Motorcycle land-speed record

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Glenn Curtiss, fastest person on earth, on his V8 motorcycle in 1907
Speed (mph) by year.

The motorcycle land-speed record is the fastest speed achieved by a motorcycle on land. It is standardized as the speed over a course of fixed length, averaged over two runs in opposite directions. AMA National Land Speed Records requires 2 passes the same calendar day in opposite directions over a timed mile/kilo while FIM Land Speed World Records require two passes in opposite directions to be over a timed mile/kilo completed within 2 hours.[1] These are special or modified motorcycles, distinct from the fastest production motorcycles. The first official Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) record was set in 1920, when Gene Walker rode an Indian on Daytona Beach at 104.12 mph (167.56 km/h). Since late 2010, the Ack Attack team has held the motorcycle land speed record at 376.36 mph (605.69 km/h).


The first generally recognized motorcycle speed records were set unofficially by Glenn Curtiss, using aircraft engines of his own manufacture, first in 1903, when he achieved 64 mph (103 km/h) at Yonkers, New York using a V-twin, and then on January 24, 1907 on Ormond Beach, Florida, when he achieved 136.27 mph (219.31 km/h) using a V8 housed in a spindly tube chassis with direct shaft drive to the rear wheel.[2] An attempted return run was foiled when his drive shaft came loose at speed, yet he was able to wrestle the machine to a stop without injury. Curtiss's V8 motorcycle is currently in the Transportation collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Curtiss's 1907 record was the fastest any person had ever travelled under power: the rail record stood at 131 mph (211 km/h) (electric powered); the motor car record was 127.66 mph (205.45 km/h) (steam powered); while in the air, where weight considerations made the internal combustion engine dominant, the air speed record was still held by the Wright Brothers at a mere 37.85 mph (60.91 km/h).

William A. 'Bill' Johnson, USA, Motorcycle land-speed record on 1962-09-09, Bonneville Salt Flats with Dudek Triumph Streamliner.

The first officially sanctioned Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) record was set in 1920, when Gene Walker rode an Indian on Daytona Beach at 104.12 mph (167.56 km/h). The first FIM-sanctioned record to exceed Curtiss's 1907 speed did not occur until 1930, at Arpajon in France, when an OEC special with a 1,000cc supercharged JAP V-twin engine averaged 137 mph (220 km/h) over the required two-way runs. The 1930s saw an international battle between the BMWs ridden by Ernst Henne and various JAP-powered British motorcycles, with the penultimate pre-war record being taken in 1937 by Italy's Gilera, shortly before BMW set a final pre-war record of 173.68 mph (279.51 km/h) that stood for 14 years.

After the Second World War, the German NSU factory battled Britain's Vincent HRD and Triumph for top speed honors during the 1950s, with British engined machines dominating the 1960s. New Zealand's Burt Munro (of the film The World's Fastest Indian, set a speed record at Bonneville in 1967 of 183 mph (295 km/h) for a motorcycle with an engine under 1000cc.[citation needed]

A Japanese-engined streamliner motorcycle first took the record in 1970, and alternated with Harley-Davidson-engined machines as record-holders until 1990, when Dave Campos's streamliner powered by twin Harley-Davidson engines averaged 322.15 mph (518.45 km/h). That record stood for 16 years before being surpassed in 2006 by the Ack Attack team's twin Suzuki engined machine at an average of 342.8 mph (551.7 km/h). The BUB team, using a custom-built V4 engine, then alternated as record holders with Ack Attack over the next four years. As of November 2022, the Ack Attack team has held the motorcycle land speed record at 376.36 mph (605.69 km/h) since late 2010.

Jet-engine trike[edit]

The fastest record certified by the FIM is that set in 1964 by the jet-propelled tricycle, Spirit of America. It set three absolute land speed records, the last at 526.277 miles per hour (846.961 km/h). While such records are usually validated by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the FIA only certifies vehicles with at least four wheels, while the FIM certifies two- and three-wheelers. Breedlove never intended Spirit of America to be classified as a motorcycle, despite its tricycle layout, and only approached the FIM after being rejected for record status by the FIA. Spirit of America's FIM-ratified record prompted the FIA to add the new category of thrust-powered vehicles to its world record listings. Furthermore, most people think of the tricycle Spirit of America, now part of the permanent collection of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, as a car and not a motorcycle.[3]

List of AMA National and FIM World Land Speed records[edit]

Link to Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials AMA National and FIM World Records

List of "absolute" and Streamliner records[edit]

Date Location Rider Make Engine displacement cc (cu in) Speed Comments
mph km/h
1903 Yonkers, New York, US Glenn Curtiss Curtiss V-2 1,000 cc (61 cu in) 64 103 over the mile, first (unofficial) World Speed Record, Hercules V-twin[4]
1905 Blackpool, UK - Average Speed over a 1,000m on 27 July 1905. Henri Cissac Peugeot 1,489cc V twin 1,489cc 87 140 Blackpool Speed Trials
24 January 1907 Ormond Beach, Florida, US Glenn Curtiss Curtiss V-8 4,000 cc (240 cu in) 136.27 219.31 Unofficial record stood over 20 years[5][6]
14 April 1920 Daytona Beach, Florida, US Gene Walker Indian 994 cc (60.7 cu in) 103.56 166.66 [7][8]
6 November 1923 Brooklands, UK Claude Temple Anzani 108.48 174.58 [7]
6 July 1924 Arpajon, France Bert le Vack Brough Superior-JAP 867 cc (52.9 cu in) 118.99 191.50 [7]
5 September 1926 Arpajon, France Claude F. Temple OEC-Temple 996 cc (60.8 cu in) 121.44 195.44 [7]
25 August 1928 Arpajon, France Owen M. Baldwin Zenith-JAP 996 cc (60.8 cu in) 124.27 199.99 [7]
25 August 1929 Arpajon, France Bert Le Vack Brough-Superior 995 cc (60.7 cu in) 129.00 207.6 [8]
19 September 1929 Ingolstadt, Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW WR 750 735 cc (44.9 cu in) 134.67 216.75 ,[7] The first successful use of a supercharger for a World Record.
31 August 1930 Arpajon, France Joseph S. Wright OEC Temple JAP 994 cc (60.7 cu in) 137.23 220.99 [8] First official record to exceed Curtiss' pioneering effort.
21 September 1930 Ingolstadt, Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW WR 750 735 cc (44.9 cu in) 137.74 221.67 [8]
6 November 1930 Cork, Ireland Joseph S. Wright Zenith JAP 995 cc (60.7 cu in) 150.74 242.59 [7]
2 November 1932 Tát, Hungary Ernst Jakob Henne BMW 736 cc (44.9 cu in)[9][10][11] 151.86 244.40 [7]
30 October 1934 Gyon, Hungary Ernst Jakob Henne BMW 736 cc (44.9 cu in)[9][10][11] 153.00 246.23 [7]
27 September 1935 A3 autobahn (Frankfurt-München route), Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW 736 cc (44.9 cu in)[9][10][11] 159.10 256.04[9][10][12] [7] First record over 250 km/h (160 mph)
12 October 1936 A3, Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW Type 255 493 cc (30.1 cu in)[9][10][13] 169.08 272.11 [7]
19 April 1937 Gyon, Hungary Eric Fernihough Brough Superior-JAP 995 cc (60.7 cu in) 169.72 273.14 [7] JAP supercharged[14]
Fernihough was killed in a 1938 attempt[14]
21 October 1937 Autostrada A4 (Italy) (Brescia-Bergamo route) Piero Taruffi Gilera 492 cc (30.0 cu in) 170.37 274.18 [7] Supercharged four-cylinder. Taruffi famous as Grand Prix driver.[8]
28 November 1937 A3, Germany Ernst Jakob Henne BMW 495 cc (30.2 cu in) 173.68 279.50 [7] Last pre-World War II record
1951 A9 autobahn (Ingolstadt-München route), Germany Wilhelm Herz NSU Delphin I streamliner 499 cc (30.5 cu in) 180.29 290.322 [8] First post-World War II record
1955 Swannanoa, New Zealand Russell Wright Vincent-HRD 998 cc (60.9 cu in) 184.83 297.640 [8]
25 September 1955 Bonneville, US John Allen Triumph 649 cc (39.6 cu in) 192.719 310.151 [15] Unratified by FIM[16][a]
2 August 1956 Bonneville, US Wilhelm Herz NSU Delphin III streamliner 499 cc (30.5 cu in) 189.5 304.97 [17]
4 August 1956 Bonneville, US Wilhelm Herz NSU Delphin III streamliner 499 cc (30.5 cu in) 210.64 338.992 First record over 200 mph (320 km/h)[17]
6 September 1956 Bonneville, US Johnny Allen Triumph Tiger T110 649 cc (39.6 cu in) 214.4 345.188 [18] Unratified by FIM[19][b]
5 September 1962 Bonneville, US William A. Johnson Triumph 650 cc (40 cu in) 224.57 361.41 [20]
1966 Bonneville, US Robert Leppan Triumph Special[8] Gyronaut X-1 streamliner[19] 1,298 cc (79.2 cu in) 245.667 395.36 Triumph Special twin-engined[8]
1970 Bonneville, US Don Vesco Yamaha "Big Red" streamliner 700 cc (43 cu in) 251.66 405.25 [8] Two-stroke twin-engined[21]
First record over 250 mph (402 km/h)
1970 Bonneville, US Cal Rayborn Harley-Davidson streamliner 1,480 cc (90 cu in) 265.492 410.37 [8] single nitro-fueled Sportster engine nicknamed 'Godzilla' built by Warner Riley.
28 September 1975 Bonneville, US Don Vesco Yamaha "Silver Bird" streamliner 1,480 cc (90 cu in) 302.92 487.515 [8] First record over 300 mph (483 km/h)
28 August 1978 Bonneville, US Don Vesco Lightning Bolt streamliner 2,030 cc (124 cu in) 318.598 509.757 Turbocharged twin Kawasaki Kz1000 engines. First record over 500 km/h (311 mph)[22]
14 July 1990 Bonneville, US Dave Campos Easyriders streamliner 3,000 cc (180 cu in) 322.150 518.450 Twin Harley-Davidson engines. Longest held official record, 16 years (see Curtiss' 20 year unofficial record)[23]
3 September 2006 Bonneville, US Rocky Robinson Top Oil-Ack Attack streamliner 2,600 cc (160 cu in) 342.797 551.678 Twin Suzuki engines[24]
5 September 2006 Bonneville, US Chris Carr BUB Seven streamliner 2,997 cc (182.9 cu in) 350.884 564.693 BUB/Sierra Design V4[24]
26 September 2008 Bonneville, US Rocky Robinson Top Oil-Ack Attack streamliner 2,600 cc (160 cu in) 360.913 580.833 Twin Suzuki engines[25]
24 September 2009 Bonneville, US Chris Carr BUB Seven streamliner 2,997 cc (182.9 cu in) 367.382 591.244 BUB/Sierra Design V4[26]
25 September 2010 Bonneville, US Rocky Robinson Top Oil-Ack Attack streamliner 2,600 cc (160 cu in) 376.363 605.697 Twin Suzuki engines[27]
First record over 600 km/h (373 mph)


  1. ^ "Rules & Records". Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials. 23 February 2014. Archived from the original on 5 December 2020. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  2. ^ Harvey (2005) p. 253
  3. ^ Bonneville Salt Flats by "LandSpeed" Louise Ann Noeth, MBI Publishing
  4. ^ House (2003) p. 31-32
  5. ^ House (2003) p. 41
  6. ^ de Cet (2002) p. 116
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Murphy (2000), p.27.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Setright (1979) p. 238
  9. ^ a b c d e Walker (1999) p. 16
  10. ^ a b c d e Walker (2001) p. 188. "Then in 1936, BMW technicians decided to decrease the engine's displacement from 736 to 493. This might have seemed a backwards move, but there was a sound basis for this technical change. [...] The engine was a 493 cc double-overhead-cam with a bore and stroke of 66 x 72 mm, a Zoller supercharger mounted on the front of the crankshaft [...] This supercharging technology had been under development since 1929, when a production R63 model had been fitted with a positive displacement blower..."
  11. ^ a b c Setright (1979) p. 238 lists this as 735 cc, not 736 cc.
  12. ^ Tragatsch, caption p. 304, credits this run as 256.06 with a supercharged 746 cc, while contradicting this on the same page in a table listing the displacement for the '32-'35 BMWs as 735 cc, and as 495 cc in 1936, rather than 493 cc.
  13. ^ Setright (1979) p. 238 has this as 495 cc.
  14. ^ a b Tragatsch (1984) p. 304
  15. ^ "Fantastic speeds at Utah". The Motor Cycle. London: Iliffe & Sons. 95 (2739). 6 October 1955.
  16. ^ Murphy (2000), p.40.
  17. ^ a b "Over 210 m.p.h.". The Motor Cycle. London: Ilffe & Sons. 97 (2782): 169. 9 August 1956.
  18. ^ "Allen does it". The Motor Cycle. London: Iliffe & Sons. 97 (2787): 344. 13 September 1956.
  19. ^ a b Tragatsch (1984), p.305.
  20. ^ "World's Fastest". Motor Cyclist Illustrated. London: City Magazines Ltd: 435. November 1962.
  21. ^ Clayton, Graham, The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum[permanent dead link]. p. 46. Motorcycle Mojo Magazine
  22. ^ Murphy (2000), p.64.
  23. ^ Murphy (2000), p.98.
  24. ^ a b Madson, Bart (18 October 2006). "2006 Bonneville Streamliner Battle". Moto USA. Motorcycle Archived from the original on 30 September 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  25. ^ Staff (2008)
  26. ^ Harley (2009)
  27. ^ New FIM World Record - Bonneville Raceway, Utah (USA), FIM, 4 October 2010, archived from the original on 28 February 2011

a. ^ At the time, it had been the accepted practice that the F.I.M would require the American Automobile Association to carry out official timing for any run in the USA. However shortly before the record attempt the A.A.A. had withdrawn from controlling motor sport, leaving no official body representing the F.I.M.. Although every effort had been made to show the impartiality of the officials and the accuracy of the equipment, after several months the claimed record was not accepted by the F.I.A. as the timing was "not carried out by an official certified by the F.I.M.".[1]

b. ^ The issues with official F.I.M. timing of runs in the USA were still not resolved at this time. NSU had solved the problem for their runs in August by including accredited timekeepers and officials in the team that they bought over with them from Europe. The British Motor Corporation had also been attempting record runs that year, and the F.I.A arranged for a British timekeeper to go to America for these. The equipment he had used for timing the runs was tested and approved by the F.I.A., however he had to leave America before Allen could make his run, and so the same equipment was used by two Americans who had been given written authority to act as timekeepers on behalf of the F.I.M. At the F.I.M meeting in Paris in October, the F.I.M. postponed approval of the record, alleging that the timekeeper was not recognised by the F.I.M. and that no official F.I.M. observer had been present. After further deliberation and investigation, the F.I.M. announced in April 1957 that they were unable to ratify the record claimed as the equipment used had not been approved by them.[2][1][3]


  1. ^ a b "More delaying action". The Motor Cycle. London: Iliffe & Sons. 97 (2800): 788. 13 December 1956.
  2. ^ "Bombshell in Paris". The Motor Cycle. London: Iliffe & sons. 97 (2791). 11 October 1956.
  3. ^ "Sorry story". The Motor Cycle. London: Iliffe & sons. 98 (2819). 25 April 1957.

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