By Sean Mooney: For Australian, American and world record holder for land speed on a ‘sit-on’ motorcycle, Kim Krebs, keeping mentally and physically fit is a matter of life and death. It’s at the heart of being able to cope with the pressure and danger of land speed racing.
“Personally, I believe that you are able to ride at your best, and work on your bikes at your best, if you’re looking after yourself,” she tells Full Tank. “Being as healthy as you can be, being there to help friends be as healthy as they can be, means that we all can get the most out of life. That’s a big driver for me.”
Land speed racing also requires huge amounts of patience, as Krebs explains. “We only get a few chances a year, and we have to travel around the world to find those chances, and sometimes nature steps in and takes the event away from us. It rains and the lake is flooded. The wind picks up and makes it too dangerous. Your bike finds a salt gremlin and stops working, even though it was perfect yesterday.”
Krebs is one of only a handful of females who choose to race motorcycles on salt lakes. “Not many women compete, so already I’m in rare air,” she says. “But the terrific thing about land speed racing is that there are no men’s and women’s classes. You are all on the same level salt flat. Top speeds are only based on engine size, fuel type and aerodynamics.”
The fastest she has gone so far is 244mph. Her fastest record is 241mph set in 2016 on a turbo-charged Hyabusa. It earned her the title of the fastest woman in the world on a ‘sit on’ motorcycle. She also holds the fastest 750cc record, at 229mph. (By coincidence, she set an American Motorcyclist Association record and Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme record at separate events, but with ultimately the same average top speed. “Try and do that twice,” she laughs. “It’s hard enough to do it once!”)
So, what is it about this difficult and dangerous pursuit that appeals to Krebs? She says it’s all about seeing what you’re capable of achieving. “It’s humbling, because you are on a salt flat, sharing the same goal as everyone else,” she explains. “Seeing what you can build, how fast you can make it go, and how fast you can let yourself go.”
It’s all a far cry from her early motorcycling days, riding in the dirt at the age of five. “My uncle was servicing the monkey bike fleet from a travelling circus,” she recalls. “He turned his back as my cousins and I took them into the back paddock to discover motorcycles.”
This led to a lifelong love of bikes, and the way Krebs describes her passion is sure to resonate with most motorcyclists. “You’re sitting astride an internal-combustion engine, the most amazing invention ever. You’re outside, experiencing everything that the world has thrown in front of you. And you’re in control. Doesn’t matter how fast or slow, how experienced or novice. It’s just you, the machine and the outside world.
“For me, it’s the way that riding keeps you in the here and now. It lets you connect with the road, the way it twists and turns. The way the road surface changes, from rough to smooth, to bumpy to silky. The temperature changes as you ride past a creek, the sun on your back. The sound of the engine. Riding is a full experience, and that nourishes my soul.”
Hitting the salt
Eventually, Krebs took this passion a few steps further by taking part in university racing track days and historic road racing. Then she met Australian land speed racer Greg Watters, and the two of them cooked up a plan to get her into his sport. “I am lucky enough to have teamed up with my race partners [Watters and Jim Higgins], and that lets me walk among amazing people,” she says.
Krebs started riding on Lake Bonneville in the USA, then Lake Gairdner. In 2009, Kim became Australia’s fastest woman on a motorcycle, achieving 188.41mph at Lake Gairdner on a turbocharged Suzuki GSX-R750. Even these days her team’s land speed racing bikes are two GSX-R750s, two GSX-R1350s and a GSX-R600. “All our bikes are late-1990s models, for engine mapping and spare parts affordability,” she explains. She also owns a 2001 VTR with 190,000km on the clock and a classic 1972 CB500 – although a recent ride of a friend’s BMW S1000RR may have turned her head.
After years in motorcycling community, Krebs has observed that motorcyclists still carry a reputation that the vast majority don’t own. “We are good people who happen to prefer two wheels over four, whenever possible,” she says. “Ventures like Full Tank help people who love bikes to find a comfortable place to talk and support each other. If it resonates with other motorcyclists, that’s the important thing for me.”
Krebs points out that she has met many quiet achievers in the motorcycling community who have inspired her. “There are many good people out there and I’m lucky enough to have many international motorcycling friends,” she says. “There are people who offer group rides for ex-service men and women, to help them find themselves after combat trauma; people who pass the baton across the world to promote women riders; there are people who raise funds for remote area health by letting people ride postie bikes across the Australian desert. If I was to bundle up all their goodness into a single being, it would be someone who creates opportunities for people to find fun and self confidence in riding bikes.”
Her unique perspective as a woman competing in a male-dominated sport is illuminating. “I’m an equal, along with everyone else who braves this pursuit,” she says. “We’re all people, and we all have something to offer each other. That’s the same principle that I apply to women supporting men’s health. We’re all in this together, so we can all help each other.”
“Krebs says she feels privileged to be able to share her story, and hope that it might inspire people to “think twice about how they can find ways to improve their mental and physical health, and to be able to chase their own dreams, grinning all the way”.
“There’s so much fun to be had, so many roads to explore and adventures to have and share,” she adds. “Being able to inspire and support others to live their dreams is what sits behind me being supportive of great enterprises like Full Tank.”