Norton Motorcycles is making its first visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA, where boss Stuart Garner is riding the NRV588 flat out.
The team is using this year to get an understanding for the salt flats – it is hoped the FIM will introduce a new class for rotary-engined bikes in time for next year, so the team can aim to set a world record in 2010.
On day two, the team set up on the salt flats and got the NRV scrutineered ready for riding. This is how it went:
We’re delayed getting onto the salt, around 10 miles back towards Salt Lake City from Wendover, where we’re based each night – it rained last week, and the water-table is sufficiently high to warrant the Bub Speedweek organisers taking a little longer to find a sufficiently hard area to lay out the skeletal paddock area, which ideally has to be at one end or the other of the 5 and 7 mile-long speed-strips.
Cathcart and Capri have been up early, and establish the Norton/South Bay Motorcycles team 6th in line, so we’re able to claim a great position for our trailer and awning, overlooking the speed-strip, and not too far from the temporary admin-building, portaloos we’ll be more familiar with that we’d really like, and the vestigial catering facility of an awning and tiny van.
Bikes unloaded, and the job of fixing down a large groundsheet using 10 inch nails into the salt with a nine-pound hammer completed, it’s time to join the queue, sorry “wait in line” as it’s called here, to register.
Stuart first has to take out an AMA (American Motorcycle Association) membership, then join another line to register the team and bike.
“It’s only money” he comments wryly as he comes away from the hole-in-the-wall through which he’s had to deal with the nice lady.
Forms completed and handed back in, we’re now all issued with arm-bands to satisfy the various guys and gals wandering around in bright red ‘Bub’ t-shirts that we have a right to be there, though who the hell else would pitch up after no less than a 6 mile drive off-road, across the salt-pan to join us, I can’t imagine, and it seems un-necessarily bureaucratic, but it’s to do with insurance and whether we’ve signed the all-important indemnity forms required, the ‘blood-chit’.
There are around 100 participants involved in the Bub Speedweek – I correct myself from calling them competitors, as it’ll only be a few of them involved in shoot-outs with one-another.
Most will be running against the clock, and sure, competing with those who’ve previously set the record their aiming at, but some are only looking to improve their very own records.
Why? “Because we can” sums up most respondents comments.
With over 100 machines requiring detailed scrutineering, for safety and class-rules compliance, there’s a big line of bikes standing out in the sun, their minders sheltering under large portable canopies to inch their way up towards the scrutineering tent.
With priority given to the more serious runners, we take the decision to hold back, maybe even leave it until first thing tomorrow, but keep an eye on things and see if there’s a momentary lull in proceedings to take advantage of – as it is, that’s exactly what happens right at the very end of the day and Tony Squires wheels the bike up from our pitch straight to a waiting scrutineer at around 6 pm as everyone is just about to shut-up shop and head for home, wherever than happens to be, mostly a nearby hotel or their own RV (recreational vehicle, camper-van etc).
Meanwhile, we’ve had all day to soak up the atmosphere, chat with old friends, seek advice or listen to what’s often thrust upon us.
I manage a walk-about to see what others are running – some are busy and a little taciturn, tense already as they prepare for inspection, or are working on some aspect the scrutineers don’t like – as with most such people, there is often a ‘flavour-of-the-moment’ issue that’s picked upon.
This year’s is fuel lines, and exposed plastic or rubber ones are a No-No.
One of South Bay’s Triumphs is failed on this, but the ‘cure’ is to simply wrap the line in kitchen-foil; “Right-oh, that’ll stop a fire getting through, then!” – humm...
Bub Week is different from Speed Week, which was held a few weeks before, and mixed cars and motorcycles.
I’m sorry in some ways not to have been here for that, but it must be a much more hectic affair than ours, which is comparatively small and intimate, with only three lines of rigs, stretching over perhaps a quarter mile of frontage onto the speed-strips, so getting about in the heat and brightness of the desert is not too prohibitive.
Whilst I’d have enjoyed the sight and sound of tuned cars, some running well over a thousand horse, there’s plenty of variety to be seen, admired, sometimes marvelled at.
Chris Carr’s mighty previous WSR holder is 24 feet long, a 500+ bhp pristine wonder, and at the other end of the spectrum, there’s Cindi Turgeau’s 50cc tiddler with its bent sheet of aluminium fairing the rear-wheel, and an elaborate front mudguard (fender here, of course).
In between there’s a beautifully restored 1936 side-valve 74 cubic inch Indian (1212cc in ‘real-money’) that just screams historic Bonneville to me, and lovely owner/restorer Lucian Hood kindly agrees to my request to move it onto the pristine salt away from the trailers of the paddock, to allow me to photograph bike and man against the backdrop of the bare, barren, stark lunar hills that ring the flat.
And there are diesel-powered bikes, double-engined machines, including Max Lambky’s 2 x 1500cc super-charged Vincents in a fully enclosed cigar, and Ron Mattson’s 2 x A10 BSA 650 naturally-aspirated set-up in a lengthened 1960s BSA standard chassis.
It’s bikes-only in Bub week, but this extends to 3-wheelers, and we’ve Peg-Leg Craig’s wind-tunnel designed-in-New Zealand marvel, looking all the world like a wingless glider, and Fritz Egli of Egli Vincent fame and crew from Switzerland are here with a line up of immaculate white machines, including a 3-wheeler.
One that always attracts attention is the Suzuki of Leslie Porterfield – there are not that many gorgeous, leggy, shapely, long, streaming blonde-haired record breakers here (though more than one might think at first pass!), so she kinda stands out from the crowd, like it or not.
Oh, and as well as breaking records, in her time she’s broken more bones than most of us can name, so this is no Barbie Racer, believe me!
I’m aiming to home-in on a few of the more interesting machines and entrants in the next few days’ reports, but let’s return to our True Blue British effort to round out today’s communiqué.
The NRV588 is a proven package with over 190mph recorded from past incarnations of our bike – on tarmac at least!
Stuart Garner has run 150+mph on road, sorry, I mean track many times before, so what’s to stop us putting up at least a 150mph time?
Well, it’s probably not that simple – the salt is slightly damp, just at perfect ‘snow-ball’ consistency, so it sticks thickly to shoe-soles and tyre-treads. We’re complete novices on the salt, which whilst uncannily flat, more so than any billiard-table I’ve ever seen, is not completely smooth, with tiny bumps and ripples almost imperceptible to the human eye, which can create havoc at high speed.
We’ve been pre-advised that full-wets should be our tyre of choice, with high-speed build-quality, and sufficient tread to grip on the slightly powdery surface, but we’ve also had plenty of advice to the contrary, with people worrying us about tales of wheel spin at 150 mph, chunking and throwing of tread, and other tales of woe.
We’ve some cut dry slicks as well, but only time will tell.
The other aspect we’re warned of, grip and spinning-up, is likely to be resulting from our light weight – we’re a racer, after all, and every gram that can be avoided is, of course.
But here, we’re talking to guys who’ve lead-filled swinging-arms, bolted over 100 lbs of ballast onto their machines etc – with several miles of run-up, it’s power and aerodynamics that are important, not weight that militates against acceleration and changes of direction that are not a good idea on the speed-strip anyway; weight can actively contribute to putting the power down onto the track.
On the other hand, there’s a tuned but otherwise street-legal Ducati 999 that’s run almost 190mph in the past, with not an ounce of lead to be seen on it, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Tomorrow brings the first run – our end-of-day scrutineering has passed with barely a comment, other than the need to install more numbers on the rear for the time-keepers to be able to identify us more clearly, so subject to finding a pair of black ‘747’ stickers, we’re ready to rock!!