Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From the Cycle Guide Archives: Exhibition Of Speed

“It takes less than 30 seconds to travel one mile—that is, if your speedometer is registering 130 mph. I know because I took the Honda CBX to the Bonneville Salt Flats last September to find out.” –Cycle Guide, December 1979

My tenure at Cycle Guide officially began in March of 1979. I was hired as the resident top gun, the guy who gathered the hard numbers for our test bikes. Being young, dumb and full of energy, I didn’t understand the meaning of slow. My collection of speeding tickets—tacked onto my office wall like trophies from the Serengeti—served as my calling card, too: Have suspended driver’s license, will travel.

In truth, my speeding-ticket wallpaper served as a source of amusement and entertainment for visitors to the CG office; other staff writers periodically waltzed guests into my office for a gander at what was, at the time, possibly one of the largest traffic-violation collections in California. I spent so much time at traffic school that the Golden State’s DMV could have awarded me a post-graduate doctorate of speed degree. Valentino Rossi wasn’t the first go-fast bike guy to warrant the moniker “Doctor.” I was, and I had the traffic-school test scores and diplomas to prove it. And it was my faithful attendance at the DMV’s school of higher learning that kept my driver’s license valid so that I could keep my job as Cycle Guide’s road-test editor.

“We didn’t figure to break the 150-mph record for the 1300cc class with a bone-stock CBX, but we wanted to set a record of our own. Taylor and I would ride as fast as the CBX would go, we would demonstrate the thrill potential of Honda’s Six and we would set the unofficial Ride-It-Up/Ride-It-Back Land Speed Record.”

And so as our staff gathered for an editorial meeting during the summer of 1979 to decide how we should feature Honda’s updated 1980 CBX for the December 1979 issue, barbs like “Hey, Gingerelli, do you think this bike is fast enough for you?” greeted me as I took my place at the conference table. We settled down to business, but someone, and I don’t recall exactly who, said, “Hey, Daingerous, you should be able to score a 130-mile-per-hour speeding ticket with this bike!”

“Bonneville isn’t restricted to professional speed merchants, you know. You can ride off the blacktop onto the salt and then walk right up to the registration trailer of the Southern California Timing Association (that organizes the event), put down your $100 and be allowed to run just like Don Vesco or the latest rocket-car hotshoe.”

The wheels were set in motion, so to speak, and soon our collective brain trust was churning up a scenario for how we should feature the CBX in the magazine. Eventually we settled on having me actually get a speeding ticket on the bike. But the ticket would be issued by the lads at the Bonneville Nationals, a speed contest sanctioned by the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) every summer or early autumn at the fabled Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah.

“Rolling cautiously away from the security of the start line, I almost dialed in some wheelspin just to relieve my anxiety. But I remembered to keep my head and engine as cool as possible… Slowly the Honda began its salt wobble, like a 100-mph fish swimming upstream.”

We finally decided that I should ride the bike to the Salt Flats for what we labeled our Ride-It-Up/Ride-It-Back Land Speed Record. We really weren’t out to set an official land speed record, we just wanted to have some fun. Of course, the racer in me jumped out and declared a personal goal of 130 mph. I figured the 1047cc six-cylinder engine was capable of that speed under ideal conditions at sea level, but the Salt Flats are nearly a mile high, so the thin altitude would play a factor. And, as I was to learn, the salt surface creates more drag on the tires than asphalt.

“When I saw the two-mile marker I knew the timer’s watch had me under surveillance.”

To minimize the logistics of reserving motel rooms and having to search for meals everyday, we rented a motorhome to follow me to Utah. Our editorial assistant (a glorified name for the shop guy) Dean Taylor would join me, and we shared driving and riding chores between the motorhome and bike.

“As the tach crept past 9100 rpm, the three-mile marker zipped past. I had finished my baptism at Bonneville less than two minutes after starter Bob Higbee waved me off.”

Dean was a few years younger than me so that made him dumber than me and more energetic than me, plus he, too, didn’t understand the meaning of slow (although he was a motocross specialist and we all know they can’t ride as fast as a road racer). So naturally we kept the speedometers at about 80 mph when we could, and this included the stretch of interstate bypassing Salt Lake City on our final leg to Wendover. I was behind the wheel of the lumbering motorhome, with Dean riding point on the CBX. And guess who we passed, parked alongside the road? Yep, ol’ Smokey and that big motorhome registered so quickly on his radar gun that I’m sure his hand received minor radiation burns.

“My speed for the measured mile was 125.768 mph. Taylor reckoned a wild motorcrosser like himself could show me a thing or two and recorded a 127.393 mph (some 50 mph faster than the Utah State Patrol had clocked him the previous day on the way to Bonneville).”

The blue gumball lights lit up on the trooper’s car and I resigned myself to pull over and take my medicine. As I began to guide that big steel and aluminum pachyderm to the shoulder, Smokey smoked right by me, his sights set on Dean and the Honda. (Obviously the trooper didn’t recognize me…)

“Then I went out and set the Ride-It-Up/Ride-It-Back LSR at 130.203.”

He wrote Dean up for about 77 mph and in the course of their “discussion” the officer confessed that it was the motorhome that caught his attention, but when he saw the bike making the same head of steam he opted for it instead. I guess my PHD in MPH paid off.

“Friends say that Taylor and I don’t act the same anymore. Well, we aren’t the same. Those long minutes at top speed on the salt change the way you think about everything. I remember being staged on the start line and then suddenly a windstorm swept everyone off the salt until I was all alone, poised atop the CBX in the middle of the salt. I’ve raced all kinds of motorcycles on all kinds of tracks, but Bonneville was the most fun I‘ve ever had on two wheels.”

Dean and I made it safely to the Salt Flats where we registered, passed tech inspection, and then went about our job of racing the Honda. And that first experience on the Salt Flats was truly memorable. I had ridden faster bikes, but riding on the salt is nearly indescribable. Once you break loose from the pits and you have no surrounding objects to help set your bearings, the sensation of speed is minimized and you become transfixed on the vast white sea around you. As you gain speed you feel as if you’re on a huge white conveyor belt, and you’re standing in place while the white world beneath you moves quickly past. You eventually get used to the sensation, but that first pass on the salt is like no other. Think in terms of your very first time on a motorcycle—that experience can always be remembered, but never relived. –Dain Gingerelli

1 comment:

  1. Nice article... but a few points that need to be corrected.

    = I'm not as dumb as Dain seems to think I am. I managed to find a job riding motorcycles and still earn an MBA.

    - I was always faster than Dain and his road racing buddies at CG. I remember passing two or three of them at once on the outside of turn nine at Willow Springs when he was in his prime (my first time on the track).

    - Glorified shop guy? What did I do to piss you off?

    - Most fun I've ever had on two wheels... absolutely.

    Thanks for the memories Dain.

    Dean Taylor