Salt Addiction: Swiss Performance Racing

May 5, 2011
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
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Having raced everything from Flat Track to Trials, Rocky Robinson now pilots streamliners at the Bonneville Salt Flats and currently holds the ultimate land speed record at 376 mph aboard the Ack Attack streamliner.

From left to right: Fritz Egli  Sven Traber  Ruedi Steck  Hans Versfeld.
During our contributor’s adventure to the Swiss Performance/Swiss Moto Motorcycle Trade Show in Zurich he caught up with a local band of speed racers.

This February my wife Tricia and I attended the Swiss Performance / Swiss Moto Motorcycle Trade Show in Zurich, Switzerland as guests of event organizer and fellow land speed racer, Ruedi Steck. Our job description included a visit to Mount Santis, 2502 meters above sea level; so high up that in addition to spectacular views of the world famous Swiss Alps, you could literally see deep into Austria and Germany.

The Rhine Falls rushed beneath a manmade visitor platform, the thunderous drone and frothy overspray adding a sense of excitement for those brave enough to stand at arms reach and take it in. Conversely, a quiet walk through downtown Zurich with its quaint shops and sidewalk cafes, jutting church towers and emerald waters of the Limmat River gave way to massive Swiss banks, upscale jewelers and posh restaurants and coffee houses. Zurich is one of the richest cities in the world, and THE world’s largest gold trading center. We had coffee, croissants and a fistful of Luxembourgers, these insanely good miniature macaroon pastries shaped like tiny hamburgers at Sprungli. We were lucky to leave with change from our 100 francs, but it was worth every cent – it was that good!

So where was I? Oh yes, the Swiss Performance / Swiss Moto Trade Show. Enclosed in a large mall-like setting were six floors of custom and exotic motorcycles, the latest offerings from major OEMs, scantily clad models posing for that

Thats Ruedi in the black cap and a Suzuki representative on my other side. On the table next to us is Studer Vodka. Notice the shot glasses lined up with the Swiss Chocolate nuggets in the base of each.
That’s Ruedi in the black cap and a Suzuki representative on my other side. On the table next to us is Studer Vodka. Notice the shot glasses lined up with the Swiss Chocolate nuggets in the base of each.

perfect presentation and a stunt show that rivaled the best seen anywhere. There’s great food, lots of drinks, amazing chocolates and cheese dishes ranging from the insanely delicious to the somewhat stinky that only a local or true adventurer could enjoy…

In additon to Ruedi’s mastery of the trade show, he also put together a colorful ensemble of speed racers who join him annually at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Their inspiration came from the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian,” which drove them to travel across the globe to Bonneville in 2007 to compete on the infamous hallowed ground. Like many, once there a bond was formed, and they keep coming back.

Ruedi’s Band of Gypsies includes: Hans Versfeld, industrial power support manufacturer, riding the naked muscle-bike Suzuki B-King; Fritz Egli, master frame builder, racer and bike designer riding a purpose-built Suzuki Hayabusa-powered sidecar; and Sven Traber, owner of Sven Cycles and builder and tuner of American V-Twins riding a 2035cc turbocharged V-Twin.

My new Swiss friends are a fun bunch. During the trade show we toasted OEM big wigs in suits while sipping vodka swirling in gold flakes with a Swiss Chocolate nugget finish. We drank Schnapps with vendors and wine with the President of Motorsports – all things I’m not accustomed to doing. In fact, I rarely drink during the day, but who was I to interfere with tradition.

Ruedi Steck in his tuck.
Ruedi Steck in his tuck.

It was there that Ruedi revealed to me his latest passion… a new streamliner in the works to challenge the ultimate two-wheel land speed record. Before I get too far into the future, let’s first look at the recent past. Those with a discerning eye may have noticed Sam Wheeler’s EZ Hook streamliner sporting the Swiss Performance insignia in recent years. At the end of 2007, Ruedi spoke with Sam and agreed to sponsor his effort for a couple of years while he better learned the ins and outs of motorcycle land speed racing at the highest level. His approach to conquering the top speed record runs parallel with Sam’s: lightweight, efficient aerodynamics and a single high-output engine.

The “less is more” concept works for Sam, has worked numerous times for Jack Costella and a number of other successful builders, and should do Ruedi well. I have to admit, the era of Campos and Vesco with their multi-engine, oversized muscle-bikes – for lack of a better word – still has a certain appeal to me. Imagine the sound of Ross Brown’s triple engine Yamaha screaming at full giddy-up when it finally reaches the Australian salt bed at Lake Gairdner. That’s the beauty of our sport. If you can dream it, you can build it and race it. What works is determined by that little printout you get at the end of your run. Enough said…

So, just how good are the Swiss Performance racers? Every member of the team holds land speed records and comes back year after year to raise the bar. Fritz Egli, now in his 70s, set a sidecar record on a Hayabusa powered machine that he designed and built running over 206 mph! Sven Traber has multiple records in AMA and FIM classifications. His hand built V-Twin racer is one of many unique motorcycles designed and built at his factory, Sven

Ruedi poses with a model of his new streamliner which will begin construction very soon.
Ruedi poses with a model of his new streamliner which will begin construction very soon.
The mighty Hayabusa motor Ruedi plans to run in his new streamliner. They will run bio fuel. Note the prototype supercharger being developed for this application.

Cycles, just outside of Zurich. Hans Versfeld, the life of the party at the Swiss Performance / Swiss Moto trade show, the one who took me and Tricia to dizzying heights atop Mt. Santis, and who also made me dizzy with the constant flow of vodka, schnapps, wine and beer until the show closed its doors and the barkeeper cut him off, also holds a record of over 172 mph on his B King Suzuki.

This truly is a great bunch of guys. Perhaps the most serious of them, however, is Ruedi. He holds his share of motorcycle speed records, once competing onboard the rare Feuling W3, to his current machine, the omnipotent Hayabusa. For him it’s been a learning curve to prepare him for bigger things on the horizon. I witnessed a scaled model of his new streamliner project which will be powered by a supercharged Hayabusa engine and will run on bio fuel derived from household garbage, which he claims is a Swiss specialty. He plans to begin testing of his new machine in 2012, and if things go as planned – and planning is Ruedi’s forte – look to see the streamlined Swiss racer on the salt in 2013.

I for one will not want to miss it.

Enjoy the ride…