The results are in for the Las Vegas to Barstow Challenge test ride
Earlier this year, I wondered if Interstate 15 between Las Vegas and Barstow would make a good Final Vetter Challenge course. It is long... 173 miles. It is fast... 70 mph all the way. It is up and down hills... beginning at 1,200 feet above sea level and going over two 4,000 feet passes on the way to Barstow. It can have awful winds. Best of all... it is real.

Five of the new Challengers met at the AMA Hall of Fame Inductions in Las Vegas to check out the possibilities. First, we displayed our machines Saturday at the David Mungenast Memorial Concours.

Our streamlined bikes of the future were in sharp contrast to the bikes of the past
Hall of Famer Tom White of White Brothers asks about the upcoming ride to Barstow

9 AM Sunday morning, we were ready

Vic Valdes Yamaha 550; Vetter Helix; Fred Hayes Diesel Streamliner; Joshua Chen Hayes Diesel; Alan Smith 250 Ninja
We really did not know what lay ahead. Would it be just another fun ride or would it be dangerous? Alan and Vic arrived the night before in very disturbing winds. To make things worse, the I-15 Freeway is always filled with crazy LA-bound speed freaks.

Lots could go wrong. We thought we'd open in prayer, asking for the Lord's Grace.

Once again, the Diesels of Fred Hayes proved hard to beat.
And once again, the order of finishers was the same as in previous events:

First Place: Fred Hayes and his zippy Diesel Streamliner: 133.2 mpg

Second Place: Alan Smith on his new tailed 250 Ninja: 95.9 mpg

Third Place: Joshua Chen on Fred's other Diesel: 95.3 mpg

Fourth Place: Craig's 250 Helix: 92.9 mpg

Fifth Place: Vic Valdes on his Vision 550: 61.9 mpg

Turns out it was an easy, 173 mile ride. We encountered a strong headwind at first... then blustery side winds... and then a slight tail wind. I led, setting the pace... indicating 72-73 mph (possibly speeding). The other riders speedometers read even higher. Even so, most cars passed us.

Since this was a test ride to evaluate the possibilities of a Las Vegas to Barstow Challenge, we did not pack groceries or take into account the cost of the fuel. At the next Challenge, however, be prepared to carry the groceries and to measure the results in dollars and cents.

Here are the Challengers' comments:

133.2 mpg Fred Hayes says: "The streamliner had a bit taller gearing, but otherwise was the same as I rode at Mid Ohio. (143.5 mpg) My hands were exposed and got a bit cold. Warm air from the radiator kept my body core and legs very comfortable. I felt some buffeting around my head at speeds over 75 mph.
Performance was very rewarding. Cruising was very easy as I was just over idle on flat ground and went up the Vegas side of Mountain pass with just about 1/4 throttle and had to accelerate several times to pass slower traffic and did so with little effort.
75 plus was no problem with performance to spare. I didn't really notice the head or tail winds and passing trucks, at least nothing of any concern.

It seems the faster the bikes go, the more stable it is. I did notice a side wind from Prim to the base of Mountain Pass. The bike was stable, but I learned to lean into the side winds a good bit. With my new gearing, I calculate that at 70 mph I'm at 2850 rpm. My new torque peak is at 3000 rpm."

Craig comments: Fred's Diesel engine spins so slowly that you can actually count the "pops". Look at the picture at the top: Fred is sitting upright... sticking way outside his streamlining. And still he gets great mileage! Amazing.

95.9 mpg Alan Smith says: "Changes on my Ninja 250 since Mid Ohio last July. (115.9 mpg) Well the whole tail was replaced and the seat height lowered. I am still evaluating my new tail so I rode my Ninja 250 to and from Las Vegas, about 1100-miles total. Even though the new tail is much larger than my aerodynamic trunk of last summer the Ninja 250 did not seem to have any bad traits.
Passing semi-trucks usually caused a minor wiggle. I think that I have been lucky to have a stable motorcycle to start with. Very strong continuous cross wind did push me around but not something that I could not handle. Just lean into the wind and continue at speed.
During the fuel economy competition, I was surprised that speeds on my speedometer were closer to 75 MPH or higher. A couple of times I topped 80 MPH to keep in the group. I was worried that the higher speeds would drop my fuel consumption. Crossing over the two mountain passes; I was able to pull it in top gear. If I needed extra power I could always down shift a couple of gears. At 70 MPH the engine is only turning about 6,500 RPM, red line is 13,000 RPM. So I have a lot of reserve power to play with.

As far as my streamliner protecting me from the elements, the current configuration has my hands and feet exposed to the wind. During nice weather this is not a problem since the rest of me is well protected. The ride home from Las Vegas was in heavy rain and strong wind for over an hour before crossing the mountain pass. At the mountain pass the air temperature was 37 degrees (F), my gloves and boots were soaked so my hands and feet froze. The rest of me was comfortable. That is one reason that I need to up-grade the front of my streamliner this winter. Also none of my gear got wet in the new tail during the heavy rain.

For next year’s competition I want to try even taller gearing and improve the aerodynamics of the front (get the hands and feet out of the wind). If I can afford it I would like to have someone look at my engine to see if any improvements can be made. My goal is to average over 100 MPG next summer in day-to-day riding, which means cruising 70 MPH on the freeway not 55. I think I will have a busy winter."

95.3 mpg Joshua Chen says: "The Hayes Street Fighter has higher gear this time (since Ohio when it got 119.2 mpg) but the affect on performance was almost unnoticeable. At 70 mph, 5th gear and 3500 RPM, it still has plenty of power and RPM to make quick acceleration.

Engine coolant temperature settled at 143 F after 15 minutes of riding at 70 mph. It peaked at as 155 F going uphill against head wind.

Unsurprisingly, the Street Fighter has the least comfort. The rider has to fight against wind at highway speed. However, it is not subject to strong cross winds at all. It rides very stable and predictable.
I also noticed that when I tucked completly in, with the same throttle, the speed picked up instantly 3~4 MPH. But I could only hold that position for a few second because I couldn't see the road well in that position.

Fred Hayes, the bike's owner and builder adds: "The Street Fighter had a new modification to the air box and intake manifold, and had taller gearing over what we had at Quail. The engine is tuned for max hp, not fuel mileage. The same as was Dale's during Mid Ohio. The fuel mileage actually seems better with performance engines. Obviously, Joshua was totally exposed."

92.9 mpg Craig Vetter says: "I also have no changes in my Streamlined Helix since Ohio when I did 109.6 mpg. But it is time to finish this "work in process" and make it look as good as Fred's Diesel Streamliner.
Consider what real streamlining has done to this little Honda Helix: With Japanese bodywork, it would go maybe 70 mph - on a good flat road while mileage would drop into the 50s. Now it easily cruises above 70 mph and gets 92 mpg! Who'd have thunk it?
Mileage was better for everyone in Ohio because we went a lot slower on back roads. The worse mileage in Nevada must be because of the higher speeds, the winds and the mountain passes.

I had no trouble running at the speed limit except for the first 4,000 foot mountain pass when we were also running into a pretty good headwind. My Helix slowed to 67 mph for a few minutes. Even so, I passed some cars that could not go as fast as I could. It is encouraging that we finished the run in the same order as in previous events. In every Challenge, Alan's 250 Ninja does just a little better than me. It goes faster, too. And now, because of his new tail, he can carry four bags of groceries well enough to please Mrs. Smith.

70 mph is 6,600 RPM because the engine is slowed down with Jan Vos gearing. My little 16 hp Helix scooter does really good... but not good enough to win my own Challenge."

61.9 mpg Vic Valdes says: "I have made quite a few changes since I last competed at the 2011 Quail Run; I made a frame-mounted fairing with lowers to replace my handlebar fairing, added a longer and taller boattail, made smaller mirrors, faired in the turn signals and put on a larger rear tire to lower the engine RPMs. These changes have improved fuel economy about 10% to 15 % from what I was getting previously.
My bike handled the direct headwinds with only slight movements. The side winds were pretty strong and forced me to slow down to ~ 60 mph at times to maintain control of my motorcycle. I then sped up to catch up with the group.
I was also forced to lean and counter-steer strongly to maintain my lane position during some of the strong side gusts. Passing the numerous trucks produced some movements but I was usually able to maintain my speed to complete the pass. Compared to the other bikes mine was the most affected by the winds.

Carol Vetter, following Vic in the car said: "It was scarey to ride behind Vic"

My 550cc Vision ( 62 hp) had plenty of power to easily maintain the 70- 75 mph cruising speeds including the climbs up the passes and the 80+ mph runs to catch up with the group.

My fairing provided good protection from the wind with only my helmet, hands and feet exposed. I was quite comfortable during the ride.

Compared to the 2001 Quail Run, my bike improved from - 56 mpg to 62 mpg on a faster, uphill ride with cold and windy conditions. I’m pleased I was able to significantly improve the efficiency of my bike but the performance gap between me and my friends indicate that my bike is too large, and produces too much power to compete with 250s and the diesel bikes. I need to get a smaller bike and streamline it to start getting competitive. I will probably do a little more work on my Vision to achieve a 70 mpg tank fill but I plan on looking for a new Vetter Challenge bike.

Thanks for a great time, I loved every minute of it. I hope you all enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving with your families. I am blessed to have friends like you.

Meet Garth LaComb

Garth has been following our progress on the internet and is already involved in fuel economy in the Seattle area. He stopped by to help out. We welcome like-minded folks like Garth and will do what we can to support him. This meeting may lead to a Vetter-style Challenge in the North West.

We certainly hope so. Garth followed along all the way to Barstow to get the beautiful pics of us riding - above. Thank you, Garth. He also mentioned that he counted at least 3 people speeding ahead, stopping their cars and scrambling out to take pictures of you all riding streamliners. Still more were taking pictures from their vehicles or pacing the group to stare and discuss. Garth was on top of his car to take this one:

Craig says: Yes, I did notice an unusually large number of people pulling alongside, taking pictures. Part of this is because it is easy to do with cel phone cameras. Well, we are interesting!

Oh yes... what about the suitability of Las Vegas to Barstow for a Vetter Challenge?

On November 20, 2011, it was easy. No rain. No snow. No awful side winds coming from this way and then that. Not much traffic. It was easy, beautiful and fun. Locals say that what we experienced Sunday was pretty much the norm for this time of year.

I am thinking it can work. The AMA has announced that it will have its Hall of Fame inductions in Las Vegas again in 2012. I am thinking that if the weather looks safe, we can and should hold the Final Vetter Challenge for the year between Las Vegas and Barstow.

Your thoughts?

Shawn wrote: Hi Craig,
Fred Hayes made a comment about his bike that stuck out to me:

"I calculate that at 70 mph I'm at 2850 rpm. My new torque peak is at 3000 rpm."

I think there might be an important clue there as to where gains can be made. After going back through some old Kevin Cameron articles, I've been thinking that the secret to fuel mileage isn't the size of the engine per se, but rather where that engine's size allows its torque peak to be. According to Cameron, the torque peak of an engine is its point of most efficient operation, and its horsepower peak the point of it's best breathing. Combine slow engine speed with high torque, and the results (in Fred's case) seem to be extraordinary.

Craig answers: At this moment in time, I'd say that Hayes begins with the most potential because Diesels burn 3/8 lb of Diesel fuel per hp per hour wheras gas motors burn 1/2 lb of gasoline per hp per hour. I wonder if that if that is why the producers charge more for Diesel.

Alan Smith and his 250 Ninja has great potential because his bike is made up of two 125cc cylinders. It is my observation that the 125-175cc bore and stroke relationship is the most efficient because of the "scale" of air and gas combustion.

Charly Perethian has the the most potential because he has been doing this for a long time. He knows what he is doing. He whooped everybody first time out.

Isn't it interesting how we are just not real sure about these things? But we are learning. Fred is an old racer. So is Charly Perethian. They are both great competitors. Their bikes are very different. Neither - as run in 2011- would carry the groceries. That has to change. And that will affect performance.

Shawn responds: I wonder if the wall you're hitting with the Helix is only partly because of the final drive, but more so because as you slow down the engine, you're falling further and further off the torque curve for that powerplant.

Alan Smith gets better mileage than you, but only by a relatively small amount, which is why I think the Helix's final drive is only part of the puzzle (since both of your engines are the same size). The limiting factor seems to be torque.

Honda has a new bike called the NC700S that is claimed to get over 70 mpg on an unfaired, unstreamlined bike. The engine they're using is a totally clean sheet design with an emphasis on efficiency.

If those fuel mileage claims are true for a 700cc naked bike, imagine the possibilities with genuine streamlining.

Craig answers: In what conditions do these bikes get the claimed mileage? My Challenges are real and tough: Las Vegas to Barstow style riding. I hope that somebody enters these new bikes that claim big mileage into my Challenges. My guess is that they won't do what they claim.

It is interesting to be riding alongside the existing Challenge bikes with my Helix. All of them are much faster. I am limited by the range of operation of my CVT, not the efficiency. It needs bigger pulleys at both ends.

Fred Hayes' Diesels show great results. His naked Streetfighter burns less fuel than my streamlined gas powered Helix. His Streamlined Diesel is untouchable. Unless Charly Perethian is around, that is. Charly can beat Fred.

When I began, I hoped that we could get 100 mpg in "Vetter Conditions." Charly and Fred are doing things I did not think would be possible. They are way beyond 100 mpg. Charly Perethian, winner of the 2011 AMA Vintage Days Challenge at 157 mpg, told me this:

"It turns out getting to 150 mpg was relatively cheap;
Getting to 200 mpg is getting more expensive...

Later, Charly

Think about this:

3 out of 4 gallons of fuel we burn is imported. This is making us poor and them rich. Some of these people are using money that was once in our pocket to kill us. All we have to do is turn our 40 mpg vehicles into 160 mpg vehicles and these problems would be solved. Charly Perethian and Fred Hayes are almost there.

Thank you, Charly. Thank you, Fred.

I also thank all the new fuel economy pioneers.

America is great and will remain great because of people like you.

We have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving of 2011

Master Index to the Last Vetter Fairing Story

Posted Nov 24, 2011

Updated Dec 16, 2011