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Issue Date: April 2008


Speed Freak

Mike Charlton’s jet bike is made of steel tubing, sheet metal, fiberglass and pizza boxes.
Chuck Bowen
The motorcycle sits angled across Mike Charlton’s two-bay garage because that’s the only way it fits inside.

Really, it is only a motorcycle in name. It has two wheels, but the designation doesn’t seem to do justice to a machine that stretches more than 22 feet from end to end. Most of that space is for the jet engine that will launch Charlton across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats when he tries to break the motorcycle land-speed record of 350 mph in September.

“This is all-consuming for me,” he says. “All I think about is going fast.”

The Eastlake resident is no stranger to speed. He tours the nation every summer with “Quasimoto,” a 1,000-horsepower motorcycle with a V-8 Chevrolet engine, and “American Thunder,” a jet-powered semi truck — two vehicles that regularly top 180 mph.

Charlton, 48, and his partner and friend Roger Kilian have spent about 20 months and $30,000 on their jet-bike project. Charlton is quick to point out that other teams who have taken their shot at the motorcycle land-speed record have dedicated entire teams and millions of dollars to their projects.

He and Kilian, on the other hand, run a lean operation. They have no sponsors and no blueprints — the bike is made of steel tubing, sheet metal and pizza boxes from Biagio’s on Vine Street, which served as the form over which the cycle’s fiberglass nose was built.

“There’s guys that are better than us,” Charlton says. “I’ve seen their work. But nobody’s more determined than us.”

When the motorcycle is finished, the bike will have 8,000 horsepower. The tires will be made of aluminum, and the gas tank will be loaded with 26 gallons of kerosene — enough for one mile of wide-open-throttle driving. And in a bit of what Charlton calls “synchronicity,” he will use the same air-speed indicator that the late Akron native Art Arfons used when he set his land-speed records in the 1960s.

“I always wanted to leave a mark on this planet so people knew I was here,” Charlton says, adding that he believes the record is within his reach. “We wouldn’t be fooling around if we weren’t serious.”

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