I had the good fortune to have covered American Freestyle MotoX legend Seth Enslow’s World Record Harley-Davidson distance attempt from its early days back in 2009. (Made in Mildura & Crusty’s gone wild).
The jump was the brainchild of Aussie motorcycling legend and owner of Quick Fix Harley Davidson Mildura Victoria, Gavin Walker. The jump was to take place mid 2009 only to be called off after Seth suffered injuries on the Brisbane leg of the Crusty Tour, jumping the XR1200. After the tour Seth went home to Orange County, California and daughter Kylie.
Nine year old Kylie lives with Seth much of the time and daddy’s girl hates when Seth has to travel and she is left with mum – she would like to be with dad all the time. Seth says “It’s kind of hard to leave her hangin’, the pets and the whole thing! It’s kinda grounded me the kid, a dog and a cat”. Seth says Kylie is always with him making the remark “She’s got my back!” Seth bought Kylie a Honda 70 and she loves going out with the Big Feller and putting around. When asked if he would like a boy? He says rather a girl, he would only end up killing a boy they get into way too much trouble!
Gavin (Quick Fix Harley) was going to give up after investing so much but was committed to breaking the record. All through the conception Gavin’s son Jack (a legend in his own right) was there as his right hand man in development and testing. Living in the rural town has its advantages. Besides being one of Australia’s Motorhead Mecca’s, much of Mildura is farmland so there is plenty of room and areas for testing of the XR. (well sort of!) In fact, majority of testing was done in the Walker’s own backyard. Testing went on for weeks, Jack would jump the bike five times at a certain distance then they would make any adjustments to the suspension, iron out any kinks and pull the ramp back and get back out there. The more they pulled the ramp back the more they knew what the back was doing and reacting. After measuring up the boys saw they were only 10ft short of the record so they went for it!
I remember receiving a short text from a proud Dad saying Jack has just broken the World Record!
Jack did make the distance, unofficially of course, there in his own back yard. During testing the Walkers couldn’t get the ramp back far enough because the Walkers neighbour wouldn’t let, as Jack put it, tear his fence out! So Jack had to circle the bloke to get the run up. The landing ramp was also restricted making it “pretty” close to the landing ramp meaning Jacks was landing right down the bottom of the ramp. (The take off ramp is 40ft long, landing ramp 80ft. The Harley Davidson XR 1200 used for the jump come in at 257kg). The constant landing and accuracy of the jump was starting to crack the timber on the down ramp and an 8 inch rutt where the Harley would roll out onto the grass!
With testing behind them with the XR1200 coming through with flying colours, hyperactive Gav had to find something to do (as if running a large motorcycle dealership isn’t enough!) He decided to get himself a Globe of Death (as you do!) A Globe of Death is a large dome made of metal with a trap door which doubles as a ramp and you ride a bike around the inner-walls of the sphere.
The Dome was made famous on the carnival circuits with the bike of choice a dirt bike because of its size and agility. True to form Gav has commissioned a Sportster for this stunt also! The cage radius comes in at a moderately small 14ft or 4.2 meters making the task for the rider all the more difficult.
As luck may have it Gav just happen to run into Steve Butler at the Mildura MotoX track. Steve was in town to get a couple of Tatts.
Steve and Gavin got to know each other from the Mildura Show where Steve performed with Clarry Jones and son Phil for the past 10 years with the Globe of Death. Gavin would lend the boys a bike for the show whenever they were in town. The pair got to talking when Gav dropped the bombshell “what do you recon if we put a Harley in the Globe?” Steve was wrapped and keen to give it a go!
Fishin’ for Steve’s expertise in the Globe, Gav then threw it back in Steve’s lap saying “well what’s the deal?’ Steve said “Clarry Jones still had one back in Adelaide, lets get it up here?” Steve and Phil set the Globe up and Phil was first to try it and found out early how hard it was to be! Steve is quick to jump to his old mates defense pointing out how difficult the Globe is on a 70kg RT100 let alone a 160kg 883 Sportster! Steve says the biggest thing is getting that first turn. Because of the weight the bike almost stalls.
The Sporty is a whole new kettle of fish compared to the nimble paddock basher.
Steve has conquered the Globe six times now and says he still shits himself and that first turn doesn’t help or the fact he has short legs. Because the bike has so much grunt and its heavy, that first turn you need to roll up and roll back and really get yourself right over the bike and turn it otherwise the bike will just go straight.
You get about ½ to ¾ through that first turn and the bike just wants to stall and dump you on your head. You just have to sack up and twist it out of it - there is no other way!
Take note, conquering the Globe has given Steve bragging rights to have been the first rider in the world to have ridden a Harley Davidson upside down in the Globe of Death.
Then there’s another of Gav’s recruits, Aussie MotoX freestyle legend and back flip extraordinaire Kain Saul who created another first by back flipping one of the XR1200 last year.
Now the long wait was over it was time to smash that record officially!
With the help of Carl Wolfe from Mallee Metal Fab, Mildura Gav and Carl fabricated a portable landing ramp and ingeniously attached it to a shipping container for storage and ease of transport. Which as you will see came in handy later on.
The jump took place Harbourside at the soon to be developed Barangaroo Park (Pier 5 Hickson Road Darling Harbour). The north end of the pier looks onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the landing ramp was positioned to have the bridge in the background. Unfortunately there was an 18 knot cross wind which to use Gavin’s phrase is the natural enemy of the motorcycle jumper. Be it a tail wind or head wind there would be no drama but rule of thumb anything over 15 knots no one is to jump! Mornings were the best time of day to jump so the boys did a few practice jumps at a shorter distance of up to 120ft as the wind would be too dangerous any longer.
I caught up to Seth on the ramp to get his take on the location and conditions.
Seth looking at his surroundings said “it’s a good location, great back drop and a good landing ramp that Gav and the boys have put together. Just hoping for no wind or rain, if we would have thought about it and moved the ramp back a bit there wouldn’t be that cross wind issue behind the sandstone rock face!
We were trying to get the Harbour Bridge as a backdrop which was kinda hard because of a light pole in the way. If we did pull it back there would be plenty more room to stop! It’s all about the photos and footage, really it should be about the distance and breaking records and hopefully we will get some nice photos to go with it!
It’s all about the record, that’s what we are here to accomplish!”
Seth got some practice in a couple of days earlier back in California and was feeling good jumping his beloved CR450 a massive 230ft - a good confidence builder. With several practice rides under his belt Seth was happy getting some riding in and with weather permitting wanted to knock it out! He says.
With the wind not slowing it was a unanimous decision to move the ramps back to the protection of the sandstone walls which presented an issue in itself because of the sheer size of the ramps and lack of time, they were in need of a crane. It seemed everyone knew someone - the phones were running hot!
I rang our mates at Penrith cranes and the boys had no problem helping but as time was of the essence the guys from Botany cranes were there in no time at all!
Seth and Jack are like chalk and cheese both in character, style and approach to the jump. Seth simply putting it down like this “If the weathers good we will go for the record!
Morning would be smart, the wind picks up around midday and they have forecast rain. I tried to get an insight into how he would attack the jump. Seth says “On approach checked that you have the speed to clear the gap and land on the landing ramp. You have to put all your fears and thoughts aside and focus on the jump you’re about to do and not let anything get in your way!”
Seth had only jumped the one bike by this time and wanted to test both but admits besides the suspension and colour, the bikes are pretty much identical. The XR1200 has interchangeable plastic so the bike he does jump will be black, as for suspension whatever works the best will be what he uses to break the record.
The XR1200 suspension was fabricated by, Ian Linklater. One spring the other hydraulic. The boys jump dirt bikes to get speeds dialled in before attempting the distance on the 257kg XR, making changes as they go. Changes may be putting air in the hydraulic which in turn changes spring rate making the landing a little stiffer or looser.
The boys jump until they are happy with any changes and see what the bikes are doing on landing. Once happy they pull the ramp back a further10ft. Jack was more than happy to run us through the jump.
Jack says “When coming up to the ramp read the Tacho. When I broke the record it was in third gear at 5000rpm. Tacho needs to be between 5000-6000rpm. On approach to the ramp check speed, speed needs to be around 110kph. Roll the throttle on at the bottom of the ramp. Because the bike is so heavy you need to get a little more momentum. You really need to be pushing it.
At this time you are kind of just feeling for the wind up the ramp. It doesn’t take long for the bike to go from underneath you at that speed, it all happens pretty quick. When you get a feel of what direction the wind is blowing from, up the ramp you lean into it. Before you know it your 40-50ft in the air. The bikes are so long, so tall and heavy that once they step out there’s no bringing them back! You just have to try to predict it, use a bit of clutch, a bit of throttle and try to roll out of it. The wind can upset everything, if it’s a head wind we can put up with it. Tail wind is even better. If it comes from the side - horrible! If you concentrate too much on what’s going to happen you are going to be scared, you just worry about the landing. When you leave the ramp the front wheel tends to drop a little. Give it a little rev as you come off and it will sit it straight. If the front’s too high, you tap the back brake to bring the front down, or panic rev to bring the front up. You steer the bike straight, make sure the weights in the right place. Ride the clutch out as you plant the back wheel. Once you land roll the throttle out. The VTwin is on rubber mounts and it just about backflips when you give it a good pump.
Jacks bike of choice is the Rigid saying it loads up beautifully, works with whatever force it is put under. If you land the bike with the spring suspension a little ugly at the bottom it hits the bump stops and bounces, its just KTM suspension and tends to bounce and get head shakes.
On 2nd March 2010, the fourth day of jumping, Seth and the Quick Fix team annihilated the record set by Bubba Blackwell of 157ft (47.85m) setting a new benchmark of 175ft (53.34m).