This August, I had the amazing opportunity to head out to Utah, home of the famous Bonneville Salt Flats to watch Triumph Global’s speed testing of their 1000 hp rocket streamliner.
Triumph Motorcycles has a lot of history here; having held the title of World’s Fastest Motorcycle from 1955 to 1970 – with the exception of a brief 33 day period.
The fastest bike in that time was the Gyronaut X1 at 245.60 mph.
I landed in Salt Lake City on a Sunday afternoon. After being rained out the past 2 years, the weather held out for us this time around and it was a roasting 96 degrees when we arrived – not a cloud in the sky. With the A/C blasting we headed out to the hotel…a mere 120 miles from Salt lake city airport.
Coming from the British Isles myself, I was amazed at the stretch of highway laid out before me. Never before had I seen such straight roads! 120 miles of ‘tie the steering wheel and take a nap’ asphalt across the southern border of Utah. I will always be in awe of the sheer size and terrains of the US.
Out of the window I could almost make out the vast expanse of salt that made up the Bonneville Salt Flats which I later found out was a long since dried up river from 10,000 years ago. Five miles wide and twelve miles long with no more than 6 inches rise in height from one end to the other – it is an absolute wonder to behold.
The sun was high in the sky as we arrived at our hotel, right on the border of Utah and neighboring Nevada, we set our stuff down and headed out to dinner, courtesy of Triumph America (thank you) and got to know our fellow Triumph Champions from around the country (and Canada) who were also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to come on this trip.
The next morning at 6:30 am we were up and ready to meet Triumph Global at the Salt Flats. The sun was only just beginning to rise and the Streamliner team was already up and at it by the time we arrived.
My first experience of the salt was truly surreal. It crunches under your foot, the air smells pure, an eerie silence fills the void. The mountainous range was visible – the sun already blindingly reflecting off the huge white surface.
Then, there she was with Triumph team buzzing around her, The Rocket Streamliner. At almost 26 feet long and 2 feet wide, it’s outer shell made entirely of carbon fiber and at its heart are two(!) of Triumph’s rocket 3 engines, a monstrous 2300 ccs bolted together and turbocharged to produce a whopping 1000bhp, an imposing sight to behold.
Amongst the team was 12-time TT champion and absolute legend Guy Martin, getting stuck in and hands on with the bike. The man was focused and incredibly talented and managed to keep the bike balanced and straight throughout the day’s runs.
What I didn’t realize coming into this was the level of work and commitment it takes to do just one high speed run. This was just the testing phase – a week or so of checking everything is running smoothly, correcting any slight imperfections that could affect the bike’s ultimate goal of breaking the current land speed record for a motorcycle – 376.36mph.
We applied and re-applied sunscreen (factor 100) literally everywhere, as we were advised the sun would reflect up from the salt. That meant the inside of our nostrils, the undersides of our ears, under our chins. All to keep the reflected rays from burning us as we watched the safety checks being completed and the first run of the day was prepared.
The deafening roar as both engines thumbed to life, the anticipation as the crew and bike began their run to the start of the 8 mile course, flattened to perfection. The group of us was fairly small –
they call us Triumph Champions; the employees of Triumph dealership’s chosen to be the representatives of each shop. We’d each won the opportunity of a lifetime here and we knew it; so close to the action and getting to witness this first hand. We rushed to the 3 mile mark to witness the raw speed as the streamliner smoothly sailed by us, barely breaking a sweat, ready for more. It was outstanding to watch. The size of the flats giving a deceptive sense of the speeds. The team raced after Guy to meet him at the end of the 8 mile run.
Then there were the post-run checks, analyzing the data, resetting the parachute and restarting the safety checks ready for the next run.
As Triumph’s team finished their last run, afternoon had hit and the sun was still beaming down on us, drawing moisture out of the salt and creating a less than stable surface. The salt can be fatal when wet, trapping unaware motorists who choose to take their vehicles for a drive on the flats. The speeds being reached by the Triumph crew require perfect weather conditions, any wind or moisture can ruin a day’s testing.
The Triumph team packed up the streamliner for the day and I was amazed. Little did I know the best was yet to come. Triumph had brought some bikes for me and the other Champions to actually ride on the Salt Flats! I was handed a set of keys for a brand new Triumph Rocket 3 Roadster which just so happens to the bike I’ve had my eye on next. They briefed us on safety for riding on the salt and pointed us in the same direction as the course the streamliner was running on.
The rocket rumbled to life, its weight hidden by how incredibly balanced this beast really is. A Triumph Bonneville T120 on either side of me as myself and 2 other Triumph Champions picked our way through the uneven salt to the flattened 8 mile stretch.
Once on the course the salt is incredibly stable, a stark contrast to the natural, untouched salt we had spent the majority of the day on. I twisted the throttle wide open and felt the surge of acceleration as the bike tried to rip my arms out of their sockets. Every gear change increasing the speed as I rocketed down the course. Tucked in, chin on the tank the mile markers zipping past…3…4….5…6.
The T120s were a mere speck in my mirrors. I backed off the throttle, avoided the rear brake and gently slowed the 800lb motorcycle to a stop at the 7 mile marker. Adrenaline pumping! I hopped off the bike to take a few pictures. The view was like nothing I’d ever seen. You really feel alienated out there in the middle of the flats with nothing around for miles and miles – just man and his motorcycle.
With the rush of adrenaline still fresh in our blood we lined up for the run back. We tried to beat the speeds we had recorded on the way up, bikes struggling to maintain traction on the slippery salt. Each extra mph taking exponentially more engine power. I, now more than before, have a huge amount of respect for Guy Martin and the Triumph Global team for achieving the speeds that they do on this difficult terrain. As flat as the salt appears it is still a natural surface with more undulations and less traction than asphalt; the salt robbing power. I know the bike could have gone faster on the street but the sense of speed, nonetheless, was sensational and unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It felt like we were riding on the moon.
I was extremely privileged to make that run a second time that day.All of the Champions took turns riding up and down flats – all grinning from ear to ear like children on Christmas.
The second day was much the same. Early start, blinding sun, anticipation as the team prepped for the day’s runs. It was the final run of the day that was the most special. Same pre-run safety checks, same rush to the mid-way point for us to watch the pass. Only this time, Triumph made history. That last run of the day was clocked in at 274 miles per hour, the fastest any Triumph motorcycle has ever been. The bike was composed and ready to compete in the actual world record attempt. Guy Martin looked ready, Triumph Global looked ready, the Streamliner looked ready and I really believe that they can achieve their goal of 400 mph.
A final word of thanks to Triumph America for making all this possible and for continuing to do great things.