Sunday, July 29, 2012

Explaining the Hour Record

While it should seem natural that most people who read this blog already have some understanding of what the 'hour record' is, it did occur to me that not everyone will know of it. This may include even fellow cyclists. Wikipedia pretty much covers the basic definition as 'the farthest distance ridden on a bicycle in one hour.' At the end of the day that is pretty much it. How far can a person ride a bicycle in 60 minutes time? For the purist among the cycling crowd it is the true test of one's ability to ride said bicycle.

No other sport has anything quite like it. For them it is all about how fast can a specified distance be covered. The Indianapolis and Daytona 500's, the runner's mile, a marathon, the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby. Even within cycling everything from time trials to the Tour De France is about how fast a rider can get from point A to point B. Those competitions are also based on how fast others can complete the same course against you.

But with the hour record it is you, the bicycle, a track, and a stopwatch.

Part of what separates this event from others, even within the context of cycling, is the use of the velodrome and the type of bike. The use of the velodrome is critical for side by side comparison's of one rider's ability to another. Throughout all other sports, especially ball sports, there is always a debate about the greatest ever. And no true conclusion can ever be made because with those competitions, you are not only comparing competitor versus competitor, but also the eras in which they competed. The use of a velodrome and a track specific bicycle* both bring the playing field to level. (*More on the bicycle debate below.) The purpose of the velodrome is to take out all of the factors that can affect a rider's performance, as well as their shortcomings.

If you take three relatively equally matched professional riders and run a time trial on three different types of courses, you are likely to get three different winners. This is a result of the three riders each having different talents and deficits that can be hidden or exposed by the type of course ridden. But with the velodrome, there are no hills, no descents, no rough pavement, no rain; all things that can adversely affect a result. While there are different types and sizes of velodrome tracks, all are a flat track with two turns.

Taking the course out of the debate leaves us with just the rider and the bike. In the last 30 years; however, the bicycle had become a larger part of the discussion than the riders themselves. Advances in technology, materials, frame designs, and aerodynamics started to push the Hour Record into a competition over who could innovate best. And while yes, the first Hour Record was set using a penny-farthing, the debate was still about the man and his ability.

Controversially, in response to all of the innovation taking place within the sport, it's governing body the Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI, set to eliminate the equipment advantage out of the equation. It mandated that attempts made on the "Athlete's Hour" follow a strict set of rules regarding frame materials and sizing, tube shapes, wheel design, handle bar shape, and rider positioning. The common terminology for the record attempt and equipment specifications used is know as the "Merckx Hour," or "Merckx Rules." This is drawn from the rules being created to match all future attempts at the hour on using essentially the same specifications used by Eddy Merckx for his successful attempt in 1972. Innovated attempts are still recognized, but they fall into different classifications outside of the Athlete's Hour.

These rules are part of the reasoning behind my naming this The Merckx Project. I don't doubt that I could achieve better results with a lightweight, aerodynamic frame, wheels & helmet, and optimized body position. But I want to find out what I can achieve using essentially the same set of tools as Eddy Merckx. A steel framed, non-aerodynamically enhanced bike, using standard spoked wheels, a single gear, and drop bars with no brakes. And minus the juiced bloodstream, of course.

1 comment:

  1. Not to discourage, because it's a fascinating quest, but I think Merckx's bike was one of the most expensive ever made at the time. It was hand-built by Ernesto Colnago and at least partially made of titanium tubing.
    His bike was 2kg lighter than Moser's 1984 50km ride.