Ben Felten has overcome uncertain weather conditions and clinical blindness to break both the Guinness World Record and FIM records for the fastest speed for a motorcycle ridden blindfolded (pending ratification), with his standard Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R.
The Blaxland, NSW man, completed his record breaking feat at the FIM sanctioned World Speed Trials Australia 2018, held directly after the Speed Week 2018 event at the Lake Gairdner salt flats in South Australia.
Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at 15 years of age, Ben was told that he would eventually become totally blind. His left eye gave way at 32 and he experienced permanent loss of vision when his right eye blacked out at 37 years of age. The challenge of blindness certainly has not restricted the gung-ho 50 year old, with his latest achievement being one of world record status.
Felten and his team have been feverishly working towards this goal for the last four years, with his first success taking place on 25th October 2014 at the Temora Aerodrome (located between Sydney and Melbourne), where he set an unofficial Australian blind speed record at 219.96km/hr.
Ben then completed a demonstration ride at the Speed Week 2016 event in front of officials and they invited him to compete the next year where he reached an average top speed that was short of breaking a record at 251.45 km/h.
The 2018 World Speed Trials Australia event is where Ben and his team set his best result of 266.685 km/h average speed for a two way run (pending ratification), beating the Guinness World Record by a total of 1.355 km/h. The official records broken were the Guinness World Record for fastest speed for a motorcycle ridden blindfolded & the FIM 1000cc Class Naturally Aspirated / Gasoline / Partial Streamline (fairings) Designated Blindfolded (both pending ratification).
“I was absolutely stoked when we received the results, this has been a mission for four years and we nailed it on our first attempt at this year’s campaign with the Ninja ZX-10R,” said Felten.
“During the World Speed Trials Australia I had one attempt at the record and actually broke the Guinness World Record, plus set a new FIM motorcycle land speed record of 266.685km/h. Under the FIM rules, competitors are given two hours to complete a two way run which is 6 miles in each direction. The speed trap is a one mile distance along the run and I needed to hold my speed for that entire mile both ways. My record breaking top speed of 266.685 km/h was the average speed recorded through the speed trap in both directions, but on the return run my top speed was 269.092 km/h into a 14 km/h cross headwind,” commented Ben.
“When I was on the start line of the return run, I was advised on the cross headwind and I was thinking that in my only practice run in that direction when I ran off the track, this is going to be really difficult. But I reminded myself that I’d worked really hard for this. I told myself ‘Ben, you really want this… you’re a champion!’ and that’s when I took off like a scalded cat.”
“At pass, we ran through a puddle and I sprayed my support rider with salty water! Regardless, we beat the world record by a total of 1.355 km/h which was one of four records set at the speed trials this year,” Ben commented.
“It was a massive task which comprised of administration, medical fitness assessments, applying for competition licenses, submission of entry forms, managing the team, preparing the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R motorcycles and the list goes on. So it was a massive undertaking and riding the motorbikes was actually the easiest part of all,” Ben said.
The prevailing question that Ben Felten is constantly being asked is one of the ability to ride a motorcycle without vision. Former Australian MotoGP Racer, Kevin Magee (Magoo), assisted Ben Felten with the navigation of his Ninja ZX-10R.
“I ride what we call the lead bike and Kevin Magee (Magoo), rides the chase bike. So there are two separate Ninja ZX-10R motorcycles and Magoo’s job is the navigator. We do this using analogue radio and I have secure ear mould earphones, plus a radio in my bum bag. Magoo gives me all of the commands via the radio, of which there are mainly three. The words we use are ‘go’, when in a straight line. He will say ‘left’ or ‘leeeeeeft’ for a wider turn and ‘right’ for turning in that direction. The way I turn incrementally at high speeds is by putting pressure on the foot pegs. At the finish line and in the pits I navigate with Magoo’s guidance and people are amazed at our level of control,” said Ben.
Weather conditions are one of the biggest concerns for an attempt like this. FIM event rules dictate that the wind must be under 11.7 mph (18.8 km/h), to allow competition.
“It was windy every day except for the record breaking day so we did practice and set up before our attempt, which was during the Speed Week component of the campaign. Mother Nature has the final say. Then humidity, barometric temperature etc. effects the salt. The drier the salt, the better as it is harder and reduces wheel spin. So there are a lot of factors and science that goes into it to get it right. Cross breeze as well, pushes you off the track which we had to battle with. So it was the 8th day when the wind dropped off and that was the window of opportunity for every competitor. I knew we had to crack the record on our first go because wind was due to build up.”
The multiple-time world Superbike Championship winning Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R was Ben’s weapon of choice for his phenomenal triumph.
“The Ninja ZX-10R motorcycles were perfect. We had them flat-out and due to the salt lake surface we lost about 10% to 15% of the speed on wheel spin, so they had plenty more in them in the standard trim. They didn’t need any maintenance throughout the weekend and after the event we just packed up and went home which is a tribute to the quality of the product.”
“Performance wise, the electronics package is the best in business and was working perfectly on the slippery surface to reduce the loss of speed. It really was the perfect motorcycle for the attempt and they are a brilliant machine. They are so easy to ride with the geometry, etc. and for a production bike the value for money is outstanding. The bikes were stock standard except safety requirements and tyres. Reliable, easy to ride and perfect!” commented Ben.
Hungry for more, Ben Felten and his team will set their sights on the Speed Week 2019 event and World Speed Trials Australia for another crack at breaking what is now, his own world record.