Ride Fast Rollie Free

It’s hot. Really hot. Thousands of years ago you would have been swimming in a lake, but climate changes dried it completely up and left behind a 159 square mile expanse of densely packed salt up to six feet deep. This bizarre landscape exists right outside the small casino town of Wendover, Nevada, 115 miles from Salt Lake City. The land is completely inhospitable to plants and is so flat that it’s almost perfectly aligned with the curvature of the Earth. Once a year men and women come from all over the planet to test their mechanical creations against this barren expanse of densely packed salt. This place is known as The Bonneville Salt Flats, also dubbed “The Fastest Place on Earth.”


One particularly hot morning, on Sept 13, 1948, a man known as Roland “Rollie” Free hopped on his Mobil Oil sponsored Vincent HRD Lightning, determined to break the world record of 136.18mph. A record that had been unbroken for the past 11 years. His first attempt shattered the record with a speed of 148.6mph. Rollie wasn’t satisfied. Convinced his safety leathers were creating unnecessary drag, he stripped down to nothing but a pair of swim trunks and a goggles. His trademark style of lying flat across the motorcycle instead of a traditional riding stance added to the insanity, hurtling Rollie to a record of 150.313mph and into the books for the next twenty years. It was a run that resulted not only in the record, but also in the creation of motorcycling’s most famous photo ever (the shot above of Free piloting the bike horizontally), taken from a speeding car racing alongside. –SEAN SULLIVAN





A special contributor to ACL, Mr. Sean Sullivan is the man behind The Impossible Cool.

Comments on “Ride Fast Rollie Free

    roseskunk on July 5, 2009 1:26 PM:

    Great shot, great bike, great song.

    Eric on July 5, 2009 4:25 PM:

    That’s a cool photo man. F**in awesome to be able to do that. I wish I could put rockets on my bike and fly down riverside drive like a mofo with wings.

    Chris on July 6, 2009 4:21 AM:

    Check up on the World’s Fastest Indian, about Burt Munro setting a motorbike record of his own in the Sixties there.

    JP on July 6, 2009 11:55 AM:


    He’s an icon. The swimsuit came about because at those speeds his clothing was literally ripped off in shreds.

    I have a write-up on Munro over at the Black Watch blog.


    JP on July 6, 2009 11:59 AM:

    …meant Mad Max Bubeck, not Munro.

    Bubeck still holds the title for fastest speed on a non-streamlined, normally aspirated 80 c.i. Indian.

    Derek K. Miller on July 10, 2009 2:39 PM:

    Part of the charm of that famous photo is how normal Free looks. Indeed, it’s interesting how nearly everyone in the pictures looks a bit old and schlumpy. Today a similar group of enthusiasts, while maybe of the same age, might have done a lot more working out and had a lot more cosmetic surgery for the cameras.

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