The Right Gear II

I came across this comic of an oddly proportioned bike (and number) a while ago and I’ve been wondering ever since: what is so special about 108.92 mph (175.29 km/h)?

It turns out it was a world bicycle speed record set in 1941. The real Schwinn bike looks even more amazing:

The “red devil” was ridden by Alfred Letourner, who was a French cyclist specializing in six-day track races. (ie You go around a track for six days, they just don’t do spectacles like that anymore. It can’t be any more boring than cricket.) When setting the record it took three miles to get up to speed and then four miles to stop! How is it done? You just get rid of air resistance by drafting:

This type of human powered record is called motor pacing.

However, the first record was by Charles “Mile-a-Minute Murphy” who drafted a train to set a 60 mph (96.5 km/h) record in 1899. (Trains then being the only things that went 60 mph.) A mile of plywood sheets was attached to the railroad sleepers, so he would have a smooth surface. He had to be lifted onto the train just before they ran out of the plywood surface!

So how has this event progressed since? (motor, not train, pacing)

Found this early picture but no identification.

The frenchman Jose Meiffret in year 1962 reached 204 km/h (127 mph) behind a Mercedes-Benz 300SL car on a German motorway. (At age 48!) Imagine a car at 200 km followed by a bike a couple of inches behind. While being pedalled flat out. That’s one way to focus your concentration.
Note these bikes have only one speed and do not have a freewheel – which means you cannot coast. It makes for a more efficient use of the cyclist’s power. To slow down such a bike you carefully retard your pedalling speed.

1973 Allan Abbott, a physician and cycling enthusiast. 138.8 mph (223.3 km/h).

July 20, 1985 Olympic cyclist John Howard set a 152.2 mph (244.9 km/h) speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. He is drafting in the wake of a 500 Horsepower Streamliner. The pace vehicle was modified by adding a large tail fairing to the 337 MPH record holding Vesco Streamliner.

It took them a while to work out that One Massive Gear can be replaced by multiple smaller gears, something that watchmakers have long known about.

1995 Fred Rompelberg : 166.9 mph (268.9 km/h ). Rompelberg was the eldest professional cyclist in the world at the time.

The latest idea is to drop the wind resistance to exactly zero, by keeping the bike stationary and making the road move. In 1996 Bruce Bursford achieved 207.9 mph (334.6 km/h) breaking the record by 88 kmh on a roller in the Malcolm Campbell building in Surrey, England. To achieve the speed, conditions were simulated whereby Burford was “towed” until he reached 100mph. The towline was then “released”, and he was left to pedal.

This feat was achieved on his specially built bike called the Millennium Cycle. The record-breaking machine used silica tyres filled with helium and ceramic bearings designed to revolve with minimum friction. Uri Geller helped him train his mind during record bids.

The record bike speed without drafting, but using a lot of gravity assistance, was set by frenchman Eric Barone (“Baron Rouge”), a previous stunt double for Silvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Damme. On the 21st of April 2000 at Les Arcs ski resort, France, using a specially designed aerodynamic bicycle he set a record of 222 km/h on snow.

September 14, 2007, Markus Stoeckl set a world record for a standard mountain bike on snow in the Chilean Alps when he hit an amazing speed of 210.4 km/h (130.7 mph). The ski slope of La Parva, Chile is 1.6 km long at an angle of 45 degrees.

The bicycle speed record on a flat road with no drafting (a recumbent of course):
Sam Whittingham The 200 m flying start (single rider): 133.284 km/h (82.819 mph) on 2009-09-18. (pending HPVA approval)

For this and much more see the IHPVA (International Human Powered Vehicle Association) site:


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