Since humans invented the wheel, people have wanted to go fast. This has led to the limits being pushed in the form of land-speed records. The World of Speed Weekend at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats brings out the crazy individuals willing to risk life and limb for the sake of being the fastest.
One of these outstanding individuals is Deborah Mueller-Korenek, who now holds the land-speed record on a motor-paced bicycle at 183.9 mph. And let’s be clear, she is not just the fastest woman, but the fastest self-propelled human on the planet. In order to achieve her goal, an almost unbelievably well-coordinated symphony of variables was required.
Along with her willingness to attempt the impossible, she had to have the right vehicle, so Deborah based the geometry of her bicycle off of the one used to set the previous record. It has a 7-foot long carbon fiber frame built to house 17-inch motorcycle tires, and a custom tuned suspension fork modeled after a downhill racer. It is all built around a compound reduction gear so intense it is nearly impossible to pedal until moving over 50 mph.
Thankfully Deborah had the necessary physical prowess from her experience winning 13 national cycling championships. Although she has been off of the racing circuit for some years, Deborah’s coach John Howard thought she was the ideal person to take on this challenge. She would be the first woman ever to attempt such a feat.
The car she drafted behind was an 800-horsepower dragster driven by her longtime friend Shea Holbrook. When you’re riding a bicycle faster than a Boeing 757 at take-off, there is little room for error, so the connection between the driver and the rider is crucial.
The physics behind the entire process is mind-boggling. After releasing a tether from the dragster which towed her to 110mph, Deborah utilized the draft pocket which was just 46 inches wide. Then, in perfect synchronicity with the car, she pedaled up to her top speed, communicating her needs with subtle head movements seen on a camera by the driver.
An astounding number of factors come into play during such an attempt, and everything needs to go right. Deborah prepared to the best of her ability and claimed her prize as the fastest person alive. She is an insanely talented cyclist and a truly inspiring woman.