Ben Felten is the fastest blind man on two-wheels, ever.
On a desert salt flat in March of 2018, Ben Felten reached the top level of motorcycle racing, achieving a dream he once considered impossible.
Recording an averaged 266.685km/h, he simultaneously broke an FIM land speed record and a Guinness World Record. He became the fastest blind rider in history.
Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Ben lost his sight over two decades until it disappeared completely at 37.
Now 50, his journey to world record holder has been long and arduous.
Ben’s mentor and critical chase rider, former grand-prix racer Kevin Magee (AKA “Magoo”) was enlisted in 2014. Team Blind Speed was formed, developing a method to keep Ben pointed straight down the line, and working with motorsport officials globally to give Ben a shot at his dreams.
With countless hours practising, strategising and preparing, all roads then led to Lake Gairdner.
An enormous plain of salt in the South Australian outback, Lake Gairdner is the annual home of Speed Week and the FIM World Speed Trials. The desert speed oasis is a yearly pilgrimage for drivers and riders seeking to find the limit of their machines or their nerve.
With a pair of Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja motorcycles and helmets fitted with radio equipment, Ben and Magoo set out to make history.
The remote salt lake is immense and desolate. Brutal acceleration, high winds and perilous speeds make it an unforgiving and unpredictable environment. On the day of Ben’s attempt, famed racer Valerie Thompson served the waiting grid a sharp reminder of the high stakes involved when her streamliner motorcycle flipped at over 550km/h, leaving her shaken and with fortunately minor injuries.
To perform at this level and for this purpose, Blind Speed requires proven equipment that performs flawlessly. They are totally reliant on the performance and protection developed over thousands of hours by Kawasaki engineers.
Ben said the only way to challenge a motorcycle land speed record is to have total trust in your gear.
“These are totally standard bikes. We’re relying on the Ninja superbike for extreme performance, but I also trust it with my life. Land speed racing is intense. There isn’t a margin for error. I need to have absolute faith in my bike and in the instructions from Magoo,” said Ben.
“When you can’t see what’s coming, confidence is everything. I have been around motorcycles and riding my whole life. I know the endless testing, research and development manufacturers are doing. It’s that proven reliability and performance that ensures when I close my visor and hear Magoo crackling in my ear to go, I can roll on the throttle with confidence. That’s why I always choose genuine parts.”
With their bright green and deep black bikes striking against the stark white salt flat, the pair struck out to do what they had been talking about for four years.
Despite uncomfortable headwinds and an aborted initial attempt, Ben and Magoo recorded a blistering 269 km/h. With an average taken of their runs, there is a tense moment in the paddock. The radio announced a recorded 266.685km/h, shattering the world record by 1.355 km/h and congratulatory cheers resounded around the assembled group.
The cheers weren’t over. With the world record in hand, on a secluded part of the salt lake Ben asks his partner Karin if she will marry him, champagne in hand.
“If I didn’t get the record, at least I’ll get the girl,” Ben told documentary makers. “That was the plan. But actually the plan was to get both. So I’m a very happy man.”
Ben will again challenge for a world record in 2019, this time his own, as he heads to Lake Gairdner with Kawasaki to again achieve the impossible.