American speed freak Rollie Free made history aboard a 1948 Vincent HRD Lightning, often referred to as the “Bathing Suit Bike” due to the scant attire of its rider, Roland “Rollie” Free. It all went down like this…
Californian sports entrepreneur John Edgar hired Free to make the attempt at the Bonneville Salt Flats on September 13, 1948.
Free initially removed the bike seat and laid flat out on his stomach to minimise wind resistance, and when the stitching on his leathers failed and they began flapping in the breeze, he discarded them too, opting instead for a simple pair of tight bathing trunks, a swim cap, and a pair of tennis shoes.
He looked more set for an afternoon on Bondi Beach than for an attempt on a land speed record.
If he’d fallen, well let’s not rub salt into the wound, but things would have been decidedly rashy.
Instead, Free averaged a blistering 150.313mph, smashing the previous American speed record and establishing a new world record for unstreamlined and unsupercharged bikes.
Infamy was assured. That photo of the swimsuit-clad Free racing across the salt flats at 150mph has become one of the most famous photos in the history of the motorsport.
So. The moral of the story seems to be… If you wanna be famous, drop your duds and buy a motorcycle.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.