O On the start line for the first time, looking down a course that disappears over the horizon into a blinding white heat haze, the bike untested, rider untested, I was about to launch myself into the unknown as fast as my machine would take me.
It was almost two years ago that I decided along with shed buddy Ross Osborne to go to the DLRA speed week at Lake Gairdner in Outback South Australia. Ross was to build a salt racer in cahoots with Triumph Australia based on a modern Triumph Bonneville and I had a stock standard 1987 BMW R100 begging to be transformed into something faster.
What’s it like to ride on the salt? We were very lucky that the salt was in ‘spectacular condition’ and ‘best it’s been in years’ as said by more than a few old-timers. So we were spoilt in our rooky year. Many comparing it with 2014 that some described as dangerous – like a cross between wet grass and gravel on concrete with soft patches like sand pits. One person told me that if my rooky year had been 2014, I would never have come back…
The only post-build test opportunity before my first high speed run was the ride from the pits to the starting area – about 4 km’s. Thankfully, the bike felt good, the salt firm and grippy.
But what would happen at speed? I was about to find out whether I’d got the custom suspension geometry and frame modifications correct. My main concern was the long R1100 swing arm hanging off the airhead frame being energised by the uneven surface and frame harmonics then taking on a life of it’s own.
The red hand was flipped to a green thumb as the starter moved aside and I hit the throttle. A little too hard as it turns out: the time trap is between the 2nd and 3rd mile markers and I needed to back off until the timing marker was in my sights, then pinned it so that I hit the 2nd mile mark at full noise.
Chest on tank, head down, knees and elbows in, trying to make my 94kg bulk as small as possible. Could not see where I was going in this position and had to push my helmet up so the visor gave me back the scene. The bike felt planted, the salt smooth and the engine sang without hesitation. This is the test: holding the engine on the red line for 10…20…30 seconds and more. Even GP bikes are not asked to do this. The 3rd mile marker just coming into view, then quickly vanishing behind.
Due to Acts of God and the vagaries of a volunteer driven event, I only managed to get in two runs. 128MPH (206km/h) was my best speed. The third run was going to be with an AFR meter attached to see if I couldn’t tune her for the conditions but this didn’t eventuate.
I’d gone to the salt without the motor that I was building for the event. With the deadline fast approaching, I was forced to use the motor from my cafe racer – a difference of about 35-40HP. But it got me to the salt for my rooky year and what an experience it was! I now have a year to complete and hone the salt motor…bring on 2016!
Couldn’t have done this without the help and enthusiasm of my buddies at Triumph Salt Racer and Peter Stevens Motorcycles: Paul Chiodo, Cliff Stoval (you are our rock man!) and Nigel Provedore Extrordinaire Harvey. These guys organised pretty much all the daunting logistics in getting to the salt among lots of other things. My com-padres Matt and Leigh of Craneaid came to my rescue with some last minute machining. And if Ross Osborne and I hadn’t met one fateful day and decided that same day to setup a workshop together, non of this would have happened.
Have a look here for more pics of the bike