Duke Employee’s Race for History

Bill Snead looks to set a land speed record on his motorcycle

Bill Snead is racing this week to set a new national record on his 1981 BMW motorcycle at the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials at Utah’s Salt Flats. Photo by Duke Photoraphy.

Bill Snead is about to take the ride of his life.

Decked out in a black leather jumpsuit highlighted by purple lightning bolts and a black-and-white checked stripe, Snead will be taking a refurbished 1981 BMW R65 motorcycle to its limits this week in an attempt to set a land speed record at the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials at Utah’s Salt Flats, about 120 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Snead, digital imaging manager at Duke Photography, will try to take his motorcycle as fast as 110 miles per hour in order to set what would be the first and only land speed record in a category for his type of bike – one that uses a specific strength of engine and is entirely composed of its original parts.

“The engine has to be 100 percent stock as it was produced, but you can take things apart and put it back together, as long as it’s original parts,” Snead said. “It’s unique because over the years motorcycles have become very individualized where people will change handlebars to pollution control and even seats.”

Snead will attempt to set a record in the “650 P-PP class,” which stands for a production frame-production engine and pushrod design engine. He decided to enter the category after he realized that no one had raced in that exact class before, due to the difficulty of finding and fixing motorcycles with that kind of engine and using only original parts.

Snead, who has worked at Duke for almost nine years, spent about nine months working to reconstruct his BMW motorcycle, the seventh he’s owned since he started riding in 1993. He’s put in more than 100 hours of work and spent about $3,000 to break down the motorcycle and its components before putting it all back together. Along the way, he’s bought parts and rented equipment from friends and local businesses.

Because riding his motorcycle requires skillful balance, Snead has been taking yoga lessons through LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke’s employee wellness program. He first got involved with LIVE FOR LIFE about two years ago when a HealthCheck helped him determine ways to lose weight. He then signed up for Steps to Health, a program in which participants work toward quarterly measurements and predetermined health goals with the help of LIVE FOR LIFE staff.

Snead started taking yoga classes with LIVE FOR LIFE instructors this summer in order to become more comfortable on his bike.

“Sitting upright and using your hands, legs and feet to control a vehicle for hours can be exhausting, so strengthening core muscles benefits motorcyclists,” said Snead, who’s got in better shape and dropped 25 pounds with LIVE FOR LIFE’s help. “There’s a belief that every 10 pounds you lose on a motorcycle, you gain about 1 mile per hour, so I’ve gained about 2 miles per hour for the time trials.”

That will come in handy as Snead navigates a three-mile course to see how fast he can get his rebuilt bike.

“It’s an awesome feeling to be a part of motor history, but coming back with a national record would be icing on the cake,” Snead said. “It’s been an arduous journey to get from thinking about it to actually going there, but it’s an incredible opportunity.”