Monday, October 26, 2009

Rob and Dan's Land Speed Bike - Chapter One

Rob and Dan set out earlier this year on an interesting senior thesis to complete their BA degrees in mechanical engineering. Take a bone stock R100RT and set a land speed record. You read that correctly. After much toil and essentially stripping every possible non-necessity piece off the old 2 valve boxer they set off last weekend for El Mirage dry lake bed for the base run. Essentially what they're trying to do is get raw data from the stripped bike, stretch the frame, built a streamliner body, heavily modify the engine and do another run. As it pertains to the thesis they'll need to document what modifications resulted in what gains / losses and why.

Save for spending a few nights over the last 6 months drinking beer in the garage while Rob and Dan worked I've done nothing in support of the operation. So it comes as no surprise that I had to be present for the fruits of the labor. Sunday morning after an interesting (to say the least) night of camping we packed up and headed for the lake bed. Rob and Dan already had the bike staged in the rookie lane and were first in line to run. Then the wind started. A steady 40mph crosswind that seemed to pick up every available grit of sand and lodge it comfortable between our incisors, eyelids, inner ear and um...

Finally, after 90 minutes delay the promoters deemed conditions fit for fast. The wind didn't seem to have died down in the least but the massive dust clouds we no longer sweeping across the track. Probably because there was no more loose sediment lest to be picked up and hurled into any available crack or crevice. In any case Rob suited up and began giving the bike the once over. It is at this point in the blog post that I'm going to illustrate a few important facts:

1. If you've got dreams of grandeur that Rob and Dan have built the next "Worlds Fastest Indian" you should probably close your browser window and go back to Law and Order. The R100 in question is about as mechanically sound as one of those Ralph Nader edition Corvairs. The "tech inspection" the bike was put through consisted of a salty looking 60 year old man in an "I'm with ugly" T-shirt asking Rob if he was "bored and rich" or "poor and stupid?" The "insider scoop" was one of the veterans (I assume he was a veteran because he didn't look a day under 80) asking me for a cigarette and mention something about not hitting any birds. Deadman kill switch: yarn tied from the zipper of Rob's leathers to the ignition coil wire.

2. The chase vehicle. 1977 Dodge Tradesman van with optional CB radio, 312,000 miles (didn't look a day over 400,000) and creepy 70's curtains on the side windows. All the character this classic holds doesn't stop Donny from dropping the hammer when the starter says "go" and blitzing a whoops section that runs parallel to the marked course with a trailer in tow. As soon as the 340lb sliding side door on this baby opens Steely Dan's Aja album starts playing from somewhere in the heavens.

The way the SCCA runs the event, every participating vehicle must have a chase vehicle, typically a pickup truck, that drives to the end of the speed trap and retrieves the bikes and cars that are actually participating in the races. In our case Donny Angel of Sonny Angel Motorcycle fame volunteered his van, time and experience at El Mirage. Rob fired up the bike, 6 of us piled in the van, Rob stabbed the R100 into gear, dropped the hammer, Donny did the same in the van and we were off.

First gear seemed relatively uneventful. The bike has almost no muffler to speak of so we were easily able to hear the missed shift into second. On his second try Rob got found the gear and grabbed a wristfull of throttle. His roost cloud started hitting the van windshield so Donny pointed the van off to the left. About the time Rob got 3rd gear he was quickly gapping the chase wagon off our starboard bow. As Rob shrank into the distance we could hear the boxer raising hell. A con-trail of dust rising from behind as bike and rider began to resemble a Bavarian asteroid streaking across the horizon. Seconds later, as Rob reached the 1.3 miles mark of the 2.6 mile course he disappeared from view. Donny continued along the parallel access road toward the catch area at the end of the lake. Not a word was spoken as we all listened intently to the CB for a speed announcement from the control tower. No announcement came and as we approached the end of the lake with no word on the run over the citizens band and no sign of Rob a nervous atmosphere formed among the Mopar's disco interior. Then, just as another chase vehicle pulled off the course and out of our view, there was Rob. Sitting atop the R100, a grin on his face, helmet resting on the gas tank, time ticket in his hand.

"Well? How fast?" the 6 of us inquired in unison. Rob's smile took on more of a wince. "68 miles an hour. The bike started breaking up REAL bad as I was entering the trap. By the time I got to the far end it was barley running." Everyone jumps to action and gets the bike on the trailer. We had set up a secondary camp at about the 1/2 way mark and had Donny drop Tedd and I off there to retrieve tools, another car and the timing light. Tedd began running through a list of possible causes as I drove back to the starting line. "It's gotta be fuel." he said. "I fired the bike up this morning on the trailer and the timing was good. It revved to the moon on the trailer without a problem. It's gotta be fuel." I slid the car to a stop in the parking area and we too off on foot for the starting line. Donny had Rob and Dan pulling air tubes and checking for blockage or a collapsed air filter. Todd set up the timing light, popped the plug and fired the bike. "Timing's spot on bro. Pull the fuel lines." Rob chimed in "Air filters fine and we can't run in this dust without a filter." Donny confirmed we'd need the air filter and checked that the fuel cap was venting. "Cap's fine kids." Dan pulled the fuel line off the carb on the right side and not a drop came out. Nada. Todd puled the left inline filter and open it. Upon finding it completely blocked he said: "Rob. Where did you get this tank? This filter is packed with sediment." The action stops and all eyes are on Rob... Rob lowers his head and mutters one word "Ebay."

All is still for a few seconds until the announcer chimes in "First call all bikes. This will be your final run as the winds are picking up again. First call all bikes." Another mad scramble ensues. Tedd tosses the screens from the fuel filter housings in the tool box and reassembles fuel lines. Rob and Josh are jamming the air tubes back into the airbox and carbs. Donny is hooking the ramp back on the trailer and pulling off the tie downs. Dan shoehorning himself into the leathers. Me, I found Rob's cooler and was pulling nervously at a Tecate.

Once the bike was off the trailer and Dan was suited up in the leathers Todd and I headed back to out mid-course secondary camp. We arrived to find the wives and girlfriends tuned into the CB waiting for Dan's number to be called. Todd filled the girls in on the repairs and how poorly the bike worked on Rob's run but that Dan was about to make a second and final run. Minutes later Dan's number was called and everyone turned toward the starting line. From where we were now standing we should see Dan pass by about 300 feet before the start of the speed trap. If the bike was going to start breaking up we'd definitely be able to hear it.

With a cloud of dust from the starting line we could see Dan make his launch. The Dodge in hot pursuit confirmed it was our guy. Poof. Another cloud marked a much cleaner shift into second than the previous run. Now the van was headed off the course in our direction toward the parallel road. A break in the wind gave an opportunity for us to hear the firsts sounds of the 1000cc boxer winding and churning it's way toward another shift. The third dust little dust cloud confirmed 3rd gear and now the con-trail was forming nicely. The engine spooling up was becoming more audible as the bike drew nearer to our point on the track. RPM's climbing, climbing, climbing.... Each millisecond creating more anticipation for the money shift into 4th gear. The gear that would carry Rob and Dan's Motorrad Rocket through the timed trap. Dan is almost directly in front of us right now and the engine is at it's full and terrifying roar. The Dyna ignition, fuel feed and slightly modified intake working together perfectly. Nay a spudder, only the smooth and precise audibles of the now pristine running boxer. As smooth as if it were electronically assisted and just as he passes in front of us Dan pops the transmission into 4th. The RPM's drop back into the meat of the powerband and in a final grunt toward the speed traps. Dan is folded up tighter than a Marine Barracks bed linen, his helmet nearly resting on the fuel tank. The dust rises furiously with every inch he streaks along forming a wedge into the sky with the R100 on the bleeding tip. Now as he slips into the speed trap the cloud begins to obscure him from view. Less than a second later the only sign that the bike is still powering along is the scream from the engine emitting from the megaphone exhaust.

Donny and Josh blaze past in the chase van.

5 minutes go by and no sign of our guys. 10 minutes still nothing. I find another Tecate. Finally after 15 minutes the van appears in the blowing dust, a smiling Donny seen through the windshield. Before they're even stopped the sliding door is open and Dan announces "96.77 miles an hour! Not a bad starting point considering the wind." "Well" Donny follows up "You didn't break the ton mark but I'd say it was a pretty respectable first time."

Stay tuned to the blog for updates on this little endeavor and as always thanks for reading.
-Sean DeAngelis

1 comment:

  1. Good Luck to the guys, both on the project and on getting good grades for the paper.