Motorcycle Record Breakers

Published on 22 October 2023 at 14:25

PART ONE- A Brief Introduction

Written in February  2022

The last couple of years has provided time to reflect on some of the pioneer motorcyclists who put larger and larger engines in what were no more than bicycle frames, and set off to the nearest available track to compete in the race to become the fastest motorcyclist in the world. Sometimes "The World" was just the available network of the time, but soon more official records were being recorded over precisely measured distances. This series looks at the people and bikes and locations that made history.

The banked Brooklands Circuit today © Fenlandclassics

In Britain Motor-bicycles moved from the compact Velodromes of the 1800's to the wide open space of the 2.75 mile oval circuit at Brooklands in Weybridge, to the south west of London. The 100 ft wide circuit with banking nearly 30 ft high, launched in 1907 for cars was opened up to motorcycle racing in 1908. Although primarily built as as Britain's first purpose built race track, to sidestep the legislation banning racing on the public road, it quickly became a proving ground for both cars and motorcycles.Weekends and some weekdays motorcycles were to be seen racing on the track using a handicap system. Whilst somewhat haphazard at first and open to regular objection, the system quickly settled down to introduce some exciting racing. 

Soon manufactures were setting up workshops around the site among the Aircraft sheds that were growing in number from 1910. Weekdays saw testing of motorcycles and pre-arranged sessions for speed records. 

Brooklands had been equipped from its opening with a State of the Art timing system, which consisted of a contact breaker strip placed at the start and measured distances around the track with telegraph communications to the Judges timing box. The systems were constantly updated and by the time track closed in 1939 light beams had replaced the timing strips.

Brooklands Museum Motorcycle Team members discover a Timing
 Strip in Series2 Ep2 of "Secrets of the Transport Museum 

Riders were rewarded well for their achievements and could make a good living from record-breaking with sponsorship from the Manufactures as well as tyre suppliers and oil Companies. The autumn of each year was especially busy with all concerned, eager to be able to claim a record at the annual Motorcycle Show at Olympia.The intense completion brought with it some mischief! Whilst the outright two wheel speed record would no doubt be the goal of an elite few, the records for different size engines over different distances, with or without sidecars is likely to have provided an opportunity for many to claim a particular record. While there seems to be no evidence that manufactures colluded, there is  stronger evidence from riders that there was an "unspoken rule" not to break any record by a large margin leaving a greater opportunity for others to earn more prize and sponsorship money.
The Need for "Straight-line" Speed
Even during the first couple of years the Brooklands was open there was a suggestion that the large "V" Twin giants would be just too powerful for the track and the outright land-speed record for Cars and Motorcycles outgrew the Surrey speed bowl with the cars choosing Pendine Sands in South Wales and the motorcycles headed to the long relatively smooth roads in Europe such as Arpajon in France and the Autobahns of Germany before settling at Bonneville in the USA, a salt flat with a seemingly endless flat surface. However, in recent years the onset of global warming means that the dried lake-bed is increasingly re-claiming its right to be called a lake!

Current Record Holder Ack-Attack (Wikipedia)

As at Feb 2022 the current 2-wheel record stands at 376.363mph set by Rocky Robinson piloting the 2600cc Twin Suzuki powered Ack-Attack at Bonneville in 2010. So far attempts to better that speed, and aiming for the elusive 400mph have failed. Maybe someone forgot to send the memo!! Joking apart, huge effort and resources continues to be put into pushing the boundaries of speed, and today there continues to be seemingly countless numbers of official world records (648), many in reach of the ordinary person, with a spare wad of cash, to have a try.

Burt Munro's Record breaking 1000cc Indian (sicnag)

Just incase you fancy a go; I hear the only one you can't compete for is Burt Munro's 1000cc Streamline modified Indian of 184.087mph set in 1967.

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Next Time: PART TWO The Pioneers 1900-1908

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