Female cyclist breaks land speed record!
Isn’t it fun to celebrate in the hard work, athleticism, and achievement of others? I was able to do just that on an impromptu weekend trip to Utah in September. I had planned a weekend getaway to explore northern Utah and the Salt Lake region when a trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats became a day for the record books.
On the weekend of September 14, 2018 the Bonneville Salt Flats held the World of Speed event, a timed land speed weekend. In this event there are no trophies, no prize money, but it holds a tightly-knit community of racers, car enthusiasts, and fans of speed. Many records were set this week. I witnessed the fasted vehicle of the weekend reach an amazing speed of 483mph with Team Vesco, and visited with a gentleman racing a 1957 Studebaker who reached an astounding 333mph with style.
Perhaps the most notable of the weekend was Denise Mueller-Korenek who shattered the previous record to become the fastest human to ride a bicycle over open ground. She pedaled her custom bicycle to reach a top speed of 183.9mph, crushing the previous men’s record of 167mph!
The Bonneville Salt Flats are located on the Utah-Nevada border along I-80 and is a stretch of 30,000 acres of white, crusty salt that was once Lake Bonneville. The Great Salt Lake is a remnant of Lake Bonneville and some areas of the Salt Flat are so salty, it prevents vegetation or growth of any kind. Now, the Salt Flats act as a unique tourist destination and an ideal venue for world renowned racing.
Paced bicycle land speed records have been recorded for over 100 years. This category was originally invented, recorded, and established in 1899 when Charles “Mile a Minute” Murphy pedaled a bicycle 60mph while drafting behind a train. Since then, speeds have steadily increased, breaking the 100mph mark in 1941 when the French cyclist Alfred Letourneur drafted behind a race car. The most recent male record was set by Fred Rompleberg in 1995 at 167mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats and has held his title… until now.
Like many accomplishments, obtaining this record was a team effort through Project Speed. The cyclist, Mueller-Korenek, had been racing since her teenage years. She then retired from cycling events to work and raise a family. Twenty-three years later her coach John Howard, an accomplished cyclist and previous land speed record holder himself, convinced her to rejoin the racing community and train for speed cycling. Mueller-Korenek needed a pace car driver; Shea Holbrook, who is a proficient driver, drove the dragster that pulled Mueller-Korenek and provided the draft to cycle up to 183.9mph. Coming out of retirement in her 40s and now age 45 and mother of 3, Mueller-Korenek held the previous female record of 147mph which she set in 2016.
Mueller-Korenek’s bicycle is custom made and designed for high speed travel. She has 17” motorcycle tires and a carbon fiber low and long frame to dampen vibration and provide stability at high speed, special gearing, and custom drive train to allow her to travel 130 feet on one pedal stroke on Bonneville’s salt surface. Because the bike is designed for high speeds, Mueller-Korenek must be pulled to a speed of about 50mph or more behind a dragster by Holbrook before being able to effectively pedal the last 3 miles powerfully, increasing her speed to 183.9mph.
Mueller-Korenek has trained for the land speed record by sport-specific training. She regularly participates in fitness workouts, cycling workouts, and speed workouts on a Velodrome. She also trains by mimicking her event; getting on the custom bike and practicing for speed behind a dragster. She has an experienced coach on her team to push her to be the fastest.
Mueller-Korenek is now the Guinness World Record holder for “fastest bicycle speed in slipstream” recorded at 183.9mph set on September 16, 2018. Although this category is separated by gender, she is mentioned to have surpassed the male record as well, set in 1995 at 167mph. So what’s next? Sometimes you need to bask in the celebration and enjoy the result which months of training have created. I’ll cheer her on to whatever comes next. Congratulations, Denise!
Dr. Kirsten Oeffling is a physical therapist at Colorado In Motion