MINNEAPOLIS - To some in the motorcycle world, Samuel Armstrong Tilley is a folk hero. Others call him an idiot.
Ever since a State Patrol pilot clocked Tilley's 2002 Honda RC51 at 205 miles an hour, people in chatrooms, garages and biker bars from Sturgis, S.D., to Los Angeles have been buzzing about Tilley's alleged feat on Highway 61 near Wabasha.
Much of the discussion has been on whether that particular model could go that fast, especially amid the thousands of riders on the annual Flood Run along the bluffs north of Winona on Sept. 18.
State Patrol pilot Al Loney, a 27-year veteran, and his superiors stand by their stopwatch, which clocked Tilley going a quarter-mile in 4.39 seconds.
Also at issue is whether Tilley deserves his urban legend status.
"Certainly anyone who flouts the law to that extent is seen by some as a latter-day Robin Hood, flying in the face of authority and doing stuff we all want to do but common sense stops us from," said David Edwards, editor-in-chief of Cycle World, a magazine based in Newport Beach, Calif.
Edwards, like many experts, doubts Tilley topped 200 mph.
"It's extremely unlikely that that bike was going that fast," he said. "More likely, the cop with the stopwatch had an itchy trigger finger."
Former St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney is another doubter. Finney was riding a Boss Hoss bike with a V-8 car engine during the Flood Run.
"The most common viewpoint is: That Honda could not have done 205 miles per hour," Finney said. "There are Suzukis that can go 180 miles per hour out of the crate, and racing Hondas may get there after spending a million bucks on them. That 200 miles per hour is a tough nut to crack."
Tilley hasn't been talking. He doesn't have a listed phone number and hasn't returned numerous reporters' calls for his side of the story. He's due to appear in Wabasha County Court on Oct. 25.
"He was a cocky kid, kind of arrogant," said Laurie Hansen, his English teacher at Stillwater High School, where he graduated last spring.
His father is a patrol sergeant for the Washington County Sheriff's Office, and his stepmother, who co-owns the motorcycle, is a nurse.
Tilley purchased his motorcycle last summer from Tousley Motorsports in White Bear Lake, where he once worked. Tousley President Larry Koch insists Tilley is a nice guy.
"But I really want to ask him: 'What in the hell were you thinking?'" Koch said.
Devin Harrington, of Minneapolis, was another rider on the Flood Run. When he stopped for gas near Wabasha, he saw a clean-cut young man wearing jeans and racing boots sitting on a curb as riders sped past.
Harrington asked him what happened. The man said his bike was towed because he got a speeding ticket. Harrington asked how fast was he going. Nonchalantly, Tilley told him, "Well, they gave me a ticket for 205."
That ticket lists fines of $215 for going 140 mph over the limit, $115 for failing to have his motorcycle endorsement with him and a reckless driving charge.
Four days later, Harrington had forgotten the whole matter, when his dentist brought it up. The guy on the sidewalk, he realized, had become a cause celebre.
"This is hilarious," Harrington said. "Now, we'll have some idiot trying to top that mark, whether it is true or not. They will try killing themselves, for what? To see who's the fastest?"
Not only is it the record speeding ticket in Minnesota, by the State Patrol's reckoning, but it tops William Faenza's ticket for going 182 mph in a Lamborghini Diablo in Pennsylvania last spring.
"He's upset the whole sport bike world," said Erie Presley, of Salt Lake City. "Not so much that he broke the law, but he apparently broke several racing records, and we're wondering if he really did it."
Tim Carrithers, editor of Motorcyclist magazine in Los Angeles, said his phone rang nonstop as word of Tilley's speed spread nationwide.
"The guy couldn't have gone that fast, no way," said Carrithers, adding that his staff members once clocked an RC51 at a high of 163 mph during a magazine review of the bike in 2000. "There's no street bike in stock that will approach that speed."
Edwards, the editor of Cycle World, said Tilley's bike would have needed an add-on turbo charger to go above 165 mph.
"There are lots of guys who have been spending a lot of money and a lot of years at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah trying to join the official 200 Club and most still haven't done it," Edwards said. "It's a pretty remarkable feat to go that fast on a motorcycle and I doubt that's what happened here."
Edwards said he once rode a bike at 175 mph.
"Between the wind tearing at you, the engine screaming and the leather flapping, it's not a fun place to be," he said.