The worst kind of heartbreak paid a visit to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb this year, when motorcycle rider Carlin Dunne died during his run up the mountain. The Ducati North America rider was less than 20 yards from the finish when it’s thought he high-sided, then flew over the edge of the mountain followed by his Ducati Streetfighter V4 Prototype. Dunne was not only much loved in the motorcycle world, he had won on a bike at Pikes Peak four times before, was the first motorcyclist to cover the 156-turn course in under ten minutes, and had mentored rookies on how to compete safely. Since his death, there’d been whispers that race organizers would exclude bikes. The whispers were right, the PPIHC Board of Directors issuing a statement saying the 2020 race “will not include a motorcycle program while analysis for long-term viability is conducted.”
In 97 runnings of America’s “Race to the Clouds,” 41 have included motorcycle categories, the most recent stint for two-wheeled entries carrying on for 29 years. The most recent spells when motorcycle races weren’t held came after rider accidents or deaths. In total, six competitors have died in the 97 race editions, four of those competitors on motorcycles, three since 2012 including Carlin Dunne earlier this year; Bobby Goodin died in 2014 after crossing the finish line, Carl Sorenson died in 2015 after going over the edge of the course. Before that, the last moto death came in 1982, when Bill Goss crashed and a rider behind hit him. From 1983 to 1990, motorcycles weren’t allowed to compete.
The motorcycle racing crowd isn’t happy, but everyone seems to understand how we got here. Ever since a lawsuit brought by the Pikes Peak chapter of the Sierra Club forced the City of Colorado Springs to pave the entire race route, the speeds have increased enormously. Organizers tried to damp down speeds in late 2015 when they reverted to pre-2011 rules that forbade bikes with clip-on bars, which effectively forbade all sportbikes from competing. As others have noted, that didn’t stop Rennie Scaysbrook’s record-setting run this year on a naked bike with a handlebar.
Tom Osborne, chairman of the board of directors, said, “It’s just time to take a hard look at every aspect of the race, including the motorcycle program, and determine whether or not the event may change.” That means having officials “gather data and analytics to review more thoroughly the impact on the overall event in the absence of this program.” A decision on the way forward will be made in late 2020. The fact that there have been multi-year interruptions before means no matter whether the board opts for another two-wheeler hiatus, the motorcycle event isn’t necessarily gone forever.