Photos courtesy Guy Martin’s Wall of Death: LIVE – ALL4, unless otherwise noted.
Wall of Death motorcycle tracks have been part of American fairs and carnivals since the very first track appeared at Coney Island in 1911. Riders perform stunts of derring-do, sometimes using multiple bikes, multiple riders on one bike, or a bike and a sidecar, and many early shows even found a way to work circus animals into the routine. Walls of Death aren’t limited to American soil, and British television presenter, author and superbike motorcycle rider Guy Martin recently achieved a new Guinness speed record for Wall of Death riders by building a super-sized track almost 400 feet in diameter.
A more traditionally sized Wall of Death. Photo courtesy Motorcyclepedia Museum.
When you think of a carnival Wall of Death, you usually envision a standard size track, anywhere from 20 to 36 feet in diameter and 25 to 30 feet tall. Riders normally only have to maintain about 20 miles an hour to get the bikes to stick to the wall and centrifugal force and friction does the rest. Because of the g-forces exerted on the rider as he goes faster, it is seldom that you see a bike and rider traveling faster than 40 miles an hour while on the wall.
The Wall of Death specially built for the record attempt.
The larger-size arena constructed by Guy reduced the g-forces impacting his body and allowed him to travel much faster than the restrictions of a standard track would let him achieve safely. His track was built in an aircraft hangar and measured 387 feet in circumference when completed. The record was immediately certified by a representative of the Guinness Book of World Records, present for the attempt. To prepare for the record, Guy trained with the legendary Ken Fox’s Hell Riders – the U.K.’s No. 1 Wall of Death riding troupe, who have been touring and entertaining fair-goers since the 1920s. Ken Fox is also recognized as one of the world’s leading Wall of Death riders.
Although Guy used a custom motorcycle of his own, modified for the attempt, preliminary test attempts were completed using a new Indian Scout motorcycle that was modified by British Indian vendor Krazy Horse, an Indian motorcycle dealership in Bury St Edmunds, U.K. The bike was the same as you would buy off the showroom floor, with a few modifications to the test Indian including 18-inch wheels, a shortened rear fender, new handlebars, handle bar risers and modified lower frame struts to accommodate foot plates. A special red paint was also added to the sheetmetal to commemorate the attempt.
Guy’s lightly modified Indian Scout.
Astride the Indian Scout, a bike with a long history of Wall of Death performances dating well back to its inception in 1919, Guy immediately achieved a new record in his first attempt at 60.1 MPH. He quickly followed that feat with another new record of 70.33 MPH on his second attempt.
Putting the Indian aside and mounting his BSA R3, which was gulping aviation fuel, Guy cranked up the record yet again, on live television, this time to 78.15 MPH, setting the new standard for highest speed on a motorcycle riding inside a Wall of Death. Purists may argue that the larger track detracts from such a record; however, these speeds would be unattainable under normal track conditions due to the limits of a rider’s body. The feat was shown live on the U.K.’s Channel 4 television just a few weeks ago, on Monday, March 28.
We have mentioned these tracks before, specifically when the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh, New York, acquired Pitt Lengner’s Wall of Death track and made it part of a permanent display. In 2013, the museum even offered a five-week course to instruct riders on proper Wall of Death riding techniques.