Gary Rothwell nudges 210 mph to break world wheelie record

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Gary Rothwell's world record-breaking 209 mph wheelie(Credit: Steve McDonald/Straightliners)

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From the world's fastest jet-powered shopping trolley to the world's fastest motorized shed, records were falling left and right last weekend at the final Straightliners Top Speed event of the year in the UK. Britain's Gary Rothwell took the opportunity to have another stab at the high-speed wheelie category. Disappointed that he failed to break the world record last month, Rothwell piloted his 540-hp (403 kW) turbocharged Hayabusa to a ridiculous 209.822 mph (337.676) on the back wheel for over one kilometer (0.62 mi) to smash the previous record and set a sky-high mark for next year's contenders.

British stuntman Gary Rothwell was clearly disappointed at his efforts last month, when he hit a paltry 197.879 mph (317.041) on the back wheel of his turbo Hayabusa to claim the 2015 World Wheelie Championship, but fell a couple of mph short of breaking the world record or sneaking past the tantalisingly close 200 mph (322 km/h) mark.

He has made amends, and then some. Returning to the Elvington Airfield outside York, England, Rothwell smashed his previous best by more than 10 mph (16 km/h) to record a ridiculous 209.822 mph wheelie. To qualify for the record, he kept the front wheel airborne for over a kilometer.

Riding a wheelstand at that kind of speed takes more than a gravitationally significant pair of cojones. A slow wheelie will balance nicely with the front wheel three feet (0.9 m) or so off the ground, but as speeds come up, wind resistance increases and you need to keep the wheel lower. Above about 160 mph (257 km/h), the air itself starts to feel like the hand of God, pushing inexorably backwards against you, and it must feel like a truly elemental force above 200 mph.

Balancing the massive power of a turbocharged Hayabusa engine against this brick wall of air resistance, while making sure the wind doesn’t get in underneath the bike and flip it backwards, and maintaining throttle and body position to keep the front wheel airborne for more than 11 seconds… The words skill and courage just don’t capture it.

Rothwell launched the wheelie in top gear – his 540-hp ‘Busa doesn’t even need a flick of the throttle to bring the wheel up in 6th. He kept the nose within about a foot of the ground and rode it out. A subsequent attempt at breaking the 210 mph (338 km/h) mark nearly ended in tears when a gust of wind sent the front wheel slightly sideways just before it touched down again in what Rothwell called a “poo in the pants moment.” It's a rare show of rational human emotion from Rothwell, who has previously held world speed and distance records on the *front* wheel of a motorcycle, and carried a wheelstand with seven people on the bike. It's nice to know the man can actually experience fear.

And the fun didn’t stop there – here are a few other notable efforts on the day.

Let’s start with the new record for the world’s fastest motorized shed, set by Oxford’s Kevin Nicks at 88.068 mph (141.732 km/h).

Then Kevin Scott, of Lincoln, set a world monowheel speed record at 61.18 mph (98.46 km/h).
Matt McKeown of Plymoth set an unofficial world record for the world’s fastest jet-powered shopping trolley (probably not the most hotly contested category) also at 61.18 mph.
Tom Armitage now holds the official world record for fastest Postman Pat van at 107.4 mph (172.8 km/h). In other news, there's a world record category for "fastest Postman Pat van."

Andy Slade hit nearly 175 mph (282 km/h) on a motorcycle, which would be rather humdrum if he had two arms. He doesn't. I can only imagine the core strength it would take to stay loose on the handlebars at those speeds with just one arm.

Surely the scariest photo of the day was this one – Top Speed contestant Jack Frost breaking a chain at some 210 mph (338 km/h).

The event was run by Straightliners, and is the last of the year. So future wheelie speed champions or jet-powered shopping trolley enthusiasts will need to bide their time until 2016 to have a crack at the record, or head to the Southern Hemisphere where summer is about to kick in.

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