Engineers of Speed – Castrol Rocket

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Engineers of Speed - Castrol Rocket

It may have the name “Bonneville,” but Triumph hasn’t had the land speed record in over 40 years. This Castrol Rocket is meant to change that. Powered by two Rocket III motors, it could return “The Worlds’s Fastest Motorcycle” title to England. But, what does it all mean?

Engineers of Speed - Castrol Rocket
Castrol Rocket

The Bonneville Salt Flats have been the sacred ground of speed since Ab Jenkins set the 24-hour speed record in 1935 in the Duesenberg “Mormon Meteor.”  Generations of odd-looking, streamlined one-offs have thundered across that shimmering, white expanse ever since.

In our imagination, the glory days of Bonneville were the 1950s and 60s, when home-built hot rods met high-tech engineering.  These were the days of breaking sound barriers and tiny silver space capsules.  We were building the first ships powered by nuclear reactors, but we could also still remember cowboys roaming the plains.

It’s a mythology too beautiful not to capitalize on.  BMW did a popular ad for their M5 a few years ago featuring a Bonneville racer.  Indian unveiled their custom “Spirit of Munro” this year – not a replica but an homage to Salt Flats hero Burt Munro.  It’s a clever way to leverage Indian’s most famous, pluckiest rider; it won’t set records, but it isn’t meant to.  It’s meant to evoke that mythology and make it as part of the Indian brand.

Triumph now has the Castrol Rocket, which is powered by twin Rocket III engines and is intended to set a record.  Triumph still puts “World’s Fastest Motorcycle” on vintage-style patches and t-shirts, but that hasn’t been an actual fact-type statement for over 40 years.  Seems they want to get that claim back.  Hard.

But how much does it matter?  How many people really care if the brand they ride is also the brand that currently holds a specific land speed record?

Consider that the Triumph in your garage really has nothing at all in common with the Castrol Rocket, any more than your Kawasaki is related to the Kawasaki XC-2 cargo plane.  You don’t judge your buddy’s Yamaha based on the quality of their pianos.  There’s nothing in common but the name, really.

Engineers of Speed - Castrol Rocket
Castrol Rocket engines

Remember, too, that speed records are divided into very specific classes.  For example, the two Rocket III engines in the Castrol Rocket had to be sized down to keep the total displacement under the class-required 3,000cc.  Speed records would be much less interesting and meaningful without these classes, and so each record is a very specific type of record, except for the overall land speed record, which no internal-combustion powered machine is going to make.

We’re not trying to dismiss these speed bikes.  No, no, it’s that the significance lies somewhere other than in what brand holds what record.  They’re actually doing something – perhaps inadvertently – much more important.

They’re making engineering awesome again.

Engineering is hard.  It takes patience, discipline, and math.  It involves a lot of failure.  It is also completely amazing.  The more of that amazing quotient we can see, the better.  We want to see engineering that inspires us.  Machines that are beautiful, fast, and breathtaking.

Engineers of Speed - Castrol Rocket

We fret – rightfully – about not enough American students opting to study in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines.  Standardized testing won’t change that.  They need to see the inspiring side of technical design.  Not every engineer works on speed record bikes, but they do work on solving real problems.  They create.  Not every architect is Antoni Gaudi; it is the inspiration that matters.

It’s easy to be cynical about the Spirit of Munro and the Castrol Rocket.  Yes, they are commercial endeavors, and the purpose is to promote a brand.  But they are also just beautiful, fast machinery.

Do you agree?

  • Justin McClintock

    Seems ironic to have all that streamlining done and then to zip-tie some radiators on to some outboard mounted training wheels. I can’t imagine that’s actually the final setup for the record attempt, but it looks wonky regardless. That said, I hope they’re successful. Man should always have a desire to go farther, faster. It’s what drives us, and what drives innovation. Many technologies that have been developed in the pursuit of “because we can” have proven to be extremely useful in more practical applications as well.

    • Kr Tong

      I’ve seen a few race cars with radiators ziptied in. It just makes replacing damaged ones that less time consuming, and it’s not a stressed member so it works fine.

      • Justin McClintock

        I wasn’t so much speaking of the fact that they’re ziptied on so much as that they’re ziptied in place out in the airstream. Hanging radiators out like that wouldn’t be the most aerodynamic approach.

        • Aakash

          They probably need the cooling.

          • Justin McClintock

            As I mentioned before, I’m certain the actual top speed run won’t be with the radiators hanging out there. It just looks weird in the meantime. It’s probably got the radiators mounted internally and fed via a NACA duct or somesuch. Although for the actual top speed runs, they’ll probably make sure the engines are nice and cool immediately prior.

  • William Connor

    This thing is a commercial success without ever running at this point. It has been written about quite a bit and seems to have generated some cool buzz. I personally love the idea of a manufacturer going after a speed record. Wish more would do the same. Validates what they engineer and do in a real world environment. For me it personalizes the brand, helps connect people in different ways with the motorcycle and the company. Even if they fail it will be good publicity and brand recognition.

  • Ross Logan

    The cool thing about shooting for the moon is that sometimes you get there. Cheers Triumph!

  • Robert Horn

    Killer project – killer point of view – this makes up for all the “Crap = Custom” overload that’s, uh, everywhere else.

  • Mariano

    Amazing project, it looks incredible and I wish them the best…..However,It might have two wheels, it might have the name Triumph attached to it, but a plane fuselage without wings, and “training wheels” will never be a motorcycle in my book.

  • Guest

    By the way, that thing has four wheels…

  • kent_skinner

    I don’t remember Bonneville being as dusty in person as it is in that BMW ad. :)
    My money is that it was shot at El Mirage dry lake.

    Yeah, I know you said Bonneville racer. Just pulling your chain.

    In any case, El Mirage and Bonneville are plenty busy these days. They are both worth a visit on race day/week.