Bonneville Bob

by Ron Shincke
Photos by Peter Vincent

The Bonneville Salt Flats held a place of reverence for Bob Biehler. It always has for anyone deeply interested in anything with wheels that go fast. Bob and I would talk for hours about Bonneville and the famous people and machines that we had seen in "Hot Rod" and "Rod and Custom" magazines as kids growing up. You see, Bonneville is more than just a place. It is a place of worship.

Our personal adventures at Bonneville began at Bob's 60th birthday get together. Talking about how fast the years pass and things we have always wanted to do and not taken the time the time to do, Bob says "You know, we really need to go to Bonneville" and I immediately agreed. With a few moments of thought and because he was a car guy, he said "I'll take a car!" and me, being a motorcycle guy, said "I'll take a bike!" So the dye was cast.

I bought a new Buell XB9 in 2003 and with the help of Latus Motors Harley Davidson, prepped it for the salt flats. Bob was unable to go with me so I went without my buddy. This was for "Speed Week" in August. I learned a lot and had fun. I didn't break any records, but I still had fun. In the meantime, Bob is working on gathering up parts for a car for Bonneville and trying to take care of business, as well.

In October, "World Finals" are held and Bob was able to go. As we were driving to the event, Bob was very animated and excited to be going. Before entering the town of Wendover, which is where everyone stays during events on the salt flats, the highway passes through rolling dessert country and there is a side road I had found by accident while "lost on my first time there". Suddenly, from the on top of a hill, The Bonneville Salt Flats is there endlessly before you. I wanted Bob to see this as I had for his first time there, so I didn’t say anything. I just drove to it.

He was awe struck, to say the least, and didn’t speak for a few minutes, just taking it all in. This was an extremely "special" moment for us both and a memory I will carry with me forever.

So, once we got settled in on the salt, Bob experienced going through technical inspection and all the things needed to do to participate in in the actual event. We had a great time, no records but a great time.

I had decided to build another bike for the salt flats and discussed it with Bob. He agreed it was a good idea and would help. We decided to build a 500c.c. purpose built bike and go after the A/PG record, which at the time was about 114 M.P.H. So, all that next year we worked on the new bike. We started out with a single cylinder Buell Blast motor. Basically, it’s half a Harley motor. I gathered parts and Bob did 99% of the fabrication. He was building this bike for me. He still wanted to run a car.

Bob did a wonderful job, as always, building the bike. I had taken that 500c.c. bike to Latus Harley Davidson for some dyno work. We planned to pick it up on our way to Speed Week. So we load up the 1000c.c. Buell bike I had been running and headed for Portland to get the 500c.c. bike on our way. Well, there was a glitch and the bike was not ready. It was too late to change plans, so we took the new bike with us to Bonneville, even though it wasn’t ready to run.

We put the new 500c.c. bike in the back of the pickup, so people could admire it and left the 1000c.c. bike in the trailer and would unload for each pass. Well, you should have seen all the people looking at Bob’s creation. The interest was unbelievable. There were literally hundreds of questions asked and pictures taken. The design was all Bob's and nothing like anything seen there before. Bob was becoming even more famous.

That following year, the Bonneville blogs were full of questions about the bike. Who owned it? Who built it? It was becoming a celebrity and taking on a life of its own.

So, now we are into the third year. We are preparing both the 1000 and the 500 bikes for Bonneville. Bob still wants to build a car, but is short time for such a massive undertaking with work and all. Anyway, the time is closing in on us for Speed week. The motel room is reserved and paid for, both bikes are entered, and we are ready to go.

About two weeks before we are ready to leave, my Mom has a heart attack and is very ill. So, of course I can't go. I wanted to, but it wouldn't be right. So, I talked Bob and Clint into taking the 500c.c. bike that Bob had built and going to Speed Week. It took some convincing, but he finally agreed.

Bonneville’s heat and altitude has an extreme effect on how motors run. One loses 25% horse power due to these conditions and the salt is slick. It is very difficult to make things run and perform like they do at sea level. Well, the bike performed perfect on the salt due to Bob's wonderful chassis build. They had a great time. Again, no records, but they had lots of fun.

When they returned, Bob was stoked and ready to have a bike of his own to run on the salt. So, what else could a friend do? I said, “Bob, the bike is yours. You have it!" “No, I can't do that” he said. “Yes, you can”, I replied. “It's yours.”

Well, after some time he agreed and why not? He built it! Knowing Bob, of course, he wouldn’t just take it. So he says "I’ll build you another one." He did just that, with my help, and there were times when we would start at 5 o'clock in the morning and work until dark on the new bike for me. He wanted to get it completed for the following year. He had to do his own work as well.

One time, we lay down on the concrete floor and took a nap; we were so tired of working on the new bike. It takes a lot of time and effort to build a bike from scratch. There were times when I hated the new bike and would get pissy, but Bob would continue on with the build. He felt he owed me and this is how he got started at Bonneville.

He went on to break the record in his class twice and made many friends and gained many admirers of his craftsmanship. He wound up being bit by the Bonneville bug. He also became known as "Bonneville Bob". There are tons of pictures of him on the internet. One of my favorites is where a photographer at Bonneville took a picture of three photographers taking a picture of Bob on "his" bike.

We had a saying that we were going to paint on our trailers. “Caution: This trailer contains an incurable disease. Motorcycles!”

Bob Biehler passed suddenly on the morning of April 13, 2012. God I miss him!