MAX BMW Motorcycles' Max Stratton
How far would you go to prove you love riding motorcycles? BMW Motorrad dealers and HP2 Megamoto riders Max and Ben Stratton drove more than 2,000 miles (3,250 kilometres) from the east coast of the USA all the way to the Colorado Rockies - and then back again - just for a 15-minute run up the famous 14,000-feet Pikes Peak mountain. A road-weary Max Stratton shares the experience with BMW Motorrad.
Earlier this year, we got word that BMW would not be entering the 2008 Pike's Peak International Hillclimb, despite mounting an impressive factory effort last year. Myself and Gordon Mullavey were 'journeyman' entries in the otherwise star-studded class of 2007, but for 2008 we decided that the four members of TEAM MAX BMW would comprise the closest thing to an organised BMW contingent on the big mountain - albeit as privateers.
Ben Stratton on the HP2 Megamoto
Two of MAX BMW Motorcycles' customers would join us for the ride, if not the road trip! Joe Warner was the first to register and was granted rookie status for his first run up Pikes Peak on his HP2 Enduro. And Doug Morrison prepared a new HP2 Megamoto and joined Joe as a rookie for this event. As for Ben and I, we spent three days as 'mules', hauling all four bikes from the BMW dealership in New York to Colorado Springs in our van. What a journey - when your GPS tells you that it's over six hours until the next turn, you're glad to have someone sitting alongside you for company, even if it's your younger brother!
On arrival and after registration and technical inspections, we prepared mentally and physically for timed practice, which began at 3.45am on Wednesday. Motorcycles were assigned the lower section of the road and the first 2.5 miles of this was highway-quality asphalt, with big, high-speed sweeping turns to make any rider feel like a hero. This series of never-ending curves on asphalt ends abruptly at the 10-mile marker, where the surface turns to something in-between dirt and gravel. There wasn't much rhythm to this part of the course and a rookie soon realises why so many racers keep coming back for more.
Our times were recorded for each run, which not only helped us gauge how we were riding but also served to establish a starting grid for the race on Sunday. By this time, Doug Morrison was the fastest BMW, less than a minute behind the professionals at 6:10.57, with team-mates Max, Ben and Joe right behind him in the class. Our racing activity for the day was over by 8:30am and for most of us, breakfast became dinner!
On Thursday, we got to run the middle section of the course, where we climbed 1,340 feet (410 metres) over three miles of long, open straights that ended in hairpin turns - without any guardrails to obstruct the scenery! We completed this second practice session with huge grins all around, as this part of the course really suited the HP2. The all-paved section zigzags up the mountain and the power of the motor and the brakes on the HP2s were a big advantage on the long straights, where we found ourselves racing some of the other riders. Friday was our last day of practice on the upper dirt section (between 12,780 and 14,110 ft - 3,895 to 4,300 metres) where the air was thin and looking down over the edge of the road, you could see the path of the course a long way below, which was an effective reminder of the elevation and distance that we had to cover!
Max Stratton and Douglas Morrison line up on the HP2 Megamotos alongside Tim Vesely
After three days of practice and a day of rest, we arrived at the base of Pike's Peak early on Sunday morning with clean bikes and the knowledge that it was race day, and time to face the challenge. Competitors lined the road as a slow parade of spectator vehicles pushed up the mountain, and by the time the access gate closed at 8am, the estimated count of spectators on the mountain was around 15,000.
We prepared ourselves for a long wait because out of the 190 competitors, the only vehicles that were climbing the hill after us were two rather intimidating Freightliners (big trucks). We watched a few of the early cars start up the hill and by the chances that some of the drivers were taking on the lower part of the course, it was apparent that confidence was high. By 2pm, we were feeling wilted by the heat and stress of the day, and all around us, the composure of the competitors was starting to disintegrate. We had been put on notice three times already for an imminent start, only to be called down by one red flag incident after another. Finally, at 3.45 pm - almost 12 hours from our arrival that morning - it was our turn.
On the HP2 Megamoto Doug Morrison and Tim Vesely (KTM 950) went bar-to-bar up the entire mountain, staying within five or six seconds of each other at each split, including the finish. Despite being down on the first two splits, Doug made up ground on Tim on the upper section of the course to cross the line ahead of him, securing fifth in class and top amateur honours with a finish time of 13:35.485.
I caught short glimpses of this BMW versus KTM battle during my run, where I managed to better my time from 2007 by over 20 seconds, finishing in 14:09.372 and seventh place. Joe Warner was in a class all of his own as he was the only HP2 Enduro rider at Pike's Peak this year, sandwiched on the line between my brother Ben on his Megamoto and Rob Smith, clad in red leathers to match the paint job on his Buell.
they came, they saw, they conquered...
In fact, the action between Ben and Rob Smith made Doug and Tim Vesely's battle look rather tame. At the Glen Cove checkpoint, Ben's advantage over Smith was a mere 1.492 seconds, and after almost ten minutes of racing, the margin was still just 1.43. Pike's Peak is, of course, a race against the clock, but that's a hard thing to remember when you're a rookie fending off a flash of red that pops into your periphery around every hairpin. On the final section, Smith eventually got his chance to pass when Ben discovered the limits of traction on his HP2 Megamoto!
Joe eventually achieved a top 10 class finish with his time of 15:36.332, finishing in front of Ben, who arrived just a minute later in 11th place. Greg Tracy took the honours in the 1200 class this year (12:06.602), but was unable to beat the 2007 benchmark time of 11:46.47 set last year by his own brother Gary Trachy on an HP2 Megamoto.
For TEAM MAX BMW, the 2008 Pikes Peak International Hillclimb was an event filled with firsts and bests. There were no trophies to take home of course, but certainly enough memories to last a lifetime.
For complete results from the Pike's Peak International Hillclimb, please visit http://www.ppihc.com.