Norton at Bonneville blog: Day one

Published: 01 September 2009

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.

This is the account of their first day:

We’re here! We’ve stepped on the famous salt-flat, and it’s thick and firm – the water-table is about 6-8 inches down, so the crust looks solid and stable. Or so it seems from the Rest Area off Highway 80.

A few hours later, and Stuart Garner, boss of Norton Motorcycles has already laid down his credentials in seeking to establish a World Speed Record – he’s just picked up a ticket from Officer McClusky of the Utah Highway Patrol at 106 mph in the hire-car he’s transported himself and Tony Squire, our mechanical marvel!

Amazingly, he walks – “Slow down a little, Sir, and have a nice day,”! A little?!? How does he do it? Hopefully, it’s a favourable augury for our next week, as we hunker down to face the famous (infamous?) Bonneville strip.

Norton are here to start a process, one we hope will allow us to establish a World Speed Record in an altogether new class, for rotary-powered motorcycles.

The WSR for two-wheelers is now a giddy 360+mph, and we’re not here (yet!) to break that, though previous holder Chris Carr is here to do just exactly that with his V4 3ltr 500bhp streamliner.

In fact, there’s no record set to break - we’re aiming to establish one from scratch.

We’re here to offer-up a new challenge – how fast can you go on a rotary-powered, driven-wheel bike.

If we lay down a half-decent time on a bike with proven approaching 200mph potential on-track (the North-West 200 JPS machine, father of the current bike saw over 190 back in the early 1990’s in fact, and the current bike is more powerful, and better faired), there’s surely scope for the FIM and AMA to open-up a new class for us, and anyone else prepared to run a Wankel-engined bike against the unforgiving clock.

Since just after WWII, the Bonneville salt-flats, at the western edge of Utah, have been the location par-excellence of World Speed Record attempts.

So here we are in late-summer 2009, with the Norton NRV588 racer to give it a go!!

Huge speeds are not really the order-of-the-day; it’s much more to show what’s possible, and to publicise Norton’s return to the US market, via South Bay Motorcycles in LA, our US point-of-entry via Matt Capri and his crew there.

This evening, Matt and Co, after a 14-hour drive, have brought the racer out of US Customs, across California and Nevada to really sunny Wendover, a junior Reno, itself a minor Vegas.

That means the hotel is cheap and incredibly gaudy, but finding a place to eat and drink is surprisingly difficult amongst the glitter of gambling attractions – but, thank god, the mind-numbing jingle of one-armed-bandits and fruit-machines is surprisingly muted these days, and one can get to bed a-nights without those insidious electronic tones jangling in the subconscious like some demented cell-phone on self-destruct.

Ace bike-journalist Alan Cathcart, here to ride a couple of South Bay bikes to WSR glory, joins us for the evening, and we plot the next day’s logistics – “Just how early do we have to be up to secure a decent Bonneville paddock-position?” is the question on everyone’s lips as we finally hit the sack.

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