Move over guys, the fastest cyclist in the world is a woman.
Not many extreme performance records are held by women, but as of Sept 16, 2018, the unofficial title of world’s fastest cyclist belongs to a woman – 45 year old mom of three, Denise Mueller-Koronek.
She went for a bike ride in Utah, and topped out around the take-off speed of a Boeing 747 – setting the Paced Bicycle Land Speed Record at 183.9 mph.
Mueller-Koronek broke her own Women’s Paced Bicycle Land Speed Record of 147.7 mph, set in 2016, and the men’s record of 167 mph, which had stood since 1995.
It was no ordinary ride, as you might imagine, and Mueller-Koronek joined a very exclusive club with this feat. Since “Mile-a-Minute Murphy” set the bar at 60 mph in 1899, riding behind a locomotive, only 11 people have set new marks for the record.
That hints at the difficulties involved: not only the physical effort required, but the organization and infrastructure needed to prepare and stage an attempt.
Murphy had the Long Island Railroad lay two miles of plywood to ride on, and supply a locomotive for his stunt. Later attempts used motorcycles and race cars as pace vehicles, but at the speeds set in the last few decades only drag racing cars have been capable.
The vehicles are always fitted with fairings to block the wind. Early record holders would have started out pedaling from a standing start, but the gear required to pedal at 150 mph+ is so high it’s impossible to turn at low speeds. One revolution of Denise’s cranks propels the bike nearly 130 feet – standing on the pedals wouldn’t help! So the bike is tethered to the pace vehicle and towed up to around 100 mph, then the rider pedals along under their own power, just inches behind the pacing vehicle.
People have died in the attempt, so a lot of preparation goes into reducing the obvious risks.
Denise used no ordinary bicycle for this ride. Her custom built bike is over seven feet long, with a super long fork rake, and small motorbike wheels to withstand the speed stress and keep the center of gravity low. The whole rig is designed to absorb shocks and stay stable, which makes the extreme speeds possible.
Photos of early record attempt bikes show extraordinarily large chainrings, needed for gear ratios high enough to produce the necessary speed at a practical cadence. Mueller-Koronek’s bike is a single speed, featuring two chainrings connected in series. A single chainring would have to be so big it would make the bike unridable.
World Paced Bicycle Land Speed Record Fun Facts
- For her epic ride, Mueller-Koronek circled a huge track on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
- She was paced by the same custom, 1,000 horsepower dragster used by previous record holder Fred Rompelberg.
- The pace car driver is also a woman, professional race car driver, Shea Holbrook.
- Mueller-Koronek averaged 183.9 mph over the last mile to set the record.
- She turned the cranks just over 41 times in 20 seconds to cover that mile.
- That makes a cadence of about 123 rpm.
Denise has some great cycling credentials from the first round of her career as a teen. She accumulated 15 national championship titles along with other accolades, before leaving competition to focus on her family’s business.
She trained for the record attempts with John Howard, a three-time Olympic cyclist who was a previous holder of the men’s paced bicycle land speed record himself (152mph set in 1985). On the project’s website he reveals some interesting tidbits – he believes women have a physical advantage for this type of high intensity endurance riding, and perhaps a mental advantage too.
Certainly Denise had an amazing team behind her. It’s clear that the pacing vehicle and its driver are a critical part of any paced bicycle land speed record attempt, along with the rider’s composure, and their ability to mash a ludicrously high gear steadily in the slipstream of a speeding vehicle.
Mueller-Koronek’s achievement is a strong reminder of the often under-appreciated abilities of female cyclists, and female athletes in general.
If you want to be amazed by what other extreme cyclists do with their spare time, check these 30 world records on bikes.