Speed Demons

St. Louisans hope to cash in on their motorcycling skills -- if they live long enough

Insanely powerful Japanese motorcycles capable of speeds approaching 190 mph make all this possible for anyone with sufficient nerves, credit and proof of insurance. The bikes cost about $10,000 new. Responding to pressure from European governments that were threatening to mandate slower bikes, manufacturers early this year voluntarily agreed to keep speeds below 186 mph, still plenty quick. Weighing just 400 pounds, these motorcycles will go from zero to 140 mph in less than 10 seconds. Slowing down is a different matter.

Let's say a dog steps in the road. At 174 mph -- the fastest the Streetfighterz have clocked themselves -- it will take the rider about a second to see the danger and start hitting the brakes. During that time, he will have gone 255 feet. Assuming he manages not to hit anything, he will stop 1,365 feet later, all told traveling more than five football fields in slightly less than 14 seconds from the time he first spots Fido.

Cops, not dogs, are the real danger in the world of the Streetfighterz, who ride without license plates and don't stop when the party lights come on. "It's just too expensive to get caught," explains Vaughn. Cardwell can vouch for that. He was nabbed by the Missouri Highway Patrol in Jefferson County in October 1999 -- he says he thought he'd lost them and was taken by surprise after he'd stopped. He spent 12 hours in jail and got five tickets: speeding (120 mph in a 60 mph zone), improper lane change, careless and imprudent driving, failure to stop at a red light and failure to yield to police. He ended up with $835 in fines and a broken pinkie from crashing into a patrol car. Only the speeding ticket stuck -- the judge agreed to reduce all the others to excessive-vehicle-noise infractions and sent Cardwell to driving school. "My lawyer told the judge I wanted to be a police officer and this could ruin it for me," he recalls. "I learned my lesson: Don't get caught." He still plans on being a cop and hopes to enter an academy next year. Though he got a break in court, his insurance rates skyrocketed to more than $3,000 per year.

Hunziker had a close call recently when he ran low on fuel with police in pursuit. He managed to lose them long enough to dash into a QuikTrip, where he "borrowed" some gas (he didn't have any money), then sped to safety. (Hunziker says he returned and paid for the gas after the heat was off.)

Vaughn, who has no points against his license and pays less than $400 a year for insurance, admits to one major crash. He had dismounted at 70 mph and was holding onto the back of the bike in a maneuver called skitching, which amounts to skiing on pavement with just the soles of your shoes for protection. The bike, a Yamaha R1, started shimmying. Fearing the motorcycle would entangle him before going down, he let go. While he picked himself up, his friends yelled at him to chase down his bike, which was still hurtling down the road. "The only thing was I hurt my hips a little bit," he says. The bike was totaled. In the end, everything turned out all right.

He got a brand-new motorcycle.

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