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Even at 81 Rod Coleman will have no qualms about hopping on a motorcycle when the Isle of Man TT celebrates its centenary next year.

Coleman, who won the 350cc TT in 1954 on an AJS, is one of the oldest living champions from the famed circuit and he is likely to be one of the honoured guests for the celebrations next year that are expected to draw crowds of more than 100,000 people to the island off the British coast.

But before that the veteran will travel from his home in Wanganui to be honoured at the Classic Motorcycle Festival at Pukekohe on February 3 and 4. He will be a guest of honour alongside other New Zealand Isle of Man winners, including Hugh Anderson from the 1960s, Graeme Crosby from the 1980s and Bruce Anstey, who won this year.

New Zealand has provided more entrants and winners at the Isle of Man than any other country except Britain and Italy.

From the first race in 1907 the Isle of Man has been recognised as the ultimate test for man and motorcycle, with a lap of more than 37 miles and average speeds today approaching 208km/h.

For as many years as the event has been run, there have been calls to stop the races because of the undeniable danger from narrow roads bounded by stone walls, but most years the event has been over-subscribed.

"It's much faster now," said Coleman. "In my day it was very bumpy, more like a motocross track.

"I first went there in 1949. New Zealand was very backward at that time and you couldn't buy a new bike here. So you went to England and bought the best you could to bring back.

"I went back again in 1951 and I had a works contract with the biggest British manufacturer, Associated Motorcycles, who produced AJS, Matchless and Norton machines.

"It was a very good contract that meant they paid for everything, including my travel home.

"I rode in 350cc and 500cc races all over Europe on an AJS, with Geoff Duke on a Norton and later Italian bikes as my main competitor. I won the 350cc TT in 1954 quite easily after the Italian bikes that had been ahead broke down.

"I would have preferred to win the previous year when I was leading comfortably and broke down."

Coleman met and married an English woman and they returned to Wanganui where he ran a thriving motorcycle and car business.

He remains very active, regularly travelling abroad and doing exhibition rides in France, Italy and Japan.

The New Zealand Classic Motorcycle Racing Register has run the Classic Motorcycle Festival at Pukekohe since 1978.

Star attractions next year will include the 1992 TT winning Norton Rotary 588cc, to be ridden by former Norton team rider Steve Spray.