Pikes Peak turns 100

Pikes Peak – the hill climb, not the moun­tain – has been around for an eter­nity – since 1916 in fact. The moun­tain it­self has been around even longer, prob­a­bly sev­eral mil­lion years.

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tographs Jim and Sue Scaysbrook

At 4302.31 me­tres (14,115.2 feet), the sum­mit is the high­est point of the south­ern Front Range of the Rocky Moun­tains in Colorado. An 1806 ex­pe­di­tion, led by Ze­bu­lon Pike, is cred­ited with al­most, but not quite, reach­ing the top – it took un­til 1820 for that to hap­pen. Over the sub­se­quent decades, a rough track was grad­u­ally hacked out, which gained slight im­prove­ments year by year and even­tu­ally served as a mil­i­tary ob­ser­va­tion post. As of­ten hap­pens, the trans­for­ma­tion of the crude road into some­thing suit­able for mo­tor ve­hi­cles was done by a prop­erty de­vel­oper; one Spencer Pen­rose. The ex­tremely wealthy Mr Pen­rose had ex­ten­sive in­ter­ests in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity, par­tic­u­larly in Colorado Springs, where he es­tab­lished the sump­tu­ous Broad­moor Re­sort Ho­tel, which is to­day the nam­ing spon­sor for the an­nual Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The usu­ally snow- capped Pikes Peak it­self dom­i­nates the lo­cal sky­line, and to en­cour­age tourists to the district (and to his ho­tel), Pen­rose widened and im­proved the en­tire length of the road into what was re­named Pikes Peak High­way. To fur­ther show­case the lo­ca­tion, he hit upon the idea of a “Race to the Clouds”. In an eerie par­al­lel that saw the Mount Panorama cir­cuit con­structed as a ‘scenic drive’ in order to se­cure gov­ern­ment fund­ing, the road to the sum­mit of Pikes Peak was the re­sult of a con­tract be­tween Spencer Pen­rose and the US Gov­ern­ment, signed in 1915 with a bud­get of $25,000. It was built all right, but not for $25,000 – the fi­nal cost ex­ceed­ing half a mil­lion dol­lars.

The first Pikes Peak Na­tional Hill Climb­ing Con­test, held in Au­gust 1916, was ba­si­cally a lo­cal con­test, as much of the world out­side the United States was busy fight­ing each other in Europe. The race track in this case was a sin­u­ous clam­ber of al­most ex­actly 20 kilo­me­tres (12.42 miles), with 156 cor­ners. The sum­mit is 1,439 me­tres above the start­ing line at what is known as Mile 7 of the Pikes Peak High­way, which it­self sits at 2,862 me­tres above sea level.

The road climbs at an av­er­age gra­di­ent of 7%, and there are (un­fenced) sheer drops of 100 me­tres or more through­out the jour­ney. The out­right win­ner of the first event was Fred Junk driv­ing a Chalmers Special, who com­pleted the run in 23 min­utes 4.60 sec­onds. Mo­tor­cy­cle honours went to Floyd Cly­mer, who went on to be­come the big­gest name in mo­tor­cy­cle pub­lish­ing in the US. Since then, the event has con­tin­ued an­nu­ally, in­ter­rupted only from 1917-1919 and 1942-1945 in­clu­sive as Amer­ica joined in the Euro­pean and Pa­cific skir­mishes. That makes Pikes Peak the sec­ond old­est mo­tor sport event in USA, be­hind only the Indianapol­is 500.

Orig­i­nally, the en­tire road was gravel sur­faced, and vir­tu­ally im­pass­able in rain or win­ter snow­falls. In 1948, re­spon­si­bil­ity for Pikes Peak High­way passed from the U.S. Forestry Ser­vice to the City of Colorado Springs, and within a few years the first six miles – to just be­low what is now the start­ing line – was paved. This re­mained the case un­til 2002, when a pro­gram was in­sti­gated to pave the re­main­ing 13 miles, which was com­pleted in 2011. As the years rolled by, the con­test was opened to more and more classes of cars, and in 1954, mo­tor­cy­cles were re-added to the bill (a Side­car class was run in 1916 but dropped af­ter that year). De­spite be­ing dropped from the pro­gram in 197779, and 1983-1990, the bikes are now once again part of the show. The cur­rent “2-Wheel Record” stands to Car­lin Dunne on a Du­cati Mul­tistrada 1200, who achieved a time of 9 min­utes 52.819 sec­onds in 2012. That mo­tor­cy­cle is now dis­played in the Pen­rose Her­itage Mu­seum, ad­ja­cent to the Broad­moor, in Colorado Springs, along­side the 1906 Read­ing Stan­dard mo­tor­cy­cle, which was the first mo­torised ve­hi­cle to climb Pikes Peak.

Be­cause of the alti­tude and re­sult­ing lack of oxy­gen in the air, nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gines be­come quite asth­matic as they near the sum­mit. Forced in­duc­tion, such as tur­bocharg­ing, goes some way to com­pen­sat­ing, but in re­cent years, the rapidly emerg­ing elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cle tech­nol­ogy has gone even fur­ther. In 2013, that man Car­lin Dunne, on a Light­ning Elec­tric Su­per­bike, whis­tled silently up the hill in 10 min­utes 0.694 sec­onds.

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, there are only six deaths associated with the event over its cen­tury of us­age, the first be­ing a car driver in 1921 and the most re­cent, mo­tor­cy­cle com­peti­tor Carl Sorensen in 2015. There have been more fa­tal­i­ties in in­ter­na­tional Ham­mer Throw com­pe­ti­tion than at Pikes Peak! Nat­u­rally, times have dropped dra­mat­i­cally since the seal­ing of the road, the cur­rent record stand­ing to rally ace Se­bas­tian Loeb, who drove his Peu­geot 208 T16 to the top in a time of 8 min­utes 13.878 sec­onds in 2013. The Race to the Clouds gained a mul­ti­tude of fol­low­ers world­wide in 1988 as a re­sult of a doc­u­men­tary film “Climb Dance” show­ing the re­mark­able feat by Ari Vata­nen in his Peu­geot 405 T16 – the road still dirt, the driver hang­ing wheels over the edge and shield­ing his eyes against the glar­ing sun. If you’ve not seen this amaz­ing footage, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEuZG37gFd­M.

Hit­ting a cen­tury

For 51 weeks of the year, the road to the sum­mit is part of the Na­tional Park, but is closed to nor­mal traf­fic for strictly reg­u­lated pe­ri­ods dur­ing race week; an un­easy al­liance be­tween the race pro­mot­ers and the park staff, but one that seems to work.

And so to June 2016 – 100 years af­ter the first ve­hi­cles (mo­tor­cy­cles ac­tu­ally, which pre­ceded the cars by two days) roared up the moun­tain, en­velop­ing every­one in a dense blan­ket of dust. If you’ll par­don the ob­vi­ous pun, the event has had its ups and downs since then, hit­ting its nadir in 2007 when it was al­most can­celled due to lack of funds. The grad­ual tar seal­ing of the climb alien­ated the purists, who saw the dirt sur­face as the great lev­eler of driver skill and con­trol, prob­a­bly quite cor­rectly. With the com­ing of the tar, the buzz word be­came ‘grip’, or per­haps ‘lack of grip’ would be more cor­rect. And be­cause the new track sur­face now spends 8 months of the year buried un­der snow, the sub sur­face is con­stantly un­der­mined, pro­duc­ing bumps and cor­ru­ga­tions that change year by year. By 2016, those bumps, par­tic­u­larly on the up­per sec­tions, have be­come so se­vere they would shake the loose change out of your pock­ets. With great com­mit­ment, the or­gan­is­ers man­aged to strug­gle through the near-aban­don­ment of 2007, never los­ing fo­cus on their goal to stage the 100-year

event in 2016. Ev­ery year, they face tar­geted op­po­si­tion from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, res­i­dents and peo­ple who just don’t like mo­tor sport, but a turn­ing point came when the Pikes Peak In­ter­na­tional Hill Climb or­gan­is­ers cap­tured the iconic Broad­moor Ho­tel and Re­sort as the nam­ing spon­sor, giv­ing much-needed civic cred to the event. As speeds rose due to the new sur­face, so did the in­ten­sity and sever­ity of the ac­ci­dents, and two re­cent mo­tor­cy­cle fa­tal­i­ties fur­ther armed the crit­ics. With the de­ter­mi­na­tion to make the 100th year safe and spec­tac­u­lar, they de­cided to limit en­tries to just 100; each care­fully vet­ted as to the skill of the rider/driver and the cal­iber of the ve­hi­cle. Bikes were given ap­prox­i­mately one third of the en­try list- a to­tal of 33 in the var­i­ous classes.

Rise and shine

I’ve been at race tracks in the early hours all my adult life, but usu­ally the sun was up. How­ever like the Isle of Man TT, this track is a pub­lic road apart from the strictly reg­u­lated pe­ri­ods when it is a race track. That means ris­ing around 2am for each of the prac­tice pe­ri­ods – even ear­lier if you are stay­ing out of town (Colorado Springs) – and around 1 am on Sun­day’s race day, when vast queues form at the gates of the Na­tional Park. If you want to watch from any­where on the up­per sec­tions you need to be there be­fore the roads close at around 7 am and be pre­pared to stay there un­til they re­open late in the af­ter­noon. You need to bring plenty of wa­ter, and oxy­gen can­is­ters are a good item to pack be­cause there’s pre­cious lit­tle of that el­e­ment at 14,000 feet.

For 2016, the ca­pac­ity limit for the Heavy­weight Mo­tor­cy­cle class was lifted from 1000cc 4 cylin­ders/1200cc twins to 1100/1300 – a move that en­ticed KTM to en­ter their 1290 Su­per Duke R. One of the two ex­am­ples en­tered was a joint ef­fort be­tween KTM USA and US on-line mag­a­zine Cy­cle News, with Road Test Ed­i­tor Ren­nie Scaysbrook (who hap­pens to be my son) in the sad­dle. Like ev­ery other com­peti­tor, he honed his knowl­edge of the track by de­vour­ing videos and play­ing game sim­u­la­tions, be­fore fi­nally tak­ing part in the two-day ‘Tyre Test’ two weeks prior to the event. There’s a lot to learn in a very short space of time, with 156 cor­ners, 18 of them hair­pins, plus the rather chill­ing na­ture of the course it­self; the lower re­gions lined with stout trees and the up­per sec­tion, above the tree line, bor­dered by sheer drops and huge boul­ders.

For the tyre tests and for prac­tice/qual­i­fy­ing, the course is split into three sec­tions; cars and bikes al­ter­nat­ing be­tween sec­tions on the var­i­ous prac­tice days. The only time they get to run over the en­tire length ‚

is on Sun­day’s race day – and they only have one shot at it. And once your run is com­plete, you’re stuck on top of the moun­tain un­til the fi­nal ve­hi­cle ar­rives, and be­cause the mo­tor­cy­cles go first, that means most of the day. The lower sec­tion, be­gin­ning at 2,862 me­tres above sea level, ac­counts for ap­prox­i­mately half of the dis­tance and is ex­tremely fast, re­quir­ing ma­jor com­mit­ment to keep the throt­tle pinned. Sec­tion two con­tains most of the hair­pins and as the veg­e­ta­tion dis­ap­pears, the air gets thin­ner and petrol en­gine per­for­mance drops no­tably. By the time you hit Sec­tion three and four, en­gines have lost around 30 per cent of their power, and that’s where the elec­tric mo­tors come into their own. Ren­nie came away from the tests with the fastest time on the lower sec­tion, but ad­mit­ted he was well off the pace on the top. “I re­ally like the first bit,” he said. “It’s like a re­ally quick road race but you have to con­vince your­self to not back off, and com­mit to the cor­ners or you lose speed. You have to get the turn-in points ex­actly right, be­cause if you apex too early you run wide, and that’s def­i­nitely not a good idea as there is zero run off.” The cars and bikes each have one des­ig­nated qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion run over the lower sec­tions to de­ter­mine start­ing order (and brag­ging rights), and for the bikes this was on Fri­day morn­ing on the fi­nal day of prac­tice week. It came down to a thrilling shoot out be­tween the two fac­tory en­tries from Victory – jour­nal­ist Don Canet on the Pro­to­type Em­pulse RR elec­tric bike and 2014 mo­tor­cy­cle win­ner Jeremy Toye on the Project 156 vee twin, Cor­si­can hill climb spe­cial­ist Bruno Lan­glois on a Kawasaki Z1000, Shane Scott’s KTM 1290R, and Ren­nie, the au­da­cious rookie. Qual­i­fy­ing was con­ducted over three runs and af­ter the first Canet held a nar­row ad­van­tage over Ren­nie with Toye third, but in the sec­ond run Ren­nie edged ahead with a time of 4 min­utes 16 sec­onds. It all came down to the fi­nal at­tempt and with a large gulp of oxy­gen from the can­is­ter, Ren­nie peeled off a run of 4.14 while Toye re­mained sev­eral sec­onds in ar­rears. All eyes were glued to the tim­ing screen as Canet’s Victory elec­tric silently whooshed off the line but by the first split he was 1.5 sec­onds down on Ren­nie’s time. The fi­nal split was cru­cial but Canet had his transpon­der come adrift and the hon­our of be­ing fastest qual­i­fier went to Ren­nie – the first rookie to do so ac­cord­ing to those who know the year-by-year sta­tis­tics. There was no time for cel­e­bra­tions be­cause Fri­day evening is Fan Fest, when the Main Street of Colorado Springs is closed off and 35,000 peo­ple jam the area to see the com­pe­ti­tion ve­hi­cles and col­lect au­to­graphs. Thank­fully, Satur­day is termed a rest day, but there’s lit­tle rest for the of­fi­cials and vol­un­teers who work fever­ishly to make sure ev­ery­thing is in place for Sun­day’s big event.

The great es­cape

“That was the most ter­ri­fy­ing thing I have ever done”, said Ren­nie through chat­ter­ing teeth, draped in an Aus­tralian flag and scarcely able to climb off the bike. It’s 6.15 pm on Sun­day night, and com­peti­tors have fi­nally re­turned to the start area af­ter spend­ing many hours on top of the moun­tain, where a bliz­zard has been rag­ing since late af­ter­noon. Half frozen, phys­i­cally and men­tally drained, and with a large bruise on his arm, Ren­nie had been on the peak – as snow and sleet set in – since 10.30 am, but he was lucky to be there at all. Af­ter set­ting the fastest times in the first two sec­tors, he crashed at the en­trance to one of the right hand hair­pins. “I braked at the same marker I had used in prac­tice, but the prob­lem was that I was go­ing a lot faster and it was way too late. I didn’t even have time to change down; I hit the bar­rier in fourth gear and the bike went be­tween the hay bales and the Armco and stopped dead, fling­ing me over the fence.” That was when his luck cut in, be­cause he landed on a small level area be­side the fence, be­yond which there was only moun­tain air. Only min­utes ear­lier, 21 year old Scots­man Con­nor Toner had made ex­actly the same mis­take, but the rider and his SXV Aprilia cleared the fence and landed far down in the val­ley be­low. His fa­ther Joseph, rid­ing a Tri­umph Triple, passed the scene a few min­utes later, obliv­i­ous to the fate of his son, who was air­lifted by he­li­copter with se­ri­ous head in­juries. Af­ter his som­er­sault, Ren­nie quickly re­gained his feet and set about ex­tri­cat­ing the KTM. Back in the sad­dle, a pre­cious 22 sec­onds had passed, and it was now rain­ing on the last sec­tion be­fore the sum­mit, but he put his head down and fin­ished his run with the sec­ond fastest time over the fi­nal few miles of Sec­tor 4, de­spite hav­ing to

dodge a fam­ily of ground­hogs that de­cided to cross the road at the apex of the first of the flat out left han­ders – which has an un­guarded sheer drop on the out­side. Var­i­ous bits had been wiped off the KTM, in­clud­ing one of the GoPro cam­eras, which, re­mark­ably was found by a mar­shal and re­turned to Ren­nie af­ter the race. Cru­cially, the transpon­der, al­though torn loose from its mount, re­mained with the bike, record­ing a time of 10 min­utes 28.407 sec­onds. The mar­gin to the ul­ti­mate mo­tor­cy­cle win­ner Bruno Lan­glois (the 2015 win­ner) was 15.301 sec­onds. Sim­ple maths tells what might have been, but it could also have ended in tragedy. While the ma­jor­ity of the pro­gram – the car classes, be­set by nu­mer­ous ac­ci­dents and stop­pages – were run, the bike rid­ers hud­dled on the moun­tain as the weather closed in. By the time the last car ar­rived at the fin­ish line and the slow process of re­turn­ing to the start, 5,000 feet be­low, be­gan, the snow was a foot thick. De­spite the dis­ap­point­ment of los­ing the over­all win, Ren­nie was quick to ac­knowl­edge the help he re­ceived from ex­pe­ri­enced Pikes Peak rac­ers, par­tic­u­larly Greg Tracy who is the only man to record sub-10 minute times on both a mo­tor­cy­cle and in a car. “Greg is a fab­u­lous guy who helped me more than I could ever imag­ine,” Ren­nie said. “I would go to him con­stantly and ex­plain where I was hav­ing prob­lems and he would sit me down and take me through the steps un­til he was con­fi­dent that I had the mes­sage. That sort of help is just in­valu­able on a place like this for a first-timer like me.”

In this day and age, Pikes Peak is the sort of event that beg­gars be­lief. It is dif­fi­cult to put into words just how pun­ish­ing and scary it re­ally is – a throw­back to the ‘death with hon­our’ events of the ‘fifties like the Mille Miglia and Targo Flo­rio. But Pikes Peak has al­ways been thus, and it isn’t com­pul­sory. Whether the mo­tor­cy­cle side of the event sur­vives is cur­rently a moot point. This year, the bikes were very nearly elim­i­nated from the pro­gram over mainly in­sur­ance is­sues, and only re­tained af­ter the or­gan­is­ers and the mo­tor­cy­cle peo­ple agreed to ex­clude race-spec su­per­bikes in favour of mod­i­fied road bikes – de­fined by hav­ing one-piece han­dle­bars in­stead of clip-ons. With more wor­ry­ing in­ci­dents this year, it can only be as­sumed that the pres­sure on the bike side will con­tinue, but while the event re­mains, it is most as­suredly a must see. Just re­mem­ber to bring your oxy­gen can­is­ter and plenty of wa­ter.

TOP Fastest mo­tor­cy­cle qual­i­fier Ren­nie Scaysbrook signs au­to­graphs at the Fan Fest. TOP CEN­TRE The pres­ti­gious and his­toric Broad­moor Ho­tel, built by Spencer Pen­rose, the in­sti­ga­tor of Pikes Peak Hill Climb. ABOVE LEFT Ren­nie with Tom Moen, KTM North Amer­ica Me­dia Man­ager who or­ga­nized the en­try for the 1290 R Su­per Duke. ABOVE RIGHT Around 35,000 vis­ited the Fan Fest in the main street of Colorado Springs. RIGHT Very few of the cor­ners have any form of fenc­ing, but this 100mph dou­ble right shortly af­ter the start is not one of them. FAR RIGHT Happy birth­day, Pikes Peak In­ter­na­tional Hill Climb.

It’s 5am on top of the moun­tain and rid­ers hud­dle for a briefing. Pre-dawn at the start­ing point for the fi­nal sec­tion to the fin­ish line.

Du­cati fielded a four-man squad of ex­pe­ri­enced Pikes Peak rid­ers to men­tor con­tes­tants.

Young Scots­man Con­nor Toner was se­ri­ously in­jured when he crashed on the moun­tain. 2014 win­ner Jeremy Toye had the Ex­hi­bi­tion Pow­er­sport class all to him­self on the Victory Project 156 – named af­ter the 156 cor­ners of the hill climb.

To­masz Gom­bos had a novel way of beat­ing the ‘no clip-on han­dle­bars’ rule on his Yamaha FZ-07 – the up­side down ‘ace’ bars fa­mil­iar to café rac­ers of the ‘six­ties.

TOP LEFT Reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to the AMCN Is­land Clas­sic, Wade Boyd and Chris­tine Blunck on their GSXR1000 out­fit. TOP CEN­TRE Five Quads en­tered; this is 17-year-old Bran­don Tubbs II on a Yamaha Rap­tor. TOP RIGHT Ja­panese side­car crew Masahito Watan­abe and Masahiro Ozaki at work on their LCR GSX-R1000 in the freez­ing pit area on the Up­per Sec­tion dur­ing Thurs­day’s prac­tice. LEFT Even­tual Mid­dleweight win­ner Kris Lil­le­gard pre­pares for an Up­per Sec­tion prac­tice run on his MV Agusta Bru­tale.

Rookie of the Year (Bikes) and sec­ond in the Heavy­weight class, Aussie Ren­nie Scaysbrook qual­i­fied fastest in the mo­tor­cy­cle di­vi­sion but a mis­take in the third sec­tor of the main event cost him the over­all win.

ABOVE LEFT Cy­cle World Road Test ed­i­tor Don Canet took out the Elec­tric Bike class on the Victory Em­pulse RR. ABOVE RIGHT Side­car win­ner John Wood and pas­sen­ger Matthew Blank grabbed a third Pikes Peak ti­tle. BE­LOW At least you can’t com­plain about the fences be­ing too close. Check the fol­low­ing Youtube link for a short film of Ren­nie at Pikes Peak. www.youtube.com/watch?v=lX586jFyZX­I&fea­ture=youtu.be

Over­all win­ner for the sec­ond year in a row, 54-year-old Bruno Lan­glois from Cor­sica on a Kawasaki Z1000.

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