Words and photos by Matt Ben Stone
Last September Denise Mueller-Korenek attempted to become the fastest human on a bicycle. She pedalled to nearly 184mph, eliminating the previous men’s record of 167mph and her own women’s record of 147mph. The record took place on the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway on the border between Utah and Nevada, USA, during Bonneville Speed Week – an annual automotive Mecca event held on the dry riverbed People can be confused by this record. It is unique as it requires a vehicle to create a pocket of air. There is a custom fairing on the back of the race car, which creates a pocket for Denise to ride in, which allows her to cycle at that speed. The bicycle is in the slipstream of the converted dragster. Without this, the air resistance would be too strong to cycle above 50mph even on the the pan- flat surface used for the record. The name Bonneville, refers to the area of salt flats of in Utah, now home to the exhilarating Speed Week on the barren surface of America’s cathedral of speed. It’s an incredible place to visit, deadpan flat and rich sunlight makes for supreme speed conditions. A no brainer that it is a place of pilgrimage, steeped heavily with history of land speed records.
Denise is not the only women to be pushing the sport further than ever. Shea Holbrook, a seven-time Pirelli World Challenge winner, is her pace car driver and they have worked together since when Shea was suggested for the project’s previous records. Standing on the start of a five-mile salt flats course, Denise mounted her custom- built steed, its a low-slung bicycle that is more than seven feet long, its length adds stability, a dragster inits own right, tethered to the inside of fairing on the back of the race car. Over the first couple of miles, the 1000-horsepower dragster accelerated to 110 mph— the velocity necessary for Denise to turn over the cranks on her own volition. As she began winding up the pedals, she then unhooked from the towing dragster using the second brake lever to release from the tether mechanism.
Now in the slipstream, she is smashing the pedals to hit the highest speed possible under her own power. “It’s like a dance,” Denise says. “Behind the fairing, I’m constantly adjusting, but Shea is doing her own dance, accelerating and decelerating so she doesn’t drop me or have me hit the car. She has to match my stride. “On the September 16, 2018, over the course’s final mile, Denise averaged a crushing 183.93 mph now owning the motor-paced bicycle land-speed record.
“She’s a totally crazy athlete. She’s built for this, trained for this, has an uber positive personality. She had the ride of her life, and I had the drive of mine,” Shea says. At 45-yearold Denise gets to be the first women to go faster than anyone before. Surpassing nearly 17 mph faster than the previous record holder, something men have been striving for since the record started in 1899. I still cannot believe I was able to witness this incredible feat of athletic empowerment first hand, with two females at the top of their game, breaking records in very male dominated arena. It’s a feat inconceivable to most humans, hard to imagine even travelling at 184 mph, let alone on a bicycle! Denise is now considered the fastest cyclist on earth.
“Behind the fairing, I’m constantly adjusting, but Shea is doing her own dance, accelerating and decelerating so she doesn’t drop me or have me hit the car. She has to match my stride.
Matt Ben Stone, London, UK
As a freelance photographer Matt spend a lot of time on the road. He is very fortunate to get to travel and see some incredible places for his work. One of his latest ventures was an amazing assignment at the Bonneville Salt Flats. When at home in London, he can be found drinking far too much coffee or escaping to the countryside to ride his bike.
See more: @mattbenstone och mattbenstone.com