Remember the childhood days of flying down your favorite hill? Just you, the wind in your face, and the whirring bicycle beneath you? Well, some people never outgrow that feeling of complete freedom, of being unbound by gravity and care that comes with going fast on a bike. British frame builder Tom Donhou, of Donhou Bicycles, is one of those people, and he's planning to go really fast on his newest hand-built contraption. We're talking 100 miles per hour fast.
Pushing the speed envelope on a bicycle is nothing new, but what's truly surprising is the design Donhou is using. Most high-speed bikes, the kind that go on to achieve speeds over 80 mph, tend to have streamlined, low-lying recumbent frames. Donhou’s design, by contrast, takes more cues from classic bike building.
Its steel frame is based on a triangle, and its oval-shape Columbus Max steel tubes impart the frame with the rigidity required to withstand blue streak speeds. But its core feature—the slap-you-in-the-face, show-stealing design element—is a massive, 104-tooth chain ring, which, at nearly 17 inches in diameter, is more than twice the size of the fastest gear on most road bikes. The monster was created by Royce, a British firm that specializes in high-end parts, or, as they put it, “specialist cycle components using aerospace technology.” For his final touch, Donhou bends the handles so far down the rider’s knuckles practically scrape the front tire.
Donhou, who's claimed the bike is "good to a hundred," has already clocked it at 60 mph on the open road. And now, standing on the shoulders (sitting on the seats?) of a few cycling giants before him, he hopes to build on their successes and take the bike to three digits before long.
French rider Jose Meiffret passed 100 mph (127.243, to be exact) back in 1962, and Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg hit 167 mph in 1995. The key to their success is to cut wind resistance using a technique known as motor pacing, where the cyclist hunkers in the wake directly behind a lead vehicle—often a motorcycle—that creates a draft where the cyclist can expend less energy and accelerate to blistering speeds (read more about the very cool science behind drafting here).
Donhou’s goal is reminiscent of Charles “Mile-A-Minute” Murphy, the daredevil from Brooklyn who hit 60 mph on his bike in 1899, wiping the grins off the faces of the disbelievers of his time as he rocketed down wood-planked railroad tracks in the wake of a Long Island Rail Road train.
So what’s it going to take for Donhou to push that giant chainring into the record books? Will we laugh when another cyclist saddles up behind a rocket-on-wheels to push the boundaries of the possible? With the kind of design innovation and out-of-the-box thinking Donhou’s displayed with this bike, that day may not be too far away.