Calgary Herald, Motorcycles worth their salt — CX650 racers at Bonneville, by Greg Williams
Jim Wylie (left) and Joe Haseloh with their 1983 Honda CX650 Salt Flat racers.
First published in the Calgary Herald Driving.ca section Jan. 4, 2008.
The need for speed led two Calgary motorcyclists to the fabled Bonneville Salt Flats. While their adventure didn’t grab the same attention as Burt Munro in the film ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’, Jim Wylie and Joe Haseloh do have their own tales to tell.
From September 2 to 6, 2007 the pair raced two vintage Honda CX650 machines at the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials on the Salt Flats in Utah. The week held both trials and tribulations — Haseloh struggled with his machine while Wylie set a record.
And now the Honda’s they built and raced are on display this weekend, from Friday to Sunday, as part of the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group’s booth at the Calgary Motorcycle Show in the Roundup Centre at Stampede Park.
Wylie and Haseloh had dreamt of hitting the salt for more than 30 years, and finally put a plan into action after flying down and visiting the flats in August 2006. Both men are seasoned motorcycle racers, having competed since the mid-1970s on Calgary tracks. Haseloh, in fact, was the Western Canadian Superbike champion in 1978.
Wylie was born in Calgary and raised on a farm near Crossfield. His first motorcycle — at 14 years old — was a Yamaha Twin-Jet 100.
“I think the only way to get around at 14 was on a motorcycle,” Wylie says. “All the farm boys had motorcycles. There were four or five of us with bikes, and we were a like a little farm boy’s motorcycle gang.”
Wylie soon moved up to larger machines, and rode a cafe-style Kawasaki H1 500cc triple-cylinder two stroke motorcycle
“It had a cafe fairing and low handlebars and expansion chambers, and I never saw another one like it in Calgary in the early 1970s,” Wylie says. “And then I saw a Suzuki 500 Titan done up cafe-style — and that turned out to be owned by Joe. We’ve been friends ever since.”
Between the two of them the Salt Flats were a recurring topic of discussion until 2006 when they finally traveled to Utah and watched some of the speed trials and walked among the pits. A chance meeting with Italian motorcycle enthusiast Tom Liberatore ultimately led Wylie and Haseloh to choose the machines they would prepare for their assault on the Flats.
Liberatore was racing a 1974 Moto Guzzi 750 V7 Sport in a 750cc pushrod class. During their conversation Liberatore said the only bike he figured might best his times was the Honda CX650, a transverse V-twin machine similar to the Moto Guzzi.
Upon their return to Calgary Wylie and Haseloh began searching for Honda CX650 motorcycles — machines that were never sold in the U.S., and only in Canada for a couple of years in the early 1980s. The reason Liberatore feared this particular Honda in his class is because the CX650 has four-valve cylinder heads while his Moto Guzzi has two-valve heads. Plus, the Honda is liquid cooled and shaft driven, making it virtually bulletproof.
As both Wylie and Haseloh wanted to race the pair located two used 1983 CX650s and a few spare motors and associated components. Wylie planned to contest the 750 Production Pushrod class, which meant his bike would remain mostly stock with the exception of a different set of handlebars and a larger rear tire. Haseloh wanted to run in the 750 Modified Partially Streamlined Pushrod Gas class, and his machine was altered with a complete set of new body components including a high-speed front fender. A set of Suzuki forks were installed and a side-mounted Honda Gold Wing air shock was made to fit out back so Haseloh could run a large rear tire. Haseloh owns and operates R.P.M. Cycle in Okotoks, so putting a bit of punch in the engine department was an easy task for him. He improved the valves and installed a set of Italian racing carbs on a pair of custom-made intake manifolds. As there aren’t many after market racing parts available for the CX650 Haseloh welded together his own exhaust system from scrap tubing.
Wylie and Haseloh borrowed a truck and made it to Bonneville, where Wylie ran in his class and hit 118.754 mph, up from the previous record of 117.503 mph. Haseloh, however, was faced with a few technical inspection details that he needed to fix, and he was chasing down an elusive coolant leak. After Wylie made his record-run some parts were swapped from Wylie’s machine to Haseloh’s so he could at least get on the track on the final day of racing.
While testing the modified bike in Calgary all of the runs were done on Haseloh’s dyno using an external fuel tank. On the salt, with the bike’s gas tank in place, the small gas petcock wouldn’t flow enough fuel to keep the engine running at full-throttle — the carburetors simply ran dry and Haseloh could only run at three-quarters throttle through the timed mile.
“We didn’t have a chance to thoroughly test everything before we left Calgary, and it bit us in the end,” Wylie says. “We plan on going back, maybe not next year (2008), but it should be a bit easier the second time around.”
Joe Haseloh (right) of R.P.M. Cycles, and crew work on tracking down an elusive coolant leak on Haseloh’s 1983 Honda CX650.