By Norm Desjardins
MADISON — In the summer of 2012 Madison resident Charlie Nichols took his home built, diesel powered motorcycle cross country to the mecca of speed, Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. The trip was the culmination of five years of designing, fabricating and hard work, transforming an old Suzuki found on the side of the road into a machine capable of record-setting speeds.
Nichols and his team's maiden voyage on the fabled flats was a successful one, establishing two world land speed records.The experience had a tremendous impact on the self described amateur engineer and motorcycle geek, his family and his friends that support his efforts. Team Nonesuch Design had been lured by the siren song of the salt, and the intrepid group of riders and mechanics spent most of the long trip back to New Hampshire planning their next assault.
So it was back to the drawing board for Charlie and Mark Forde, owner of East Conway Road's Diesel Works and crew chief for the project. The search for even more speed began. A hand-crafted, inter cooled turbocharging system was added and the little engine's cylinder head was hand massaged for hours, By the time the midnight oil had burned out, Charlie and Mark's estimates told them that the 20-horsepower industrial diesel engine intended for running generators, water pumps and other industrial applications was now a fire breathing, smoke belching sixty horsepower monster, ready to power two people down the tricky track and into the record books.
That's not a misprint. Because there's a class for motorcycles with sidecars at Bonneville, and Nichols fabricated a detachable "side hack" for Hammerdown. The class rules offer two options: 132 pounds of ballast on the little platform or take along a passenger. Always willing to share in the fun, Nichols had two willing riders. To celebrate her birthday Charlie's wife Donna Nichols received a unique gift, a place in the world land speed record books. Riding alongside her husband just two and three quarter inches off the track, the Nichols duo rocketed down the Flats at over 86 miles per hour to claim the two-person record for Nonesuch Design.
But records are made to be broken, and Charlie's passenger on his next side hack run, 17-year-old Kennett High School Senior Samantha Forde climbed on board and edged out Donna for the mark. Face down on the side hack with her legs dangling off the back, Forde and Nichols flew down the flats at an average speed of 86.656 miles per hour.
Next came time for the solo runs. Despite an engine misfire and a weather shortened meet, Nichols upped his existing world record in the streamlined class to 102.674 miles per hour, an improvement of nearly 16 miles per hour over his 2012 mark. A run without the machine's streamlined bodywork yielded yet a third record at 102.159 miles per hour.
"Despite the little electrical gremlins that plagued several of our runs, we were encouraged by the gains we made over our 2012 experience," said Nichols. "It was extra cool to give Donna and Samantha an experience that they share with very few others, too. And as always, Mark Forde did a yeoman's job on the wrenches. Without the continued support of Diesel Works, ServiceMaster of Carroll County, White Horse Gear and our new sponsor Cen-Pe-Co Lubricants we wouldn't be able to chase our Bonneville dreams."
Forde and Nichols are already formulating plans for a return trip, and the never ending search for speed will continue through the winter of 2013-2014.
" There are teams from every continent that make the annual trip to the record runs, and it's neat to get to know such a widely varied group of individuals, all with the same love for motorcycles and the salt flats," said Nichols. "Plus for 2013 we added a new member to to the Nonesuch Design team. Jaylin Billig, who hails from The Woodlands, Texas set a a class record of 61.632 miles per hour on her Genuine scooter Maverick."
This group of adventurers has challenged the world's fastest speedway and won. They have memories that will last a lifetime and an experience that very few individuals, let alone husbands, wives, and friends,have shared.
Follow their adventures at www.nonesuchdesign.com, Nichols design and fabrication business.