Urban Transport

World human powered speed record - 53.43 miles in an hour

World human powered speed reco...
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Fast Freddy and the Easy Racers recumbent
Fast Freddy and the Easy Racers recumbent
The bike with the fairing sitting beside it
The bike with the fairing sitting beside it
The winning time sheet
The winning time sheet
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July 6, 2006 The world one hour record for human powered vehicles was broken early on the morning of July 2 when "Fast Freddy" Markham pedalled 53.43 miles (85.987 kilometres) in one hour winning the prestigious Dempsey - MacCready Hour Record Prize. Neither Markham or the Easy Racers Team he rides for are strangers to world records - it was Fred's 20th world record and recumbent bicycle manufacturer Easy Racers has set many more than that. The most remarkable thing about the record is that Markham, who was also the first human to better 50 mph, 60 mph and 65 mph, is just shy of his fiftieth birthday. Though he held the world one hour record on three previous occasions, Markham's win was an upset as the last time he held the title was in 1989 - 17 years ago. Previous holders of the record include Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Francesco Moser, and Chris Boardman, all much closer to their prime when they snared the title. Indeed, on the day Markham beat the previous world record holder of 52.33 miles, Sam Whittingham and other athletes attempting to become the "World's Fastest Man" such as Matt Weaver (Personal Best 51.42 miles), German Lars Teutenberg (PB 51 miles), and Slovenian Damjan Zabovnik (current European flying kilometer record holder at 73 mph). Shortly after the event, Markham acknowledged the ride as "probably my greatest performance ever." Fast Freddy, we salute you!

While athleticism is an essential component of record attempts, the key to these astounding records is the highly streamlined aerodynamic shell that encases the bikes. Fabricated from lightweight composite materials, these amazingly efficient vehicles are able to sustain highway speeds on a scant few hundred watts of power.

In addition to an ultra-low drag coefficient, these bikes must also have a minimal frontal area which necessitates the rider to be in a recumbent position.

The Human Powered Vehicle Association was the official sanctioning body of the record attempt and is providing 30 years of experience along with officials and timing equipment. HPVA founder Chet Kyle said recently " If these vehicles were burning gasoline they would be getting about 3000 miles per gallon!"

But despite the acknowledged expertise of the designer/builders of the bike, one can only imagine what pain must be endured to sustain a one hour sprint. When Merckx set the record, he acknowledged that it was the hrdest thing he had ever done.

Commenting in the Easyracers blog after the event, Markham said, "I'm as surprised as most of you are. I was hoping to break 50 miles and I though that was a high bar (and it is!). The though of beating Sam's record (the record was previously held by Canadian Sam Whittingham at 84.215 km set in 2004), finishing ahead of Matt Weaver, Rob English and Damian, well....actually I never did put much though into it because it just didn't seem possible at age 49! But at the same time I guess I would have never gone if I didn't think deep down I could still pull off a good attempt. This attempt I made was not about how many watts I could produce, but it was more about using every bit of experience I have ever had wrapped up into one incredible ride that came out my way. Ultimately, I look at this ride as probably my greatest performance ever."

Freddy began bike racing at the age of 16 and earned a spot on the 1976 Olympic cycling team. After five years on the national team, Markham turned pro in 1983.

Nearly all of Markham's records have been set on the Easy Racers recumbents designed by his life-long friend Gardner Martin whom he met in 1978 when he was a member of the U.S. National Cycling team. Martin's company Easyracers, has been manufacturing recumbent bikes longer than any other U.S. company.

The Dempsey-MacCready Prize was hosted by Nissan who donated their high speed auto test track in southern Arizona for the event.

Note that the world record for conventional bicycles is a mere 49.7 km/h set by Czech Ondrej Sosenka in July 2005.

There's an excellent overview of the history of the record at Wikipedia.

Similarly, for those who wish to find out more about Fast Freddy, there's an excellent interview from a few years ago here and some older piccies from his days as a member of the US Cycling team.

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