BONNEVILLE, THE FINAL STAGE OF THE B-ROCKET
Bruno Belamich, Creative Director at Bell & Ross, had a dream: a high-speed motorcycle designed to race across the record-breaking terrain of the Bonneville Salt Flats (Utah).
An unparalleled machine whose lines would pay tribute to American aviation in the 50s and 60s, and the inspiration for a new watch from the brand. As he explains: “The worlds of
watchmaking and aeronautics are very closely linked. The avi- ation watch was born following the advent of aerial naviga- tion, and evolved alongside aeronautical instrumentation. The legendary period was that during which American engineers set out to achieve supersonic speed and conquer space. This was an era characterised by research into aerodynamics, en- gine performance and speed, with pilots risking their lives in the name of glory. At the same time, land speed records were reaching astonishing figures. I wanted to explore this history in a different way, which is how I came up with the idea of building a motorcycle that would recapture the spirit of the time and the magic of this legendary place. The B-Rocket inspired two watches that complemented each other in terms of size and functions: the BR-01 chronograph and its smaller cousin, the BR-03 B-Rocket.”
The collaboration between Shaw Speed Motorcycles, the official Harley-Davidson dealer in the UK, and Bell & Ross, goes back a longway.Threeyearsago,inEngland-–hometofansofthewatch brand-–a very special machine was built on a Harley-Davidson base. The proposal was spontaneously sent to Bell & Ross. Bruno Belamich immediately took to the idea, which proved its worth in the shape of the Nascafe Racer, a bike that won numerous awards in international custom competitions.
Three years later, Bell & Ross asked the English geniuses, who have many international custom competition awards under their belt, to build a high-speed motorcycle for use on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bruno Belamich’s solution was shaped like a teardrop. Very apt for a bike designed to race across a desert of salt…
A pencil line, incredibly simple for tracing the contours of a unique motorcycle with an aerodynamic profile, evoking the perfection of the glorious era of American aviation in the 50s and 60s. Bruno reveals: “I conceived the motorcycle, but it
was the craftsmen and women at Shaw who built it. We worked together on the design of the prototype. It’s fantastic to watch the birth of this kind of crea- tion, to bring to life an idea conceived on paper. That’s what has turned this pas- sionate experience, which started with a dream, into a beautiful adventure, both human and technical”.
Across the Channel, Steve?C. Willis, head of the?East Sussex dealership,?explains: “Bruno had faith?in us”. As a designer, he?knows it’s important to?give those carrying out a project room for manoeuvre. We were in constant contact by email and met up several times. The project was very precise, with the design based closely on what we had conceived, in the style of the record-breaking bikes, and our job was to stick to this exacting spirit. That’s how we like to work, and it’s what we do for the majority of our customers. It’s an exchange of ideas and expertise”.
The B-Rocket was launched in early 2014 in France, and subsequently embarked on a world tour, finally crossing the Atlantic to arrive at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Could it really have been any other way..? The question comes from the creator… in reply to our own. The B-Rocket, a machine designed exclusively to be ridden on salt, had to be seen up close, and on the terrain, to be sure it would perform. And so, a small team set out on an adventure last June to shoot a film set in the ultimate dream location for time chas- ers. With the motorcycle… and, of course, the watch-–the main character in this extraordinary watchmaking story.
A dream come true. Heading to Bonneville to make a film was not simply a matter of travel and logistics-–even though those were complex things to organise. It also required a good rider to get the bike there. It was the artists from Shaw who went the extra mile. And once again, we had a few unexpected events, just to make things more interesting. Niels Sefton, one of the members of the dealership and a respected rider, was tasked with getting the bike to its destination. A few days before departure, he suffered an injury and had to pull out. A last-minute replacement was found. He was also an employee from the Shaw dealership, a long-time biker but not really experienced in this type of salt flat riding. Simon Pocock explains: “I’ve done a lot of motocross and I’ve been rid- ing for a very long time, but I’m not what you’d call a pure speed rider. I was in the right place at the right time–Niels had to be replaced. So I went. It was disappointing for my colleague, who was injured and had to pull out, but I was really thrilled to be going. I was finally about fulfilling my dream of riding on the salt flats.”
The dream! This really was a dream in the fullest sense –the Bonneville Salt Flats is a legendary and totally unique place. However, it requires true skill to handle the bike and get mov- ing on the low-grip surface, alone and amidst the immense, blank expanse of white. Simon explains: “I did have a few concerns before I left. But there was no going back. The chal- lenge was on. The bike handles in a very specific way on the salt–not at all what I’ve been used to until now. I gradually got used to pushing the bike harder and, once I’d got to grips with it, the runs were absolutely incredible. Alone on the bike, with just the sound of the engine and the exhaust in your ears, all becoming one with the machine. It was magic! That was the first time I’ve felt such emotion on a bike.”
His words confirm the machine’s quality, and he concludes: “Of course, this bike wasn’t designed to break records.” Apart from breaking our own records–and I think we suc- ceeded–we had to do more thorough mechanical prepara- tion to obtain the necessary performance during the runs. However, it rode beautifully.
The Harley-Davidson Big Twin delivers real power and torque. It’s lively, powerful and big on sensation. It has real potential and handles beautifully–not bad for starters!
“Maybe, one day we’ll enter the Bonneville Speed Week and compete with other machines in this category.
For the moment, I’m just hanging on to the memories of riding at Bonneville to get the film made with the entire Bell & Ross team.” While clearly enthusiastic and happy, Simon also points out that making the film wasn’t simply a nice ride in a dream setting: “There was a lot of riding. It was pretty physical–not easy by any means. As we had the track completely to ourselves, we were able to do a lot more riding than you’re able to when you’re competing for records. During the helicopter shoots, I was doing at least 6 hours of runs every day. Physically it was very demanding. I was under a lot of pressure–it had to be perfect. I couldn’t stray off course and I had to maintain the right attitude. I wasn’t up against the clock, but the concentration was undoubtedly the same as the one you have to have for timed runs. And the heat–from both the bike and the sun (35°C in the shade)–was gruelling; I had to stay constantly hydrated. Between takes, during shots or frame adjustments, the team members were spraying me with water, under my leathers… The salt, too. It sticks everywhere to the bike, which has to be constantly cleaned to prevent damage and mechanical problems. It was hard work but really rewarding and, if I was asked to do it again tomorrow, I’d go without hesitation.”
Now, there’s an incentive to set a date. Another date to mark the adventures of Bell & Ross, a brand that treads a reso- lutely different path in designing its models… even taking in the mysterious salt lake in the middle of the desert! Where there are no limits on speed or imagination…