Posted on Nov 20, 2022
In 1899, Charles “Mile-a-Minute” Murphy, was the first to set a paced bicycle land speed record when he pedaled 60 mph behind a train in Long Island. In 2018, Denise Mueller set the current record of 183.9 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. She visited our club on November 17, 2022 to tell how she did it. Denise has always been fast on a bike. In the late 1980s, then teenage Denise was on a ride between San Francisco and San Diego. As she pedaled through Camp Pendleton, she drafted another cyclist for 8 miles. That cyclist happened to be John Howard, a 3-time Olympian, co-founder or the Race Across America and member of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. In 1985 John himself set the land speed record of 152.2, so he recognized her talent. John helped get Denise into competitive cycling and was her coach. She enjoyed success until, as she put it, she needed to start “adulting” and put aside cycling to focus on her career and family. Her career included running the family business Rancho Santa Fe Security, a company that was founded by her father.
Denise approached John Howard when her son was training to run all 19 Rock n’ Roll Marathons. John asked her whether she might return to cycling, and in particular, pursue a land speed record, which no woman had ever attempted. In 2012 she began training and in 2016 set the women’s record of 147.7 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Denise was further encouraged by Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg, who had held the record of 166.9 mph since 1995. Rompelberg even gave her use of the pace car he used in 1995 that looks a bit like a drag racer with a large hood at the back that serves as a wind shield. Having the car was one thing, but finding a driver in whom she had complete confidence was another.
Denise found Shea Holbrook to be that driver. In their attempts, Denise followed behind the pace car riding a customized bike with an extremely high gear. She explained that with one turn of the crank on this bike she could travel 131 feet (compare to a traditional ten-speed where one crank turn allows the rider to travel 31 feet).  Even to turn the crank she had to reach a speed of around 100 miles an hour. Shea had to get to around 130 mph within one mile, and when Denise cast off the tow rope in the final mile, around mile marker 4, she reached nearly 184 mph, far faster than she expected.
The attempt was not without danger. Denise brought with her a broken wheel hub. The hub cracked soon after the attempt, but fortunately held true as she set the record. One other great thing about Denise: she is a long-time member of the Rotary Club of Rancho Santa Fe!
Click HERE to watch a video of Denise setting the record.