One of the most peculiar disciplines of cycling is the iconic Hour Record. It is about racing for an hour in a velodrome with the objective of travelling as far as possible. Right now the record is held by Sir Bradley Wiggins. The Briton managed to travel a distance of 54,526 kilometres in an hour on the bicycle in 2015, in London.
The first attempts date back to the late twentieth century. Henri Desgrange was the first to achieve the hour record, in 1893 in Paris, where he was able to travel 35,325 kilometres. Since the ’30s the test has always had to contend with certain discrepancies due to different regulations regarding the modifications allowed on bicycles.
On one side there was the IHPVA (International Human Powered Vehicle Association), which allowed any type of modification provided that the rider was the one who provided the energy to the movement. And on the other side, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), which at various times has not allowed modifications and only allowed standard road bikes.
During the 80s and 90s more aerodynamic frames with lenticular wheels began to be used and, also under the suspicion of doping in some riders, the hour record gained media relevance due to the continuous attempts to get the record by cyclists like Miguel Indurain, Tommy Romminger and Chris Boardman.
Graeme Obree, a cyclist who built his own bicycles (even using washing machine bearings for their low resistance) set two new records between 1993 and 1994: one with a position known as “the egg”, with arms together on the chest; and the second, known as “the superman” posture, with arms fully stretched forward.
In 1997 the UCI modified the rules of the Hour Record: it prohibited the use of time trial helmets, the special wheels and the aerodynamic frames. Thanks to these changes, Chris Boardman’s record was achieved in 1996, traveling 56,375 km, almost 7 kilometres more than the previous record on a classic bicycle. The UCI determined that the records obtained with modified bicycles would not be valid and, from then on, any attempt to surpass the record of the hour should be made with a standard bicycle. In this way, all the records achieved since Eddy Merckx set in 1984, were included in a new category called “Best human effort”
In May 2014, because of the low interest that the test generated both among the public and manufacturers, the UCI decided to allow the use of special bicycles, wheels and bike helmets again. Between 2014 and 2015 several cyclists like Jens Voigt, Matthias Brändle, Rohan Dennis and Alex Dowsett beat the previous records until Bradley Wiggins tried on June 7, 2015, and set the mark of 54,526 kilometres.
In the women’s category, the current record is held by the American Evelyn Stevens, who set the record of 47,980 kilometres in 2016.
Where is the limit? Will we see a cyclist reach 60 kilometres? Maybe that’s a topic to address in another post of this blog.