by Mark Junkersfeld
Imagine running your bike up to top speed. It’s a thrill with anything over 250cc on a modern motorcycle. Now imagine continuing to hold it wide open for 23 seconds. Go ahead, start counting. 23 seconds at speed is an eternity.
Sure we have all tapped the upper reaches of our speedometers on the street. But we pick a desolate road or inviting piece of empty freeway and watch the numbers climb or just glance quickly at the speedometer and then hang on to the number we see. It’s different for everyone – 80 is a butt clench for new riders, 90 is serious speed on the street, triple digits may be a trip to jail. Whatever speed is your personal best was probably achieved for a fraction of a second, enough to put that merit badge on your mental wall. But 23 seconds wide open is a long time…
Gregor Moe from Buffalo, Minnesota started the countdown to a record speed attempt at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a very unlikely way on a very unlikely bike. Gregor (the name sounds like an Xmen superhero but it’s just Norwegian) grew up like most Scandinavian motorheads in Minnesota racing snowmobiles.
He was fast and came close to winning the International 500 mile sled race from Thunder Bay to White Bear Lake in 1991 when he finished fifth out of 275 competitors. Of course, like many hometown boys, Gregor is a Polaris loyalist because it is a Minnesota company and his dad used to work there. 00:03
Later in life, the motorcycle bug bit Moe and he owned a Kawasaki and an HD. He started doing some touring and when Polaris launched its Victory brand, well that was a natural for a guy that loved Polaris products. And, of course his dad had a history with the company.
Then in 2004, Moe and a friend decided to check out the Bub Speed Trials held late in the summer every year on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was a nice 1,400 mile ride on his Victory Vegas. Gregor had kind of taken to motorcycle touring with trips to Newfoundland and Alaska.
To get to the Salt Flats you ride about 90 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah to a town called Wendover. Signs in town point you to the speedway entrance which is nothing more than a billboard on the edge of a 150 square- mile expanse of salt. Blindingly white, flat salt.
Five more miles down a paved road covered with salt and you have about twenty pounds of the corrosive white stuff on your bike. It feels like you are on the moon except during the Speed Trials there are hundreds of entrants gathered in the middle of nowhere waiting to take their turn at a record. It’s surreal. Bub, which manufactures exhausts for V-Twins has a website (http://www.speedtrialsbybub.com) dedicated to their love of motorcycles, speed and Bonneville. The welcome page on the site states “While some dream of getting a land speed record… others stay awake and do it!” They offer a ‘Run Watcha Brung’ chance for anyone to be timed, so Moe ran 119 mph on his Victory just for the heck of it.
A little taste of the salt at Bonneville is a dangerous thing.
After another trip as a spectator in 2007, Moe became fascinated with the various bikes from 50cc to unlimiteds that took their turns trying to set AMA and FIM records. The Bub speed trials are a Mecca for speed freaks. Some race 200 mph sidecar rigs, others blown Hayabusas. A dirt tracker named Chris Carr was pushing the motorcycle land speed record over 350 mph. Moe wouldn’t be a spectator anymore. He was hooked.
2008 saw Moe return to the salt with what else – a Victory. The 2006 Kingpin had been used as a demo bike by the factory and then sold. Probably hundreds of people had ridden the bike at rallies and dealer events across the country. It had a lot of miles on it, but it also had a 100 cubic-inch overhead cam, 4-valve per cylinder V-twin mated to a 6-speed overdrive transmission.
The modified Kingpin slotted into the 2000-M-AG class for bikes up to 2000 cc running on gas but without turbo or supercharging. The existing class record was 163 mph which was established in 1973 by a Harley Davidson powered machine.
To exceed that kind of speed on a 650 pound cruiser with a from-the-factory top end of maybe 120 mph would be quite a feat.
Electrical problems plagued the bike now modified with different gearing, a 110-inch motor and other engine work. On the final day, the bike achieved 135 mph and then broke a piston ending Moe’s chances but not his dreams. In his mind “We were getting there.”
The winter of 08/09 saw the motor massaged further by the guru of Victory speed, Lloyd Greer of Lloydz Motorworkz in Pine Bush, NY.
The seating position on the bike was also modified to give Moe a lower profile. Rear sets and clip-ons had his 5’8” frame stretched out on the long wheelbase Kingpin. This time it was serious.
Maxton Speed trials are a May event held at an abandoned airstrip in North Carolina. The 1.9 mile runway is no Bonneville but it was a good place for a shakedown before the Big Show in August.
A different Victory at the 2009 event went 153 mph, certainly the fastest of its kind. By the time Maxton was over, Moe owned the world’s fastest Victory at 159mph.
There are two courses at Bonneville – the five-mile Mountain Course and the 11-mile International course. They run parallel – about a ¼-mile apart and allow the really fast guys to have a longer run up to top speed before they go through the flying mile. The long course also provides more cool down space. Coming down from 300 plus mph takes some space.
Moe and his three-man crew from the Twin City Victory Riders Association arrived at the salt with high hopes and the Kingpin from hell. Constant tweaking of the fuel mapping inched the bike closer to a record setting pace. After a 161.4 mph pass the record was close only to be followed by a 159 mph run. It takes the average speed of two consecutive runs to qualify for a new record and time was running out.
Moe had made eight runs on the salt trying to get the bike to go faster. Each one a battle against the aerodynamics of a naked bike trying to overcome wind resistance that was also tearing at Moe as he stretched the throttle cable each run. The sound is deafening from a motor that big running at full tilt with an open exhaust. Moe kept trying to get smaller each run. The good news is that a 600-pound motorcycle is pretty stable at speed.
Moe says he feels the motorcycle at top speed. Every piston explosion transfers 900cc into forward thrust. The aim is to build the speed up slowly in the two-mile run up to the flying mile and hit max revs when you hit the timing marker. And then there is that 23 seconds.
Last day, last chance. Moe won’t say what he did to the bike – there is that other Victory lurking out there somewhere, the one that was at Maxton – but he made a pretty smooth run. “I could tell by the tach.” He was right – 166 according to the timing slip.
Now a whole different protocol kicks in when a racer surpasses an existing record at the Speed Trials. To establish a new record, the next run must be made in the opposite direction. Because of scheduling, Moe happened to make his fastest pass on the International Course. People at the salt flats pay attention when a bike goes in the opposite direction on the big course. It’s record time. 00:22
Moe went out to Mile Marker 8 on the long course and started his run back toward the pits, back to where it all began in 2004. The big Victory bellowing, the wind screaming and tearing at Moe’s leathers. The 49-year old racer from Buffalo was alone on the salt, trying to put his name in the record books, alongside Burt Munro (World’s Fastest Indian), Chris Carr and all of the other record holders who regard Bonneville as sacred ground.
At the end of the flying mile, running 23-seconds at full throttle, Greg Moe hit 165.5 mph on his return run. Combined with his earlier 166 plus mph run he set the new class record at 165.8 mph.
Moe says if you are into motorcycles and speed than a trip to the Speed Trials is a must. The 2010 dates are August 28th- September 2nd. If you get there look for Gregor Moe. He’ll be the one hooked on Bonneville and Victory.