Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ken Harris, holder of World Hour Record (40-45) and the Kissena Velodrome Hour Record

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.


  1. Hi, I live in Oxford, UK where I do timetrials. I often visit Queens New York and have done some training around that velodrome. It's great to know!

  2. Thanks for chiming in! I've really enjoyed getting to know the history of timetrialing in the UK (thanks to Dave Moulton's blog, among other sources). Nice to know you've been to our local track. You'll have to visit Queens next year, when the Wednesday Night races are running.

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