Moving Machines: Chopper Power

  • James Hesketh

If the notion of riding a 460-pound motorcycle powered by a turbine engine that lifts 10,000-pound helicopters seems implausible, ask Jay Leno what it’s like; he’s one of the few riders who has experienced the sensation. “It feels like the hand of God is pushing you,” Leno says.

Leno owns a Marine Turbine Technologies’ Y2K Turbine Superbike, a motorcycle with an Allison Rolls-Royce diesel engine. More people have flown into space than have ridden the jet-driven motorcycle. Marine Turbine Technologies has built only seven of the machines so far, with three more on order.

A turbine-powered $150,000 motorcycle capable of 260 mph might seem like a novelty machine—a bike to be ridden several times a year to draw oohs and aahs from gawkers—but the Y2K bike is a practical, street-legal motorcycle that can be ridden comfortably every day. “It’s the fastest motorcycle in the world, and it is as simple to ride as a moped,” says Mark Ghiglieri, a Portland, Ore., resident who owns a Y2K.

Throw a leg over the bike, reach forward to grab the low handlebars, and turn the key to light up the dash. Push the starter button, and the engine awakens with a whirring that grows in volume and intensity as the turbine speeds up. At 15,000 rpm, the igniter starts to burn the fuel, and the loud whine morphs into a gentle roar. When the tachometer reaches the 23,000-rpm idle speed, the engine shouts a high-pitched blast that causes onlookers to peer toward the sky, searching for the helicopter they expect to land nearby.

The bike, which averages 5 mpg, has only two gears, making the Y2K easier to ride than a 5-speed 125cc starter machine. The turbine doesn’t offer compression braking, so it takes some time to get used to the bike. Three large disk brakes bring the bike down to normal speed, and the clutch slows the engine output shaft. Originally, the Y2K was designed as a single-speed motorcycle, but the second gear was added so the rider wouldn’t need to ride the brakes in traffic—which is exactly what Ghiglieri finds himself doing, thanks to curious onlookers. “When we ride down the street in Portland, every single person comes out into the middle of the street to see the bikes,” says Ghiglieri, who rides with his friend, Matt Sandstrum, another Y2K owner. “They come out of restaurants, stores, and parks to look at us. People go absolutely crazy around these bikes.”

Ghiglieri, chairman of a Portland biotechnology firm, has owned seven Ferraris, three Lamborghinis, several Porsches, a Learjet 35, helicopters, and boats. “Of all the toys, this is the coolest toy man has ever invented,” he says. “I’ve been Turbine-ized.”   

Marine Turbine Technologies, 337.924.0298, www.marineturbine.com

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