How fast have you gone on a bicycle? 40mph? 50mph? Maybe even 70mph? That's quick enough to scare most of us off from making a habit of hitting such skin-peeling speeds, but then there's Denise Mueller-Korenek, who most definitely isn't like most of us. Denise hit 183.93mph this past September, otherwise known as NOPEmph and a number that was high enough to crush the motor-paced bicycle land speed record by 17mph.
That's 296kph in my currency, which is nearly three times the national speed limit on the highway. Or just a touch slower than the top speed of the new Acura NSX. Or way faster than a human's terminal velocity while free falling.
You think that your Pole or Nicolai is long? That's cute. Wheelies are probably out of the question.
First, what the heck is the motor-paced bicycle land speed record? It's pretty much what it sounds like, with the car (a freaking dragster in Denise's case) towing her for a mile and a half before she pulled a lever that released her from the back of it. But - and this is the important part - she stays tucked in behind a giant fairing attached to the back of the car while pedaling up to her max speed of NOPEmph. After that, Denise actually bumps up against the back of the car to slow down until she can use her one brake, which is just a simple V-brake.
The bike itself is equal parts exotic, rough around the edges, and pretty strange looking. And really, really long.
The carbon frame sports extremely thick tubes and aerodynamic sections that were designed to increase rigidity.
The wild looking frame is carbon fiber from tip to tail, and it was designed and manufactured by Len Lochmiller in San Diego. It also appears to be longer than Manute Bol was tall, and that's not too far off; it's well over 7ft long. That's for stability, of course, with a lot of the length behind Denise. The frame is so long, in fact, that a third triangle was created around the rear wheel by an aerodynamic tube that joins the seatstays and chainstays. Hey @paulaston
, is this long enough for you?
Weight isn't of much concern when you're doing nearly 184mph across Utah’s legendary Bonneville Salt Flats; the frame ain't light, and the whole package is around the mid-30lb mark. In other words, it's longer than a Nicolai but still lighter. I jest.
The 17'' rims and spokes (left) come from the vintage drag racing world, and the tires are shaved down to make them as round as possible. There's just a simple V-brake (right) on the back to slow down.
One of the biggest challenges at these kinds of supercar-like speeds are the wheels and tires - who would have thought that cycling rubber isn't meant to go 300kph? Actually, there aren't many tire options for those speeds regardless of the vehicle you're using, which is why Denise's team ended up looking at vintage drag motorbikes.
That's where the 17'' rims and spokes ended up coming from, as well as the tires, and there's a set of modified Profile mountain bike hubs at the center. These were put together by Chris Garcia of SD Wheel Works.
Things get really wacky when you look at the number of chainrings and chains, but it's all there to serve a very specific purpose. If you had legs for days and four or five thousand watts to spare, you still probably wouldn't be able to break 40mph on flat ground simply because the gearing of your mountain bike, which is what provides the leverage, is going to top out. Even road bikes with tall gearing will spin out not far past that.
The answer: A compound drivetrain using two chainrings, two cogs, and a whole lot of chain. All this was assembled by Todd Schusterman of Davinci Designs.
Remember, Denise didn't have to pedal her bike from a standstill but was towed by that dragster for the first mile and a half or so. After that, she unhooks from the car and is under her own power, so she only needed gearing that's going to work well into triple-digit speeds. What they came up with was a 62:12 ratio that's doubled which, when you do the math, works out to about 130ft of distance traveled every time she spins the cranks around. One pedal = 130ft. Wowzers.
For some context, your 29er and its 30-tooth chainring and 10-tooth cog give you approximately 23ft of distance with each rotation of the crank. So yeah, Denise is pushing a bit of a tall gear.
Without the compound drivetrain, Denise's chainring would have had to be comically large.
The compound drivetrain combines the left and right-side via a bottom bracket (of sorts) with a driver that sits on a slotted mount, and it's a bit like a bastardized, single-speed tandem drivetrain designed to break the sound barrier. I suspect that you'd just fall over if you tried to get it going from a standstill, but I would love to watch people try.
The dual crown fork is an RV1 from X-Fusion, and it's been modified to supply around 1.5'' of travel while still being long enough to give the bike speed-appropriate angles. There's no shock, but there is a suspension seatpost; go ahead and make fun but I bet things feel pretty rough at 183mph, and this has to help. There's a Hopey steering damper, too, because speed wobbles are the last thing you want in this game.
I've always like to push a tall gear, but with a nearly 130ft rollout this is taking things a bit too far no matter how many squats and lunges I do.
One side of her Speedplay pedals were fitted with these aerodynamic covers that resemble the surface of a golf ball. And no, that's not dirt - it's salt that was thrown up from the ground when Denise was at speed.
There are two more things at the front of the bike that are worth pointing out, one of which she needs to speed up and the other to slow down. Attached to a small carbon piece that extends out from the headtube is a cable-operated hook that attaches Denise's bike to the back of the drag car while she gets up to speed. Once she hit somewhere around 100mph, she pulled the left brake lever that's connected to the hook, and it releases her from the car. At that point, she's both under her own power and tucked in close behind the dragster's custom-made fairing.
The bumper (in red) is how Denise slows down as she bumps it up against the back of the dragster. The cable-operated hook behind it is what she used to get towed up to 100mph or so before pulling the left lever to release from the car.
Once she hit mach chicken, it was time to slow down ever so gently. If she simply pulled out from behind the fairing, the wind speed would likely feel like hitting a wall, a wall that would probably roundhouse kick the strongest of riders to the salty ground. Even with motorcycle leathers, that'd be pretty nasty.
Instead, Denise actually bumps up against a specific section of the back of the drag car as it coasts down from speed, and then she can use the rear V-brake once she's going at a more normal pace.
Remember Hopey steering dampers? Denise needs hers (left) to keep the bike stable. And of all the places to use a suspension seatpost (right), this has to be the coolest.
Unless you like to set landspeed records for a fun (and ridiculously scary) hobby, Denise's bike doesn't have much in common with what you or I spend most of our time on. It's certainly not a mountain bike. What it is, though, is an example of what happens when you have a single focus and one job: To go fast as f*ck. It doesn't have to jump, corner, or even start from a standstill under its own power, and while a common bicycle can do all those things, it would likely fall apart long before NOPEmph. The right tool for the job is the saying. So while Denise's wild, one-off "KHS" has no bearing on what we ride, it's neat to see a bike that has one very simple, yet very dangerous task.
So, what's the fastest you've ever gone on a bike?