Cycling Hour Record: A history of hour record bikes

Following the news that Alex Dowsett is going to reattempt the cycling Hour Record, we're looking back at Hour Record bikes of old, with a brief history of how the record has developed over the years.

The British time trial specialist has held the cycling Hour Record before, but it was during a period of popularity for the gruelling event and the record was his for just 36 days before Wiggins made it his own. 

Dowsett has long been a proponent for optimising his equipment, and throughout 2020 he has regularly swapped his team-issue Factor Slick time trial bike for a Specialized Shiv TT in the pursuit of free watts. He's yet to announce which bike he will use for his second Hour Record attempt. 

Cycling Hour Record: History

The Hour Record dates back to the late 19th Century, when, after several attempts in the United States and the United Kingdom, Henri Desgrange – who went on to establish the Tour de France – set a record in Paris following the newly-formed International Cycling Association.

The Hour Record went on to be continually broken throughout the 20th century at velodromes around the world by the likes of Guiseppe Olmo, Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser for the men’s record.

Aerodynamic appreciation

In the 1990s, Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman began experimenting with bike positions and designs in an effort to improve aerodynamics. The UCI, however, eventually outlawed the radical bike designs and positioning made famous by the duo, and in 1997 the UCI brought in new rules restricting competitors to traditional equipment, and that all attempts were to be made on a traditional road bike with drop handlebars. 

As a result, all records between 1972, including Boardman's 56.375km ride in 1996, were recognised in the record of 'Best Human Effort', and Merckx's former benchmark of 49.431km was reinstated as the World Hour Record time to beat. Boardman took the challenge, subsequently riding 49.441km in the year 2000.

Fast forward to 2014

Following a decline in popularity of the Hour Record, likely due to the stringent rules in place, the UCI updated the rulings to replicate modern regulations for track pursuit bikes, and also adhering to other UCI regulations including the biological passport. Ultimately, this meant that any bike that was legal for use in track pursuit disciplines was legal for use in the Hour Record.

Since the rule-change popularity has boomed, the mark has been broken six times, by Jens Voigt, Matthias Brändle, Rohan Dennis, Alex Dowsett, Bradley Wiggins and, most recently, Victor Campenaerts.

Click through the gallery above for a look at the Hour Record bikes throughout history.

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