New Wheelie World Champ hits 197 mph

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Gary Rothwell from Liverpool during a run at the Motorcycle World Wheelie Championship(Credit: Worldreach/Andy Menzies)

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Last weekend the Motorcycle Wheelie World Championship/Top Speed took over runway 26 of the Elvington Airfield in North Yorkshire, UK, for two days of high octane antics. Riders from several countries competed for the fastest wheelie over a distance of 1 kilometer, as well as a standing mile top speed contest.

Some consider it to be a blatant display of anti-social behavior, while for others it’s a demonstration of skill, or just plain fun. Whichever way one choses to see it, the wheelie is a stunt so popular with motorcyclists that it has its own world championship.

The tenth edition of the Wheelie World Championship drew thousands of spectators at the Elvington Airfield to watch 30 specialists from Finland, France, Holland, Ireland, Sweden, UK and USA go against the speed traps for a shot at the title. The winner would be the fastest rider over a full kilometer (0.62 mile) on the back wheel of his motorcycle. There’s no bonus for style, no trophy for 12 o’clock wheelies; the only thing that matters is outright speed.

The 2015 World Wheelie Champion is Gary Rothwell from the UK, who was clocked at 197.879 mph (318.455 km/h) on his turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa at the end of his run. In the process he managed to beat last year’s winner, Egbert Van Popta from Holland, who clocked 195.805 mph (315.118 km/h), also onboard a Hayabusa turbo. Third place went to Paddy O'Sullivan form Ireland, who wheelied his turbocharged Suzuki GSX-R1000 to a top speed of 189.822 mph (305.489 km/h).

Despite the fierce competition, Van Popta’s 199.4 mph (320.9 km/h) record from last year still stands.

Egberg Van Popta could not repeat last year's winning form(Credit: Worldreach/Phil Evans)

Patrik Von Furstenhoff, the infamous "Ghostrider" from Sweden whose utterly illegal street antics had been immortalized on a series of popular DVDs back in the early 2000s, was also expected to race. Holding an unofficial wheelie record of 214 mph (344.4 km/h), he went to Elvington with an official 215 mph target. Unfortunately due to technical problems with his famous all-black turbocharged Hayabusa he didn’t manage to complete a full run before retiring.

At speeds close to 200 mph the rider-motorcycle ensemble maintains an extremely fragile equilibrium. Rarely will you see one of these guys with his front wheel high in the sky; aerodynamic pressure at high speeds would instantly cause a rotation around the back wheel, ending bitterly with tires pointing very much in the wrong direction. The front wheel lifts only as much as is needed to reach a balance with the constantly accelerating motorcycle. The height should be enough to make sure the wheel won’t touch down accidentally if the motorcycle destabilizes as a result of a gear shift or a wind gust.

To maintain this very delicate balance, all top contenders ride turbocharged machines. With boost levels set around the 1.5 bar mark, the forced induction systems are there to help provide the extra torque needed to keep the front wheel in the air.

Becci Ellis is the fastest woman in the UK and winner of this year's Top Speed race(Credit: Worldreach/Phil Evans)

External forces like an unforeseen gust of wind will have a taxing effect and it’ll evolve in a split second. Such a destabilizing force is a threat not only to the wheelie contestants, but also to the Top Speed riders. Becci Ellis won the speed event and re-affirmed her status as the UK’s fastest woman, before falling victim to a sudden wind blast that sent her turbo Hayabusa off the track and herself straight to hospital with a broken ankle.

Ellis clocked 259.542 mph (417.692 km/h) at the speed trap in the standing mile Top Speed competition. Had she not fallen on Saturday, she planned to take a shot at her own record of over 264 mph (424.9 km/h) from the same event last year. Second place went to Jack Frost achieving 254.457 mph (409.509 km/h) on his Hayabusa turbo. Third was Europe's fastest grandad biker, Les Marsh from the UK, on his Hayabusa Turbo (what else?) at 245.622 mph.

Apart from turbocharged Hayabusas, the Top Speed event usually attracts the most extravagant participants and this year wasn't any different. The two V8s of Allen Millyard and Zef Eisenberg (of the MadMax team that recently ran a turbine bike to new speed records) stood out in a competition that included the world’s fastest toilet, the turbine supermarket trolley, the mini post office racing van and, of course, a garden house. The latter managed to clock 70.8 mph (113.9 km/h), officially cementing its world dominance. Until another one rises to the challenge, it will remain the world’s fastest garden shed.

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