After Fabian Cancellara’s World Championship victory earlier this fall, I asked, “What will it take to get this man on a velodrome to go after the Hour Record?”
I think the Hour Record is extremely cool, a raw testament to an individual’s strength; a rider’s equipment and preparation for the Hour Record is also a snapshot of technological developments and the persistent struggle between the development of bicycles and the competition-legal definition thereof. Of course, this was most noticable in Graemme O’bree and Chris Boardman’s back-and-forth attempts in the early 90s.
Cancellara thrills spectators with his raw power. In this year’s Tour, his long breakaway on stage 15 was caught at the base of the final climb to Verbier and rather than sink to the laughing group, he kept riding at the front of the main field for as long as he could, setting a punishing pace up the lower slopes of the climb, whittling away at the field.
This morning it was exciting to read news that both Cancellara is eyeing the Hour Record. The article also erroneously reports that David Zabrieski is considering it, despite their inclusion of his comment that “It’s not something I’m targeting in the near future.”
It would be extremely exciting to see Cancellara, a world-class rider, launch a concerted effort on the Hour Record.
Filed under: Hour Record
It is incredibly cool that Graeme Obree is going after the Hour Record again. The Beatles performing on a rooftop. That’s the kind of level we’re talking about
I’ve written about the Hour Record a few times, but have never gone into depth about Graemme Obree. In the 1990s, he was perhaps the quintessential outsider athlete: an undersponsored, penny-pinching where-are-you-from who launched a feverish assault on one of the most demanding records in the sport by challenging conventions and breaking paradigms – first with an unusual tuck on the bike, and then with the “superman” position.
His story is worth taking a look into. Click for Part 1 of an 8-part documentary on his effort, and don’t miss the corresponding piece on Chris Boardman, Obree’s insider friend/rival. Highly sponsored, Boardman used state-of-the-art technological analysis of his athletic performance. Compare this to Obree, pushing huge gears up hills, brazing his own bicycle frames.
And, coming back after quietly publishing his autobiography (adapted into a film starring a hobbit!), he’s jumping back into the fray, challenging the Hour Record’s classic category – the Athlete’s Hour, which requires the use of traditionally spoked wheels, a diamond-framed bicycle, and drop bars.
And, like last time, he’s built his own bike. His position looks good, too – very long, mimicing a conventional TT position. I wouldn’t like to feel my wrists after spending an hour like that, but then again, I wouldn’t like to time trial for an hour, either.
Good luck, Graeme!
Rumor on the street is that Lance Armstrong might be going after the Hour Record. Apparently (according to Velonews, he booked some time at the ADT Velodrome and tested with two bikes: a Trek T1 with 28-spoked wheels, and a bike set up with aerobars and deep-section carbon wheels. Not surprisingly, reports say that in the aeroposition, Lance saw a significant increase in speed at the same power output. The reported 31.6mph (17.7 seconds per lap) would put him at pace to surpass Ondrej Sosenka’s record of 49.7k (30.9 miles) record.
Sosenka’s record was done on a traditional, twin-triangle bike with drop bars and spoked wheels (image here). The Hour Record is broken down into the “Athlete’s Hour,” which requires use of a traditional bike, and the “Best Human Performance” category, which allows for innovative use of aerodynamic equipment. Lance might be doing a feasability study on his ability to set the record in either category.
At this point it’s probably premature to suggest that he has plans to set the record. If he he tested a traditional bike and an aero bike, it suggests that he hasn’t decided which to go after – which means that he probably hasn’t decided to go after the record. However, he does have a reputation for being an extremely well-focused and hard-training athlete. Now that he’s no longer focused on winning the hell out of more Tours de France than anyone else ever and has transitioned to racing to make headlines to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation, maybe it makes sense that he’d apply his training focus to setting a record that would, by virtue of his big name, make headlines and contribute further to his “I’m racing against cancer, not the peloton” soundbyte campaign.
It would be extremely exciting to see him make a serious attempt on the Athlete’s Hour Record, but it’s probably too way soon to get excited about it.
My brain has a tendency to store somewhat useless data. As a child I would sit down and read the Encyclopedia when bored; memorize Hardy Boys novels; accidentally imprint long monologues from Brian Jacques novels into my brain (usually sections dealing with feasts and food). It makes being a bike dork fun, because somehow, a bunch of information that I find interesting just gets stored away, and when I lest expect it, my homunculus will rummage through those cerebral filing cabinets and pull out some esoteric factoid (much to the delight, no doubt, of my conversational companions).
So, when it comes to bikes, I really like seeing new things that I just plain-old haven’t been exposed to yet. Last week it was Cantiflex Tubing, used by Bates in the 1930s as a way to make oversized tubing work with conventional lugs. It’s a curious little corner of frame construction.
Even more so comes from this Casati pursuit frame currently on eBay, with the photo above. The 1980s and 1990s saw revelations about the importance of aerodynamics in cycling (see, for example, 1989’s Lemond v. Fignon, and some more details here) – time trial bikes got lower front ends, Greg Lemond introduced aero bars to much controversy, and disc wheels – brought to the sport by Moser’s hour attempt gained more widespread use. I always enjoyed this video of a 1987 Tour de France team time trial – you can see different aerodynamic developments being employed by different teams.
But I’ve never seen a bike with such design as that Casati. It seems to me to be a flawed frame design, , sacrificing front end stiffness (admittedly not of paramount importance in a pursuit) for – well, I’m not exactly sure what for.
Conversations about experimental frame design almost inevitably turn toward somebody saying, “There’s a reason that the double-triangle frame design has been used regularly for a hundred and fifty years.” It’s true – it’s a good design. But there’s something about all the experiments, the attempts to create something new and revolutionary, that makes the standard classic racing bicycle even more beautiful. I suppose that’s part of why I love the stories behind the Hour Record – it’s got experimentation, that unusual combination of engineering and athleticism, and the story ultimately forks, reigning in one element in order to let the other blossom.
Over at Velocity Nation, there’s a nice interview with Ken Harris; there’s another one on CRCA’s website. Ken recently set the World Hour Record for his Master’s age category, (40-45). He shares some interesting tidbits about his training, his aerodynamics, and his gearing, so it’s an interview that satisfies the nerd in each fan.
Harris set the record by riding 45.6 km (28.3 miles) in one hour on September 23rd, 2008, at the Trexlertown Velodrome, a few weeks after setting the Kissena Hour Record here in New York City by riding 44.17 km, or 27.45 miles. Those of us who are Kissena regulars know Ken as the tall guy in the Adler kit who punishes the 1/2/3 field on a regular basis. The ’08 Twilight Series Results will testify to this.
The Hour Record is a holy grail of sorts in the cycling world. Eddy Merckx considered his 49.431 Hour Record the hardest ride he’d ever done; attempts to challenge his record led to riders and their coaches designing increasingly bizarre bicycles in attempts to gain aerodynamic advantages. Merckx, on the other hand, rode what was state-of-the-art for his 1972 record effort – a lugged-steel track bike with drop bars and traditionally spoked wheels. The developments being made in cycling technology led the UCI to seperate the Hour Record and the Best Human Effort, in order to distinguish between athletes riding “traditional bicycles” like Merckx’s, and those riding some of the more unique creations that the sport has seen.
And so, notables like Francesco Moser, Graeme O’bree, Michael Indurain, and Chris Boardman assaulted Merckx’s legacy with disc wheels, unique positioning, and curiously-shaped carbon fiber frames, but the UCI retroactively bumped their otherwise record-breaking attempts into the Best Human Effort category. Think of it as being similar to Major League Baseball’s requirement that all players use wooden bats – a somewhat arbitrary line that requires traditional tools in an attempt to keep the playing field even, hoping to ensure that the event remains about the athlete, not the equipment (this bears a certain similarity to Japanese Keirin racing). Meanwhile, Merckx’s record stood until 2000, when Chris Boardman managed to ride only about 30 feet further than Merckx had. The current record holder, Ondrej Sosenka, improved on Boardman’s effort by 260 meters, or .16 mile. The fact that so little progress has been made in this area, though athletic records in so many sports regularly get shattered is a testament not only to Merckx’s dominance of the sport but of the unique challenges, both mental and physical, of the Hour Record: get on the bike, affix your shoes to the pedals, grab the bars, put your head down, and go. For an hour. At about thirty miles an hour.
It’s the stuff of legends, and of good stories, pretty thoroughly intertwined in the history of racing and technology in recent decades. Thanks to the efforts of, and rivalry between Graeme O’Bree and Chris Boardman in the 1990s, the field of cycling aerodynamics grew rapidly.
It’s nice to know that somebody in our little corner of the cycling world, dominated by the same old park circuits and bumpy velodrome, holds a corner of a record that is imbued with such history, held by such cycling greats.
Good job, Ken.