IENATSCH TUESDAY: The Day the Bullshyte Ended

By 1992 we had heard all the promises and all the hype about 200 mph street bikes…but nobody could put up the numbers. Until Mr. Turbo’s Kizer and Parsons arrived at Avenue A.

desert road
The “Top Secret High Desert Test Facility” provided mostly-uninterrupted speed testing but occasionally: “Oh, wait a minute…there’s a car. Okay, go.” And a few minutes later, “Okay, good. Now it’s my turn.”Nick Ienatsch

Lance Holst and I met when he started at Motorcyclist magazine in 1989. We became friends, roommates and co-founders of Sport Rider magazine, where we were soon joined by Jason Black. Holst and I put together the following story about an exciting time that permanently warped our brains and continually changed our definition of "fast."

If you’ve ever been to Willow Springs Raceway, you drove across Avenue A just before exiting in Rosamond. Avenue A runs straight and true and almost completely uninterrupted with the exception of a cross-street every half mile or so, out in the California high desert where nothing but sage and scrub grow.

That’s right. Ave A is straight and true and flat and almost uninterrupted. Nothing there, nothing to see, nothing to do. Except go fast.

Avenue A was the "Top Secret High Desert Test Facility" we used for magazine-bike top-speed testing back in the day. In between joining Motorcyclist magazine in 1984 and leaving Sport Rider magazine in 1996, we went to Avenue A at least once a month.

We ran every test bike “on top” and it was usually pretty basic stuff. One of us held the radar gun, another jumped on a bike and ran off into the distance to come screaming back pinned and tucked. Then we’d trade jobs and see who could turn the fastest speed. Often times we rode the bikes to Avenue A, sometimes we trucked or vanned. We’d often do top-speed testing in the dawn hours before continuing on to Willow Springs Raceway for on-track testing.

As is natural, we started to wonder how fast a street bike could go and started asking the aftermarket community. One after another they all started talking about 200 mph. Then the talk became promises, and the next thing you know we’re visiting Avenue A with some serious machines. But things stalled at 186 mph. All the lip-flapping in the world could not get a modified street bike over 186 mph.

In 1990 Kawasaki blew us all away with their sleek, black, ram-air-fed ZX-11 that shrieked to a breath-taking 175 mph right out of the crate. "How much harder could it be to get that extra 25 mph with street-legal modifications?" we asked. Pretty damn hard, it turned out. Not even the top AMA, WERA or Formula USA race bikes broke 200 mph. Jeff Stern’s normally aspirated Fastline / MCM Racing GSX-R1100 that won the AMA Superteams Championship in ’92 came closest with an impressive 195 mph, but that was a track-only bike.

No matter how big and pretty the hauler looked sitting in the weeds along Avenue A, 186 was it for street bikes. One thing was becoming very clear to us: Getting big top-speed numbers is very difficult. Aerodynamic drag increases at the square of speed, meaning the faster you go the greater the challenge. Drag goes up exponentially, not linearly.

man signing a document
Lance Holst's habit of extensive documentation combines with a strong memory to make stories like this possible. He filled many notebooks during his time at Motorcyclist and Sport Rider magazines, and went on to teach for the Kevin Schwantz school after capturing the #1 plate at Willow Springs Raceway with Kaz Yoshima.LH Collection

To push the limits of what was possible, Motorcyclist magazine launched Superbikes From Hell for our October '91 issue. It was an invitation to several highly respected houses of horsepower to bring the fastest, most powerful street legal motorcycle that they could build. Testing would include top speed at El Mirage dry lake, quarter-mile ET and trap speed at LA County Raceway, lap time around Willow Springs, and streetability on a secluded road as far from the eyes of law enforcement (not to mention civilian traffic) as we could find. We had drag race specialists Sims & Rohm bring their Suzuki GSXR1452, NOS & Patrick Racing showed up with a nitrous-injected Honda CBR1000, San Diego roadracer Lee's Cycle Service built an alcohol-burning Suzuki GSXR1100 and future AMA Superbike and World Superbike Championship-winning crew chief Tom Houseworth put together his Houseworth Power Services Suzuki GSXR1186. We broke 190 mph but failed to penetrate the 200 mph barrier.

A year later "Superbikes From Hell, the Sequel" showed up in the September '92 issue and featured the Lee's Cycle Service Suzuki GSXR1340, Dublin Kawasaki's Land Speed record-holding ZX-11, Sims & Rohm's streamlined Suzuki GSXR1452 and Luftmeister's turbocharged and nitrous-injected BMW K1. We inched further into the 190 mph range but still didn't break the double ton. A note here: Dublin's ZX-11 built by Doug Meyer could have been our first foray over 200 mph if Nick hadn't highsided it into oblivion when he went the wrong direction with the shift lever while charging downhill out of Willow Springs's Turn Four. This incident created a new Superbikes from Hell rule: all bikes must be street-shift pattern! "Sorry Doug!"

And then a slight-statured drag racer named Terry Kizer arrived from Houston with a Mr. Turbo ZX11, and all-star tuner Mo Parsons by his side. Terry remembers this trip to southern California very clearly. “When Mo and I were building this bike people would ask us “How fast will it go?” Our charts and calculations were pretty extensive and we’d say, “Should be over 200.” Nobody believed us, they thought we were crazy.

vintage photo of Terry Kizer and Mo Parsons
An early shot of Terry Kizer and Mo Parsons. This team would rock the dragracing world. At one point in their careers they set a new track record at every race meeting for three years in a row. Dominant. Parsons has passed but Kizer's hand is still building fast stuff, like the ZX11 powerplant that pushed Sam Wheeler's streamliner to 355 at Bonneville. The Houston-based shop has an all-new Top Fuel dragracer in the works that flies in the face of conventional design. Look for it here or in Cycle World soon.Mr. Turbo Collection

“We got to LA and met Nick, Lance and few other magazine guys at their office on the Sunset strip. It was cool because we were doing the photos of the ZX in the ex-Howard Hughes studio. During the day, people would wander in, see the bike and ask the same question: How fast will it go? We’d give them the same answer and, considering the history of what these guys had seen, the number of bikes that had claimed 200 but couldn’t do it, they’d basically roll their eyes. You could tell they thought we were stupid."

people posing with trophies
Terry, left and Mo pose “with all the trophies” and Cindy, Terry's wife. Can you see the confidence, humor and general smartassedness in their eyes? Kizer was a five-time national dragracing champion, Parsons Tuner of the Year and regarded as “the problem-solving wizard.” These two were constantly accused of cheating because they won by such large margins, but in truth they were just working harder than the competition.Mr. Turbo Collection

“So the next morning, me, Mo and Rick Marsh met Nick, Lance and the guys at a restaurant and we all jumped on the bikes. Pretty soon they were letting me ride the brand-new CBR900RR that was along and we were chasing each other through the canyons, those guys really enjoying our turbo. Great time and they told me I rode pretty good for a straight-liner! We arrived at the Los Angeles Country Raceway dragstrip and Nick threw down a low nine-second pass at 160mph on our bike…that was the moment our 200 mph talk was taken seriously. Mo and I were getting ready to turn up the boost but a flat tire ended the day. Our plans to run top-speed on Avenue A had to be put off until the next morning.”

Early the next morning, Kizer and his strong, almost-silent-type side-kick Mo Parsons rolled the ZX out of a small trailer, fired it up and handed to Nick as the sun peaked over hills surrounding Willow. Lance manned the radar gun with everyone clustered behind him. The 11 flew past and the radar gun stayed blank. Kizer remembers, “The gun wouldn’t pick the bike up. It was fast, not much frontal area and not much metal up front.”

The group decided to have Nick ride past slower: 9000 rpm in sixth gear. Parsons pulled out his gearing chart and said, “Should be right at 190.” More eye rolling ensued.

Nick catching air on a ZX11
"UFO got crazy because the bikes were so fast that track-designers never imagined that a "hill" would become a "jump". This is Ienatsch on the 230 mph version of Mr. Turbo's ZX11."Nick Ienatsch

Nick rolled past at 9000 in top gear and the gun flashed 189. More raised eyebrows. It was then decided that Lance should crouch in the middle of the road to get a more head-on radar-gun shot in an attempt to capture the bike’s true speed. Holst took his position in the middle of Avenue A, crouched on the faded yellow line with the radar gun pointed at the rapidly approaching ZX11. The digital numbers flickered 215 and the gun locked in the speed. Can’t be. We did it again: 215. Lance tried it: 215. Parsons confirmed the number with his gear and dyno charts: 215.

It’s hard to put into words the impact this had on us. After all the promises and tests and runs, to have these two Texans show up with a stock-appearing turbocharged ZX11 with a not-so-subtle paint scheme and throw down this number with ease and repeatability rocked us. It was giddy, giggly, astounding. And addicting.

And you have to know Kizer and Parsons. They put the "smart" in "smart ass." Everything they owned had a turbo or a supercharger on it, including Parson's daily-driver Whipple supercharged Chevy truck that served as their tow vehicle for their trip to California. Kizer had won the world championship in Top Fuel with Tuner of the Year Parsons so they knew the demons hiding in the details when performance gets this high. We would all become friends and spend the next few years enlarging the envelope at Sport Rider magazine's annual UFO (Unlimited Flying Objects) events.

Kizer’s retuned, uncorked ZX-11 with new injectors broke through the 230 mph barrier on the much wider, safer environment of the 7.5-mile oval at Honda Proving Center of California where we had an ambulance on hand. After Holst had an Attack Racing YZF750/1000 blow up through the FIM/SCTA speed traps at 195 mph, catch fire and burn to the ground, we kept a fire extinguisher handy, too.

Our world really changed that day in late ’92 on Avenue A. Terry Kizer and his Mr. Turbo ZX-11 changed it radically, not by inching over the 200 mph barrier but shattering it with 15 mph in hand. Kizer adds, “There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t tell this story. Your article started it all, started guys thinking about going 200 on a street bike. They come to my shop and reference that article, talk about that ZX11. I’m building three bikes for the Texas Mile right now, and it’s because of what we started with you guys back in ’92.”

Motorcyclist magazine cover
Terry was told his bike would appear on the cover and expected a small picture in the corner, but this is what he saw. That’s Holst during the street ride the day before the bike threw down a 215. Lance and I clearly remember riding this bike on the freeway and power-wheelying in third gear from 80 mph. If you’ve never ridden a turbocharged liter bike you’re missing a unique and huge rush, there’s truly nothing like it.Dadsvintageads.com

The story was splashed across the cover of the January 1993 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine earning young photographer Kevin Wing his first cover shot. It also earned Kizer's Mr. Turbo bike a standing invitation to Sport Rider Magazine's UFO events. It was some crazy times, all pushed into play by this Mr. Turbo ZX11 on Avenue A.

Kawasaki ZX11 static side view
Epilogue: Last week we learned that the Mr. Turbo Kawasaki ZX11 resurfaced and is being resurrected by enthusiast Mike Jones. Kizer has offered to help restore this ground-breaking, record-shattering motorcycle.Mike Jones

More Next Tuesday!