October 14, 2004 On September 19 this year, Minnesota (USA) motorcyclist Samuel Armstrong Tilley set what is believed to be a world record for speeding on public roads. No doubt people have gone faster on public roads, but Tilley had the misfortune to do so without noticing the police plane above him, and was officially clocked at 205.11mph by a handheld stopwatch. The ticket has made news around the world, with many people proclaiming the speeding ticket must have been a mistake as motorcycles simply don't go that fast.
Tilley topped the previous highest known speed recorded in a traffic infringement, set by New Yorker Dr. William Faenza in a 1997 Lamborghini Diablo at 182 mph in a 55 mph zone.
With so many experts casting an opinion on the fine, and all of them stating that the ticket had to be a mistake on the basis that motorcycles simply don't go that fast, we're weighing in with an opinion too.
Firstly, Tilley's bike was a 2003 Honda RC51 motorcycle which the highway patrolman who pulled him over has gone on record as stating was "highly modified."
Tilley claims the bike only had a set of aftermarket mufflers fitted. In standard form, the bike makes 128 bhp and if the bike had only had exhaust mods, it would certainly not be putting out any more than 135bhp and would struggle to reach 160mph.
We don't know for sure what level of internal modifications had been performed on the bike but we DO believe that an RC51 is capable of being modified to run 205 mph.
The RC51 is the bike which won the 2002 World Superbike Championship in the hands of Colin Edwards. Superbikes are based on roadbikes, and can be modified according to a strict set of rules. Honda actually sells all the bits to take a standard RC51 to superbikes specs, though we suspect they keep a few horsepower up their sleeve for the likes of Edwards' factory machine.
Just for the record, the array of HRC-designed racing engine components available from a Honda showroom includes crankshaft, cylinder heads, valve train, camshafts, drive gears, pistons, connecting rods, clutch, generator, radiators, exhaust system, ECU and much more. If you are deemed to be the right class of racer, you can also buy a production version of the race bike, which sold for US$107,000 in 2002.
Estimates of the horsepower output of Edwards' 2002 title winning machine vary from 180 bhp to nearly 200 bhp, and the race versions over-the-counter are believed to be in the 175bhp area - enough to push the bike past 200mph.
Edwards was regularly clocked at over 300kmh during the 2002 racing season, and he did not have the advantage of a long straight road to achieve that speed - he had to get around the corner at the end of the straight.
Chicanes have been added to all the high speed circuits around the world in recent years because speeds have continued to climb with technological advances, and the speeds were simply getting ridiculous.
For a top speed run, you ideally need several kilometres of straight run-up and plenty of space after the speed traps to slow down.
Given a couple of kilometres run-up, plus Honda Racing Corporation engine internals, the right gearing, a coat of polish and a damned good tune-up, a Honda RC51 is capable of running 205mph.
All that said, there's still something that doesn't add up.
One possibility is that the pilot got it all horribly wrong and pressed the stopwatch at the wrong time. Apparently the pilot managed to clock both Tilley and his accompanying friend (booked for 111mph on an MV Agusta F4i) at the same time, using two stopwatches - while flying a plane. This suggests that error is one distinct possibility.
Now Tilley claims his bike is not capable of more than 145-150 mph. Yet the pilot timed Tilley over a quarter mile at 4.39 seconds, giving him the speed of 205.11 mph.
Had Tilley been doing say 145 mph (what he claims is top speed of his motorcycle), the stopwatch should have stopped at 6.2 seconds, so there's a discrepancy of nearly two seconds between the two times - 4.39 against 6.2 seconds.
So if Tilley can prove his motorcycle was unmodified beyond the mufflers, then the mistake was human error and with such a margin that it has ruined any credibility which the Minnesota Highway patrol might claim for their speed detection methodologies.
Tilley goes to court later this month and will no doubt be hoping he doesn't spend any time in the slammer, which would be very likely in most countries.
As an aside, Tilley may hold the new record for the fastest speeding ticket, but his $105 fine pales in comparison to the world's most expensive speeding ticket which was issued in Finland earlier this year.
In Finland, traffic penalties are linked to the offender's income, and Finnish millionaire Jussi Salonoja was fined US$216,900 for speeding in a 25 mph zone. It topped the previous record, again from Finland, of US$190,000 given to one of the country's wealthiest people.