Motorcycle land-speed record

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. These are special or modified motorcycles, distinct from the fastest production motorcycles.

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 V2, 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.[1] 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' V8 motorcycle is currently in the Transportation collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The 1907 record made Curtiss the fastest person on earth in any vehicle on land or air (the automobile record stood at 127.66 mph (205.45 km/h) (steam powered), the rail record stood at 131 mph (211 km/h) (electric powered), and 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)). (see also Blitzen Benz)

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' 1907 speed did not occur until 1930, at Arpajon, France, when a special OEC chassis with supercharged 1,000cc v-twin JAP engine averaged 137 mph (220 km/h) over the required two-way runs. In the 1930s, an international battle between the BMWs, ridden by Ernst Henne, alternated records with various JAP-powered English motorcycles (Zenith, OEC, Brough Superior). BMW set a final record before World War II, in 1937 (173.68 mph (279.51 km/h)), which stood for 11 years.

After the Second World War, the German NSU factory battled English machines (Vincent HRD, Triumph) for top speed honors through the 1960s, when Japanese-engined streamliner motorcycles appeared, and alternated with Harley-Davidson-engined machines through 1990. The last Harley-Davidson record of 322.15 mph (518.45 km/h) stood for 16 years, before a Suzuki-powered machine averaged 342.8 mph (551.7 km/h) in 2006. Since then, the BUB team, using a custom-built V4 engine, has alternated with the twin Suzuki engined Ack Attack team. Since late 2010, the Ack Attack team has held the motorcycle land speed record at 376.36 mph (605.69 km/h).

Jet-engine trike

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 create a new category "thrust-powered" vehicles to its world record listings. Further, 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.[2]

List of records

Date Location Rider Make Engine displacement cc (cu in) Speed Comments
1903Yonkers, New York, USGlenn CurtissCurtiss V-21,000 cc (61 cu in)64103over the mile, first (unofficial) World Speed Record, Hercules V-twin[3]
1905 Blackpool, UK - Average Speed over a 1,000m on 27th July 1905. Henri Cissac Peugeot 1,489cc V twin 1,489cc 87 140 Blackpool Speed Trials
24 January 1907Ormond Beach, Florida, USGlenn CurtissCurtiss V-84,000 cc (240 cu in) 136.27219.31Unofficial record stood over 20 years[4][5]
14 April 1920Daytona Beach, Florida, USGene WalkerIndian994 cc (60.7 cu in) 103.56166.66[6][7]
6 November 1923Brooklands, UKClaude TempleAnzani 108.48174.58[6]
6 July 1924Arpajon, FranceBert le VackBrough Superior-JAP867 cc (52.9 cu in) 118.99191.50[6]
5 September 1926Arpajon, FranceClaude F. TempleOEC-Temple996 cc (60.8 cu in) 121.44195.44[6]
25 August 1928Arpajon, FranceOwen M. BaldwinZenith-JAP996 cc (60.8 cu in) 124.27199.99[6]
25 August 1929Arpajon, FranceBert Le VackBrough-Superior995 cc (60.7 cu in) 129.00207.6[7]
19 September 1929Ingolstadt, GermanyErnst Jakob HenneBMW WR 750735 cc (44.9 cu in) 134.67216.75,[6] The first successful use of a supercharger for a World Record.
31 August 1930Arpajon, FranceJoseph S. WrightOEC Temple JAP994 cc (60.7 cu in) 137.23220.99[7] First official record to exceed Curtiss' pioneering effort.
21 September 1930Ingolstadt, GermanyErnst Jakob HenneBMW WR 750735 cc (44.9 cu in) 137.74221.67[7]
6 November 1930Cork, IrelandJoseph S. WrightZenith JAP995 cc (60.7 cu in) 150.74242.59[6]
2 November 1932Tát, HungaryErnst Jakob HenneBMW736 cc (44.9 cu in)[8][9][10] 151.86244.40[6]
30 October 1934Gyon, HungaryErnst Jakob HenneBMW736 cc (44.9 cu in)[8][9][10] 153.00246.23[6]
27 September 1935A3 autobahn (Frankfurt-München route), GermanyErnst Jakob HenneBMW736 cc (44.9 cu in)[8][9][10] 159.10256.04[8][9][11] [6] First record over 250 km/h (160 mph)
12 October 1936A3, GermanyErnst Jakob HenneBMW Type 255493 cc (30.1 cu in)[8][9][12] 169.08272.11[6]
19 April 1937Gyon, HungaryEric FernihoughBrough Superior-JAP995 cc (60.7 cu in) 169.72273.14[6] JAP supercharged[13]
Fernihough was killed in a 1938 attempt[13]
21 October 1937Autostrada A4 (Italy) (Brescia-Bergamo route)Piero TaruffiGilera492 cc (30.0 cu in) 170.37274.18[6] Supercharged four-cylinder. Taruffi famous as Grand Prix driver.[7]
28 November 1937A3, GermanyErnst Jakob HenneBMW495 cc (30.2 cu in) 173.68279.50[6] Last pre-World War II record
1951A9 autobahn (Ingolstadt-München route), GermanyWilhelm HerzNSU Delphin I streamliner499 cc (30.5 cu in) 180.29290.322[7] First post-World War II record
1955Christchurch, New ZealandRussell WrightVincent-HRD998 cc (60.9 cu in) 184.83297.640[7]
25 September 1955Bonneville, USJohn AllenTriumph649 cc (39.6 cu in) 192.719310.151[14] Unratified by FIM[15][a]
2 August 1956Bonneville, USWilhelm HerzNSU Delphin III streamliner499 cc (30.5 cu in) 189.5304.97[16]
4 August 1956Bonneville, USWilhelm HerzNSU Delphin III streamliner499 cc (30.5 cu in) 210.64338.992First record over 200 mph (320 km/h)[16]
6 September 1956Bonneville, USJohnny AllenTriumph Tiger T110649 cc (39.6 cu in) 214.4345.188[17] Unratified by FIM[18][b]
5 September 1962Bonneville, USWilliam A. JohnsonTriumph650 cc (40 cu in) 224.57361.41[19]
1966Bonneville, USRobert LeppanTriumph Special[7] Gyronaut X-1 streamliner[18]1,298 cc (79.2 cu in) 245.667395.36Triumph Special twin-engined[7]
1970Bonneville, USDon VescoYamaha "Big Red" streamliner700 cc (43 cu in) 251.66405.25[7] Two-stroke twin-engined[20]
First record over 250 mph (402 km/h)
1970Bonneville, USCal RaybornHarley-Davidson1,480 cc (90 cu in) 265.492410.37[7] single nitro-fueled Sportster engine nicknamed 'Godzilla' built by Warner Riley.
28 September 1975Bonneville, USDon VescoYamaha "Silver Bird" streamliner1,480 cc (90 cu in) 302.92487.515[7] First record over 300 mph (483 km/h)
28 August 1978Bonneville, USDon VescoLightning Bolt streamliner2,030 cc (124 cu in) 318.598509.757Turbocharged twin Kawasaki Kz1000 engines. First record over 500 km/h (311 mph)[21]
14 July 1990Bonneville, USDave CamposEasyriders streamliner3,000 cc (180 cu in) 322.150518.450Twin Harley-Davidson engines. Longest held official record, 16 years (see Curtiss' 20 year unofficial record)[22]
3 September 2006Bonneville, USRocky RobinsonTop Oil-Ack Attack streamliner2,600 cc (160 cu in) 342.797551.678Twin Suzuki engines[23]
5 September 2006Bonneville, USChris CarrBUB Seven streamliner2,997 cc (182.9 cu in) 350.884564.693BUB/Sierra Design V4[23]
26 September 2008Bonneville, USRocky RobinsonTop Oil-Ack Attack streamliner2,600 cc (160 cu in) 360.913580.833Twin Suzuki engines[24]
24 September 2009Bonneville, USChris CarrBUB Seven streamliner2,997 cc (182.9 cu in) 367.382591.244BUB/Sierra Design V4[25]
25 September 2010Bonneville, USRocky RobinsonTop Oil-Ack Attack streamliner2,600 cc (160 cu in) 376.363605.697Twin Suzuki engines[26]
First record over 600 km/h (373 mph)


  1. Harvey (2005) p. 253
  2. Bonneville Salt Flats by "LandSpeed" Louise Ann Noeth, MBI Publishing
  3. House (2003) p. 31-32
  4. House (2003) p. 41
  5. de Cet (2002) p. 116
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Murphy (2000), p.27.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Setright (1979) p. 238
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Walker (1999) p. 16
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 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..."
  10. 1 2 3 Setright (1979) p. 238 lists this as 735 cc, not 736 cc.
  11. 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.
  12. Setright (1979) p. 238 has this as 495 cc.
  13. 1 2 Tragatsch (1984) p. 304
  14. "Fantastic speeds at Utah". The Motor Cycle. London: Iliffe & Sons. 95 (2739). 6 October 1955.
  15. Murphy (2000), p.40.
  16. 1 2 "Over 210 m.p.h.". The Motor Cycle. London: Ilffe & Sons. 97 (2782): 169. 9 August 1956.
  17. "Allen does it". The Motor Cycle. London: Iliffe & Sons. 97 (2787): 344. 13 September 1956.
  18. 1 2 Tragatsch (1984), p.305.
  19. "World's Fastest". Motor Cyclist Illustrated. London: City Magazines Ltd: 435. November 1962.
  20. Clayton, Graham, The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. p. 46. Motorcycle Mojo Magazine
  21. Murphy (2000), p.64.
  22. Murphy (2000), p.98.
  23. 1 2 Madson, Bart (18 October 2006). "2006 Bonneville Streamliner Battle". Moto USA. Motorcycle Archived from the original on 30 September 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  24. Staff (2008)
  25. Harley (2009)
  26. New FIM World Record - Bonneville Raceway, Utah (USA), FIM, October 4, 2010, archived from the original on February 28, 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]


de Cet, Mirco (2002), The illustrated directory of motorcycles, MotorBooks/MBI Publishing Company, ISBN 978-0-7603-1417-3

  • Harley, Bryan (25 September 2009), "BUB Racing's Chris Carr Breaks Speed Record", Motorcycle USA
  • Harvey, Steve (2005), It Started with a Steamboat: An American Saga, Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, ISBN 978-1-4208-4943-1
  • Hennekam, Charles (December 2005), "World Records Bonneville", The FIM Magazine (PDF), FIM, p. 57, retrieved 2008-10-19
  • House, Kirk W. (2003), Hell-rider to king of the air: Glenn Curtiss's life of innovation, SAE, ISBN 978-0-7680-0802-9
  • Staff (29 September 2008), New motorcycle land speed record set;Top 1 Ack Attack team reaches 360 mph
  • Murphy, Tom (2000), The Fastest Motorcycles on Earth (1st ed.), North Conway, New Hampshire: Whitehorse Press, ISBN 1-884313-17-5
  • Setright, L.J.K. (1979), The Guinness book of motorcycling facts and feats, Guinness Superlatives, ISBN 978-0-85112-200-7
  • "Streamline motorcycle to get 170-mile speed", Popular Science, p. 60, December 1931
  • Tragatsch, Erwin (1984), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles (2nd ed.), Feltham, Middlesex, England: Newnes Books/Temple Press, ISBN 0-600-38477-2
  • Walker, Mick (1999), Mick Walker's German Racing Motorcycles, Redline Books, ISBN 978-0-9531311-2-9
  • Triumph Streamliners

See also

  1. 1 2 "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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