Two-Wheeled Lightning: The 10 Fastest Motorcycles In HistoryBy Chris Weiss
Twist one of these motorcycles to wide open throttle, you’ll break 200mph faster than Usain Bolt breaks a sweat. While these steeds might resemble bullets moreso than bikes, these aerodynamic wonders are the absolute fastest motorcycles on the planet. This need for ultimate speed has driven some of the world’s greatest motorcycle tuners to the Bonneville Salt Flats in hopes of breaking the land speed record on two wheels. In the history of motorsport, these ten have done it before, and some plan to do it again.
Number 10: 1937 BMW Gran Prix Streamliner
BMW’s star rider Ernst Henne shattered British speed records during the late 20s and 30s and traded records with British riders over the course of eight years. His record-setting journey culminated in a run just over 173 mph on Frankfurt-Darmstadt Autobahn, a record that remained untouched until 1951. Originally produced in 1929 and modified in the years thereafter, the BMW streamliner featured an overhead valve version of BMW’s flat-twin four-stroke engine. A Zoller supercharger was mounted to the front of the crankshaft. The bike started out open, but fairings were added during its progression, and in its 1937 form, it was a fully-faired streamliner. In 1936, the displacement was lowered from 736cc to 493cc and the output increased slightly to 108 bhp at 8,000 rpm. The bike featured telescopic front fork suspension. All records, save for the first, were set on the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah.
Number 9: 1956 NSU Delphin III
With a 211-mph speed, the Delphin III was the first bike to cross the 200-mph threshold. It was part of a concentrated onslaught on Bonneville by the German manufacturer, which was fixed on taking a number of land speed records. Driven by Wilhelm Hertz in 1956, this 500cc German bike featured an experimental, three-lobe Wankel supercharger rotary device that helped to inspire the Wankel engine. Looking more like a fish out of water, than a motor bike, NSU reduced drag by redesigning the shape of the streamliner to give it its distinctive aerodynamic look.
Number 8: 1956 Triumph “Texas Ceegar”
The Texas Ceegar from British motorcycle maker Triumph powered Johnny Allen to a 214.4 mph world record in 1956, mere days after NSU and Wilhelm Hertz had set the 211 mark. There was controversy surrounding the record because the International Motorcycle Federation (FIM) refused to sanction it despite the fact that all equipment and proceedings were up to regulation. NSU, however, capitulated the record to Triumph and Allen. The bike featured a modified 649cc, air-cooled overhead-valve twin Triumph Thunderbird engine mounted behind the driver’s cockpit paired with a four-speed, chain drive transmission. Estimated output was 65 bhp. The cigar-shaped streamliner used an all-welded space frame with an exceptionally long wheelbase (9 ft. 2 ½ in.) Despite the controversy around the record, Triumph created a model known as the Bonneville a few years later in 1959, which went on to become its most famous bike.
Number 7: 1966 Gyronaut X-1
In the same year Burt Munro was tantalizing the world with his quirky grit and ingenuity, Bob Leppan, owner of Detroit Triump, drove the Triumph-powered Gyronaut X-1 to a 245.667 mph world record. The streamliner featured two 650cc Triumph engines fueled by alcohol and mounted behind the cockpit, a chromoly frame, rigid rear wheel and hinged front wheel. Power output was about 110 bhp at 7,300 rpm.
Number 6: 1970 Harley Davidson Sportster
Cal Rayborn, considered to be one of the best motorcycle racers of all time, raced the 10-foot-long, 700-lb. Harley Davidson-based streamliner to a 265.492 mph speed in 1970. The Denis Manning machine was powered by an HD Sportster engine running 70% nitro-methane. The two-foot-high vessel required Rayborn to lie on his back and steer by peering out the side windows. The feat was particularly impressive because Rayborn crashed several times at high speeds preceding the record-breaking run.
Number 5: 1975 Yamaha Silverbird
The first bike to break the 300-mph barrier was the Yamaha Silverbird, driven by legendary hall-of-famer Don Vesco. Powered by two Yamaha TZ750 engines for a total of 240 hp, the Silverbird captured a speed of 302.928 mph.
Number 4: 1978 Kawasaki Lightning Bolt
On August 28, 1978, Don Vesco averaged 318.598 mph on the Lightning Bolt. The 21-foot streamliner featured two 1016cc turbocharged Kawasaki KZ1000 engines. After failing for weeks to reach speed in the streamliner, Vesco salvaged some high speed gears and clutch parts from World War II airplanes at neighboring Wendover Airforce Base, and pushed the streamliner to two record-breaking runs within four days, first to 315.441 mph and then to the 318.598 mark, which stood for nearly 12 years.
Number 3: 1990 Harley Davidson Easy Rider
On July, 14 1990, Dave Campos set a world speed record that would stand for 16 years. With a speed of 322.150 mph, Campos drove the Harley Davidson Easy Rider into the books. Owned by Joe Teresi, owner and publisher of Easyriders magazine, the streamliner was funded in part by $25 public shares that bought Easyriders readers tickets to the show—10,000 shares were sold altogether, resulting in a record-breaking crowd at Bonneville. The bike was powered by two 1,500cc Harley Shovelhead engines. With a 2,500-lb. dry weight and a length in the mid-20’s, the Easy Rider broke the 12-year-old record—not bad for a bike that was rebuilt with the help of crowd members after it experienced a 300-mph crash on a test run.
Number 2: 2006 BUB Seven
Powered by a 3-liter 500 hp turbocharged liquid-cooled V-4 that was built from the ground up specifically for taking the land speed record, the BUB Seven did just that on September, 5 2006 when it became the first two-wheeled streamliner to break 350. With a speed of 350.884 mph, the Denis Manning/Chris Carr affair captured the record, which had been set just two days prior. Fueled by methanol, the V-4 engine had a maximum displacement just under 3,000cc and was engineered to provide increased traction control on the Salt Flats. The 21-foot-long body of the Seven was based on the anatomy of a Coho Salmon, giving it very low drag. It featured a monocoque carbon fiber frame with carbon, aluminum honeycomb and Kevlar shell and used a computer-controlled, 4-speed air-shift transmission.
Number 1: 2008 Top 1 Oil Ack Attack
Just under a year ago, on September 26, 2008, the Top 1 Oil Ack Attack reached the blistering speed of 360.913 mph to reclaim the absolute world speed record. Owned by Mike Akatiff and driven by Rocky Robinson, the 20-foot-long Ack Attack was powered by 900 hp 2600cc heavily-modded Suzuki Twin Hayabusa engines. A carbon fiber skin held in a chromoly tube frame linking the wheels, cockpit and powertrain. Mickey Thompson ultra-high-speed tires—7” in front and 9” in back—provided the traction. Two years earlier, the Ack Attack had broken the 16-year-old record of 322.149 mph with a 342.797 run, but only held onto that one for two days before the BUB Seven stole the show. As the quest for 400 rages on, the Ack Attack remains king of two wheels. For now.