Supersonic Cyclists: Just How Fast Can you Really go on a Bike?

You don’t have to be the ‘superman cyclist’ to break a speed record, but short of fixing a jet engine on the back of your saddle, just how fast is it really possible to go on a bike?

These are the fastest speeds ever recorded by cyclists. So you will know what is really possible next time your teammates start to boast, or you cast your disappointed eye over your Strava stats. (Just bear in mind that some cyclists have reportedly been caught lobbing their GPS to the top of the hill to try and become King of the Mountain!)

Stationary Bikes

Bruce Bursford's Ultimate Bike

So technically, the fastest speed ever recorded on a bike was 208 mph – but this one was stationary.

Bruce Bursford rode an aerospace-engineered cycle on a treadmill and was able to reach 60mph within two seconds. But then he did have ceramic bearings and tyres filled with helium!

 

Pacing Vehicles

just how fast can you really go on a bike - charles murphy

“there is no limit to the speed of a bicycle rider, that speed depended largely upon the bicycle, gears, tracks and pacemaker. I declared there was not a locomotive built which could get away from me. The more people laughed, the more determined I became to accomplish the feat..” – Charles ‘Mile a Minute’ Murphy

The reason stationery bikes can go so fast is because they minimise wind and drag, and this can also be minimised on the roads (or rails) using a pacing vehicle.  

The most notable record breaker in this way was Charles ‘Mile a Minute’ Murphy,  who got into an argument about the best rider in history, and ended up riding behind a train at 60mph.

It took Murphy 57.8 seconds to ride a mile in the slipstream of the locomotive, and this was in 1855! Carpet boards were placed over two miles of the railway track to provide a smooth surface for riding.

Snow Riders

The ‘Red Baron’ and his new record | Image from https://www.mavic.com

While some have minimised wind resistance to reach those top speeds, others have minimised drag, and some of the fastest riders without a pacing vehicle have set their record on snow.

The fastest, and also possibly most reckless man to set records in this way is 56-year-old Frenchman Eric Barone, who reached a speed of over 141 mph sliding down a slope on a mountain bike in the French Alps

But How Fast can ‘The Average Joe’ Really Go?

To give you a rough idea of what is realistically achievable on a standard racing bike lets take a look at the Tour de France, where cyclists frequently smash the UK motorway speed limit.

The typical Tour de France rider maintains an average speed of 25-28 mph, even ascending at speeds of up to 25mph.

But the descents are what give riders time to shine, and modern-day riders are even faster than ‘Mile a Minute Murphy’, without the aid of a slipstream.

Marcus Burghardt is one of many that descend at speeds of up to 126 kph (78mph).

 

Hang on, Can I get Done for Speeding?

The good news is that even if you do manage to break the speed limit (and I’m not suggesting you should attempt it) then you won’t necessarily be held accountable under the law. Unless of course you’re charged with wanton and furious driving.

Generally speaking, on normal public highways, the speed limits do not apply to bicycles. Although there are limits on certain cycle paths, as Jeremy Vine discovered.