“I dream about Bonneville almost every night. It was the most amazing experience I ever had and I can’t wait for it to happen again.”
When you first see Shelby Thompson, the image of someone who dreams about riding on the Salt isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. A tall, leggy blonde with all-American, California girl good-looks and an enchanting smile, most men envision Shelby as a bikini-wearing babe in her role as an AFT Customs spokesmodel. And image is an important part of what the girls represent. But thanks to tutelage by a world-class custom bike builder, Jim Guiffra, the girls of AFT are much more than pretty faces. At no time was this more evident than last August during the BUB Speed Trials on the Bonneville Salt Flats when salt virgins Shelby and fellow spokesmodel Sukhee Alves traded their bikinis for leathers and took turns ripping down the “great white dyno” on Kemosabe, an award-winning custom 2002 Honda VT750B built with the sweat and determination of the AFT Customs girls and their mentor.
Kemosabe was constructed with AMA rules and a trip to BUB speed week in mind. Horsepower on the little 750 was almost doubled thanks to a high performance piston and cam kit. Ported and polished heads by Dave of Bozzie Custom Performance also gave the V-Twin a big boost while a Dyno Jet Kit, K&N Filters and a custom AFT exhaust helped complete the hop-up. BUB has no racing class for overhead cam V-Twins, so they wanted AFT to compete with the inline-fours. This didn’t prevent Jim and the girls from making seven runs down the Salt on Kemosabe. When it was all said and done, Shelby posted a top run at 98.235 mph, Jim pushed it into triple digits at 104.101, while Sukhee beat them all with a day’s best 107.303 mph. More importantly, they left with the thrill of riding on the Salt coursing through their veins.
“I feel so blessed just to be a part of it. Now I can honestly say I understand why they call it hallowed ground just because when you’re there, it’s magic, it’s very amazing and peaceful,” Shelby said.
While we figured her heart would have been beating through her chest and she’d get light-headed from forgetting to breathe, riding on the Salt for Shelby was a Zen moment.
“Getting up to the starting gate, it seems like it’s taking forever because you just want to go. Once you get up there and they tell you you’re the only rider on the track, literally you can just see for miles. It’s probably the most peaceful experience I’ve ever had. I couldn’t believe how tranquil it was. It was very quiet, just you and the motorcycle and you’re just out there by yourself for miles on end. You can hear yourself breathing, you can hear your heart beating. You’re just listening to the sound of the engine and focusing on when to shift and you’re basically trying to position yourself to go faster,” she continued.
(L) Melanie lets the sparks fly! (M) Jim takes Kemosabe for a spin on the Salt. (R) The AFT girls pose with the bike they helped build.
When asked her thoughts on how Kemosabe performed, Shelby added, “ This bike is absolutely amazing. Especially being a show bike. We wanted to show the world our bikes are not only pretty, they’re functional. You can jump on one of these and ride it and race it and it’s not going to be any problem. The bike was absolutely solid. It didn’t rock, we didn’t have any speed wobbles, the bike was just incredible. It was nice to be able to actually observe one of our rolling pieces of art in motion and see all the craftsmanship, hard work and blood, sweat and tears that went into making this thing in action and to realize that I was a part of something exceptional.”
The fact that many people herald Bonneville’s Salt Flats as sacred ground was not lost on the AFT crew. The Salt has spawned many dreams. It has shattered many, too. But there is a spirit and camaraderie that surrounds the event, a spirit that cast its spell over the AFT crew. Jim already has big plans for their return in 2011.
Kemosabe features parts contributed by a handful of Northern California-based custom bike builders and crafstman including Duane Ballard who made the custom seat (bleow).
“Expect four AFT girls on the Salt next year. We’re hooked. We got faster with each run because we learned how to be more aerodynamic with our bodies. We learned ‘how to fly’ as they say. We rode the bike part of the way out and it performed flawlessly. We had a slight issue with the gas cap because it was acting like it was starved for fuel with a full tank at full throttle. It needed a larger vent hole but that was it. We’re going to experiment with some different header designs this winter and different gearing. We should be able to get over 120 mph next year,” he said.
Kemosabe, which translates to “faithful friend,” got its name for multiple reasons. The first is Jim’s claim that everyone at AFT is like family. The crew spends a lot of time together between working on bikes in the AFT garage and traveling to shows. The girls are hired to represent companies at motorsports shows and Jim provides them with an above average foundation of moto knowledge so they can represent their clientele professionally and knowledgeably. It started out with some simple wrenching, but recently the girls upped their game when instructor John Swartz from Miller Welding came over to help them refine their TIG welding skills. Jim provides an environment that’s conducive to learning and many would pay to learn what the girls do under the watchful eye of a craftsman with his skills. Considering Jim’s laid-back demeanor and the level of respect in which he hold the girls, AFT’s claim that everyone is like “family” holds true. On this Honda 750cc project, the women built about 70% of the bike with his supervision. It is the fourth project bike the AFT girls have built.
Kemosabe also got its name through the participation of the Northern California bike building scene in its construction. AFT wanted to give its friends in the NorCal builder community a chance to be involved, so Jim gave them the freedom to design a part for the bike as long as it fit the theme. Kirk Taylor of Custom Design Studios provided a set of foot pegs, Satya Kraus of Kraus Motor Co. came through with a handlebar riser and a rotor mount, TPJ Customs’ Bryan Schimke contributed a tail light and exhaust tip, Cole Foster added his talents to the mix with a fairing while Duane Ballard worked his magic on the leather seat. Kemosabe was only possible as a collaborative effort amongst friends, those who supplied parts and those who supplied helping hands in its construction.
Cyndi and Melanie get a crash course in welding courtesy of John Swartz of Miller Welding. Cyndi would then put what she learned to use (below) while working on Kemosabe.
The customized Honda VT750B debuted at the LA Calendar Show July 18 where it won top honors in its class. In true bobber fashion, Jim removed the front fender and sourced a tire-hugging rear fender from Led Sled Customs. AFT fobbed up a custom tank and battery box and hid the radiator below the solo seat. The front fork is stock but it has been lowered an inch while dual Progressive Suspension shocks anchor the rear. Burly Avon 130/80R17 Distanza tires are mounted on spoke wheels, front and back, and a Shindy steering stabilizer has been attached to the 1 3/8-inch Easton handlebars. The naked engine lends to the clean, no-nonsense design of the Honda Bobber. The motorcycle is street legal and transforming it to a Salt racer only required removal of the mirrors. After Kemosabe’s debut at the LA Calendar Show it made the rounds in Sturgis where it again won its class at the Rats Hole Custom Bike Show held at the Legendary Buffalo Chip. Then it was off to the granddaddy of all bike shows, the AMD World Championships. Because of a lack of true metric customs entered in the event, Kemosabe got lumped in with a group of other motorcycles that weren’t necessarily metrics as the winning bike was powered by a four-cylinder Boxer engine. Still, Kemosabe held its own to capture sixth place in the Metric Class in the AMDs.
After making the rounds at the top custom bike shows, it was off to Salt Lake City for the BUB Speed Trials. The girls rode the bike part of the way there to break it in and get a feel for its controls. Then it was time for the ultimate test on the great white expanse of the Salt and an opportunity to run where legends are made.
“The experience on the Salt was absolutely amazing. It was a very surreal experience, kind of one of those things where you’re like ‘Is this a dream or did I really do it?’ You look back and you have to go through all your pictures to make sure you really were there and it really did happen,” Shelby said, a gleam still in her eye when she talks of her memories at Bonneville.
Miller Welding, Renegade Classics, Motion Pro, Web Cam, JE Pistons ,Bozzie Customs, Lyndall Racing Brakes, Grip Ace, Avon Tyre, Avon grips, Works Connection, Alloy Art.