New world altitude record for motorcycles

April 5, 2012

Walter Colebatch / Ojos des Salado

The British adventurer Walter J. Colebatch has drawn up a new world altitude record with a motorcycle. Along with two companions he reached 6361 meters on Ojos del Salado in Chile with a slightly modified Husaberg FE 570.
Interview: Andreas Reimar, Images: Walter Colebatch

How came the idea for the record attempt into being?
The idea of setting a world altitude record for a motorcycle was in my head for many years. I had been waiting for the right opportunity with the right team mates to make it happen.

How did the contact with Husaberg occur?
We contacted Husaberg to look for their involvement because we felt they made the right bikes for this project.
We needed light, reliable, fuel injected enduro bikes. There are not many options in this area. Together as a team we discussed who we wanted to talk to and co-operate with on this project and the decision in the team was unanimous. We wanted to work with Husaberg.

How did you put together the team?
In May 2010 I was visiting Wien and staying with my friend Lukas Matzinger. Also visiting Lukas at the same time was American rider Barton Churchill. It was there I realised that with Lukas as an expert mechanic and Barton as an expert mountaineer, I had found the perfect partners for this project. We began to discuss the idea immediately, but it was not until August 2011 that we had finalised the plans and confirmed all 3 people would be ready and available to do the project.

Walter Colebatch / Ojos del Salado

Why did you choose the FE 570 and not the easy to handle 390?
Power. At 6300 metres the bikes can have a maximum of 45% of the power, because the air is only 45% as dense as at sea level. So the bike might have 58 hp at sea level but it will have 25 hp at 6300 metres. If we had a 390 then we would have only around 15 hp at 6300 metres … and because the mountains are very sandy and steep, we needed maximum power.

How did you set up the bike?
Suspension was not changed, engine and gearbox neither. We used 12-52 gearing from Ironman sprockets. We changed wheels for Haan cush-drive hubs, Excel rims, GoldenTyre mousses and tyres. We added Rekluse clutches. The tank was equipped with a CV4 heat blanket to protect against fuel boiling. A Scheffelmeier Metall custom made bashplate was mounted to hold spares and lots of tools. For protection we used Highway DirtBikes hand guards, BulletProof Designs brake disc and radiator guards. Footpegs and steering dampers came from Fastway. Shorai batteries were used because they are lightweight and better for cold starts.

How did the bike react to the extreme altitude?
In the extreme altitude and the cold we expected that the bike will be difficult to start or will not idle well, but in fact the bikes were amazing. The fuel injection was perfect. The bikes started quickly and easily every time and ran perfectly. It was quite incredible.

…and you?
We had good acclimatisation and generally bodies were fine, but after one week at and above 5250 metres continuously, your body begins to weaken.

How did you choose the location for the record attempt?
There was a lot of research on this topic. Basically the Andes Mountains are high enough to make a world record, and they are less steep than the Himalaya. Also we chose the world’s tallest volcano for our attempt. Volcanoes are not as steep as mountains because they are formed by lava and ash flowing downhill, not from tectonic plates forcing the earth upwards.

How long were the passages in which you needed to push the bike or pull it with a cable?
It was one short and extreme section between 5950m and 6020 m that the bike had to be pulled. Above 6020 it was all free riding again.

Walter Colebatch / Ojos del Salado

Who was the first rider reaching the record altitude?
We decided that when we got to the top, we will push the bike together, all three of us. It was not steep, just normal terrain, but we wanted to do it all together. So no-one person made the record, it was all three people. We pushed the bike together for the last three metres from 6058m to 6061m

What is your next project?
I am trying to develop a route from Europe to Magadan (Siberia) which is all off road – no asphalt. 20,000 km off road. Like a Trans-America-Trail, but 5 times longer, 5 times more difficult, and 5 times more exciting and beautiful.

Walter J ColebatchPersonal information
Professional adventurer Walter Colebatch (42) lives in London. He is riding motorcycles since the age of 23. His first bike has been a XL400V Transalp.
Walter is known to a bigger audience since his project »SibirskiyExtreme« in 2010 when he explored routes in Siberia yet untravelled by motorcycles.
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