Female biker Leslie Porterfield relives worst crash, records ahead of India trip

Nov 11, 2017, 08:36 IST | Krutika Behrawala

Ahead of her first trip to India, biker Leslie Porterfield, the world's fastest woman on two wheels, relives her record, worst crash and the growing number of Indian women on the riding circuit

Ahead of her first trip to India, biker Leslie Porterfield, the world's fastest woman on two wheels, relives her record, worst crash and the growing number of Indian women on the riding circuit

At 16, Texas-based Leslie Porterfield bought a Yamaha Virago 1000, her first motorcycle, as an inexpensive mode of transport. It arrived in a box, and most people told her she wouldn't be able to get it running. However, she bought a manual, sought the advice of local mechanics, and put it together.

Leslie Porterfield
Leslie Porterfield

In fact, Porterfield loved riding it so much that just a year later, she went on to buy a sports bike (Honda CBR600). This was in the early '90s. "That's when my interest in racing began," recalls the 41-year-old mother of twins. She holds the Guinness World Record for being the fastest woman in the world on a motorcycle, which she set in 2008 with a speed of 232.522mph at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA.

On November 24 and 25, Porterfield will be in Goa for the fifth edition of India Bike Week, a fest that will witness a gathering of over 20,000 bikers to celebrate all things riding. Here, she will host a motorcycle stand and present awards for various achievements. Excerpts from an email interview:

Tell us about your most interesting motorcycle journeys.
Motorcycles gave me a sense of freedom and connection with nature while riding. One of my favourite trips was to the Baja 1000 (off-road race in Mexico's Baja California Peninsula) in 2005. I was on a dirt bike for the first time, and realised how difficult the race is. I went through 20 miles of deep sand whoops and fell 20 times. I have never been so sore. Another one is from the time I was 17, when I rode for 1,500 miles from Dallas to Los Angeles. On my way back, I was tired. I was riding at about 120mph. Unfortunately, I passed a police car and didn't see it. They set up a roadblock on the highway. When I stopped, I realised there were four police cars behind me. They were mad after chasing me for so long. I was lucky; the officer let me go without a citation. This prompted me to hit the racetrack.

What challenges have you faced in your racing career?
During my first year [2007] in Land Speed Racing [at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah], the salt was in poor condition - wet, sludgy and hard to get traction. My bike got into a speed wobble at over 200mph. I tried to save it, but ended up coming off the bike at over 100mph. It was the worst wreck I've been in. I was unconscious, with seven broken ribs and a punctured lung. Fortunately, I recovered and made a point of testing different set-ups for the bike. I didn't push myself to make runs when conditions were bad. Racing comes with risks, which I try to minimise.

How did you crack the world record in Utah in 2008?
I had to make an effort to not think about what could go wrong, and put the accident out of my mind. I focused solely on what I needed to do to achieve my record. To set a land speed record, you have to make two runs — one in each direction - holding your top speed for a mile. My bike's engine was hot and as I entered the measured mile at full throttle, it started to sound rough. By the end, I had set the record but blown my engine, and there was oil everywhere!

What's your take on Indian motorcycle culture?
It's fascinating. The selection of motorcycles is vast, and I love that more women in India are riding motorcycles now. When I started in the '90s, men dominated the speed and racing scene; it was difficult for women to break into it.

Is Mumbai part of your itinerary?
I hope to see it during my visit. It is such a diverse city with much history. I've wanted to visit India for some time. I can't wait to experience its architecture, art, culture and beauty. I love Indian food, but have tried it only in America.

What kind of bikes do you ride now?
I have a Honda CBR1000, and several classic bikes from the '60s. I enjoy restoring old bikes. They aren't very fast, but they are a lot of fun.

Tips
>> Invest in proper motorcycle gear.
>> Never quit learning. Take up rider courses. Even if you have no desire to race, a day on the track with guidance will make you a better and safer rider.

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