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Motorcycle land-speed record

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Title: Motorcycle land-speed record  
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Subject: List of fastest production motorcycles, List of vehicle speed records, Land speed record, Cabin motorcycle, Zenith Motorcycles
Collection: Motorcycle Land Speed Record, Motorcycle Sport Lists
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Motorcycle land-speed record

Glenn Curtiss, fastest person on earth, on his V8 motorcycle in 1907
Speed (mph) by year.

The motorcycle land speed record is the fastest speed achieved by a motorcycle on land. It is standardized as the speed over a course of fixed length, averaged over two runs in opposite directions. These are special or modified motorcycles, distinct from the fastest production motorcycles.

The first generally recognized motorcycle speed records were set unofficially by Glenn Curtiss, using aircraft engines of his own manufacture, first in 1903, when he achieved 64 mph (103 km/h) at Yonkers, New York using a V2, and then on January 24, 1907 on Ormond Beach, Florida, when he achieved 136.27 mph (219.31 km/h) using a V8 housed in a spindly tube chassis with direct shaft drive to the rear wheel.[1] An attempted 'return run' was foiled when his drive shaft came loose at speed, yet he was able to wrestle the machine to a stop without injury. Curtiss' V8 motorcycle is currently in the Transportation collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The 1907 record made Curtiss the fastest person on earth in any vehicle on land or air (the automobile record stood at 127.66 mph (205.45 km/h) (steam powered), the rail record stood at 131 mph (211 km/h) (electric powered), and in the air, where weight considerations made the internal combustion engine dominant, the air speed record was still held by the Wright Brothers, at a mere 37.85 mph (60.91 km/h)).

The first officially sanctioned Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) record was set in 1920, when Gene Walker rode an Indian on Daytona Beach at 104.12 mph (167.56 km/h). The first FIM-sanctioned record to exceed Curtiss' 1907 speed did not occur until 1930, at Arpajon, France, when a special OEC chassis with supercharged 1,000cc v-twin JAP engine averaged 137 mph (220 km/h) over the required two-way runs. In the 1930s, an international battle between the BMWs, ridden by Ernst Henne, alternated records with various JAP-powered English motorcycles (Zenith, OEC, Brough Superior). BMW set a final record before WWII, in 1937 (173.68 mph (279.51 km/h)), which stood for 11 years.

After the Second World War, the German NSU factory battled English machines (Vincent HRD, Triumph) for top speed honors through the 1960s, when Japanese-engined streamliner motorcycles appeared, and alternated with Harley Davidson-engined machines through 1990. The last Harley Davidson record of 322.15 mph (518.45 km/h) stood for 16 years, before a Suzuki-powered machine averaged 342.8 mph (551.7 km/h) in 2006. Since then, the BUB team, using a custom-built V4 engine, has alternated with the twin Suzuki engined Ack Attack team. Since late 2010, the Ack Attack team has held the motorcycle land speed record at 376.36 mph (605.69 km/h).


  • Jet-engine trike 1
  • List of records 2
  • Notes 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Jet-engine trike

The fastest record certified by the FIM is that set in 1964 by the jet-propelled tricycle, Spirit of America. It set three absolute land speed records, the last at 526.277 miles per hour (846.961 km/h). While such records are usually validated by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the FIA only certifies vehicles with at least four wheels, while the FIM certifies two- and three-wheelers. Breedlove never intended Spirit of America to be classified as a motorcycle, despite its tricycle layout, and only approached the FIM after being rejected for record status by the FIA. Spirit of America‍ '​s FIM-ratified record prompted the FIA to create a new category "thrust-powered" vehicles to its world record listings. Further, most people think of the tricycle Spirit of America, now part of the permanent collection of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, as a "car" and not a motorcycle.[2]

List of records

Date Location Rider Make Engine displacement cc (cu in) Speed Comments
mph km/h
1903 Yonkers, New York, US Glenn Curtiss Curtiss V-2 1,000 cc (61 cu in) 64 103 over the mile, first (unofficial) World Speed Record, Hercules V-twin[3]
January 24, 1907 Ormond Beach, Florida, US Glenn Curtiss Curtiss V-8 4,000 cc (240 cu in) 136.27 219.31 Unofficial record stood over 20 years[4][5]
1920 Daytona Beach, Florida, US Gene Walker Indian 994 cc (60.7 cu in) 104.12 165.67 [6]
1923 Brooklands UK Bert le Vack Temple-Anzani 996 cc (60.8 cu in) 108.41 174.58 [6]
1924 Arpajon, France Bert le Vack Brough Superior-JAP 867 cc (52.9 cu in) 118.98 191.59 [6]
1926 Arpajon, France Claude F. Temple OEC-Temple 996 cc (60.8 cu in) 121.3 195.33 [6]
1928 Arpajon, France Owen M. Baldwin Zenith-JAP 996 cc (60.8 cu in) 124.55 200.56 [6]
1929 Arpajon, France Bert Le Vack Brough-Superior 995 cc (60.7 cu in) 126.75 207.33 [6]
1930 Arpajon, France Joseph S. Wright OEC Temple JAP 994 cc (60.7 cu in) 137.23 220.99 [6] First official record to exceed Curtiss' pioneering effort, and the first successful use of a supercharger for a World Record
1930 Ingolstadt, Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW WR 750 735 cc (44.9 cu in) 137.58 221.54 [6]
1930 Cork, Ireland Joseph S. Wright Zenith JAP 995 cc (60.7 cu in) 150.65 242.59 [7][8]
1932 Tát, Hungary Ernst Jakob Henne BMW 736 cc (44.9 cu in)[9][10][11] 151.77 244.40 [6]
1934 Gyon, Hungary Ernst Jakob Henne BMW 736 cc (44.9 cu in)[9][10][11] 152.81 246.069
1935 A3 autobahn (Frankfurt-München route), Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW 736 cc (44.9 cu in)[9][10][11] 159.01 256.046[9][10][12] [6] First record over 250 km/h (160 mph)
1936 A3, Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW Type 255 493 cc (30.1 cu in)[9][10][13] 168.92 272.006 [6]
1937 Gyon, Hungary Eric Fernihough Brough Superior-JAP 995 cc (60.7 cu in) 169.68 273.244 [6] JAP supercharged[14]
Fernihough was killed in a 1938 attempt[14]
1937 Autostrada A4 (Italy) (Brescia-Bergamo route) Piero Taruffi Gilera 492 cc (30.0 cu in) 170.27 274.181 Supercharged four-cylinder. Taruffi famous as Grand Prix driver.[6]
1937 A3, Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW 495 cc (30.2 cu in) 173.68 279.503 [6] Last pre-WWII record
1951 A9 autobahn (Ingolstadt-München route), Germany Wilhelm Herz NSU Delphin I streamliner 499 cc (30.5 cu in) 180.29 290.322 [6] First post-WWII record
1955 Christchurch, New Zealand Russell Wright Vincent-HRD 998 cc (60.9 cu in) 184.83 297.640 [6]
1956 Bonneville Speedway, US John Allen Triumph 649 cc (39.6 cu in) 193.730 311.778 [15]
1956 Bonneville, US Wilhelm Herz NSU Delphin III streamliner 499 cc (30.5 cu in) 211.4 338.092 [6] First record over 200 mph (320 km/h)
1956 Bonneville, US Johnny Allen Triumph Tiger T110 649 cc (39.6 cu in) 214.5 345.188 Unratified by FIM[16]
1962 Bonneville, US William A. Johnson Triumph 667 cc (40.7 cu in) 224.57 361.41 [6]
1966 Bonneville, US Robert Leppan Triumph Special[6] Gyronaut X-1 streamliner[16] 1,298 cc (79.2 cu in) 245.667 395.36 Triumph Special twin-engined[6]
1970 Bonneville, US Don Vesco Yamaha "Big Red" streamliner 700 cc (43 cu in) 251.66 405.25 [6] Two-stroke twin-engined[17]
First record over 250 mph (402 km/h)
1970 Bonneville, US Cal Rayborn Harley-Davidson 1,480 cc (90 cu in) 254.84 410.37 [6] single nitro-fueled Sportster engine nicknamed 'Godzilla' built by Warner Riley.
1975 Bonneville, US Don Vesco Yamaha "Silver Bird" streamliner 1,480 cc (90 cu in) 302.92 487.515 [6] First record over 300 mph (483 km/h)
1978[15] Bonneville, US Don Vesco Lightning Bolt streamliner 2,030 cc (124 cu in) 318.598 509.757 Turbocharged twin Kawasaki Kz1000 engines[6][16][15]
First record over 500 km/h (311 mph)
1990[15] Bonneville, US Dave Campos Ruxton Harley-Davidson 3,000 cc (180 cu in) 322.150 518.450 twin-engined[15]
Longest held official record, 16 years (see Curtiss' 20 year unofficial record)
3 September 2006[18] Bonneville, US Rocky Robinson Top Oil-Ack Attack streamliner 2,600 cc (160 cu in) 342.797 551.678 Twin Suzuki engines[18]
5 September 2006[18] Bonneville, US Chris Carr BUB Seven streamliner 2,997 cc (182.9 cu in) 350.884[18] 564.693[18] BUB/Sierra Design V4
26 September 2008 Bonneville, US Rocky Robinson Top Oil-Ack Attack streamliner 2,600 cc (160 cu in) 360.913 580.833 Twin Suzuki engines[19]
24 September 2009 Bonneville, US Chris Carr BUB Seven streamliner 2,997 cc (182.9 cu in) 367.382 591.244 BUB/Sierra Design V4[20]
25 September 2010 Bonneville, US Rocky Robinson Top Oil-Ack Attack streamliner 2,600 cc (160 cu in) 376.363 605.697 Twin Suzuki engines[21]
First record over 600 km/h (373 mph)


  1. ^ Harvey (2005) p. 253
  2. ^ Bonneville Salt Flats by "LandSpeed" Louise Ann Noeth, MBI Publishing
  3. ^ House (2003) p. 31-32
  4. ^ House (2003) p. 41
  5. ^ de Cet (2002) p. 116
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Setright (1979) p. 238
  7. ^ Bayley, Joseph (1968), The Vintage Years at Brooklands, London, England: Goose and Sons Publishers Ltd.,  
  8. ^ Barnes, F.W. (25 Feb 1931), "Letters to the Editor", Motorcycling 
  9. ^ a b c d e Walker (1999) p. 16
  10. ^ a b c d e Walker (2001) p. 188. "Then in 1936, BMW technicians decided to decrease the engine's displacement from 736 to 493. This might have seemed a backwards move, but there was a sound basis for this technical change. [...] The engine was a 493 cc double-overhead-cam with a bore and stroke of 66 x 72 mm, a Zoller supercharger mounted on the front of the crankshaft [...] This supercharging technology had been under development since 1929, when a production R63 model had been fitted with a positive displacement blower..."
  11. ^ a b c Setright (1979) p. 238 lists this as 735 cc, not 736 cc.
  12. ^ Tragatsch, caption p. 304, credits this run as 256.06 with a supercharged 746 cc, while contradicting this on the same page in a table listing the displacement for the '32-'35 BMWs as 735 cc, and as 495 cc in 1936, rather than 493 cc.
  13. ^ Setright (1979) p. 238 has this as 495 cc.
  14. ^ a b Tragatsch (1984) p. 304
  15. ^ a b c d e Hennekam (2005) p. 57
  16. ^ a b c Tragatsch (1984), p.305.
  17. ^ Clayton, Graham, The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. p. 46. Motorcycle Mojo Magazine
  18. ^ a b c d e World Record attempts: Historic land speed record broken in Bonneville, FIM, 2006, retrieved 2008-10-19 
  19. ^ Staff (2008)
  20. ^ Harley (2009)
  21. ^ New FIM World Record - Bonneville Raceway, Utah (USA), FIM, October 4, 2010 


  • de Cet, Mirco (2002), The illustrated directory of motorcycles, MotorBooks/MBI Publishing Company,  
  • Harley, Bryan (25 September 2009), "BUB Racing's Chris Carr Breaks Speed Record", Motorcycle USA 
  • Harvey, Steve (2005), It Started with a Steamboat: An American Saga, Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse,  
  • Hennekam, Charles (December 2005), "World Records Bonneville", The FIM Magazine (PDF), FIM, p. 57, retrieved 2008-10-19 
  • House, Kirk W. (2003), Hell-rider to king of the air: Glenn Curtiss's life of innovation, SAE,  
  • Staff (29 September 2008), New motorcycle land speed record set;Top 1 Ack Attack team reaches 360 mph 
  • "Streamline motorcycle to get 170-mile speed", Popular Science, December 1931: 60 
  • Tragatsch, Erwin (1984), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles (2nd ed.), Feltham, Middlesex, England: Newnes Books/Temple Press,  

External links

  • Bonneville Speed Trials
  • BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials archive, predecessor to Bonneville Speed Trials
  • The UK Land Speed Racing Association
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