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Pikes Peak Thoughts

(2022 was the first year the motorcycles were officially banned (again) from competition at the world famous Pikes Peak hillclimb. They had been unofficially banned for the previous two years after the death of an accomplished motorcycle racer during the 2019 running of the race. Motorcycles weren’t a constant at the event throughout its long history as they had been removed after previous incidents prior to returning after long delays – long enough to perhaps fade the memories of just how dangerous and unforgiving the environment can be for motorcycle racers. Will motorcycle again return to the mountains? At this point we would say it is doubtful unless a dramatic change in the motorcycle racing rules. This story was about the 2018 event.)

Reach for the Sky

The road surface may have changed and new machinery keeps rolling in, but Pikes Peak is still the king of all mountain racing.

The weather often plays havoc with the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, which isn’t surprising considering the Colorado race is held in June and finishes at an elevation of 14,115 feet after running 12.42 miles from the 9,380-foot level. That’s why they call it the “Race to the Clouds,” though it is often a race ‘into’ the clouds…

The 2018 version was the 96th running of this closed course event and this year was no exception in terms of adverse weather as cold temperatures and clouds had a negative effect on racers running their time trials later in the day. Because of the constant threat of inclement conditions, there are rules that regulate placement should the race be suspended or shortened due to weather but this year most competitors did finish the entire course before the shortened race rules took effect. 

Ducati has made a point over the past decade of competing strongly at the event and offers a limited edition Pikes Peak Multistrada to consumers to celebrate their success. The 2018 race rewarded the company’s persistence as the top motorcycle position went to the Ducati Multistrada 1260 of Carlin Dunne who stopped the clock with the shortest time for a two-wheeled competitor. The second place finisher was aboard a KTM Super Duke 1290, followed by a KTM Duke 790, another Ducati Multistrada and two BMW S1000Rs with rookie Lucy Glockner placing in sixth.

Chris Fillmore’s third place finish on the middleweight 790 Duke was notable in that he broke the previous middleweight record by a whopping 30 seconds—testament to KTM’s claim of producing the most powerful single on the planet.

Where did motorcycles finish overall? Dunne’s Ducati completed the course in 10th place with a time of 9:59.102. The overall top place was captured by an Unlimited class Volkswagen that completed the course in seven minutes 57.148 seconds—a full 40 seconds faster than the second place car, also in the Unlimited class. The Volkswagen also established an all-new record time for climbing the mountain. 

It is worth mentioning that Volkswagen’s race-only machine was powered by two electric motors producing 680 horsepower and 479 foot/pounds torque. It begs the question why there were only two electric motorcycles in this year’s competition, both of which were fielded by universities. 

A case could be made for Pikes Peaks hillclimb being an ideal venue for electric race vehicles and to showcase that electric vehicles could indeed be a significant part of the future. At 12.42 miles the course is short so the storage capacity of the batteries isn’t a question. The thin air found at the top of a mountain doesn’t affect electric vehicles and the instant torque of an electric is great for exiting the many twisty corners as the road climbs the mountain. 

The Volkswagen’s winning time was partly due to its ability to seamlessly and without gear shifts travel from zero to 60 miles per hour in only 2.25 seconds. The fastest motorcycle ever up the course was Chris Filmore on a KTM Super Duke 1290 with a time of 9:49.625 in 2017. The electric bike record is only a few seconds behind at 10:00.694 by Carlin Dunne on a Lightning Electric in 2013. That is a slim margin to overcome over the course of 12 plus miles and it was only a few years ago that the first motorcycle of any type broke the 10-minute barrier.

With a “run what you brung” feel, there were 22 entries in the motorcycle class with the bikes ranging from a 2005 Honda CRF and 2012 Yamaha WR450 in the lightweight class, a 2007 Aprilia SXV and Yamaha MT-09 in the middleweight class and Multistradas, Super Dukes and S1000Rs in the heavyweight segment.

No one would ever claim that Pikes Peak has been tamed because a mistake on the course can be catastrophic but time records through the years are like comparing apples with oranges. 

The course has become more uniform since 2002 when paving began on the gravel road to the top of the mountain. The roadwork took place in segments and it wasn’t until 2012 that the entire course was tarmac. Records fell as a result as there was no longer the need to deal with different riding surfaces.

While the Pikes Peak Hill Climb is far and away the most famous event on the mountain, the organizing body of the event was not in favour of paving the course as doing so might make the accomplishments of those who raced seem less impressive—which isn’t the case. The paving came about from a lawsuit between the City of Colorado Springs that manages and maintains the road and the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Sierra Club. 

Ultimately it is probably a better surface but it does mess with nearly a century of racing history. 

• John Molony Canadian Biker Issue#339



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