CW’s 1985 24-Hour World Speed Record

Wild boars, disintegrating tires and the 3000-mile left turn.

CW’s 1985 24-Hour World Speed Record

CW’s 1985 24-Hour World Speed Record

Sheer insanity, that’s what it was. I mean, how else would you describe riding a powerful sportbike flat-out all day and all night with wild boars wandering in your path, rear tires slinging off chunks of tread rubber, holy s**t tank-slappers trying to pitch you off at close to 150 mph and sweating away 10 pounds of body weight in triple-digit temperatures dressed in roadrace leathers for 24 straight hours?

“Great fun,” is how I describe it. Wish I could do it again.

That wonderful lunacy took place in September of 1985 (for the December, '85, issue) when Cycle World set a 24-hour world speed record of 128.303 mph on a Suzuki GSX-R750. And not by a slim margin: We went 10 percent faster than the previous record, 117.149 mph, set in 1977 by Kawasaki with a modified KZ650.

I had been one of the riders in Kawasaki’s record run, and for years thereafter, I’d wanted to attempt another—but as an independent endeavor using magazine staffers instead of as a rider in a factory effort. All I needed was a good reason; and when the original GSX-R750 made its U.S. debut late in 1985, I got it served up on a silver platter.

That first GSX-R rocked the motorcycle world by weighing 20 percent less than previous 750-class sportbikes while pumping out around 20 percent more power. But before that revolutionary bike ever turned a wheel in the U.S., many people suspected that in producing such a radical machine, Suzuki had burned the R&D candle too far at both ends. They felt that although the GSX-R would decimate its competition, performance-wise, it also would have a short fuse, and that sooner rather than later, it’d crumble into a pile of broken and melted metal.

Obviously, what that situation needed was for a credible, unbiased entity to prove the GSX-R’s durability through a special test of some sort—like, say, a 24-hour record attempt conducted by the world’s leading motorcycle magazine.

As I said, made to order.

But it wasn't easy. I had to talk Suzuki into loaning us a GSX-R750 for the effort and then persuade _ CW_ staff members to serve as riders and support crew. I also needed to find a venue suitable for 24 hours of non-stop running at a buck-and-a-half. And if we happened to succeed, I wanted us to have set an official world record, so I had to arrange for FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) representatives to attend and verify every aspect of the attempt.

Before I could set any of those wheels into motion, though, I first had to convince Peter Diamandis, president of CBS’s magazine division (we were owned by CBS Broadcasting at the time), to help fund what would likely be the most costly bike-magazine project ever undertaken—with no guarantee of success. Much to my surprise, Diamandis agreed not only to help but to pay for half of the record run’s expenses, even though neither of us had any idea how much the final total might be. Diamandis always encouraged his people to take chances, and in this instance, he put his—or CBS’s—money where his mouth was.

Suzuki was very cooperative, too, offering us not one but two GSX-Rs for the attempt, thus doubling our chances of success. And since this was to be an endurance test of the new GSX-R, we wanted the bikes to remain completely stock. To ensure that they were, we sent David Edwards, then CW's Feature Editor, to Suzuki's Hamamatsu factory, where he randomly picked two Gixxers off the assembly line—one red, one blue. Then, using a special wire-and-lead process, he sealed cylinder heads to cylinders, cylinders to cases and entire engines to frames. After that, he witnessed the bikes being crated, loaded on a truck and sent on their way to the U.S.

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For a venue, I ended up choosing the Uniroyal Proving Grounds in Laredo, Texas. That facility’s primary feature was a freshly paved, five-mile-long perfect circle with steep, parabolic banking that would let the Suzukis remain perpendicular to the pavement while running wide-open. Eliminating the lateral wear a tire suffers when leaning around corners was an important factor in extending tire life during long runs at very high speeds.

So, with all the elements in place, our merry crew of record-seekers rode/drove/flew to “deep in the heart of Texas”—and were greeted by triple-digit temperatures and enough humidity to float an aircraft carrier.

We had already decided that running two bikes for 24 hours would require eight riders. I would be one, of course, along with Edwards, plus Ron Lawson, Managing Editor; Camron Bussard, Associate Editor; Ron Griewe, Senior Editor; Steve Thompson, East Coast Editor; Larry Little, Advertising Director; and Doug Toland, frequent contributor to the magazine and highly accomplished local roadracer. Our Publisher, Jim Hansen, would head up pit duties along with Assistant Art Director Dean Koga. Metzeler had agreed to supply tires for the attempt and sent two representatives to help with the mounting of spares.

Three high-ranking Suzuki officers also attended to observe and, if necessary, lend a hand. To our surprise, they arrived with a couple of hand-formed, 3.7-gallon auxiliary gas tanks that mounted behind the rider’s seat like a rather large roadracing-style seatback. Combined with the stock 5.8-gallon tanks, they would give us enough fuel, we figured, to last for about an hour at steady 145-mph speeds.

To get oriented to the track (really, how much “orientation” does anyone need to ride in a five-mile circle?), we each turned a few laps on one of the record bikes at no more than 100 mph; we didn’t want to use up any more durability than necessary. Finally, at noon on September 4, we started our official record runs.

And the “fun” began. Almost immediately, we found that the low-pressure area behind the rider at high speeds would not allow the auxiliary tanks to drain. As a result, the shift in front-to-rear weight bias as the main tank emptied would induce horrifying, tank-slapping, tire-chirping, underwear-soiling wobbles. After a couple of futile attempts to get the auxiliary tanks to drain, we removed them and—with the bikes getting only about 15 mpg—had to settle for 35-minute stints between fill-ups and rider changes.

Meanwhile, the air temperature hit 106 degrees and the track reached 129, threatening to dehydrate not just the riders but everyone involved. Hansen began making frequent food-and-drink runs into town, sending Popeye’s Chicken futures soaring while depriving the citizens of south Texas of practically every drop of Gatorade, all possible combinations of Wendy’s burgers and fries, and more Egg McMuffins than the local McDonald’s usually sells in a week. We’re certain that following our record run, convoys of semis were seen hauling massive quantities of those and other not-particularly-nutritious foodstuffs into Laredo.

Problem Number Two surfaced just before 10 p.m. The first set of rear Metzelers on both Suzukis had worn out, and a quick wheel change got the bikes back on the track in a flash—and back in the pits after just a few laps. The rears had begun tossing off chunks of tread rubber, making the bikes squirrelly at speed. Another tire-and-wheel change netted the same results. This wasn’t just slowing down the record attempt; it threatened to bring the effort to a screeching halt.

As a last resort, we tried “breaking in” new tires by first circulating the track at a reduced speed, just as we had in our “orientation” sessions before the start of the attempt. And it worked! All through the coolness of the night (if you can call a low of 93 degrees “cool”), we had no more tire problems.

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We did, however, have javelina issues. The twin 100-watt headlight bulbs we had plugged into both GSX-Rs gave riders bright, clear views of the wild boars darting across in front of them. Fortunately, nobody hit one of those incredibly dense, 40- to 50-pound hogs while traveling at more than 200 feet per second. I once came so close to one that I closed my eyes, clenched the handgrips for all I was worth and waited for the crash—that, thankfully, never arrived.

As the temperatures started climbing again after sunrise, the rear-tire chunking problem returned. But the gods of speed must have been with us that morning, because we had just enough spare rear tires that we could change them at every stop, allowing both bikes to reach the 24-hour mark without catastrophic failure.

We had done it! Both GSX-Rs had traveled more than 3000 miles to set a 24-hour world speed record for motorcycles, with the blue one (128.303 mph average) narrowly edging out the red one (128.059). Along the way, we also had set records for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 hours. And as Jack Dolan, the chief FIM official in attendance, told us, those were absolute records. No motorcycle of any type, any displacement, any configuration, naturally aspirated, supercharged or turbocharged, had gone faster for any of those time periods. Ever.

I can’t fully explain the excitement, the exhilaration that swept over the entire crew, including the people from Metzeler, Suzuki and even the proving grounds management. Champagne showers and high-fives carried on endlessly, and everyone had mile-wide smiles you couldn’t have removed with a chainsaw.

A week later, back in our Newport Beach offices, I broke yet another record. To make this project happen, I'd had to pay for just about everything up front, so I ended up submitting the largest monthly expense report anyone in the company had ever seen. It totaled a few nickels over $76,000, which would be $162,000 in 2012 dollars. Try that one today! But Peter Diamandis never flinched when I submitted the report, and he happily chipped in $38,000.

Several months later, American Honda went to Laredo and broke all of our records with a VFR750F. At first, I was angry that we had been upstaged so soon. But those Hondas were not bone-stock (dry-break fuel fillers, different gearing, one front brake removed for reduced friction, rear wheels modified for quicker wheel changes), one of them blew up during the attempt, and I later learned that Honda had spent more than 13 times as much—in excess of $1 million—as we had in breaking the record.

In the end, that made me even more proud of what we had done. Maybe it wasn’t so insane after all.

Cycle World's 1985 24-Hour World Speed Record

Larry Little, CW's Advertising Director in 1985, pilots one of the GSX-Rs at max speed.

No cheering crowds, TV crews, pit hangers-on or umbrella girls decorating this record-shattering event.

The first of many blistered rear tires.

Pit stops were less than NASCAR-fast but managed to fill tanks and change rubber in under two minutes.

Special lead seals ensured that the engines were factory-stock.

Let the celebration begin. Both GSX-R750s eclipsed the existing record, with the blue one edging the red one by a mere .244 mph.

Thompson takes a quick snooze in full riding gear.

The red bike collected an impressive selection of South Texas' flying insects.

Bussard copes with the 100-plus-degree heat by guzzling his umpteenth bottle of Gatorade.