540bhp, 209mph… one wheel

Published: 09 March 2016

Clearing the double ton on both wheels is a serious achievement, but Gary Rothwell’s Hayabusa manages it on just the back one

ary Rothwell has a fair claim to being one of the godfathers of the stunt riding scene. There were people doing it earlier – Doug Domokos and Arto Nyqvist, both on Kawasaki’s six-pot Z1300 bizarrely enough, stand out as notably big-balled innovators in the discipline. But it’s Gary who was one of the riders instrumental in taking it from bike event sideshows to a sport and business in its own right.
Gary himself moved away from the scene a decade ago, but he’s now reappeared on the one-wheeled scene, and in a big way: he’s the official world record holder for the fastest wheelie held over one kilometre, at 209mph. Strewth. And he offered us a go on his record-setting turbo Hayabusa...


Health and safety nightmare
Everything PB does, Health and Safety is keeping an eye on, like everything else in life sadly. And they don’t always approve of our actions... Coincidentally, one of the well-meaning people tasked with keeping us in one piece recently raised an eyebrow at a picture of a wheelie. I didn’t dare tell them that just one day later, I’d be at a bumpy, potholed runway riding a 540bhp bike built specifically to wheelie at speeds faster than your average airliner manages before take-off, and with rain forecast, too.
Now, I’m the one guilty of raising the heckles of PB’s managerial guardians with the odd wheelie. I do them because I like them, and a decade of clowning around means I’m reasonably good at them. I can hold balance point, and click through the gears. Not show standard, but it keeps my pea-brain amused. However, I’ll freely admit to severe tightening of my chocolate cigar-cutter in anticipation of riding Gary’s Hayabusa for this feature.
It’s a Holeshot Racing-built turbo motor. Jarrod ‘Jack’ Frost knocks these motors out in his sleep – I’ve every faith it’ll work beautifully, but they’re typically installed in drag/straightliner competition bikes with long swingarms for traction and stability. Gary’s almost unique requirements means it’s got the stubby standard swingarm. I
take extra care positioning my back protector in my leathers.
The first lap of Bruntingthorpe doesn’t improve matters. The rain has thankfully stopped before we arrived, and a combination of sunshine and breeze are drying the runway. But it’s still damp in spots, and the wind is pushing the bike around. I cruise the two-mile straight to thoroughly circulate fluids, then on the return leg wind the gas open in fourth to
get a feel for the power.
The new rear tyre breaks traction. Not a little – a lot. The only hope it has of gripping is the rev-limiter, or me shutting off. Rider chickens out first. But another lap on the abrasive surface scrubs and warms it, and drive is successfully transmitted to the floor.

Top gear power wheelies
Before I set off, Gary gives me some useful, but slightly scary, tips. “Don’t mess around in the low gears – get it up to fourth or more, then gas it up, you don’t need to pull it.” Bloody hell. I don’t doubt him, but it’s hard to comprehend that, especially when I pull on to the long straight, short-shift to fourth, and wind the Suzuki up to the bottom end of the torque curve, and must be doing 120-130mph at the point I think it’ll lift.
Up to this point, it’s been a gem to ride.
I’ve tickled the boost a bit, but not fully experienced the thrust. It feels like a normal Hayabusa – just a bastard strong one. There are no sharp kicks, turbo lag or nastiness – negotiating slow, greasy bends is easy, even with the additional torque it’s delivering most of the time. Gary rides it on the road. Although he’s a Guinness-certified nutter, I can see why he’s not fazed by it. It’s sweet.
Time to have a crack at a wheelie. It’s so weird being at the speed you’d usually tuck behind a fairing, but instead rolling and then gassing the throttle. Bugger me if it doesn’t float up without hesitation. Once the wind gets under the front tyre, it sits up there without straining – I’m used to a certain resistance when I pop wheelies at the usual 50-ish mph, but there’s nothing. Gun anything moderately powerful in first and you’ll understand. Then imagine dealing with it at double the national speed limit.
It’s a whole new world of control, and I have no idea where to begin. Further attempts don’t go any better – some become terrifying when crosswinds make the bike ‘corkscrew’ and lean over as it lifts. Shit. I watched one of Gary’s onboards before, and noticed he lifts it in top gear. I try it in fifth, then sixth, to see if it’s easier with taller gearing. It is – sort of, but the crosswind is even worse, and trying to have any sort of fine control whilst battling a probable 160mph wind tearing at you (the clocks are fitted but non-functional) is beyond me.
Despite these moments that would make H&S crap themselves and chain me to my desk in Peterborough, I really enjoy it. The abbreviation LOL must be used millions of times every day by drongos the world over, but I genuinely laughed out loud at the nonchalant way Gary’s Hayabusa dishes out the obscene thrust it was built for.
I rode Halsall Suzuki’s BSB GSX-R1000 last year – a comparatively CBT-friendly 220bhp-ish. But the crisp urgency with which it was delivered made you sit up and take notice. Kawasaki’s H2 has a similar kind of forceful feel. But even though it makes more power than both put together, Rothwell’s turbo GSX1300R puts its power down just like the standard bike in a smooth, refined yet enjoyable way. And if you happen to be one of the world’s best stunt riders, it makes for a fantastic wheelie tool, too.
Stu the photographer asks if I’ll do slower wheelies to make it easier for him and his metre-long lens to track me as I pass. Not a chance I’m cracking the throttle in a low gear and trying to control the bugger. Even with a 340bhp map selected, I don’t fancy risking it. So Gary sticks his leathers on. The first pass, he lifts it in second, and comes past clicking through the gears, apparently putting no effort in, and reaches sixth. Unreal. The next run, he approaches at 15mph. There’s a brief BWOOAP from the turbo dump pipe as he dips the clutch, pings it up to balance point then uses minimal revs and a bit of back brake to cruise past at 30mph, looking straight down the lens. And he’s selected
the full-power map, too.
I’d never thought a flying-kilo wheelie was easy, but there’s dozens who now manage over 150mph, so you could begin to assume it’s not beyond the abilities of a semi-competent rider if they’re prepared to practice. Having tried it, it’s abundantly clear to me that it’s sodding difficult to balance, maintain and accelerate a wheelie at that rate – and only the very best can hope to add 540bhp to the mix with success.  

Words Chris Newbigging  Photography Stuart Collins