaired straightaway,
'we've now got no real hope
'of reaching the finishing line by sundown.
'As we desperately tinker away, surrounded by clocks
'that only rub in how long this is taking, I'm at my lowest ebb.
'Oz, on the other hand...'
# Put on a happy face
# Brush off the clouds and cheer up... #
-You can taste the wind off the sea
and you can... Got a lovely, savoury, acidy freshness to it.
How many more bottles you got of that?
Isle of Man drinks so far that I've been having
-have got a really good, old-fashioned bite to them.
I hope this continues.
-No problems. Enjoy.
This is getting a bit desperate.
What we imagined would be a two-hour repair break
to sort out the collapsed rear-wheel bearing
is now six and a half hours long.
We've had to make bespoke hubs for the wheels, a bespoke axle,
new off-the-shelf bearings to fit in holes, spacers,
we're running out of daylight,
we've got to finish by 9 o'clock tomorrow
because that's when the Manx GP 2 starts -
this is why I've fitted some lights,
cos I'm hoping I'll be allowed to ride it through the dark,
despite what the regulations say.
Right, 17.5 millimetres...
'News of our predicament filters back
'to our worried supporters at the grandstand.'
Having ridden round it many times,
it takes a lot to keep 'em going, doesn't it?
I don't think the chances are with him - I think they're a bit slim.
Finally, by the early evening, we're back on the road.
So, viewers, if you've just joined us,
we've had a seven-hour session
repairing the bearing on the back wheel,
and now we're underway again and approaching the 12th mile post.
# Time I was on my way... #
'We haven't yet heard from the authorities about riding at night,
'but we have to set off regardless
'and hope they give us the thumbs-up before it's too late.'
So we did 11½ miles on the original all-Meccano bearing
and I think that's pretty good.
I bet when Frank Hornby invented Meccano,
he didn't think it would be used for anything more
than a very simple push-along truck
or a crude representation of Tower Bridge,
not this sort of thing.
'We might be running way behind schedule
'but the fixes to the bike are holding
'and, even though they must have been waiting outside for hours...'
How do I look?
'..the whole population of the island seems to have come out
'to help cheer us on.'
Have you seen Oz Clarke?
Seen Oz Clarke?
We're the only people on the Isle of Man that smoke traditionally.
Oh, those look delicious.
And all of that colour is natural, is it?
Yeah, everything's natural.
So that's your kippers for your breakfast.
Ah, the smell of one of those.
Thank you. Thank you.
Go on, James.
How did you know I was coming? We're seven hours late.
-WHISTLING AND APPLAUSE
Cor, it's like being the Queen.
Can I smell that?
Oh, yes, I want that. I'll have that, please.
'Like a HOLEY Lazarus, our dead bike is truly resurrected.'
18 miles. Let's call that halfway.
19 miles on Meccano.
Come on, that's pretty good.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
I'm sorry, I can't stop. I'd love a pint.
'The Manx Oakley Mark I prototype.
'Its innovative full-of-holes chassis gives zero wind resistance,
'it's recyclable if you want to build a giant crane instead,
'and it can outstrip the top speed of a ten-year-old boy.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Sorry I can't stop.
I imagine in this rather lovely evening light -
that I was hoping not to see from the bike -
the Manx Oakley gleams in a jewel-like way.
Its silver has become gold.
Its front wheel bearing has become crap.
'And finally, after 14 famished, Oz-less hours,
'up the road, I see the evening light
'reflecting off a familiar head.'
-Where the hell have you been?
-Where the hell have YOU been?
Where do you think?
I've been going round the TT course. That was the idea.
I've got your breakfast. I mean, aren't you hungry yet?
I'm starving, it's eight o clock!
Why didn't you get a bit of a move on, then?
We had to spend six and a half hours repairing the back wheel.
'Oz's picnic looks rather unwieldy.
'But, never mind, he's back on the bike.'
You haven't got anything there we can eat on the move, have you?
-I've got kippers.
-How are you supposed to cook them?
Well, they're cooked already, they're cured.
What, cold kippers?
Well, they're not cold now -
I'll shove them between my legs for ten minutes,
they'll be reasonably warm.
'Unfortunately, over the course of 14 hours,
'I've completely forgotten how much weight Oz adds to the bike.'
MOTOR CUTS OUT
-You'll have to get off.
-You're not serious?
-Yeah, I am.
-I've only just got on.
You can get back on again up there when it goes downhill.
-For goodness' sake, James.
-Leave the bread, please.
I will not.
Don't put your weight on the footboard.
Need any help? Push?
No, no, it's OK. It's OK without you on it.
Shall I have a polite conversation with you as I go?
-Can I have a piece of bread?
-Actually, you can get back on.
-Do you want a kipper?
-You can get back on.
-Dear, oh, dear.
-Why can't I get on?
I can't get on, you're going too fast!
I can't afford to slow down, come on!
There's another hill coming up.
Oz's bread is good!
'Anyone currently writing furiously
'to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Oz -
'trust me, he's a resourceful chap, he can handle himself just fine.
'I might have missed out on dinner
'but, at last, like manna from heaven,
'there comes a crumb of comfort from the authorities.
'We CAN ride at night, but only under police escort.
'This is it then - one last-ditch attempt to push through the darkness
'and cross the line before 9:30 tomorrow.
'But in our way is over nine miles of mountains,
'steeper than anything I've encountered so far.'
This is Ramsey.
This is the last bit of civilisation, really,
before you head back round the top
and down in to Douglas itself.
The only small obstacle in the way is...a mountain.
'The beginning of the ascent is just ahead.
'May Hill, one of the steepest gradients on the course.'
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
-Go on, lad!
-Hang off the bike...
'Every ounce of battery power I have left is going into this push.'
Bit faster, tracking car!
'I can feel the ground underneath me getting steeper.'
Keep going, keep going, keep going.
'I don't believe it.
'The one time we need the bike to behave
'and it's actually NOT falling apart.'
Faster, faster, faster, faster, faster.
Is that the supposed steep bit?
'OK, all our sound equipment
'may have just fallen off the back of the bike.
'But it's doing it.
'And, amazingly, it just keeps going.'
This is incredible! Look at this -
we're rocketing up the side of the mountain,
heading towards the left-hand hairpin.
Can't remember what it's called.
Kronk-ny Valley Froggy Fairy Bridge or something.
'We genuinely don't know why the bike suddenly sprung to life.
'Even with a full battery recharge, it shouldn't be doing this well.'
'Even the crew can't believe it.'
I am doing, with my fresh batteries, 15 miles an hour uphill.
They are draining pretty quickly.
Nevertheless, it works.
Look at this.
We're still going.
'The bike powers on for almost four miles up the mountains.
'Not just matching,
'but exceeding the best speeds we've had on the course so far.
I'm running out of juice.
I'm down in the red.
'We've used an entire battery charge getting up that slope
'but the bike seems to be in fine fettle.
'So, while Simmy changes the batteries,
'I ring Oz and tell him he might as well wait for me
'on the outskirts of Douglas tomorrow morning.
'Now it's just me, the mountain and Meccano.
I do feel a bit bad about not bringing Oz on this bit
but the fact is it won't carry both of us up this hill.
What am I supposed to do?
It's harsh but...but fair.
The bike has to make it.
The individual is unimportant.
Only the toy matters.
Thanks for staying up.
They're not just there waiting for us, are they?
-WILL, OVER RADIO: I think they were walking their dogs, James.
Something to do with dogs, apparently.
'So, with about five miles of steep mountain still to go,
'before another seven downhill,
'it's a long, slow, lonely ride in to the night.
'I've had about 12 hours' sleep in four days
'and won't be getting any tonight.
'This has become a pure endurance challenge
'and I'm a long way off my best.'
Or maybe "Spocky"?
Shut up, James.
HE BLOWS A RASPBERRY
'And it's not just me who's getting a bit frayed.'
-No, you mustn't do that!
'Scared of the dark, our young driver, Stewart,
'slammed on the brakes and almost damaged our Range Rover.
'But now, apart from the ghostly light
'from the police rider behind me,
'the road is almost pitch black.
'It's all gone a bit peculiar, like I'm in Lost Highway
'or that bit at the end of Terminator 2.
'I've got no choice but to try and keep it together,
'pray there's no breakdown or collision,
'and ride on into the night.
'I am absolutely knackered.
'I've got Meccano bolts stuck in places
'where I'll be finding them for the next three years,
'I've had half a loaf of bread to keep me going for about 24 hours,
'I never want to see another sprocket as long as I live,
'but the bike has made it over the mountain.'
# Carry on, carry on... #
'And it's downhill all the way to the finish.'
Ahead lies Douglas and a hot kipper.
I don't like to speak too soon but it is pretty much all downhill now
and I really don't see what can go wrong.
I think we're going to make it.
Pretty soon, Meccano will add its own little paragraph
to the great canon of Isle of Man motorcycling lore.
I think it is a historic lap.
I'm very proud of it.
It's a great honour as well to be allowed to do this
and to play my part in cementing the reputation of this great little island -
a reputation very dearly bought, actually.
Maybe we should keep quiet for a minute or so here
and remember that not everyone who's set off
on this greatest of laps made it all the way to the end.
# Climbed a mountain and I turned around... #
Some of them are on the island for ever.
# And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills
# Till the landslide brought me down... #
Right, as I've neglected him a bit,
I think I should see if I can find Oz Clarke off the television
and share the last little bit with him.
# I'm going up the country
# Baby, don't you wanna go? #
Oh, you're not still carrying those kippers around?
-What a wonderful sight.
-Quick, quick, don't hang about.
-The race... They're going to close the roads.
-Right, right, right.
Get rid of the kippers.
It's your breakfast. I'm not letting you go without breakfast.
I'm having breakfast in a hotel.
'There's a mile left but only a few minutes to go
'before they kick us off the course to make way for the Grand Prix.
'This is tighter than Graham Norton's trousers.
'At the finish line, the crowds are gathering,
'and the riders are making their final pre-race checks.
'We, on the other hand, are almost on the home straight.'
We're so close!
'After two months of planning and construction,
'one crash, five breakdowns,
'18 batteries, 97 motors,
'and well over 15,000 nuts, struts and bolts,
'we have roused Meccano from its torpid slumber
'and made it rise, like a perforated metal phoenix,
'from the ashes of forgotten mechanical ambition
'to shine once more like a silvery lighthouse,
'guiding to shore all those
'who felt lost in the sea of engineering indifference and...'
-WORRYING METALLIC CREAK
-'Oh, hang on.'
It sounded a bit rattly, Oz.
I'm looking at the back wheel.
That does sound a bit...
-What is it?
-I don't know.
'I've had it up to here with mysterious rattles.
'Let's just go for it, or disintegrate in the attempt.'
Ah, come on. Just... You've got to do...
I can see it.
Come on, bike.
Come on, the Manx Oakley.
We're almost there.
There's the tower thing, there's the grandstand.
Are there crowds?
Yes, there are crowds.
There it is, Oz. There's the Scouts' scoreboard, there's the bridge.
-Sit upright, look dignified.
-I hope the brakes work!
We're going to do it.
Mind the bump!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
-Here's the man with the flag. 37¾ miles.
-We've done it.
-Done it! CHEERING
How about that?
We've brought Meccano to the mountain, everybody. Thank you!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Well done, old chap.
'I think I will never again touch a piece of Meccano.
'Why would I?
'Where could we go from here?
'A Meccano space ship?
'It's not airtight.'
The engineers, everyone.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
'Yes, it's a 100-year-old toy
'that seems irrelevant in the modern world.
'Maybe it is.
'But what other toy could have done this?'
A very happy Christmas.
And I hope all your toys work as well as ours did.
James May attempts to build a motorbike and sidecar entirely out of Meccano to take round the Isle of Man's famous TT circuit. But designing a machine capable of carrying James and his passenger, wine expert Oz Clarke, around the daunting 37-mile course is not a task for the faint-hearted.
15,000 pieces of Meccano must be assembled to create a full-size, road-legal motorcycle that James hopes will be more than a match for the circuit's treacherous twists and turns, steep climbs and dizzying descents. And as in the real TT, the bike must race against the clock.