My current cycling speed record is 38mph (61 kmph). Surprisingly this was not achieved on the sleek and aerodynamic road bike but on Claud, my aluminium-framed workhorse of a touring bicycle.
Rather than awesome leg power on my part, I strongly suspect that a combination of precipitous hills in Ontario and four fully loaded panniers were the main contributors to this record. Especially as, try and I may, it’s a speed I haven’t come close to reaching since on the roadie.
What is it about bicycle speed that is so seductive?
100mph driving a car is not something I aspire to (probably no bad thing given my small-engined rust-bucket) but the thrill of squeezing every last ounce of pace from the bike is entirely intoxicating.
That feeling of cresting an impossibly steep hill, anticipating the descent can be addictive, but so too can a long straight stretch of tarmac when you can hunker down on the handlebars, engage those thigh muscles and max out the gears to virtually fly.
When writing this, I had begun looking for inspiring female riders, sprinters, role models and in doing so discovered the most amazing woman. Beryl Burton, mother, farm worker and arguably Britain’s greatest (unsung) female speed cyclist.
From 1957 Beryl, an amateur British road and track racer, became a virtually unbeatable force on the UK time trial scene in a career spanning over 30 years. During this time she won medals all over the globe including 5 world and 13 national titles.
However, it was on home ground that she completely dominated taking over 90 domestic championships, as well as winning the UK Time Trials all-rounder medal for a staggering 25 consecutive years.
Amazingly, she also set over 50 new National distance records most of which stood untouched for decades.
By far her most inspirational feat came in 1967 when she set a new time trial record covering a distance of 277.25 miles in 12 hours, annihilating the men’s record!
Beryl’s achievement reigned for another 2 years until the chaps managed to claw it back!
Since Beryl, speed queens such as Victoria Pendleton have continued to strike gold for female pedal power, capturing the track cycling scene, winning 9 world titles and numerous Olympic medals in sprint and keirin. Pounding out some phenomenal times in velodromes around the world.
As for the rest of us (mere mortals) isn’t part of the racing thrill not just about achieving and feeling those speeds, but about proving it, validation in cold hard numbers and fractions……..
I’ve owned a sports GPS devices for a number of years and currently a Garmin Forerunner 405 used for both cycling and running. They’re fantastic pieces of kit which will record pace, elevation, heart rate, route and then allow you to painstakingly analyse (and draw pretty graphs from) these vital statistics on a mile by mile basis.
If you’re feeling particularly sadistic/masochistic you can also share the full epic production with friends, who will variously wither in envy, or feel smug in comparison to the tabulated results of your own sweaty, snotty endeavours.
But, I very rarely use it.
I’ve mentioned previously that I can be hugely competitive, with myself and others and this little device, which highlights your progress, or lack of it to the fraction of a second, can quickly become both master and nemesis.
Coming back from a run or cycle which I’d thoroughly enjoyed I’d eagerly download the Garmin data only to have my mood crushed when finding I’d ridden slower or less efficiently than the previous time.
Statistics and proving improvement quickly became dominant, often to the exclusion of any pleasure I felt from being out on a ride. It became all too easy to lose sight of, and the enjoyment for, a pursuit I loved.
Something had to change.
It was therefore a revelation and liberation (as well as a wrench) to leave the little GPS dictator in a drawer and go back to (a time not long past) of riding bare – at least in the speed-data stakes.
I could still ride fast. But in my own way – unrecorded, pretending in my head that I’m Victoria or Beryl!
To confess, I do have a road ride planned before I hand it over. I’m pretty sure I’m riding well at the moment, a bit of me wants the Garmin to confirm this. I want to see my average speed and distance laid out before me in graphs and tables. The old need for empirical validation remains.
Will I give into temptation? Watch this space……..