This article was originally published in the October 1996 issue of Sport Rider.
Call it a cult. A religion. A need for nitrous. The urge for turbo surge. Jam your helmet under the windscreen as your left toe dances up through the gears on the way to one of Sport Rider magazine’s infamous UFO top-speed runs, where 200 mph is the goal and 230.769 mph the record. Unlimited Flying Objects, America’s look into the ever-accelerating world of two-wheeled hot rods, street bikes that tip their helmets to civility but are equal to Mike Tyson in a tuxedo—tidy on the outside, nasty on the inside. The four sites, which begin with street testing and climax with top-speed runs, ensure the bikes entered are as well-rounded as possible. In fact, each bike must wear lights, a license plate, sidestand and no more than two inches over stock wheelbase with the axle adjusted fully forward (although we allow a maximum of six inches over in our straightline testing). In other words, we didn’t want Elmer Trett’s Top Fuel bike to show up just to win the dragstrip section while flailing everywhere else. We’re Sport Rider magazine and we wanted streetable sport bikes. This year we got ’em.
Six teams answered the call. Hahn Racecraft entered from Chicago, Illinois, with a turbocharged and fuel-injected ’95 Suzuki GSX-R1117. Team MR. brought its turbocharged ’95 Honda CBR900RR from El Paso, Texas. Sims Engineering came down from Chico, California, with a supercharged and nitrous-oxide–injected ’89 Suzuki GSX-R1216cc, while Horsepower Unlimited out of Los Angeles entered a hot-rodded ’84 Kawasaki GPz880 Turbo. Hyper-Cycle returned to the fray with the only pure normally aspirated bike in the test, a ’95 Suzuki GSX-R1146, and Attack Racing arrived with a ’96 Yamaha YZF1040 breathing nitrous oxide—both journeyed from Los Angeles. We set new records at the quarter-mile and roadracing tracks, but along with the heightened performance, UFO ’96 saw a substantial increase in the drivability and civility incorporated into these pavement bruisers. But then, Unlimited Flying Objects has always produced big numbers.
“That’s it…we’re done.”
Richard Sims, several times during UFO ’96 when the team encountered another seemingly insurmountable problem
“We came up with a new definition of UFO: Uncontrollable Financial Objective.”
Bill Hahn, Hahn Racecraft
“I tapped the car in front of me at a stoplight on the way here.”
Carry Andrew, describing the effects of sleeping only seven hours in the four days preceding UFO
“If that thing beats my bike, I’m going home.” Carry Andrew, just before Horsepower Unlimited’s ’84 GPz Turbo uncorked a 9.34-second pass at 156 mph. “Well,” he added, “I didn’t say when I was going home!”
“If we had one more week, the bike would be perfect!”
Richard Sims, at every UFO since ’93
“I couldn’t stand it. I had to call right away. What happened?”
Mr. Turbo’s Terry Kizer calling from Texas to see if his 230-mph record still stood.
“We thought this whole project was over.”
Bill Hahn, after a testing crash the night before UFO
Angela Barosso and Jason Black from the HPCC pits after seeing a dark plume of smoke trailing the Attack Racing Yamaha. Unfortunately, rider Lance Holst didn’t hear them.
“Three days ago, that bike was in a thousand pieces.”
UFO was my first experience riding turbo bikes. The Hahn Racecraft GSX-R was up first, and though the boost seemed to kick in a little later than I expected, when it did I definitely knew it was working. The HP Unlimited GPz was the most entertaining with its two-stage boost: The second stage is triggered by the horn button and I found myself honking the horn at every possible opportunity.
The Team MR. CBR was the most user-friendly turbo of the bunch, yet it’s capable of reaching serious speeds. It feels deceptively small with its big horsepower hit without the big motor inertia. Within two corners, the Honda lets you know that it’s flickable, nimble and rock solid. I liked the Skeletor look, too.
There I was, perched upon the Hyper-Cycle GSX-R in a textbook display of racing poise. Each movement of the quarter-turn throttle propelled man and machine forward in a warp-speed tap dance with mortality, cauterizing every nerve ending in my body as the huge, scorched Dunlop lacerated the asphalt beneath me. Honda would have to repave its test track after my hot laps.
“Huh, whazzat? Oh, can I start it now?”
These may be the fantasy thoughts that run through your head prior to riding five of the most powerful street bikes—and I use that term loosely—in existence. But in the cold, harsh world of reality, it’s more like, “Whoa. Whoooa. Whooooooaaa!”
UFO is insane. It’s a test bed for ideas that may have never been tried before, may or may not work…or may just blow up. Each year I gear up days in advance for the amount of power I’ll contain in my right fist, and each year I’m surprised by the potential each bike displays. A fast run through the gears on any of these bikes slams your butt into the tailsection, tries to separate your sternum from your rib cage, flattens your cheeks against the inside of your helmet and turns your eyes bloodshot red since you’re too preoccupied to blink. Every year, I’m amazed. And every year, I look forward to the next UFO.
The Terminator, the Human Cannonball and a one-man wrecking crew. I was all these things and more during this year’s UFO when I high-sided the Attack YZF1040 at, oh, about 100 mph and then blew up a pair of turbo bikes in the top-speed testing. More excitement than I had planned for, but it shouldn’t come as that big a surprise considering that the equipment we’re testing is built to the absolute limit and, in some cases, a bit beyond.
I take the time to point this out because most of what you see in motorcycle magazines is the glamorous side of trick hardware and huge numbers with a passing comment of, “Oh yeah, it later blew itself to smithereens, but until then, wow, did it haul ass.” This kind of performance definitely has its costs, and it’s more than just money. It’s also in things like reliability and durability. Don’t get me wrong, I still can’t wait for the next UFO. I just wanted to point out to all those would-be bike modifiers out there, think it over carefully. If you want to play, be prepared to pay.
I scream loudly in my helmet during UFO. I really do. There’s often an expletive in the scream that comes out in the rush of air normally associated with the exhalation of held breath. These bikes make me hold my breath a great deal. Then I scream, grab another breath, hold it, then scream. Expletive. Hold breath. Scream and whoop…then the quarter-mile run is over. Usually the scream coincides with a gear shift, which coincides with a wheelie. Or major wheel spin. Or both. On the 8.90-second run on Hahn Racecraft’s GSX-R, I pummeled the air with my fists as the Suzuki decelerated through the windy Palmdale night and let out a whoop of pure, unadulterated joy. I knew it was a record run, and as the GSX-R and I coasted down from the 168-mph pass, it suddenly became clear to me, all alone at the end of LACR’s dark slab of asphalt: The real reason for my life, the true calling of Nick Ienatsch, the what and why of my birth, the reason Mom and Dad had Nick…was to run 8-second quarters on street bikes.
If the straight is long enough, these bad boys will yank you toward 200 mph and teach you a new respect for the driver’s ed dictum, “Good brakes are important.” Most of all, UFO machines will reveal one of Sport Rider’s dearly held truths: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”
Stats lovers will spot three new records in UFO ’96: Hahn Racecraft’s 8.90-second quarter-mile elapsed time combined with an eye-bugging 168-mph trap speed. Hyper-Cycle improved on the lap record it set last year at HPCC’s forever-fun test track with an impressive 1:49.9-second lap, but the record not recorded was this group’s surprisingly tractable street manners. We’ve fought carburetion glitches and idiosyncratic quirks during past UFO tests, but UFO ’96 set a high-water mark for civility as well as sprinting ability. And in some ways, UFO ’96 proved a first-test venue for some serious weapons, such as the Sims GSX-R, Team MR. CBR and even Hahn’s GSX-R; the crews were coming to terms with each of these bikes as UFO ’96 progressed. If they return for UFO ’97, will there be any records left standing?