What is the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done? I get this question every time I talk about my racing years.
Road racing comes immediately to my mind which is objectively dangerous. No one would argue with that. And in all honesty, I usually avoided watching the race class before mine from the pitlane, it scared the hell out of me. Strangely enough, once I close my visor and entered the track the fear was gone while my skills took control of the situation. “It must be the same for them”, I thought looking down to the Wall of Death. It is so damn vertical.
Don Strauss enters the Motodrom with two other riders. He reaches an old microphone with his tattooed arm, he and the other riders wear no protections, just leather boots, black pants, and a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves. That’s it.
After a short safety briefing, he is the first to get on the bike. It’s an Indian Scout 101 from the 1920s. If you think it’s crazy enough to ride the Wall of Death, think twice because this guy is doing it with nothing but a shirt on a 90-year-old motorcycle. After some warm-up circles, Don points his bike toward the top end of the wall and when his front wheel is inches from the crowd he takes a sharp turn to come down again. Everyone is screaming in a mix of fear and excitement.
A closer look at the bikes
The motorcycles used for the show are different. The acrobats warm up on Honda CB200s, light and easy to handle, and move later to the BMW R51/2. But the real protagonist here is still the Indian Scout 101. The first bike to be used and continue to be used for the Wall of Death since the beginning, in 1928. The Scout 101 has an unmatchable charm and this is given not only by her appearance. This old lady, well further in her 80s, is still the best choice. This is the point when I could bore the hell out you talking about centrifugal force, torque, and barycenter. But I feel magnanimous and I’ll give you the short explanation: You accelerate to 30 mph, “magic” happens, and motorcycles stick to the wall. End of story.
The acceleration close to the wall is over 3G so it is nice to have a bike with a very low center of gravity and this makes the Indian perfect for the job. And if you’re asking yourself how does this old lady’s carburetor keeps working in that position this is the answer: centrifugal force. Since the Indian doesn’t have a fuel pump, the carburetor works with gravity and when she’s on the wall the gasoline has a stronger push under the G-forces.
Meeting Don Strauss
The morning after I met Don Strauss for a chat I was hungover, he wasn’t.
Don wanted to be a Motodrom rider since he was a child. He attended a show when he was 6 years old with his grandpa. But even if it’s easy to fall in love with acrobats on fast motorcycles, keep on riding is way harder and it requires a lot of passion.
He doesn’t call it “fear” instead, he uses the word “respect” when he speaks of his job. Respect is more of an awareness of the constant danger. Danger is something that can be kept under control but can’t be eliminated. The dynamic of an accident can go from a collision while riding in formation to a technical failure and I’d like to remind you that the bikes they’re riding are from almost a century ago. “Everything heals”, he said but what looks dangerous to me isn’t just the speed but the lateral acceleration. Mind you, falling at 30 mph from a wall without wearing a shirt can irritate your skin in the long run. It’s a tough job even outside the Motodrom, constantly moving from place to place.
Don has been a Motodrom rider for 22 years and he can’t imagine doing something else. I asked him how long did he plan to do it and his answer was: “Until I’ll drop dead”.
You can find more information about show and their tour on http://www.motodrom.de/