31/01/19

Denise Mueller-Korenek in Bonneville

Words: Good Sport

Images: Matt Ben Stone

Bonneville Speed Week, an event that comes around every September, is considered to be a bucket list event in the world of motorsports. Dating back to Bill Rishel in 1896, who was the first man to cross the Salt Flats on a bicycle in the midst of a 3,000 mile cross-country race, people from all over the globe have ever since been venturing to the flats to race in whatever form they desire against other drivers, other types of vehicles or the clock.

This past Speed Week in mid-September 2018, photographer Matt Ben Stone was fortunate enough to sit alongside Denise Mueller-Korenek and her team as they returned to the Bonneville in hopes of breaking the world record for fastest human to ride a bicycle – a record previously held for 23 years by cyclist Fred Rompelberg with a recorded speed of 167.044 mph.

Working with an extensive team on the feat, a crucial component to the crew was Shea Holbrook, a professional racecar driver known for her huge accomplishments in the world of touring car racing. Once the day arrived, Holbrook would pilot a customised 1000 horsepower dragster to speeds of roughly 100 mph with Denise in tow within a custom-built drafting chamber that sits attached to the dragsters rear.

As the vehicle-bike unit reaches 110 mph –  the speed of great enough velocity to physically enable Denise to turn the large customised drive chain at her own volition – the bike is uncoupled from direct tow of the dragster via a brake lever but remains in the slipstream created by the drafting chamber. Here the drastic reduction of wind-resistance allows Denise to accelerate to speeds totally inconceivable outside of this environment.

The bike itself along with the custom-built dragster rig had been designed specifically for the occasion. In addition to an elongated frame and relatively small wheels, the drive-chain of the bicycle had been tailor-made with double-reduction gearing – a system that facilitates acceleration at unconventionally high speeds.

On the second attempt of the day, Denise managed to hit 183.9mph, flying past the previous men’s record of 167mph and her own women’s record of 147mph which she set in 2016 at the age of 43. 

To reach such a level of achievement, specifically in a field that is considered to be largely dominated by male involvement, is a gigantic feat by Denise and her team, and something that will hopefully set in motion an influx of incredible female athletes following closely behind, chasing 184mph.