"The Watch Guy" races motorcycles, big
Jensen ranked fourth in national
By MICHAEL AMES
Express Staff Writer
The Wood River Valley has its own elite
speedster—on a motorcycle.
At 44 years of age, Colin Jensen is one of
the oldest competitors in AMA (American Motorcycle Association) road racing and
the oldest in his race class.
Colin Jensen leans into a turn in
Daytona, March 2003. Courtesy Photo
With two races of the 2003 season now done
and gone, Jensen is ranked fourth in his 250 Grand Prix Class of the AMA. With
the aid of a crimson red, snakeskin Italian race bike, Jensen has been
consistently beating guys half his age.
While his young competition may thrill
themselves by courting danger, Jensen’s racing is simply his hobby.
"It’s my golf," Jensen says of his exotic
weekend pastime, which takes him to tracks from California to Daytona, Fla.
Although he is modest about the sport, one
can easily see the passion that drives Jensen and lies behind his considerable
Jensen rides an Aprilia 250 RSV, an
Italian motorcycle produced in the town of Noagles, Italy, just outside
Florence. These bikes aren’t the hunks of metal churned out by the robotic
assembly lines. Aprilia’s are assembled and welded by hand with the same
philosophy of mechanical precision that creates a Ferrari or a Lamborghini.
The Aprilia is, in Jensen’s words, "a work
Jensen is no stranger to the finer points
of machinery. His grandfather, Henri Stern, managed world-renowned Swiss
watchmakers Patek Philippe after Jensen’s great-grandfather bought the company.
Jensen took his lineage and ran—he
received a degree as a Graduate Gemeologist at the Gemological Institute of
America in New York City. Now a fourth generation watch retailer, Colin owns and
operates Jensen Stern here in Ketchum with his wife of 17 years, Theresa.
"Over the years I have done business with
AMA and world Grand Prix champions," Jensen says. "At the track, I am known as
the ‘watch guy.’"
Long-time friend, motorcycle enthusiast
and current race team manager Tom Knudson, introduced Jensen to high-end
Knudson is the owner of Big Twin Cycles, a
BMW, Ducati and Triumph dealership in Boise. In the early 1990s Knudson
convinced Jensen to buy a Ducati 900 SS street bike, which he would run up the
Wood River Valley and the rising winding turns of Galena Pass.
When S.H. 75s other cycles became too
reckless to share the road with, Jensen enrolled in riding classes to get a
little "more comfortable and cozy," on open stretches of road.
"It’s quite a feeling to get onto a race
track," he says. "Like being on the top of Baldy on a sunny ski day with no one
ahead or behind you - you’ve got the whole place to yourself."
Jensen eventually modified his Ducati into
a race bike. Non-essentials such as headlights, mirrors and horns were removed
and the motor was sent to a man named Ferracci, a famous Ducati engine builder
in Pennsylvania and one time World Superbike titleholder.
With their modified machines, Jensen and
Knudson began entering in regional races from Seattle and down the coast to
Portland and Sears Point in Sonoma, Ca.
The next step in Jensen’s racing evolution
was procuring his first purpose-built race bike, a Ducati Super Mono, a
"beautiful, sexy, gorgeous thing."
The bike was a legend in itself—a sleek,
single-cylinder machine made famous by winning the SOS (Sound of Singles)
championship in the mid-1990s.
With only 35 built a year and fewer than
100 worldwide, it took a bit of good fortune for Jensen to acquire one. At a
watch convention in Basel, Switz., Jensen met some associates of Claudio
Castiglioni, a part owner of Ducati Bikes and within weeks a Super Mono arrived
on his doorstep.
The Super Mono was a huge step for Jensen
and the machine a mystery when it arrived: it took him and Knudson nearly a week
to figure out how to start it.
As they began to show up at regional
races, the bike "created quite a stir." People knew it was a rare machine. This
"super exotic bike that people had only seen pictures of drew quite a crowd. We
felt like rock stars," Knudson recalls.
In his first year on the underweight,
overpowered Italian bike, Jensen was winning most races he entered and winning
by sizable margins. He was dragging elbows and knees on turns and was
outperforming guys half his age.
In the U.S., where bike racing is a fringe
sport, most people are unaware of the endurance, fitness and skill required of
During a 30-minute race, Jensen’s pulse
will often reach 180 beats per minute. As the bike hugs corners, sometimes with
only a quarter inch of tire rubber touching the road, riders endure high
G-forcers. Racers make a tripod of their body with knee, elbow and toe pads that
scrape the road and prevent tipping over, known as "lowsiding."
For the last two years Jensen has been
racing in the AMA’s 250 Grand Prix Class on his Aprilia.
His current model, the 200 pound Aprilia
250 RSV, is insanely powered by a two-cylinder, 18-to-1 compression, 250cc, 105
This is not a cruising bike. For both
rider and crew, these are the most challenging, most demanding bikes in the
Before each run on the track, the bike
must be completely re-tuned. Air density, barometric pressure and air temp all
affect how the bike performs. The bike requires four to five re-tunings in the
course of a race day—or 40 to 50 hours of mechanical labor in a race weekend.
With each new bike, the challenge grows
for Jensen. The jump from the Ducati to the Aprlia race bike and the higher
class of racing in the AMA was, as Jensen put it, "like going from the two- or
three-speed bike you rode as a kid to jumping on Lance Armstrong’s bicycle."
The sport is, of course, highly dangerous.
When faced with the danger inherent to his hobby, Jensen is unfazed. "Crashing
is just part of it, like putting your shoes on in the morning," he says.
"I went through a period when the danger
did weigh on me. It affected my performance," Jensen says of some early career
He has experienced some dramatic crashes.
One was a notable wreck where he was tossed nearly 10 feet into the air before
landing, breathless, on a shoulder and crawled out of the way of oncoming
traffic. Jensen walked away and raced the rest of the weekend series.
Bike racers take danger in stride.
One of Jensen’s favorite stories concerns
Randy Renfro, a fellow racer who, in a high-speed crash skimming across the
pavement, lost his thumb from the sheer friction of the slide.
Faced with the prospect of life with a
thumbless "monkey hand," the racer had doctors graft his big toe onto his hand
where his thumb once was. The new thumb is fully functional, fully opposable and
Renfro is back to racing.
For Jensen, though, overcoming the danger
aspect helped him find the spiritual angle to bike racing.
"Once you get out there you are in Present
Time," he explains. "There isn’t anything before or after."
For Jensen, a race is not mere sport—it
transcends its basic physics and locomotion. It becomes a ballet, a sublime
dance performed at breakneck speeds.
Now in its fourth season as a team,
TomColin Racing is an ever-evolving entity.
Next on the schedule for Jensen is Fresno
and Rich Oliver’s Mystery School, an intensive weekend of mental, physical and
visual training taught by 41-year-old Oliver, the winningest 250 rider in AMA
After this comes the third race of the
season on the Enfenion Raceway in Sonoma, Ca.
The season looks to be a promising one.
Keep an eye out for the team, easily recognizable by the "Reptilian Rambler," a
40’, crimson snakeskin motor home.
For team updates, check back here to Idaho
Mountain Express sports, Speed Channel and the team’s website, which is