Back to the Future… or should that be ‘Bike to the Future’? by Jim Brown of The Scootsuit Project

Rollie Free breaking the land speed record in 1948

Rollie Free breaking the land speed record in 1948

My ‘Back to the Future’ moment relates to one of the World’s most famous motorcycling photographs. Taken from the back of a speeding car, the picture shows Rollie Free breaking the Motorcycle Land Speed record whilst lying prone and wearing swimming trunks at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1948. Rollie was riding the iconic Vincent Black lightning motorbike and he reached an incredible 150.313mph.

In the photo, Rollie is clearly reducing his cross sectional area as low as he can get it by extending his legs back on that bike to reduce frontal area, and wearing bathing trunks, borrowed sneakers and a shower cap to make himself more aerodynamic. He did usually have protective leathers but these tore at 147mph on the previous attempt! Although Rollie went as far as he could to reduce his area & improve his aerodynamics, the classic bike shape was still holding Rollie back.

This lead me to pursue my own adventure in attempting to break the record - my very own 'Back to the Future' moment! I’ve found that thinking too much about redesigning vehicles to make them faster can be an infatuation if you have your own workshop... thoughts turn into sketches, then drawings, then CAD models. A whole motorbike redesign would be required to reduce the cross sectional area. This involves:

  • The wheels were made smaller to lower the height - that’s a 15cm height reduction
  • The forks were removed and the front axle used as handlebars for the lowest steering assembly - there goes another 60cm from the height
  • The bike became longer so a rider could lie between the wheels, achieving a 45cm height reduction and a more aerodynamic shape. 

When people said this design would be unrideable, I bought a welder and lathe and started to build it.  By this point it had become an obsession… I needed to know if it would work. I bought aluminium from Lincoln, lasercut stainless parts from Gainsborough, an engine from Louth, bearings from Grantham. Parts were starting to come together.

At this point I realised that I could keep the project local and source as many parts from our county in order to promote Lincolnshire Engineering. The aim was to use designers, materials, suppliers, test tracks and PR from the county where possible. The prototype was built and tested in secrecy at Blyton in 2013. It gave a very comfy ride along the smooth back straight followed by a big grin - it worked!!

The Scootsuit on a test run

The Scootsuit on a test run

In 2015 a longer, lower, faster mk2 was developed and tested the following year, reaching 70 mph. After its’ first test it was featured in two magazines and a TV show because of the unorthodox layout and shape. The target for 2017 is to replace the engine with a bigger, more powerful unit, and build a full fairing to help air flow around it, with sections cut out to allow the rider to lie on it. We’ve started to incorporate electronics into the leathers to measure speed & engine rpm.  

After showing the prototype at the first 2 SPARK! Festivals, where lots of people had their pictures taken on the bike, we are looking forward to showing the mk2 Scootsuit at this year’s Festival. We got bombarded with questions last year -  especially from the school kids on the first day. I find it interesting to hear what people think of the bike, and welcome feedback on the design – a few observations that schoolchildren made were actually incorporated into the mk2.  

At 2017's SPARK! Festival, we’re making a display stand with digital pictures and movies showing the bikes being made and tested, so please come along and say hello.

We're also holding an open, free evening lecture about the project at the University Engineering school on Thursday May 24th 7:30pm – 9pm for and will be bringing the bike to the Brayford Pool Bike Festival on June 11th in aid of the Rotary Club.

On the 19th & 20th of August, we and will be attempting to reach 100mph at Elvington... wish us luck!