As It Happens

How this cyclist hit 296 km/h to shatter a land speed world record

An American woman has become the fastest human to ride a bicycle over open ground, breaking a two-decade paced bicycle land speed record at nearly 300 km/h.

Denise Mueller-Korenek bested her previous women's speed record — surpassing the men's record as well

Denise Mueller-Korenek's bicycle was tethered to a dragster racecar to establish the high speed needed to break the record. (Matt Ben Stone)

Denise Mueller-Korenek is the fastest human to ride a bike over open ground.

In a feat of engineering, physics and sheer drive, Mueller-Korenek reached a speed of 296 km/h — or nearly 184 miles per hour — shattering the previous paced bicycle land speed record held by Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg, which he set in 1995.

Mueller-Korenek accomplished the mind-boggling feat on Sunday at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Mueller-Korenek about her record-breaking ride. Here's part of their conversation.

Denise, I've seen the video, and I have to say, my heart was pounding the whole time. I was so nervous and I knew how it turns out. You're in it and you don't know how it's going to turn out. What was it like to be there, peddling like that?

You know what? It's very surreal. Even afterwards, I've looked back, and go, "Oh my gosh, 183 miles an hour. What?" But when I'm back in that draft there is nothing but the pure, sheer concentration of what I'm doing. So I really have no moment to think about absolutely anything else.

Once I was done with it, I had no idea what speed we had done until my son came in the bicycle retrieval vehicle. He had been listening to the radio announcement so he was the first one to tell me. He said, "Mom, I think you got it — 183 miles an hour" And I went, "What?" It was pretty unbelievable.

So you didn't just break the record, you smashed it, because 1995 was the last time anyone did this, which was a man who had done it — and you went way beyond. 

I had a goal of going at least 170 because Fred Rompelberg's record was 166.9, so wanted to have it in the next miles per hour range. I had no idea I was going to break it by 17 miles an hour.

Denise Mueller-Korenek hopes her record-breaking ride will ' inspire people to get back into the game of life.' (Matt Ben Stone)

Now, you mentioned the draft. Tell us what you mean by that?

This is what is called a paced bicycle land speed record.

It means it is paced by a vehicle with a motor that is breaking the wind for the cyclist who is in the back, which, of course, is me on this record.

The vehicle is pushing the wind around and the cyclist sort of rides that pocket of air as the vehicle increases in speed.

That pocket of air has a push at the back of that pocket because as the air goes around, the vehicle it comes and whips back around and literally will create a shove forward. 

At no time, for the record, am I separated from the vehicle, as far as the draft. Now, I am towed because this is a single-gear bicycle with only one gear and a human cannot go from zero to 180 miles an hour with the same exact gear. So the gear is set up to where I have to be towed and I get towed up to approximately one and a half miles of the five-miles course, where the release occurs.

Then we continue to increase in speed all the way through the end, which is at mile marker five. And the average speed of mile marker four to five is what the record is, which happened to be the 183.9 miles per hour.

You make it sound so easy. But I'm watching you in that video and you have to be so close to the vehicle. There's all kinds of things that could go wrong, I'm sure. You're just inches away from the back of the car that is driving at the same speed that you're peddling.

There's a bump bar, in case I get too close to the car. But there's no room for error left and right.

If I hit that ferry on the left or the right with my front wheel, it's pretty much guaranteed that I would be going down. There's definitely an element of danger, bike handling skills and just the athleticism to be able to ride the bicycle in that draft area.

Denise, you're 45 years old, the mother of three kids. You've had a few setbacks in the past couple of years. You've had some accidents and hurt yourself in a few places. What do you think of yourself today?

Oh my gosh. Well, for me, it was an individual goal that I had set. I had set the goal to reach a record and beat a record.

But then there's also the other element, which is: I really hope to inspire people to get back into the game of life.

For 20 some odd years, I had given up my bike-racing career from when I was a junior. Back in 1992, I quit bicycle racing and focused on family business, and then also raising children.

So I did what a lot of typical people do in life. But yet, there's so many things out there. There's so many people that just sort of give up on life and I want to be able to help inspire them to go for it.

Set a goal and you just never know where it is going to lead.

Written by Ashley Mak and John McGill. Produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.