28 Dec The Story Of The Unusual Gas Superbike
The 2020s is a fascinating decade in the centuries-long story of natural gas, as whilst it is likely to always be needed as long as it can viably be obtained, how it is set to be used is already starting to change.
As alternative fuels, improved batteries and hydrogen gas change how some businesses function, the commercial gas pipework they need and how reliant they are on fossil fuels, natural gas will be used to power other industries currently reliant on heavy oils.
The biggest of these is transportation, particularly whilst researchers work on high-capacity, rapid-charging batteries for vehicles that are not reliant on exceedingly rare metals to function.
Natural gas, either in liquefied or compressed form, is a much cleaner source of fuel, and a lot of work has gone into either modifying existing combustion engines or taking advantage of specialised miniaturised turbine engines to take full advantage of that power.
There are cars, aeroplanes and even trains that have been powered by natural gas supplies using one innovative technology or another, but one of the most unusual cases of this involves the most expensive production motorbike ever made and the gas turbine company that made it.
The Turbine Superbike
In the late 1990s, there was an arms race between superbike manufacturers, particularly Suzuki, Kawasaki, Honda and BMW, who all pushed to make increasingly fast models.
Three models in particular, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11, the Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird and the Suzuki Hayabusa, would push the speed of superbikes to nearly 200mph, a terrifying turn of speed for two wheels.
So fast were these bikes that by 2000, a gentleman’s agreement had been launched that limited roadgoing bikes to 186mph (300km/h), and whilst that agreement was broken a decade later, some of the fastest motorcycles ever made were produced at the turn of the millennium.
However, the fastest production motorcycle ever made was made by a company not part of the gentlemen’s agreement, and one that did not specialise in motorcycles at all but instead had spent decades perfecting the natural gas turbine.
Based in Franklinton, Louisiana, Marine Turbine Technologies was not a motorcycle company by any stretch of the imagination, primarily making turbines for use on boats, in fire suppression and other marine industry applications.
Gas turbines are exceptionally versatile, simple, reliable and can be used with many forms of combustible fuel, so there have been attempts for decades to apply the system to increasingly esoteric engineering challenges.
Allegedly, CEO and President Ted McIntyre Jr had been told that fitting a turbine engine to a motorcycle was impossible and immediately hired former bike racer and modifier Christian Travert to head a potential gas turbine turboshaft project.
They took some used Rolls-Royce Model 250-C18 turbines, which produced 320 horsepower, and fit them to a bespoke motorcycle frame, and the result is the Y2K Turbine Motorcycle, a bike that allegedly could reach a top speed of 227 mph, shattering the current record for a production motorcycle.
The turbines are refurbished, can be adapted to run on any flammable fuel as long as a delivery system is set up to dispense them, and have a lifetime warranty when the bike is purchased, something that is part of its record-setting asking price of over £100,000.
Whilst it is officially a production motorcycle, MTT only made five per year and only sold them
to buyers they trust will not ride it irresponsibly and will take care of the unique properties of the turbine engine, one that has quite unique properties compared to a conventional motorcycle engine.
It has a two-speed gearbox, which means that power delivery has none of the vibrations or variability expected from a conventional motorcycle, the speed compared to a bullet train by John Burns of Motorcyclist Magazine and like a bungee cord pulling the rider forwards by John Cantlie of Motor Cycle News.
Arguably its most famous and prolific owner was the television presenter Jay Leno, who would regularly receive redesigned and updated parts whenever anything failed on his machine, the first production model and the second one ever made.
Surprisingly, despite the headlines the Y2K Turbine Motorcycle delivered in 2000 when it was first released, in 2006, when an updated version with 420hp was unveiled and finally in 2015 when the 420-RR proved capable of reaching 277 mph, no other company has attempted a natural gas motorcycle.
A major reason for this is undoubtedly complexity; the reason why the Turbine Motorcycle costs £100,000 is the intricate engineering needed to make it work and the bespoke lifetime support provided by MTT.