The Bombing Run: A Story Of Loss, Speed, And Dads

The gift of two-wheeled speed on a run to Grand Junction, part 1

Last month we focused on rider improvement through the advice of professional coaches. This week's subject is the passion of speed in the interest of reading entertainment. Oh, and a complete work of imagination in terms of public-road speeds. We at CW highly respect speed limits. This is just a silly story. Nobody rides like this. Ever. Just a work of fiction. Some reading fun, nothing real.

BMW at night
At 10 p.m. the 1,400cc BMW barked to life. There was a job to do.Nick Ienatsch

The phone rang at 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, June 14.

“Cindy, your dad is fading. Can you come as soon as possible?”

Cindy’s voice caught in her throat as she tried to answer her mom in the affirmative. She knew this day was coming but it still shocked her. “Yes, mom… I’ll be there.”

Cindy’s dad’s fight with cancer was ending. She had seen him in Grand Junction, Colorado, three months ago and now things were dire. She got online to check flights and saw she could get from the Burbank, California, airport to the Denver or Salt Lake City airports quickly but not into Grand Junction until 5 p.m. the next day.

Which Bike?

She looked away from her computer and knew what she was going to do: ride Scott’s 1988 BMW R100RS.

In 30 minutes, Cindy had arranged a cat sitter and packed a tank bag, stuffed clothes, a rainsuit, and electric vest in the saddlebags and fastened everything onto her late husband’s highly modified Beemer. She slipped into her leathers, opened the garage door, and idled into the night. As the garage door slid down and the bark of the big twin bounced around the neighborhood, she closed her face shield and relished this bittersweet need to be somewhere quickly.

Cindy had grown up at Willow Springs Raceway with her dad, watching as he raced and won; at 15 years old Cindy began racing as a Novice, moving to Expert, then to Class Champion aboard a Honda RS125, and then a Yamaha FZR400. She got her motorcycle license the minute she turned 16 and had been in the mountains of Southern California ever since. Her 32nd birthday was last month and she still raced the FZR in AHRMA's Lightweight Superbike class; her love of speed had not abated. She rode a motorcycle to work during the week and for fun on weekends.

The RS she straddled was nowhere near stock. Scott, her husband of eight years, had tweaked and tuned the sport-touring bike into a modern-day weapon. The bike retained the classic sport-touring lines—the encompassing fairing, the low bars—but a close examination revealed an intensely trick machine. Millenium Technology had done some magic, boring and stroking the twin to just under 1,400cc with the chassis tweaked to handle it, including BST carbon wheels, Öhlins suspension front and rear, and massive brakes. Every part of the RS had been touched and improved—and tonight Cindy would exploit it on the run to see her father.

Take The Crest

She ignored the freeway and snorted the nasty Beemer toward Angeles Crest Highway, a road she knew by heart, and a road that prompted her to move to La Crescenta after Scott’s death. Angeles Crest Highway was 2.4 miles from her home and within two minutes Cindy cleared the La Cañada neighborhood and was flashing past the Angeles Crest National Forest sign that effectively ended civilization for the next 100 miles. The speed was way up, already more than 100 mph a couple of times; Cindy couldn’t care less about speed limits. And the BMW got happier as it went faster.

The Crest was deserted at that hour and Cindy was reminded of her love of night riding. Her dad would lead and their worst fear was a deer; their biggest joy was the cool night air and intensely focusing tunnel of light they rode into. Scott had joined them in their love of night strafing, and the big BMW had a halogen beam that lit Cindy’s future with clarity. She knew a deer could make her night difficult but she willingly took the chance. Her husband was gone and her dad was going. She spun the RS through third gear and let it rev, snicking it into fourth as her soul soared with the speed. “Life can suck sometimes, but fast bikes fix it all”—one of her dad’s favorite sayings played on her mind.

The Crest dumped Cindy out onto Interstate 15. She wrapped herself around Scott's tank bag and let that BMW eat. Her chin rested on the Chase Harper bag as she flew north, left hand nestled on the triple clamp, right hand holding the throttle open at big settings. The flat twin howled beneath her and Barstow, Baker, and Zzyzx Road came and went. The speed kept her mind focused on her immediate future and away from her ailing father and lost husband. Time crept forward but the bike swallowed one mile every 30 seconds. Eyes narrow, body relaxed and entwined with the machine, Cindy hurtled north in a cocoon of speed-induced euphoria.

Angeles Crest by the light of the moon and halogen
Angeles Crest by the light of the moon and halogen.Nick Ienatsch

Memories, Vegas, And Northbound Speed

The bright lights of Las Vegas announced the city miles before Cindy popped over the last rise. She decelerated up the Tropicana Avenue ramp and veered into the Chevron station, coasting right to the pump and filling the 7-gallon tank from the seat. The twin pinged and popped beneath her, impatient to roll again, seeking its diet of premium fuel in prodigious amounts.

This bike had never been ridden slowly and owned three Open Twins class championships under Scott's guidance around the nine turns of Willow Springs Raceway. That was back when hundreds of Southern California racers competed every month at the high desert track and grids were 20 rows deep with contingency money everywhere. Cindy thought about that when the BMW refired, the sound spinning her back to those glorious days. She put the bike into the rev limiter in the first three gears as she rejoined I-15 North. Damn, that sound reminds me of Willow, and they are good memories. She met Scott in the dusty winds of Willow and lost him in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Bombing Runs

Her dad had called these rides “bombing runs.” They had been almost always at night, and while never as far as Grand Junction, these runs had covered a lot of ground in a very little time. Her father was a dedicated, unrepentant speeder, and Cindy hadn’t seen much wrong with his theory of speed having little to do with safety.

Driving home from Willow Springs in the early days, her father would talk about how the Experts crashed less than the Novices, yet were going faster. He talked about racers like Scott Russell or Rich Oliver, riders who went undefeated in AMA competition, riders who went faster and rode safer than those they beat.

When they were driving together in and around Southern California, her dad would point out all the marks on the guardrails from errant cars and would even stop with her at accident scenes that happened during slow commutes.

“It’s rarely speed, Cindy, it’s just poor driving. No focus. No skills. Bad habits. Alcohol. Drugs. Texting. Talking on the phone,” invariably her father would say. “Adding speed adds focus. Speeding is safer!”

So they sped. Not everywhere all the time, but they sped. Not in town, not in heavy traffic, but the bombing runs were shockingly fast and the bikes they built were used to the utmost. Tonight, Scott's RS was being used as intended by the BMW engineers who developed it when the German autobahn was still the real deal. Hans Muth had penned this frame-mounted fairing, and Cindy had never found a more comfortable way to go really, really fast over vast tracts of land. This RS had become her favorite late-night Crest ride because it was her therapy, her connection to Scott and her father. And it's so damn torquey, she smiled to herself.

Cindy didn't go crazy through Vegas but as she cleared the speedway at the northern edge of town her wrist rotated; she snuggled into the tank bag, butt back in the seat, eyes and brain ahead of the storming BMW. Traffic was light as she headed toward Mesquite, and Cindy's heavy heart beat with happiness as the one constant joy of her life once again delivered: speed.

Speed was her drug, speed was her father’s and husband’s drug, their best friends’ drug. Twice they had run at El Mirage during the SCTA dry-lake speed weekends, all competing on their roadracers. Cindy had done a best of 148 mph on her FZR400 and put Matt Capri’s Luftmeister BMW K100 Turbo in the 206 range—no mean feat in the dirt. She glanced at the BMW’s speedometer to see the needle steady at just over 120 mph as it catapulted out of the Virgin River Gorge and approached St. George, Utah.

The Virgin River Gorge just after midnight
The Virgin River Gorge just after midnight.Nick Ienatsch

“Lord, I love the Virgin Gorge,” Cindy intoned again and again. Scott always called it “Brainerd Canyon” because it was huge speeds and big lean angles, two lanes each way with a dividing wall, and only one exit for cops to hide in. She fought her desire to keep rolling hard, backed the BMW’s speed down into double digits, exited the freeway at Main Street, and swung into Cracker Barrel for a late dinner and shot of caffeine. Southern Utah’s Highway 9 was next and she wanted to hit it late, well-fed and alert.

Part 2 next week!