How do you get to the Bonneville Salt Flats? Ask Jack!
A veteran of speed and a close friend of TeamZilla, Jack Broomall rides for the record each year at Bonneville. Racing against the clock, each run is measured over a full mile to be recorded in the high speed hall of fame. Broomall has raced in several categories, including the Production Class and Unfaired "Naked" class, recording speeds of over 200 mph. We had a chance to talk about the history, culture, and energy of the Bonneville Salt Flats on our ZLA Live Webcast in August and the number of questions sparked by our conversation inspired the following Q&A session below. We took the best questions from the ZLA Army, asked through Facebook, Twitter, or during the Live Spreecast, and sent them to Jack to disect.
The experience of riding on the salt and the record-setting process
Isn't the salt slick?
One of the things that makes Bonneville unique is that you are racing, at very high speeds, on a natural surface. When the salt is “good,” meaning dry and well compacted, the traction is similar to that of wet pavement. Other times it can be soft, mushy, rutted and much like riding on dirt or even sand. The thing is, it changes from day to day and even hour to hour. Much like Forrest Gump’s “Box of Chocolates,” you never know what you’re going to get.
How long were you able to keep the top speed of 205 miles per hour?
In order to set a record at Bonneville, it is necessary to make two separate passes through the measured mile and your record speed is the average of those two runs. When we set the 205.343 mph Production Class record last year, the speeds of the two individual runs were 205.059 mph and 205.628 mph for that 205.343 average. So, we went two full miles at 205 + mph. That short portion of the rides took a total of about 35 seconds!
How do you see forward in that tuck?
Certainly a big part of the challenge in this sort of competition is to stay tightly “tucked” throughout the run. There is a delicate balance between staying tucked, i.e keeping your head down out of the wind, and seeing enough to remain on the course. The optimum tuck position on every bike is different, but my own strategy is to try to remain down as far as possible and sort of “peek” upward occasionally to maintain lane guidance. It’s not always so easy and kids, don’t try this at home!
Are these rumors true?: 1) Once you get up above 150mph, lift your butt slightly off the seat like a horse racer because it makes you a little more aerodynamic 2) Push your index finger against the back of the front brake lever to push it outward because the wind will push in on it and slow you down.
From our wind tunnel work we’ve learned that the optimum body position varies considerably from bike to bike and also from individual to individual. As an example, Hayabusas have their distinctive tail section “hump” and the optimum position for your butt is different than for more typical liter-class sport bikes with their abbreviated tails. Also, folks with longer torsos may benefit from a different riding position than us height disadvantaged types. Unfaired “naked” bikes impose some totally different requirements than the faired rides. There are few absolutes, here, but sliding back in the seat and perhaps raising one’s butt a bit does work on some bikes with some riders. As for the brake handle thing, I have never observed this to be true on any modern bikes that I am familiar with.
Do you have specialty brakes to stop that bad boy?
Stopping from top speed on a modern sport bike really isn’t all that challenging. First of all, you have all the space in the world, with virtually nothing to hit. The course is usually prepared with several miles of space for deceleration, mostly to accommodate the faster cars. A 400 mph streamliner car requires a LOT of distance to slow down! The only real challenges come, as usual, because you are on a surface with less traction than pavement. The trick is to be discrete in closing the throttle after the run. You don’t just chop the throttle because of the risk of slipping the rear tire. Close it slowly and deliberately. Likewise, be gentle with the brakes, especially the front for fear of inadvertent lockup. If you do all that, getting slowed down and turning off the course in well less than a mile are pretty easy at the speeds I’m familiar with. Obviously faster bikes and cars require more room. No parachutes on conventional bikes!
Hit any bugs during that 200 mph ride?
Very few bugs to hit. The Bonneville Salt Flats is a place that’s pretty distinctly unfriendly to animal life!
What kind of challenges do you face when dealing with salt build up on the bike?
There are two kinds of issues. First is salt packing. Especially if the salt is damp, it gets tossed up off the course and packs in everywhere. We’ve had salt in the front fenders of some bikes to the point where it actually can slow you down. Likewise in the chain gallery and elsewhere. The other issue is corrosion. Everything corrodes at a frightening pace. Chains have to be replaced regularly and I can’t even begin to describe how hard it is on the electronics.
Incidents on the salt
Have you ever had any incidents at Bonneville?
Knock on wood. I’ve never had an incident at Bonneville, though I’m ever respectful. I’ve had some friends have some whoppers, so I’ve seen what can happen.
Ever had any speed wobbles?
Have had a few instances of bike stability issues over 200 mph, mostly due to course conditions: ruts, “soft spots” in the salt, and crosswinds. In every case, I simply aborted the run and got back in line with a plan to ride on a slightly different part of the course. Also had a pretty good “head shake” incident a few years ago (on pavement) at over 180. Not fun.
Have you ever crashed a motorcycle and if so, how fast were you going?
Never had an incident at Bonneville nor on the street. When I was much younger I fell off of dirt bikes about every way possible. At much lower speeds.
Details of bike preparation and modifications
Stock-looking pipes, per the rules. Mufflers are very “non-stock” internally.
Why a stock wheelbase?
Two reasons. One is that, with the Kawasaki ZX14-R, we compete in the “Production” class which requires fully stock appearance, including such things as wheelbase. Second, one of the key challenges at Bonneville is traction at speed. The stock wheelbase helps by keeping more weight on the rear wheel. Drag race guys lengthen wheelbases in order to get weight over the front wheel to keep the front down when launching on surfaces with much better traction than we have available. Our greater need is weight on the rear wheel.
How much horsepower are you running? Over 200?
On the dyno that we use, a stock ZX14-R typically makes about 190-195 rear wheel horsepower. We make over 240! Remember that these numbers are near sea level. Bonneville is 4200 feet above sea level and we typically go there at the hottest time of the year. Like human athletes, the bikes suffer a great deal from the thinner air at altitude and the power we put to the ground there is considerably less.
Tires — what kind of rubber compound do you use for these runs?
The tires that we use are “off the shelf” Bridgestone BT003Rs — Bridgestone’s very popular DOT spec road race tire. We use the medium compound and have had no issues whatsoever. I think the front would likely last forever. The rear is wearing well so far after a dozen or so passes, all at over 200 mph and with a fair amount of wheelspin thrown in.
Gear and equipment
How does your gear differ riding the salt flats to everyday or even track day riding?
For aerodynamic reasons, my Bonneville leathers are a tighter fit than I could ever tolerate on the street.
Other riding types and experiences
Do you ride recreationally?
Unlike quite a few fellow competitors, I am a regular street rider and have been since the 70s. In a typical year I’ll log about 10,000 miles. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I’ve earned membership in the Iron Butt Association, have crossed the continent seven times on a bike, have ridden to Alaska and back, and toured in Europe several times. I’m a rider, not just a Bonneville guy.
Have you ever drag raced bikes?
I’ve never drag raced bikes.
What do you ride and wear on the street?
I’m currently riding (and loving) Rev’It! Horizon Hi Viz Jacket and Horizon Pants. My Lid is a Shoei Multi Tec that is getting pretty long in the tooth and is soon to be replaced by a ?????. On boots I go back and forth between Rev’It! Rival H20 for longer touring, Sidi Dohas for around town, and occasionally back to an old, nasty, pair of Alpinestars that fit, well, like an old comfortable pair of boots.
Can you tell us about your charity?
For the past few years I’ve used both my long distance touring and Bonneville racing as a method to support a Charity organization that I care a great deal about. I call my efforts 2 Wheels 4 Kids and it’s all to support The Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer.
Any plans to beat your current speed record?
We just returned from competing at Bonneville 2013. Failed to bump the 1650cc Production Class Record any higher with the Kawasaki ZX14-R but, pending final certification by the AMA, it looks like we captured the 1000 cc “Naked” gas class record with the 2 Wheels 4 Kids BMW at over 182 mph. At this time looking closely at what we might do next!