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Double Ton - cracking the 200mph barrier

Six riders attempt to crack the illusive 200mph barrier at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground




Head down, bum up, tuck in and nail it

TAKE six people who've never done 200mph before, take one of the fastest bikes in Britain, add a two-mile long runway and this is how it feels

200mph is a number banded around a lot these days as a number easily achievable on a modern superbike. It's a bit silly really as all these bikes are limited to 'only' 186mph, and a Hayabusa or ZZR1400 will happily hit this point, then go no further. For the dedicated speed freak or M4 terrorist, it's all frightfully frustrating.
But there is a gaping void between having your bike flat-out for a few seconds, and doing a genuine 200mph. At 200mph, it takes you just 17 seconds to cover a mile. You're eating up 293 feet every second. Your breathing comes in ragged gasps and as you squeeze every part of your body tighter behind the fairing, the wind blast goes eerily quiet and all you can hear is the high-pitched whine of the engine. You rest the chinbar of your helmet on the top of the tank, and can actually feel the vibrations buzzing through your head. It's addictive and, frankly, rather scary. If the bike seized now or the rear tyre blew up (and they sometimes do) you'd have the biggest crash of your life. It's best not to think about it.

TO CAPTURE ALL THOSE FEELINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME, WE ASSEMBLED A MIX OF RIDERS AND READERS WHO'D NEVER DONE 200MPH BEFORE AND STUCK THEM IN THE MIDDLE OF A TWO-MILE RUNWAY. LOST AND A LITTLE BEWILDERED, WE THEN INTRODUCED THEM TO MIKE GRAINGER, OWNER OF GT MOTORCYCLES IN PLYMOUTH AND HIS SUPER-TUNED KAWASAKI ZX-12R. IT'S A KNOWN FACT THAT TURBOCHARGED BIKES BLOW UP, SO WE ASKED FOR MIKE'S BIKE BECAUSE IT'S NATURALLY ASPIRATED AND HAS DONE OVER 150 RUNS IN EXCESS OF 200MPH. WE THEN GAVE THEM A SINGLE RUN UP THE STRIP ON A ZZ-R1400 TO GET A FEEL FOR THE PLACE AND WHERE TO BRAKE, AND THEN EACH RIDER GOT TWO RUNS TO ACHIEVE THEIR BEST POSSIBLE TIME. WE POSITIONED OUR PHOTOGRAPHER AT THE END OF THE STRAIGHT TO SHOOT THEIR REACTIONS AS THEY CAME TO A STANDSTILL, AND RECORDED THE FIRST THINGS THEY BLURTED OUT. THIS IS HOW DOING 200MPH FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER MAKES YOU FEEL...

THE TWO READER

TIM HARNETT

AGE: 39

PROFESSION: SOLDIER

HIGHEST PREVIOUS TOP SPEED: 152MPH

AMBITION: 7/10

CONFIDENCE: 7/10

Top Speed: 185.6mph

Tim is an Army bike instructor and rides a BMW R1150LT. Underneath this sensible demeanour, however, lurks the mind of a former speed freak. When he was 23 he owned a ZZR1100, and he "used to ride for no other reason than to ride fast," he admits. "Now the bike is more an extension of my character. I like to use it to explore." On the day of his 200mph attempt his nerves showed, and he wanted to make sure he was happy with everything before he threw a leg over the bike. Tim's run began with a shock: the acceleration on the ZX-12R was like nothing he had felt before. "As I changed from fourth to fifth my leathers pulled at my neck, my helmet was trying to remove itself and my knees were being pulled from the tank. I was aware how bad my aerodynamics must have been, but any ideas I had about changing my body position went out of the window. I was scared. I was riding way out of my comfort zone, initially I couldn't see the braking marker and the feeling of creeping panic set in. When I could see it I tucked in and tried to squeeze the last few mph out of myself, my senses had overloaded though and I felt relief rather than elation when I realised I could get on the brakes." With his heart pounding it reminded him of the feeling you get when you have just had a near miss on a bike. He admitted he didn't like the sensation and with shaking hands a good 10 minutes after his run, said he still felt sick. Did he think he could do faster? "Definitely." 200mph? "I doubt it, I think my 16 stone puts paid to that!"




Would you attempt 200mph on this?

THE PR GUY

JEFF STONE

AGE: 59

PROFESSION: BMF PR MANAGER

HIGHEST PREVIOUS TOP SPEED: 160MPH

AMBITION: 8/10

CONFIDENCE: 10/10

TOP SPEED: 190.2MPH

Jeff is the press officer for the BMF. "I remember cracking a ton for the first time back in the '60s on a BSA, it felt great at the time." He definitely wasn't lacking in confidence to give it a go, not displaying any nerves, although he did seem to be asking more and more questions of Mike as his turn drew closer. Jeff's practice run on the ZZR1400 we took along as a practice bike seemed to go well as he promptly power wheelied into the distance: Jeff meant business. Before he threw a leg over the ZX-12R he told me that this was something he had always wanted to try before he died, and that he and his wife had been joking about him combining the two events. Funny now, but as I was stood beside him looking at the sweat on his brow I couldn't even muster a giggle. Yet Jeff hammered up the track. "I just stared straight ahead and changed gear by feel, it felt like I was going to take off. I took a peek at the rev counter and saw that I was doing 11,000rpm in top. This change of focus caused my eyes to blur, and I can remember swearing into my helmet as I approached the braking marker. It felt much faster than I ever expected and I was convinced I had just cracked 200." When Jeff arrived back he was very excited, "Fuck me that's fast!" He didn't care what the number was, and his reaction to his result wasn't at all one of disappointment. But given time to reflect and calm down he confided, "bugger, I really wanted to go faster." Spoken like a true English gentleman, and ridden like a complete hooligan. Good man.

THE CUSTOMER SERVICES MANAGER

LUCY PLOWMAN

AGE: 36

PROFESSION: CUSTOMER SERVICES

HIGHEST PREVIOUS TOP SPEED: 160MPH

AMBITION: 10/10

CONFIDENCE: 8/10

TOP SPEED: 202.8MPH

Lucy Plowman owns an R1 and rides it hard. She isn't the sort of person to brag, battered knee sliders and tyres worn to the edges do the talking for her. She's our kind of biker chick. Initially she kept herself quiet and a couple of the guys wondered if she knew what she had let herself in for. She thumbed the starter, didn't pull away very dramatically and short-shifted her way in to top. "I was amazed at how small such a huge place can seem so small when you're peering through a tiny screen. Once I was in top I settled myself down and pinned the throttle back. Even at these speeds the runway seemed to go on forever, when the braking marker came into view I concentrated on that - willing myself to keep it nailed." We were amazed at how long Lucy seemed to have the bike flat out and we knew that she would post a good speed. "Braking wasn't as scary as I thought it would be, turns out there was loads of room," she said breathlessly afterwards. "When I stopped, I could feel that my eyes were as wide as saucers and my heart was really giving it some. I felt quite relaxed while on the bike, but stopping seemed to make all the emotions kick in." Riding back, Lucy was desperate for the number to be over 200. When she found out that she had easily beaten the 200mph mark and had in fact gone quicker than everyone else she leapt into the air, shouting in excitement. "I think that any woman who posted the fastest time in that company would have found it hard not to be a little giddy with the achievement!"




Lucy cracked 200mph - Hogan didn't

THE FORMER PRO

JAMES WHITHAM

AGE: 40

PROFESSION: MOTORCYCLE COMMENTATOR, FORMER RACER

HIGHEST PREVIOUS TOP SPEED: 198MPH

AMBITION: 8/10

CONFIDENCE: 10/10

TOP SPEED: 202.3MPH

Whit has never done 200mph. but his chilled manner helped to relax everyone else who was getting nervy on the day. James was third to go up the strip, and with his usual cocky manner, he just disappeared into the distance. "It just tracked along dead straight, no fuss," he said afterwards. "The bike feels really strong though, it's been put together well. I did consider taking a hand off and hiding it in behind the fairing, but didn't fancy finding out this bike has a 200mph death weave the hard way!" Even after everything Whit has done his reaction was worth seeing. Years on incredibly quick racebikes and he was pumped like everyone else. "Bloody hell that is fast, didn't feel that quick mind, must be 'cos this place is so open, you never get a real feeling of speed here." With that James unzipped his leathers and sat back in the sun, encouraging people and taking the piss whenever he could.

THE 200MPH BIKE

Mike's 200mph ZX-12R was built four years ago. Since then Mike has done hundreds of runs at 200mph or more on this very bike. It's not turbocharged and all the bike has had in that time has been oil and filter changes, and clutch plates. Brian Capper who built the engine was reluctant to divulge too much about what he had done to the engine, but blue-printing, balancing, and a fat fuel injection system are definite. Power is around 210bhp.

THE BIKE JOURNALIST

JOHN HOGAN:

AGE: 27

PROFESSION: BIKE JOURNO

HIGHEST PREVIOUS TOP SPEED: 180MPH
AMBITION: 10/10

CONFIDENCE: 10/10

TOP SPEED: 196.6MPH

There is such a difference between silly numbers on the road and doing 200mph. I felt no nerves at all until the night before the event. They weren't huge stomach churners, but they were in there. I didn't go into this seeing it as a competition, but was desperate to clock the double-ton. Mike said he would do the first run to ensure the bike was okay. It was when he started the bike up that my nerves went into overdrive. I have ridden fast here loads of times before, so put my nerves down to the fact that all the other times it was to see how fast a bike could go, not how fast I could go. Mike wheeled the bike as far back as he could and launched it through a gap where we stood and we watched. It looked bloody scary and fast. He posted a speed of 203mph and handed me the bike, so I started from where he had. I didn't want to ping off the limiter on the way through the gears but I revved it until I was in top. Everything I wanted to think about went out of the window. Watching the concrete expansion joints rip past me I started thinking of Burt Munro from the movie 'The World's fastest Indian'. What I didn't think about was body position or gears and I tried to hook a seventh gear that didn't exist. It felt horrendously fast, but not really that scary and I was giggling with excitement and convinced I had done over 200mph. I sat and enjoyed the high I was experiencing and even when I found out I hadn't achieved 200 I was still feeling floaty. 15 minutes later the reality kicked in that I hadn't achieved what I set out to do and I felt massively disappointed. I was so close, but it might as well have been 20mph off. Bah! As usual for me it was close, but no cigar.

THE POLICEMAN

ANDY MCMANUS

AGE: 42

PROFESSION: POLICEMAN

HIGHEST PREVIOUS TOP SPEED: 130MPH

AMBITION: 10/10

CONFIDENCE: 7/10

TOP SPEED: 186.7MPH

Andy works with the local government to reduce accidents involving riders on his home patch of Lincoln. He owns a Fireblade and has ridden as a police rider for 15 years, and he cut his family holiday short to get over to the strip. Everytime I spoke to Andy he would start a sentence with a safety message and finish it with a high-speed comment. "Are you aware how much distance you cover while you're thinking about braking travelling at 200mph?" he would say, before finishing it off with "that ZZ-R is mental, I'm going to buy one of them when I retire!" Andy's nerves didn't really show themselves at all. "I think the amount of training I have had in the past is helping, plus this is a controlled environment, there isn't much that can go wrong, is there?" He's obviously never had a blow-up at top whack. Andy took as many opportunities as he could to familiarise himself with the layout of the track. When his time came he donned his police issue helmet with clear visor and strode over to the bike. "It's a bit different to Bikesafe," were his parting words as his shot off up the track. True to form, as Andy pulled away on a deserted runway he instictively looked behind him in the classic 'lifesaver'. "When I got into top I tucked in as best as I could, but I weigh 16.5 stone and it wasn't easy, even though the ZX-12R felt huge. I had it pinned in top and was willing myself to keep it there for as long as possible." At the end Andy's pupils were huge and he was sweating like mad. "Holy shit, that was brilliant!" he squawked, but when he got his result of186.7mph, he was instantly disappointed. "I really thought I would manage the 200, I can't believe I was so far off." While we were preparing the bike for the next run Andy stalked off. Kicking stones in the corner of the carpark he relayed his disappointment to his son on his phone. As much of a professional matter as this is, Andy felt he had let himself down personally. That's what the double-ton does to you!

YOUR 200MPH TALE

We want to hear your stories of the fastest you've ever been on your bike and how it made you feel. Whether it was with a group of mates at the Nurburgring, following a friend down a French pŽage, or just tucking it all in at 2am on the M6, we want to know all about it. Was it scary, or just plain stupid? Perhaps it wasn't as mad as you'd thought it would be, and what's the point of top speed anyway? We will edit together the best stories and comments for inclusion in a future issue of the magazine, and we'd also like to see any pictures you've got. Rest assured that anonymity is guaranteed in this instance! What's the fastest you've been?

CRASHING FLAT-OUT

Ex-Performance Bikes Editor, racer and pipe smoker, Mark Forsyth, jumped off a ZZ-R1100 at 174mph while having a race with an aeroplane. This is how it felt...

"That gut-churning delay between thinking this was the final curtain and the moment of impact with the abrasive tarmac of Bruntingthorpe's two-mile runway seemed to last for minutes rather than split seconds. Slow-mo vision. Fuck me, 170mph is fast when you're about to bail out.
In a moment of appalling panic braking, I'd locked the front wheel almost the instant I whipped through the speed trap at 174mph. I saw the end of the runway, thought I couldn't stop and - not to put a too finer point on it - shat my pants and grabbed a big handful of front brake lever.

I remember sliding and getting very, very hot. As I waited to slam into the bank at the end of the runway I started to grip and tumble - arms, legs, hands and feet flailing in every direction. It was very bad.

Then I twatted my head and knocked myself out. A huge relief: out cold, better than any drug for dealing with pain.

Miraculously unbroken with just the tiniest cut on my thumb, I came round to discover two complete strangers pouring whisky into my mouth. The only witness to the whole crash, the man operating the speed trap, was so convinced I was dead that he jumped in his car and drove in the opposite direction to call the emergency services.
To this day I still 'enjoy' a recurring nightmare where my moment of losing the front and hitting the tarmac coincides with falling out of bed and hitting the carpet. It seems that crashing whilst pinned in sixth on Kawasaki's fastest is not a sensation you ever forget. But the biggest irony is that if I'd just braked normally, I'd have stopped at the end with room to spare!"