Salt Addiction: Andy Sills & Erin Hunter

November 29, 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.

Cloe up of Andy and Erin at speed in a test run before opting for skin tight leathers for less drag and greater speed.
Andy Sills and Erin Hunter are taking land speed racing to a new extreme by attacking the Bonneville Salt Flats together.

The BMW S1000RR is dropped into the first cog, the clutch eased out as the throttle rolls steadily on. There is very little wheel spin and the bike seems to react very predictably as speeds increase. Andy Sills, a veteran to land speed racing, gets into his tuck and gets down to business. Through the lights traction remains good, which on a sit-on literbike can usually be a problem. The dial shows 182.7 mph – not bad for a bike which Andy rode not long before at the World of Speed event where he reached a top speed of 196 mph.

Why the difference in speed, you ask? Well, for one, Andy admits the bike was geared a little differently for WOS. However, the biggest difference was his long-time partner and fellow racer, Erin Hunter, riding on the back!

Yes, the dynamic duo of Hunter and Sills sped down the course in tandem, both integral components providing input in regards to traction, aerodynamics and body language as needed to keep the power to the ground, the bike running straight and the speed optimized. At this year’s event Erin also made a solo pass with a peak speed of 185 mph for comparison.

This wasn’t the team’s first time riding two-up on the salt during a land speed trials event though. Several years back they were granted permission by Denis Manning, promoter of the BUB speed trials, to make a single pass riding tandem. Andy made a solo pass of 171 mph, which was later followed by a 169 mph run with Erin in tow. Andy remarked that for the front seat rider it was cake, the bike handled beautifully and was actually more stable with the second rider.

Andy Sills and Erin Hunter compliment each other on and off the race course.
Andy and Erin complement each other on and off the race bike.

The two honed their skills over the years using GPS to see ‘real-time’ improvements during their runs. This allowed them to accurately see how body positioning could either increase or decrease their speeds. It also allowed them to learn that, what seemed like common knowledge in aerodynamics, wasn’t always necessarily so.

To be fair to the sport and to insure future competitors – if this were to ever become an actual class to compete in – they weren’t relying on one rider muscling a turbocharged Hayabusa with a 40 pound little person on the rear just to meet the two-up requirement. In fact, the two swapped positions for the return run, with Erin at the controls and Andy now the second seat rider as they prefer to call the aft pilot. They laid down a second impressive pass of 181 mph running in the opposite direction as would be required by FIM if they were to grant an official record, which at this point was not the case. The FIM chose not to stand in their way and allowed them to run, though the bike still had to pass through tech inspection and, of course, meet all the safety standards required of all other competitor’s machines.

The team’s runs were more of a proving ground that a two-up pass could be done safely, and also so riders, officials and promoters could better understand the dynamics involved. One comment both riders made was that being the second seat rider was very physically demanding. Holding on while the wind tried to peel you off at speed was a challenge they both had to face.

Like anything new or maybe a little unorthodox, there were some – or in this case one fellow land speed competitor – who was adamant that this was not racing, but more of a circus act that was dangerous and should not be allowed. There are other forms of racing motorcycles with two riders sharing control of the vehicle, such as sidecar racing. The same argument has already been made to them in that regard, as most sidecar speed attempts are now done using a single rider and ballast in place of the second rider. At the Bub meet the traditional two-rider sidecar attempts are still allowed, but not many choose to do so.

Trying on Al Lambs Sir Speedy Honda for size for possible future runs two-up.
Trying on Al Lamb’s Sir Speedy Honda for size.

Andy and Erin are quick to point out that, like a motorcycle running a sidecar, changes to their motorcycle could be made to enhance safety and make the machine easier to use for two-up. Picture a tandem bicycle, for example, with a second set of stationary handlebars for the aft positioned rider, a second seat – you get the idea. In actuality this would defeat the very purpose of their test, which was to compete on a motorcycle at high speed with two riders acting as one, working together in body position, weight transfer and reacting to feedback from the motorcycle running flat out.

The two-up concept isn’t taken lightly by the two, who mentioned they are considering writing a book about their experiences for others to consider when traveling their favorite stretch of pavement. Andy and Erin are avid sportbike riders and have spent considerable time riding individually as well as two-up, and find both an enjoyable experience. Through better communication, heightened awareness by the second seat rider and practice, the two insist the ride itself can become more enjoyable and exciting. Cornering, accelerating, braking – the overall experience could reach a new level that riding couples have yet to experience. The key is both rider and passenger are participating in the ride.

Bub Speed Trials 2005. Denis Manning allowed Andy and Erin to make their maiden pass.
The BUB Speed Trials 2005 saw Andy and Erin make their maiden pass.

Modern sport touring bikes have more horsepower and torque, improved suspension and better weight distribution than ever before. It makes sense that riding two-up can be whatever you want it to be, whether a relaxing stroll down a lazy stretch of highway or an aggressive jaunt through a twisty canyon. In the end these are experiences that are sometimes better shared with others.

Enjoy the ride…