Motorcycle Streamliner Book Review [Rider’s Library]

Motorcycle Streamliner—My Life in the Fastest Lane: MSRP

If you didn’t know any other name associated with motorcycle land speed racing, here’s one to remember: Denis Manning.

Manning has designed and built more land speed record-setting motorcycles than anybody. The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame member’s land speed racing career stretches back six decades and includes being the designer, builder, and leader of teams that fielded seven of the fastest motorcycles in the world.

The Bub 7 streamliner and crew on the salt at Bonneville Speedy at the 2009 Cook Invitational. Manning (third from left) saw his pilot Chris Carr (fourth from left) set a new world motorcycle land speed record at a two-way average speed of 367.382 mph. A year later, Rocky Robinson set a new record in the Top 1 Oil Ack Attack at 376.363 mph.

Now, Manning has written a book that tells the incredible story of his career in a clear, conversational style. Reading it is like being with him in his shop, participating in the best bench racing session in history. Motorcycle Streamliner—My Life in the Fastest Lane tells Manning’s story in greater detail and with more personal insight than any other account, and does it with humor, technical detail, and poignancy.

Along the way, Manning tells about the many greats in land speed racing—riders, tuners, builders, team members, event staff, supporters, and more. Some you may have heard of, others maybe not. The book includes insights about Chris Carr, Bob Leppan, Jim Bruflodt, Boris Murray, Leo Payne, Bill Johnson, George Smith, Sr., Cal Rayborn, Warner Riley, Dick O’Brien, Alex Tremulis, Earl Flanders, Valerie Thompson, Jack Wilson, Dan Kinsey, Rocky Robinson, Don Vesco, and many more.

Manning has built or competed with machines powered by Suzuki, Harley-Davidson, Triumph, and Norton engines. He even developed a bespoke powerplant for his “7” streamliner.

To any who may be inspired by Manning’s success to build a streamliner of their own and head out to Bonneville Speedway to set some world records, Manning has this warning: “The first thing I learned was that the streamliner handbook had nothing but blank pages. There is no sure-fire way to build a record-setting streamliner on the first try.”

UM Associate Editor Gary Ilminen (right) with Denis Manning. “Meeting Denis Manning (L) on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2012 at the Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials was an amazing learning experience for me,” Ilminen relates. “Over lunch, Manning explained why he founded that event exclusively for motorcycles. In the book’s Chapter 8, he covers the surprisingly difficult story in depth.”

Beyond that, Manning offers further caution about any far-fetched ideas about building a streamliner on the cheap: “Building a motorcycle streamliner goes far beyond buying the right parts. Building a record-setting motorcycle streamliner involves ‘starting one’s gray matter,’ more than answering the command of ‘Gentlemen, start your checkbooks.’ Going after the record is expensive in dollars and in time and effort. It’s better to have more money than one needs because getting it right will not happen the very first time.”

All that said, Manning’s book is revealing in many technical aspects. He shares hard-learned—as in often expensive—lessons about aerodynamics, chassis design, tires, fuel, safety, construction, and a variety of other aspects of streamliner competition that must come together for success.

Manning is candid about the back story of the ups and downs of running his business at BUB. It shows he had to be resilient in dealing with trouble on the track, and in his company, as well. Indeed, it even affected his ownership of his streamliner, and he had to endure the dramatic contraction of BUB itself.

But there’s more to Manning’s story than the business and hard-core tech aspects of building a world-class streamliner. He shares some laughs he’s had along the way, such as this one from a road trip when he was 17 on a Honda 305:

“While heading back across Idaho with a terrible headwind and an engine running on fumes, I pulled into a Flying A station where gas was $.25 a gallon. A woman pulled up on a full-dress, late-model Harley-Davidson that looked as if it had been through the mill and maybe on its side a couple of times. She was skinny and muscled with skin that looked like rawhide. I commented that her bike looked like it had seen a lot of hard miles. Without so much as glancing in my direction, she said, ‘Son, if you had been between my legs as much as this son of a bitch, you’d look that way too!’”

Motorcycle Streamliner—My Life in the Fastest Lane: Price
The display box and the book are both signed by Denis Manning.

The two-hour DVD included with the book—Evolution of a Motorcycle Streamlineris packed with historic vintage still images and video of Manning and his role in motorcycle land speed racing, along with many others. It includes revealing interviews with Warner Riley, John Yeats, Keith Martin, Dan Kinsey, Chris Carr, John Jans, and Valerie Thompson. The soundtrack features Drew Gatewood performing “Salt Flat Fever,” “Got the Will to Get to Bonneville,” and more. There is a sensational video of record-setting runs—and those that didn’t turn out so well—from the Bonneville Salt Flats to Lake Gairdner in Australia. It is the perfect complement to Manning’s book and brings his epic racing career to life.

Manning’s story is one of the endurance of a dream, the development of incredible technical skills, fearless imagination, and dogged determination. Motorcycle Streamliner—My Life in the Fastest Lane is an instant classic that any motorsports enthusiast will want. Even better, the book and special display box arrive signed by the author.

Motorcycle Streamliner—My Life in the Fastest Lane Fast Facts

  • Author: Denis Manning
  • Published: 2022 hardcover; 12-by-10 inches; 139 pages, color and black & white images and illustrations; Includes free DVD Evolution of a Motorcycle Streamliner
  • Publisher: Bub Books, LLC
  • ISBN: 979-8-218-03556-3

Motorcycle Streamliner—My Life in the Fastest Lane Price: $50 MSRP