The First Land Speed Record


Castrol and Triumph Motorcycles have teamed up to develop the Castrol Rocket, a potential land speed record breaker scheduled to hit the salt flats in the coming months.

One look at the machine and it’s a safe guess that copious amounts of cash went into the two wheeled missile with its dual Triumph Rocket III engines and sleek aerodynamic body.

By comparison, it seems that the very first land speed record of 39.252 MPH vs. today’s 400+ MPH records was pitifully meager. But remember, that first official record was a giant leap compared to the under 3 MPH limits motor vehicles had achieved up to that time. It was as fast as the fastest quarter horse, and could keep that pace for much longer.

Yet more astonishing is the fact that that first official record was achieved not by an internal combustion engine, but by an electric car.

The electric car would be almost instantly eclipsed by the rapid development and refinement of the internal combustion engine and the portability and abundance of petroleum based fuel; but for that brief moment in history the electric car was the fastest land vehicle on the planet.

Full circle: the time of the electric car is returning. Infrastructure is finally being built to support cross country drives in electrics such as Tesla automobiles, Zero Motorcycles, and nearly a hundred different hybrids already passing you numerous times a day on the streets and highways of all major American cities.

jeantaud_ElectricWould Count de Chasseloup-Laubat have believed it if you told him the day he piloted his 3,000+ lb French Jeantaud electric car to the first land speed record that electric cars would one day dominate the world? Yes, he would. And yet there are those today who won’t believe it.

The day is coming.

First in Flight and the Overlooked Wrench Twister

It was heavier than air and powered by an internal combustion engine.

Lumbering along for what seemed like ages, it finally struggled free of the earth and rose mere feet into the air…and stayed there, gliding incredibly over the land with its human pilot operating stick and rudder.

wrightDecember 17, 1903, American brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made that historic flight. It was not the first manned flight, but it was the first mechanically powered on board human controlled take off, flight, and landing. Thus it made history and the Wright Brother’s method of three axis control became the standard for fixed wing aircraft pilot control to this day.

Most Americans are familiar with the Wright brothers through our American History curriculum in middle and high school. But what is seldom taught is that there was a third very key individual playing a role in that first historic powered flight.

Hired as a bicycle mechanic, Charlie Taylor was the gopher mechanic in Orville and Wilbur’s bike shop. He was a wrench twister, but he was also a natural mechanical engineer.

Orville and Wilbur discovered that the internal combustion engines of their day were all too heavy with too little horsepower to be used for their aircraft. They turned to Charlie Taylor and asked him to build them an engine that had a power to weight ratio suitable for their machine to get airborne with.

Charlie Taylor came through. But that’s not the whole story.

Charlie Taylor came through in an almost miraculous time frame. In six weeks he designed and fabricated an aluminum block water cooled engine with enough horsepower to do the job that weighed under 150 pounds.

Just a shade tree wrench twister.

And were it not for Charlie Taylor’s engine the Wright Brothers may never have made the history books.

Free Motorcycle Weather App for Android

There are folks who have no choice. They have one mode of transport and it is a motorcycle. They either ride in the rain or they stay put.

For those of us who have a choice, and who would prefer not to ride when the weather is at risk for deterioration, there’s the handy free Motorcycle Weather app for Android based smart phones.

For the last few years I’ve made it a habit to check the weather via my smartphone when I wake up each morning. If there’s more than a 30 per cent chance of rain, and/or wind gusts of more than 25 miles per hour, I drive the cage to work and leave my beloved Moon Shine in the garage.

It only takes a minute to read through the forecast, but when you’re running late a minute is frustrating. Last week I found a handy app that cuts that time down to about 3 seconds.

Motorcycle Weather allows you to preset your weather preferences (thresholds for comfortable riding, I call them) and checks the forecast for you. When you tap the Motorcycle Weather icon the app checks the forecast and if any of the predicted weather stats are not within your preferences it displays a large car icon, letting you know you should drive the car to work that day.

Conversely, if the weather is going to be within what you will tolerate, it displays a motorcycle icon.

No thinking, no mistaking tomorrow’s forecast for today’s, no misreading the temperature. It simply tells you to ride or not to ride with a single tap of its icon.

Foolproof, for people like me who never went to meteorology class.

And in case you want to see just how hardcore a rider I am, here are my preference settings:

Minimum low temp: 30 degrees – I know that’s below freezing, but in my region of Texas it’s got to be below freezing for a couple of days before anything really sticks other than on bridges.
Max high temp: 100 degrees (who am I kidding? I’d ride naked with 30 spf sunscreen above that)
Max chance of rain: 25%
Max wind: 40 MPH (My triumph Rocket III doesn’t blow all over the road like those tiny Harley baggers)

Android App Calls Cavalry If You Crash

Thanks to Doug at Forty Years on Two Wheels for this tidbit on an automatic crash reporting app for our Android phones.



“Help, I’ve fallen because my owner bi-sected a deer with his motorcycle at 90 miles per hour! He’s currently lying unconscious and bleeding in the bar ditch at latitude 32.212801, longitude -98.10791. Send an ambulance and a Gorilla Glass repair kit with a capacitive touch screen stylus, STAT!”

Imagine your phone automatically dialing up your spouse or buddies and saying that.

Well, it won’t actually describe the conditions or speak over the phone, but the CRADAR (for CRAsh Detection And Response) application will send a message to a mobile phone you specify stating that you may be in trouble along with your exact coordinates and a link to your location on Google maps.

Using the gyroscopic sensor in your Android smartphone, the app determines that a crash or fall may have occurred and immediately displays a prompt on it’s screen asking if you are okay.

If you don’t tap the “I’m Okay” button to abort the message, it sends the mayday call out automatically after a pre-configured number of seconds specified by you to a pre-configured mobile number specified by you.

Best of all, the app is free from the good folks at

While I have Google Latitude configured on my HTC Thunderbolt as a result of Robin having a difficult time tracking down which trauma center I was taken to after my November 2009 motorcycle crash, I now have the additional peace of mind that she’ll know even sooner if I come to a sudden stop. I can rest assured help is much more likely to be en route if I have hit that pesky deer on a dark and lonely road along the ridges of the Ozarks with nary another soul in sight.

This is one of those apps that will literally become a lifesaver for multiple people.

Want it?

Aim your Android phone’s bar code reader at the handy universal code image to the left or search for CRADAR in Android Marketplace.