The Los Leos CBX Bonneville Experience
The Bonneville Salt Flats are 1773 miles from Houston Texas, overcoming that distance was the easiest part of this endeavor. Tom Neimeyer, David Stremmel and Mitchel Banks, Los Leos, got their start one afternoon in David's garage. Everybody was telling their favorite CBX war story when Mitchel mentioned how neat it would be to take a CBX to Bonneville. The discussion then changed to "could a CBX go 200 mph". I don't think anybody thought it could, but the seed was planted. Later in the discussion we realized that we were all born in August, our birthdates all within a few days of each other. This makes us all Leos, thus the name Los Leos. Three Lions with an idea, is a serious situation.
When you have never been Land Speed Racing the place to start is with a rulebook. We decided early on that we were not going to chase any records, none of us had enough money to do that. Looking through the record book, it didn't appear we could get close to any records, trying to compete with modern machinery would be difficult. Finally a decision was made to run in a 1350cc Blown Fuel class. This is an unpopular class because there is no streamlining allowed and it limits the speed attainable, it also had an open record.
With these decisions made, we started planning the project. Who had what parts, where can we get this, how the hell does this work. After several months of brainstorming we started putting it all together. The frame was a stock 1979 CBX that had been raked. A CB900F 39mm front fork assembly was grafted on to the frame. Honda rearsets were then installed to stretch the riding position out. We chose a CB1100F swingarm based on its ability to accept a wider tire/rim. CB1100F wheels were chosen after we found it difficult to get ZR rated tires (200mph certified) for stock CBX rims.
The engine started life at 1047cc's, when we got through with it; it was 1147cc's thanks to a set of 68mm flat top pistons with aluminum buttons. In went a set of Carrillo rods, a necessary addition if you want to keep it together. Cams were from a 1980 CBX, they have less lift than '79 cams, but they have less overlap which is good for turbo engines. A copper head gasket was sandwiched in there somewhere. The turbo kit was made by Mr. Turbo and it used a Kehin carb.
A timeline was developed; drop dead dates were highlighted. On the timeline, in the last box before "pack trailer" was the comment "fix everything broken". Things were starting to come together, or so it seemed. Each time you re-read the rulebook you find something you didn't see before, this usually means more money. Have you ever tried to buy a steering damper for a CBX? "What is a CBX?" was a common response. Sometimes I was told "they never made them for that bike". Time to start fabricating parts. The Los Leos machine shop consists of a 16-speed drill press, a 4" bench vise and a 4-pound hammer. Before it was over, we broke the vise and the hammer.
The search for a rider had begun, anybody that had a set of leathers would be considered. Who the hell would be willing to ride a bike with a reputation as a "bad" handler? Nobody seemed willing to ride an unfaired bike at 170-180 mph. Les Ranger, a seasoned Bonneville rider, record holder and CBX owner stepped up to the plate. Les is 51 years young and acts like it. He was the perfect choice, he wanted to ride the bike and he was pumped about it. Les lives in California, so he never actually saw the bike, I placed a few pictures of the bike on the Internet and pretty soon after that, we got a call. "This ain't gonna work" were some of the words he used. I'm 6' 5", you need to make some rear sets, get rid of the front brakes, hook the front master cylinder up to the rear brake and finally move the exhaust. Les currently holds several motorcycle records above 200 mph, if he says do it, it needs to be done.
Let's see, it's now June 1st, Speed Week is August 12th-18th, now might be a good time to put the engine together. Honda engineers are a sick bunch. The system they use to identify bearings, connecting rods and crankshaft journals is a nightmare. Bearing selection is a measure 3 times, cut once operation, mistakes are not tolerated. It's also something that should be done sooner in the project than we did. Honda promptly back ordered them and we waited. June 20th, with bearings in hand, we now started the "pull the threads out of the case" part of the assembly. In a matter of days, we had progressed to the "break the 6mm case bolt" operation. The final assembly stage was the "snap the cam holder bolt" saga. I know what you are thinking "Don't these fools own a torque wrench? maybe "Don't they know how to use it?" The answer to both questions is, yes. Lesson 138, always check used bolts for stretching, in most cases it can be visually seen, throw them away!
July brought more good news, a CB1100F swingarm with an 1100F wheel, will not align either with the engine sprocket or the front wheel. At this point, we were lower than whale poop at the bottom of the ocean. Five gallons of gasoline and a match seemed the next step. Several calls to other CBX enthusiasts convinced us to proceed. Those of you that told me to "sleep on it, it would be better in the morning" were wrong, the swingarm still didn't align. The T-Rex people put us on to the idea of using a late model pro link swing arm. We had tabs welded on for the shock mounts, next time we will ensure the welder puts them on correctly, no need to elaborate on this any further.
Along the way, a total loss ignition system was chosen. This allowed us to rid the engine of the alternator and voltage regulator. The Dyna coils and ignition got rid of the pulsers. The wiring system had to be designed to incorporate a "deadman" shutoff. Purchasing the wrong "deadman" switch ensured another wiring design change. Each change or problem encountered set us further behind the schedule. The use of an electronic tach allowed us to increase the oil cooling capacity by eliminating the tach cable clearance problems.
The engine roared to life on the 7th of July. It sounded great, click it into gear and let out the clutch, nothing happened. Tear it apart and find the clutch problem was next step, this step took most of a day. While we were fixing the clutch, we noticed the oil pump drive was very tight, it would not spin freely, something was out of alignment. The engine had to be taken out, cases split, oil pump aligned. The engine was back in the frame on the 16th, dyno test tomorrow the 17th.
Lesson 253; never take your CBX to a Harley shop for a dyno test. Just kidding, the folks at KT's cycle shop in Baytown are a good bunch of guys, they worked real hard to help us dyno the bike. They don't usually dyno Hondas, especially six cylinder Hondas. After 12 dyno runs and three calls to Dyno Jet, we had no idea how much horsepower the bike made. What we did learn is that it would shift gears and rev well past redline in each gear, it had a monster bog when you cranked hard on the throttle and the boost gauge was not working.
Diversity is a great thing; everybody brought something to this party. While David and I turned the wrenches on the bike, Mitchel made phone calls scrounged parts and kept my moral up. He got people to sponsor us. He lined up tires, coils, ignition parts and oil. People like KOWA, TIMS, Redline, Stubbs Cycle and Progressive came to our aid. These people's good will and faith in us was unbelievable. I hoped we would do well and make them proud of their association with us.
We leave on August 8th, it's now the 24th of July, and the bike is two months away from being ready. What kind of jetting will we need at Bonneville's 4300-ft elevation? Will the engine pull the 18/34 gearing? What spare parts should we take? I just remembered, I need to install tie downs in the trailer floor. After glancing through the rulebook, I noticed the fuel class required a mechanical fuel shutoff, I wonder if they ever made one of these for a CBX? By now, the Los Leos machine shop had acquired some files and sandpaper, that's right, we could chuck things in the drill press and smooth them down, that fuel shutoff would be no problem.
August 7th, on our limited racing budget, hard decisions have to be made. Let's see, would I rather have an extra head gasket or a working boost gauge. The boost gauge won and was installed on the bike the night before we left, with the bike already loaded in the trailer.
Over the last few months people told me it would be very hard to go fast at Bonneville here are the two main reasons, altitude and slippage. Due to the altitude or more correctly, the air density, an engine looses 15-20% of the horsepower it makes at sea level. Jetting for these density changes is a nightmare. Often engines run lean and destroy themselves; this makes it a short week for racing. The salt is another matter. Will it be wet or dry? How much tire slippage will we have? With the slippage will we have enough gear? All these are unknowns until you get there and run.
Unfortunately, one of the Leos could not make the trip; David stayed behind and bid us good luck. Just outside of Cortez Colorado is a small town called Pleasant View Colorado. Pleasant View Colorado seemed like a good place to shred a trailer tire at 65 mph. A quick trip back to Cortez netted two new tires and back on the road. Two and a half days after we started, we arrive in Wendover Utah, speed capital of the world. There are land speed vehicles everywhere; this must be the place. Even checking into the motel proved to be fun, somehow, our reservations got messed up. The Manager made it right and soon we had rooms in Wendover's newest Casino, the Rainbow Casino.
I have always wanted to go to Bonneville; it's been a dream for many years. Having never been to the salt flats I did not know what to expect. We drove to the edge of the salt where the paved asphalt disappears into a white ocean. What I saw was awesome. For as far as your eyes can see, salt! Bright white salt, desolate, immense, maybe even mystical. For people that want to go fast, this is what dreams are made of.
August 11th, we drove onto the salt at 7am. We're here, now what? Being rookies, we had no idea, which line to be in or where to go. A veteran racer, Jim Bickford, who I had met on the Internet, took us under his wing. Les and Jim have been racing together for a long time, Les also rides Jim's bike. We set up our pit, that's right, chairs, table, sunshade all were packed in the trailer and are must have items. Ground cloths have to be placed to help preserve the salt. At this point I realized we needed a way to get the bike around on the salt but all we had was a 12' enclosed trailer. We had planned on using the truck but the bike was so low that it would "high center" on the tailgate. Oops, rookie mistake number one.
Les wanted to check the bike over prior to going to tech. He was going to check every bolt on the bike; the first bolt he checked was loose. This is not the way to gain the rider's confidence. The more bolts he checked the better he felt. When he was done, he again had a good feeling about riding the bike. We then trailer the bike to tech inspection. Now we find out if they read the same rulebook I did. Four hours later, it is our turn to be scrutinized. Up to this point, each bike was taking 45-50 minutes to get tech'd in. The first comments were "I haven't seen one of these in 20 years". We were getting a lot of attention by now, everybody that came by related a story about having a CBX or about their buddy that had one. Ten minutes in Tech and we were done, not one complaint or suggestion from the inspectors. This was a big relief, the first smile in two months escaped from my mouth.
August 12th, all tech'd in and ready to run. We wait in the staging lanes for several hours, moving slowly to the starting line. Les had warned me, first time runs often end in early turn outs or blown engines. "Don't be disappointed if it does not make a full run, we got all week" he told me. Finally it's our turn; the starter walks up to the bike and rider. He discusses track protocol, track conditions and emergency procedures. The starter does this with every rider regardless of experience. The starter gives us the O.K. to start the bike. The bike roars to life, it sounds good. With the tall gearing, Les has to rev the bike and feather the clutch to get off the line. First gear winds out, shift to second, third, fourth and into fifth. We scramble into our chase vehicle and tear off down the return road to retrieve the bike and rider.
One of our goals was for the bike to make it to the end of the track in one piece, it did. Over the CB radio we hear the mph, 149.075, I had hoped for more but I'll take it. When we get out of the truck, Les is shaking his head, "This ain't gonna get it, it's got a violent shake in it at 149". He said "It's got more in it but it can't get through the shake". Another bit of information was that it was only making five pounds of boost. His animated actions and sounds took the edge off the problems. This run qualified us for a record the bike now goes to impound. While in impound you get 4 hours to work on your bike. We tightened the steering head bearings, added some air to the forks and the front tire, pulled the bars back some more and a turn tighter on the waste gate screw. Tomorrow we will try to backup our 149 and set a record.
August 13th, my birthday, the salt opens at 6 am for record runs. By 7:45 we are at the line talking with the starter. The second run started out the very same as the first run, first gear, second, third, fourth and finally fifth. The voice on the CB crackles; Les Ranger riding bike 606, 164.238. Yes, this is more like it, this is fun! My wife said, "You haven't smiled this much in the last ten years". When we get to Les, he is all smiles, "What a ride, that was fun". Our two run average is just over 155 mph, setting a new record for our class. For now, it's the long tow back to impound.
On the 13th of August, I got two birthday presents, first a Bonneville record and second the opportunity to tear the cams out of the engine so they can verify displacement. An extra pair of hands is always useful, and luck was with me as Richard Horowitz, a friend of Mitchel's showed up. Richard was on his way back from Sturgis going home to Las Vegas. He rolled up his sleeves and jumped in to help. Pulling the cams is done in impound, 100 degrees, no shade and salt blowing everywhere. Giving up is again looking promising. With the cams out the tech inspectors fill the cylinder with ATF through the spark plug hole. They then turn the engine over by hand; the amount of ATF displaced times 6 equals your displacement. They measured us at 1140, well below the 1350 limit. Once the displacement is certified, they put a lead/wire seal between the case and the cylinders. Provided we don't break the seal, we won't have to do this again. The record is certified and Los Leos is in the record book at just over 155-mph. Now all we have to do is put the dang thing back together, hopefully keeping the salt out.
The 14th of August, Mitchel's birthday, we can't set a record today but we might qualify for a record run tomorrow. Another turn on the boost screw and into the staging lanes we go. Same as the day before the bike takes off, running straight and true. Bike 606 on the short course, 174.087 boomed across the CB. Where was the guy that said a CBX can't go fast? Imagine, he had the nerve to tell me I was wasting my time, back to impound we go.
August 15th, a good day for Los Leos to set another record. Each day more people break their toys and go home. It is now easier to get to the start line. Anticipation, anxiety, nervousness sets in. Can it do it a second time? The starter waves Les down the track. Bike 606, 175.989 in the mile. Yes, Yes, Yes another record, 175.038!!! This ain't too hard. At the end of the track, Les is jumping around, everybody is hugging each other, this is what it is all about. The bike is running 13 pounds of boost and turning 11000 rpm, but we have run out of gear. Jim has a 19 tooth counter shaft gear back in the pits, let's do it. We put the gear on and get back in line.
At the line, we fire the engine, a faint chirp is heard, but it fades away as the bike warms up. The starter gives us the lane, Les blasts off. The voice on the CB shrieks, bike 606 177.145 in the mile. When we catch up to Les he gives us the bad news, the head gasket is gone. This is it for the big motor, our toy is broke. The bad news starts to sink in, the Team gets quiet, we load up the bike and go back to the pit. Like the loss of an old friend we mourn for the engine. Five minutes later, we start taking it out. A decision has been made to put in the stock engine we brought along as a spare.
The 16th August, a visitor shows up, Pete Ruff. It's been a long week and a friendly face is like a breath of fresh air, much appreciated. By 11:30 am the engine swap is completed. Realizing the stock engine will not perform as well as the big engine, it's now time for just fun. Our 22-year-old son, David wants to get his competition license and this engine will allow him to do it. This is a difficult decision to let him ride on the salt. He attends a Rookie training session; we borrow a set of leathers and get back in line. Since this is his first time down the salt we start him off slow, keep it below 6500 in fifth. The first run netted him a 117 and a smile from ear to ear. Next run, 7000 rpm and a 132-mph time slip and his first competition license. 8000 rpm on the third run was good for 144 mph, not enough for the next license. The bike still has more in it, but a rainstorm blew in and our fun was cut short.
August 17th, 2000, with a grin from ear to ear and a turn on the boost screw, it's time to get serious. "9700 is the limit, no more, do you understand?" these were my instructions to David. The next sound heard over the CB was "Bike 606, 155 in the mile". All 105 pounds of 22-year-old kid was excited when we got to him. "Pumped" is not enough to describe his pleasure! Let's go back and do it again.
At the starting line, the bike once again roared to life, but this time it was making a little more noise than it had last run. It wasn't a rod, cam chain maybe? Should I let him make the run? Does it have one more run in it? A few minutes later, "Bike 606, 156 in the mile" roared across the CB. Screams of joy echoed through the cab of the truck on the return road. Our toy is again sick, let's call it a day, and go back to the pits.
August 18, we have exhausted our supply of engines and the week is at a close. What a week! What an experience! Six months of hard work, one week of non-stop excitement. As I write this I am reliving each day, each experience. For each experience I relate, there are five more in my mind. The smile I now wear may be permanent. It's been there for about a week now. Will we go back, I don't know. Can we go faster, yes!
To all the people that helped Los Leos, THANKS. In life, it's not the quantity of friends it's the quality of your friends that counts. Whether it was with parts, advice, words of encouragement or cheap labor, they made a difference! TIM'S, Red Line Oil, Progressive Suspension, Stubbs Cycle, KOWA, all believed in us. Many relatives and friends also helped. Without the help of these fine people this dream week at Bonneville would not have happened. Thank you.
- For additional information:
- Tom Neimeyer, 713-501-5889,
- Mitchel Banks 281-353-8837,
Sponsors & Folks Helping
- Many, many THANKS to the people who are helping us.
- This Land Speed Attempt was made possible by their generousity!
- Drop by their web sites and see what they offer!
- The folks at KOWA supplied us with a cycle lift.
- Tim Kerrigan, Red Line Oil, some real slick stuff!
- Jerry Sutton, Stubbs Motorcycles, supplied the tires.
- Tim & Betty Ware, Aftermarket CBX Parts, ignition, coils, sprockets.
- shot the beautiful red paint.
- Larry Langley, Progressive Suspension, first class suspension products.