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Big Ugly: The Story Behind the Landspeed Record

In September 2009, Chris Carr set a new motorcycle land speed record of 367.382mph in the BUB Seven streamliner. And the shape of the fastest bike ever built was inspired by, erm... a fish. Here’s how it all happened

By Stuart Barker on Thu, 3 Jun 2010 - 09:06

Big Ugly: The Story Behind the Landspeed Record

Like countless other 65-year-old gentlemen, Dennis Manning was flicking through the documentary channels on a Sunday afternoon when he happened upon a programme about migrating Coho salmon and settled down for a pleasant hour’s viewing. But unlike his peers, Manning wasn’t looking for tips on which flies were best to catch a salmon. He had another problem to solve – like, how he could propel his motorcycle to half the speed of sound.

Marvelling at the salmons’ superb fluid dynamics as they struggled upstream to spawn, Manning had a ‘eureka’ moment and figured that a salmon-shaped streamliner motorcycle would offer the lowest possible coefficient of drag and allow him to break his bike’s existing world land speed record of 350mph. Now that’s interactive viewing at its best.

Back in 2000, Manning had hit a wall with top speed and couldn’t get his bike to go any faster. ‘I eventually realised it was the aerodynamic shape of the bike that was holding us back’ he says. ‘I needed a shape that was neutral – that didn’t give us lift or down-force. Watching the salmon, it occurred to me that here was a shape that had evolved over millions of years and that if it wasn’t a good shape, it would get eaten! I called an icthyologist friend and asked how fast a salmon could swim and he said they could reach speeds of 50mph over short distances. And that’s in water – which is eight times denser than air! So I figured that, out of the water, that’s a 400mph shape right there!

‘My wife and I went up to the Columbia River and studied the salmon through a glass viewing chamber and it just clicked. The salmon was the perfect aerodynamic shape that didn’t produce lift or down-force and it even looked like a motorcycle streamliner should look – only without the wheels. So I studied the shapes of fish and compared them with aerodynamic research and found that a lot of the research included fish. Someone had even put a Bluefin tuna into a wind tunnel and it was so aerodynamically perfect that they couldn’t even get a (coefficient of drag) reading off it!’

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