Three Kiwis have followed in Bert Munro's footsteps and set a new world speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, America. The A-Ward Attachment Team set a new world record for the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association; the same sanctioning body as the one in the Bert Munro story) and the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) record.
The previous record was 242.6mph (390.4km/h) and the A-Ward team raised the bar to a new SCTA record at an average speed for the two runs over one mile of 248.514mph (399.86km/h) with a one-way speed of 249.1mph (400.802km/h).
This speed confirmed rider Richard Assen's acceptance into the 200mph club, which has fewer members than climbers of Mt Everest. The other record set was the AMA record for a 1350cc blown fuel motorbike.
Assen is in his mid-30s and is a passionate bike builder in his spare time. He had a goal of being the first New Zealander to go faster than 400km/h.
Jason Swan, the bike tuner, also in his mid-30s, works at Auckland Performance Tuning in Papakura and has worked on performance vehicles all his life. He's built rally cars in the Middle East, worked on Formula One cars and is also the tuner for the A-Ward V8 UTE racing team.
Simon Ward, the team manager and 38-year-old owner of A-Ward Attachments recycling equipment sales company, has been involved with motorbikes and things that go fast since he can remember.
The love affair with speed began at Australia's Lake Gairdner but after two years of cancellations, Assen and Swan decided to travel to the Bonneville track made famous by the film version of Bert Munro's life - The World's Fastest Indian.
"He was an amazing guy," says Swan of Munro. "The record hasn't been broken - I reckon it'd still be hard to do nowadays with modern gear if you still had to use the same motor - it wouldn't be a walk-over."
Clinging grimly to a motorbike on full throttle at speeds in excess of 350 km/h may not be everyone's idea of a good time. But for the petrol-headed owners of A-Ward Attachments, experts in the field of demolition, the idea of backing a bid to demolish some world motorbike speed records had considerable appeal.
"I saw a documentary about some no-frills guys who were speed racing their bikes across the dry salt bed of Lake Gairdner in the South Australian outback," said Assen. "I mentioned the event to Jason [Swan] and he said, 'Get a bike'. So I bought a Suzuki Hayabusa, the fastest production bike you can get. I then proceeded to strip this perfectly good bike apart and put a big turbocharger on it while Jason did all the electronics."
It wasn't all smooth driving. With the Lake Gairdner event washed out in 2006, Assen and Swan had just completed a road journey of 2414km to the 2007 event and were about to head down the 190km rutted gravel road to the lake when Assen thought he'd try to ring ahead. "Sorry mate, haven't you heard? It's been cancelled," was the reply. On the long trip back, the pair decided to go to Bonneville.
They scraped enough money together to get themselves and their bike to the salt flats and managed to achieve a respectable 355km/h. By not registering in all the right classes they couldn't claim an official speed record, but they were awarded the fastest motorbike at the World of Speed event.
For financial reasons, their hopes of repeating or bettering that speed at this year's event were non-existent. That was until A-Ward Attachments became principal sponsor just two weeks before the bike's shipping deadline to the US. "We were doing some technical work for A-Ward's V8 racing team," says Swan, "and I happened to mention our small problem. They felt it was a really good synergy so we quickly wrapped up a sponsorship deal." Ward, agrees, "We certainly have a shared interest with them in innovation and overcoming obstacles. Our container tilters may not break any speed records but they embody a lot of clever thinking and excel at doing their particular task."
Assen couldn't wait to get back to Bonneville and have another crack at the record. "It's a slightly surreal feeling as you work your way up to the flag with temperatures in the high 30s or low 40s. When the flag drops the bike accelerates very fast and you 'redline' in every gear. By the time you hit top gear you're doing 190 miles an hour [306km/h]. You have to tuck right in and hang on tight, because the air tries to suck you off the back of the bike, and just count the marker flags going past until you're sure you are through the timed mile.
"It's one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had. It takes another two miles to slow down because there's no front brake on the bike.
"Next thing you know you're completely alone in total silence in this immense white void with this euphoria washing over you - its completely magic."
The bike is a 2004 Suzuki Hayabusa raced in the MPS-1350-BG modified production class. It's partially streamlined with a 1350cc turbo-charged engine running on gasoline.
A-Ward Attachments Racing will be back in Bonneville in 2009 to try and break the FIM (World Record) which currently stands at 252mph (405.6km/h).