“My biggest nightmare is someone coming down here with a Canadian-spec Honda CX650 Eurosport,” confided one Bonneville competitor, just slightly before two ex-roadracers from Calgary went on to set a new Saltflats record.
In front of Jim Wylie stretches seven miles of salt. A light breeze blows at his back. More than a year’s preparation comes down this moment, 9 a.m., Sept. 4, 2007, and it’s Wylie’s good fortune to be the first bike of the day on the freshly-graded Bonneville Salt Lake Flats International Speedway. He cracks open the throttle, accelerates hard toward a distant horizon that divides a blue sky from the ocean of white.
A clutchless shift into second.
His partner in this quest for speed, Joe Haseloh, convinced him to treat it like a race: “The longer you’re at full throttle in fifth, the better a chance the bike’s speed will creep higher.”
And he would need every extra increment of speed he could get because, so far, he hasn’t gotten anywhere near the current record in the 750cc Pushrod Twin Cylinder Stock Production motorcycle category.
Wylie slams it into third. The back end snakes sideways. His experience as a motorcycle racer kicks in. He backs off the throttle, steadies the bike and cracks it full open again. It’s instinct, even if it’s been 15 years since Wylie retired from road racing.
He bangs it into fourth. The 24-year-old Honda is howling underneath him. Can it take the abuse? It doesn’t matter. This is the only run that matters—and a return pass, if he even qualifies for that. The two speeds are then averaged.
Wait! A Honda? What is Jim Wylie, a dedicated Ducati enthusiast, a man who’s done well for himself in the Alberta oilpatch as a geophysicist and who owns eight Ducatis—one of which sits on display in his living room—doing on a Honda?
He can thank Tom Liberatori for that. The current Bonneville record holder in the Pushrod Twin category spilled the beans last year when Wylie and Haseloh first came down to scope out the event. Their affinity to Italian machinery drew them to Liberatori’s 1973 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport. They were also planning to run Italian machinery until Liberatori said, “My biggest nightmare is someone coming down here with a Canadian-spec Honda CX650 Eurosport.”
The Eurosport was sold into Canada but not into the States. It was ahead of its day: liquid cooled, four valves per head, but still a pushrod engine.
“A CX could probably outrun my Guzzi,” said Liberatori.
Too much information. Now here’s Wylie tucked in behind the mini fairing of one of the cleanest Eurosport’s he’d ever seen. He slams it into fourth.
The rear wheel hunts for traction. Traction is the limiting factor on the salt. The Flats were in much better shape in 2006, when several new records were set. This year, the ancient lake surface hasn’t dried out from its shallow winter flood.
Anyone who thinks the Bonneville Salt Flats is like opening it up on a paved runway is in for a brutal awakening. The salt is alive. It gives way. There are soggy patches in between solid stretches. It’s rutted, pitted and unpredictable. You’re fighting for control the entire way as your machine weaves and howls, and not everyone escapes salt’s guile.
There have already been a couple crashes. Leslie Porterfield’s crash was still to come. Who’s Leslie Porterfield? She’s the owner of High Five Cycles in Dallas, Texas. Slim, blonde, a real looker. Every special-interest TV channel crew and photographer at the Flats has been doting on her.
The other day, when she walked by Wylie and Haseloh’s pit, one of their crew happened to be shooting video of Wylie. Porterfield seemed impressed. Who was this celebrity?
Wylie looked at her over top his sunglasses. “Don’t you have a film crew?” he quipped.
“They’re just over there,” she said, indicating behind her.
Wylie and Porterfield got talking.
“So what are you riding?” she asked.
Embarrassing moment. Ah, well … a 24-year-old pushrod Twin. And you?
“A twin-turbo Suzuki Hayabusa.”
Anyway, Porterfield would crash at a little over 100 mph, breaking seven ribs and puncturing a lung.
Suddenly, Wylie’s front wheel catches a series of ruts, driving the bike to the edge of the course marked out by flags. He doesn’t want to crash. Nobody does—though the one consolation might be in sharing a hospital room with Porterfield.
The bike steadies. Wylie ducks back under, relying on peripheral vision to stay the course. He’s running at well over a 100 miles per hour. The tach shows 8,400 rpm and still climbing. He’s there. He can’t see the GPS speedometer because it’s mounted awkwardly, but he knows from the rpm’s he’s there.
Truth be told, Wylie’s run the Honda even faster on pavement, faster than Liberatori’s 117.503 mph record. But here? At 8,000 feet above sea level, in 85F, with his back wheel throwing a rooster tail of salt?
When Wylie pulls into the pit, Haseloh and the crew are playing coy.
“How fast you think you went?” asks Haseloh.
Wylie’s first pass was 120.318 mph.
It qualifies him for a technical inspection and a return run in the opposite direction to discount the advantage of a tailwind. Wylie’s second pass comes in at 117.190. The average is 118.754, a new Bonneville record for a 750 stock Pushrod Twin.
Later in the day, Haseloh would challenge the 750 Partially Modified, Pushrod Twin record on their other Honda CX650. But a last minute fuel petcock swap robs him of a decent shot. The internal diameter of the replacement is too small and starves the engine of sufficient fuel.
People say the salt at Bonneville gets under your skin. It seems to have gotten under Wylie and Haseloh’s skin. They’re planning to return in 2009 with a bored-out, ported, piped, cammed and chain-driven rather than a shaft-driven “semi-modified” Honda CX650 to write a new record into the Bonneville history books.
- by Paul Stastny Canadian Biker #241