A salt virgin no more...

Bonneville Diary: Day 2

It's difficult to describe the how bizarre it feels speeding along the Bonneville Salt Flats. The flat, utterly featureless landscape, the imperceptible horizon, and the blinding monochrome sameness deaden all of your senses, making 150 mph feel as serene as a negotiating a school zone.

[This sensory deprivation is only heightened on an electric bike, where there's no mechanical feedback and no sound beyond the wind rushing over your shoulders. You almost forget you're riding a motorcycle, until you notice the line of cones that mark the margin of the racecourse rapidly approaching on your left. Serenity changes to sheer terror when you realize that traction is as ephemeral on the salt as any other sensory input. A firm steering input might change the angle of your handlebars, but it does nothing to alter your forward trajectory, as your front tire blissfully skates across so many millions of salt crystals like ball bearings. The only way to regain control is to roll out of the throttle and just like that, your run is ruined.

It got just one run on the Lightning today, my first. Word is out that the salt is good, and the place is filling up fast. More last-last-minute preparations meant that we weren’t ready to ride until 11 am, and by that time the staging line was already a half-mile long. We were forced to wait five hours before the starter finally gave us the nod. The Lightning launches with all the drama of a GSX-R1000 stuck in sixth gear, but once you’re over 50 mph the acceleration is robust. We opted to run the short, three-mile course for this first shakedown run. I spent the first mile familiarizing myself with the bike, and the second mile building speed in preparation for the mile-long speed trap located between mile markers two and three. I entered the trap at 149 mph and it was all down hill from there—as soon as I tucked in, the bike began to drift left. Unable to steer, I had to roll out of the throttle to regain course, killing my momentum and exiting the back door at 141 mph.

The bike is already in the lineup for tomorrow, and we hope to make a second run soon after the Speedway opens for the day. We think we’ve got a handle on our handling ills, too. Race Tech’s Paul Thede spent a few minutes un-messing the suspension at both ends, and suggested some aerodynamic tweaks that might correct the wind-vaning effect, so hopefully the bike will now accelerate straight and true. Even at 149 mph, I wasn’t anywhere near full-throttle. The Lightning has lots of energy left. Tomorrow will be a good, fast day.