Highest Annual Mileage Record
January 19, 2016 5:31 AM   Subscribe

How many miles can you cycle in a year? British cyclist Tommy Godwin’s "unbreakable" 1939 record of 75,065 miles has just been beaten by American Kurt “Tarzan” Searvogel, who achieved 76,156 miles, or 208.6 miles a day, between January 10, 2015 and January 9, 2016.

His biggest rival is British audaxer Steven "Teethgrinder" Abraham. He's been riding every day since January 1st 2015, doing well until he was hit by an errant scooter rider in March, breaking his ankle. He didn’t stay off the bike for long, riding laps one-legged on a recumbent tricycle around Milton Keynes bowl for a while, and still managed 63,568 miles for the year.

Abraham began an overlapping “restart” year attempt in August, but health problems in December and poor weather in January has put this attempt well below target, possibly unrecoverably so.

The riders have taken very different approaches. Abraham rides audax-style: solo, on a heavy low-tech Raleigh steel bike with full mudguards, luggage bag and no on-the-road support, in the challenging British weather and terrain.

On the other hand, Searvogel uses a modern triathlon bike and even a low wind resistance recumbent, with his now wife Alicia following in a van. He spent the winter months riding in Florida before transferring back to his home state of Arkansas. He has also drawn controversy by drafting behind other riders, although this is allowed by the rules.

Another challenger, Bruce Berkeley, started on January 1st this year, but has already been disqualified by the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association for undisclosed reasons, presumed to be his failure to provide live tracking. He continues to ride but with no records body overseeing his attempt.

The women’s record stands at a mere 29,603 miles, and is being challenged by Swede Kasja Tylen, on British roads.

Finally, Tommy Godwin himself continues to hold the record for the most miles ridden in a 365 day period, believed to be 77,001 miles between May 1939 and May 1940 as he brought his riding total up to 100,000 miles. This is unrecognised as it was not part of a predeclared one year record attempt.
posted by grahamparks (42 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Live tracking for Steven Abraham and Kasja Tylen. They're probably on the road right now.
posted by grahamparks at 5:33 AM on January 19, 2016


I cycle about 3,000 miles a year, but then I am not a one armed teetotal vegetarian socialist (and I have a job).
posted by Major Tom at 5:51 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a guy who has ridden double centuries this just seems impossible. It would be for me. If not for their tracking I wouldn't believe it at all.

After some doubles I've done in heat (106, Davis) or with 20,000 feet of climbing (Dvil Mountain Double) I'm toast for several days. My brain doesn't really work and my body is just a bag of mush. How can they do it?

And how fast are these folks? I've spent between 12 and 20 hours to make 200 miles (yep, fellow cyclists, I'm that slow.) Doing that day after day? Crazy. Not just crazy, but superhuman.
posted by cccorlew at 5:55 AM on January 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


I appreciate people who are singlemindedly dedicated to their calling. Thanks for this.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:56 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Abraham rides audax-style: solo, on a heavy low-tech Raleigh steel bike with full mudguards, luggage bag and no on-the-road support, in the challenging British weather and terrain.

My hat's off to this guy - I really appreciate anyone that cycles like this in such a no-nonsense manner. I rode in a two-day charity ride last year on my heavy steel bike (the heavy part was entirely my fault - front and rear racks, handlebar bag and giant saddle bag, stainless steel fenders, and all the other accessories add a lot of weight) and people just could not understand how I could ride 90 miles in a day on this thing without falling over dead. Best comment was from another rider at the end of the weekend who told me, "I'm amazed you were able to do the whole ride without clipless pedals!"
posted by backseatpilot at 5:58 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Between the people that do this, to the people that just go round and round in a highspeed circle for an hour, to the people who insist on biking to work through downtown traffic after a major snowstorm: bikers are kind of weird sometimes.
posted by Theta States at 6:05 AM on January 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


I wonder how many birds he saw on the way.
posted by schmod at 6:12 AM on January 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Driving that support van for a year sounds like hell on earth.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:13 AM on January 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


Podcasts. Lots of podcasts.
posted by notyou at 6:18 AM on January 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


And how fast are these folks? I've spent between 12 and 20 hours to make 200 miles (yep, fellow cyclists, I'm that slow.) Doing that day after day? Crazy. Not just crazy, but superhuman.
One of the articles I read said that he averages 20 mph (32 km/h) because that's the speed that works for him.

I know a couple guys who ride around here who can just stack on the miles with essentially no ill effects. Even when I was extremely fit and could've trounced them in any day-long or weekend trip, they were in another galaxy when it came to monthly mileage totals. It's an amazing bit of optimization and I've no idea how it works.
posted by introp at 6:35 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


So if you break the record during a leap year, do you get an asterisk beside your record?
posted by clawsoon at 6:47 AM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


That beats my record of 0 last year but I'm really feeling 2016 is my time to shine.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:49 AM on January 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


So if you break the record during a leap year, do you get an asterisk beside your record?

No, but as it's set as 365 consecutive days, we'll give you New Year's Eve off.

I haven't followed his attempt particularly closely, but having briefly met Steve Abraham and knowing some of his cycling history (particularly in audaxing circles) I can't think of many people better suited to a crack at this record. It's a shame he's had a few bits of bad luck to deal with, as I think otherwise the friendly 'rivalry' between him and Kurt would have been great to watch.
posted by A Robot Ninja at 6:53 AM on January 19, 2016


My father had to commute 20 miles to work 7 days a week - biking on weekdays and driving on weekends. One year he thought "Y'know, I could probably do 9,000 miles between my commute and my recreational riding if I ride to work every day" and went for it.

I don't remember if he made it, but I do remember that he said he'd never do something like that again - missing 20 miles because you're developing bronchitis because you're riding in freezing temperatures means you have even more miles to ride the following day so you just gut up and ride.

I can't imagine what it's like riding 200 miles daily, knowing that if you miss a day you're adding another mile or two per remaining day, y'know? oof.
posted by Kyol at 6:54 AM on January 19, 2016


And how fast are these folks? I've spent between 12 and 20 hours to make 200 miles (yep, fellow cyclists, I'm that slow.) Doing that day after day? Crazy. Not just crazy, but superhuman.

Steven Abraham's rides are all on strava.com, where riders upload their GPS recordings.
The yearly summary is here, scroll down to the bar chart. Then click one of the week columns to see that week's rides.

A typical ride from last September: Friday Sept 18
Distance: 220 miles.
His average heart rate is only 81 beats per minute. An easy cruise for him.
Total time: 14:52
Ride time: 14:32
So he only stopped for 20 minutes!
Average speed 15.2 mph. But to average that over the whole day, he often has to ride 18 mph or 20 mph to make up for traffic stops and hill climbs.
The weekly summary page includes the start time: 8:37am. It was dark before he finished.

Then do it all again the next day. Wow! And he doesn't want to ride or draft with other riders.


His website: One Year Time Trial shows the equivalent distance in other bike routes:
25 Race Across America. That's two a month!
109 Paris-Brest-Paris (1200km) it's a continuous 1200k for a year. Riders train for a year to do this once.
Britain north to south every 4 days.
posted by jjj606 at 6:58 AM on January 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


None of TFAs (at least the 3-4 I skimmed, no deep dive) talk about the practicalities: OK, the couple live in an RV, so this (biking/driving the van) is their full time job, yah ?

Where's the money come from for gas, laundry, sundries etc ? Are they independently wealthy, or sponsored, or __ ?

(I mean, hey, if you got the $ to not worry about those things , you can become the tiddly wink champion for all that matters. Single minded determined-ness when you have nothing to worry about seems, well, cheap ? cheating? I dunno, I'm just an internet hater.. )
posted by k5.user at 6:59 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I cycled 5 miles this morning on a cargo bike (27kg), carrying a child (18kg), with the rear brake jammed on. Where's my MeFi post?

Where's the money come from for...
The article on Steve's bike mentions he's sponsored by Raleigh, not sure if that means he gets money in addition to the bikes.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:05 AM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


The article on Steve's bike mentions he's sponsored by Raleigh, not sure if that means he gets money in addition to the bikes.

I'm not sure, but I don't think so. I understand it's mostly self-funded, with some kit support from sponsors and financial support from individual supporters.
posted by A Robot Ninja at 7:11 AM on January 19, 2016


I don't know about the others, but Steven is funded by donations from various benefactors, mostly fellow cyclists. Everytime you sign up for an audax (in the UK), you're asked to add a £1 donation on top of the event fee.

So he only stopped for 20 minutes!

Via the magic of the clock button on Strava's analysis page, you can see where he stopped. A couple of stops in the bushes and 10 minutes at the petrol station in Chatteris.

I don't think he's normally anything like so efficient. If you look at his latest ride there's an 80 minute stop in Sleaford town centre and only a couple of hours later a 100 minute stop apparently at a village pub.
posted by grahamparks at 7:14 AM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'll admit to being basically a giant bike weirdo, I also do audax (or 'randonneuring' as we say in the US). I did the Paris-Brest-Paris ride this past April, 1200km in 85 hours nonstop, which is probably the craziest thing I've ever done (wonder if I saw this guy out on the road!). I ride to work every day (about to take off in the rain today). I have done 2 month long self supported bike tours where I rode 70-100 miles a day and that's my idea of a vacation. I do around 7000-10000 miles a year.

So I am basically the kind of person who is like "200 miles, meh yeah that's a good start" but jesus christ, a double century every single day. What impresses me about that is not the physical part (not that hard for any semi-serious cyclist), but what a huge time commitment that is. I mean to hit 10k miles a year I have to ride 200 miles a week and that is a pretty big time sink. 200 miles a day? This guy basically did nothing but ride for a year. Even if you're fast you wouldn't have much time off the bike every day at all, even for sleep! Hard for me to imagine that level of dedication, and I did PBP...
posted by bradbane at 7:15 AM on January 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


Before reading this I would have said this was likely impossible. Not hard without massive training, but like biologically impossible to metabolize enough energy to do a double century every day. Guess I was wrong.
posted by mark k at 7:33 AM on January 19, 2016


mark k, my guess would be he drinks liquid calories on the bike. All day.
posted by bradbane at 7:34 AM on January 19, 2016


Insane. I'm impressed when I get a couple thousand kilometers a year. Looking at those charts what's crazier is some of them sometimes squeeze in a 500 mile day presumably so they can take a day off at some point. You'd think their muscles would completely break down.
posted by GuyZero at 7:41 AM on January 19, 2016


I used to ride centuries regularly, with a longest day of 170 miles on Cross Florida.

In 1999, riding the Tour of the Scioto River Valley, from Columbus to Portsmouth, Ohio and back over two days, I rode for about 40 miles in the company of Danny Chew, the million-mile man, whose goal is to ride 1 million bicycle miles in his life. He rode his first double century at age 10. Looking at his monthly ride table, that 400+ mile weekend was part of a 2933-mile month for him, in preparation for his 2nd win in the Race Across America in July, and he still only rode 22,161 miles in 1999, less than one-third of this record. His best-ever year was 1994, at 27,095 miles.

This record is insane.
posted by SubterraneanRedStateBlues at 7:45 AM on January 19, 2016


Welp, that's as good an endorsement for tubeless and Schwalbe One tires for my commuter as I'm ever going to get.
posted by supercres at 7:52 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Even if you're fast you wouldn't have much time off the bike every day at all, even for sleep!

The linked data shows 18.2 mph moving speed. That's an average of 11 hours and 28 minutes of motion a day. So about 3-4 hours a day that he's not sleeping or actually moving on the bike.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:58 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


So a Reynolds-framed bike fully-loaded at under 14 kg is now “heavy”, is it?
(looks at daily steed, a Dutch “light city bike” at nearly twice that, unladen)
Hmm …
posted by scruss at 8:00 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


also, £1,100 is modest? maybe for Freds? dude practically lives on his bike, just say he has a nice bike. we'll understand.
posted by indubitable at 8:12 AM on January 19, 2016


Yeah, £1,100 is pretty modest in terms of proper bikes -- by which I mean real bicycles made by a real bike company and sold in bike shops. You can buy a $200 bike at Wal-mart or whatever, but there's effectively zero chance of such a bike surviving more than 1,000 miles.

If you walk into a bike shop and look at entry-level road bikes, you're looking at $800US. Those will be aluminum and, generally speaking, shaped more like race bikes than touring bikes. A real touring bike will probably be $1500US. A tri bike will be even more, since it's a specialized go-fast machine marketed to the relatively flush tri community.

MY road bike is about 2x-3x more than that, and while nobody would mistake it for modest, $3-4K is by no means "fancy" or high-end on the rides I go on. People don't really turn heads until you're rolling on $8K+. (Now, at that point, you're kinda showing off, too -- you're well beyond the point of diminishing returns in terms of acceleration and speed, but you DO get some niceties at that level that I don't have.)

I echo bradbane's comment above. I keep it around 100-120 miles a week, and the idea of squeezing more in is kind of mindboggling between job and marriage and social life and whatnot. between getting to and from the club rides, that's 2 hours each on Tuesday and Thursday (30 mile rides), plus a couple hours on Friday for a slow-spin ride, and maybe a longer ride on Saturday or Sunday.

I have a friend who topped 11,000 miles in 2015, and I honestly don't get how he does it. He works less than I do, but not a LOT less. (Neither of us have kids.)
posted by uberchet at 8:40 AM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


indubitable: "also, £1,100 is modest? maybe for Freds? dude practically lives on his bike, just say he has a nice bike. we'll understand."

It's a nice bicycle, but yeah. That's about it.

Steven Abraham's criteria seems to have been that he wanted a simple, well-made bicycle that was pretty comfortable, and built like a tank. For those criteria, the Raleigh seems to be a pretty good pick.

It's an amazingly unremarkable bike. I commute on a bike that's reasonably similar. Mine's aluminum (and therefore lighter), but his components are probably a bit nicer, and Raleigh probably pays a bit more attention to Quality Control than other brands do.

Add general UK price inflation, and the fact that the quoted price was MSRP, and I'd say that he got a pretty good deal.

The Raleigh that Steven Abraham purchased is an eminently reasonable piece of equipment. Which is to say, you wouldn't expect to see one being used to shatter a long-standing world-record. This would be a very practical bike for a person who has a moderate-distance commute, and wants to be able to lug some groceries home along the way.

In this context, it's an absurdly modest piece of equipment. You wouldn't even expect to see a Serious Bicycle Person considering this kind of bike (let alone a single wheel for less than £1,100). It eschews any considerations about weight (it's got a steel frame, FFS!), and hasn't really been optimized for anything other than reliability.

On the plus side, he seems to pack his luggage very efficiently. Good on him for thumbing his nose at cycling's obnoxious Expensive Gear Fetish.
posted by schmod at 8:51 AM on January 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


More than the accomplishments, I also always wonder how people pay for the adventures they have...
posted by ph00dz at 9:15 AM on January 19, 2016


There was a brief period where I was averaging 400-500 very easy, flat miles a week on an early no suspension 'mountain' bike. I was much, much younger and basically commuting to work, home, my public radio station gigs and (more importantly) my GFs work/home.

The geographic span of these locations covered about half to two thirds of Orange County.

I can't even imagine 200+ miles a day. It's not just the physical effort. After a while I'd just get insanely bored.
posted by loquacious at 9:17 AM on January 19, 2016


SubterraneanRedStateBlues I used to ride centuries regularly, with a longest day of 170 miles on Cross Florida.

In 1999, riding the Tour of the Scioto River Valley, from Columbus to Portsmouth, Ohio and back over two days, I rode for about 40 miles in the company of Danny Chew, the million-mile man

This record is insane.


I have a friend who hasn't been able to drive in years. He rides everywhere, every day, all year, in all conditions, and also enjoys recreational riding: rail-trails, TOSRV, etc. I think his record year is a little under 7,000 miles. I couldn't say for sure, cuz I don't measure it, but I bet mine is under 3,000, even when I was in my thirties and lived a lifestyle similar to my friend's.

We rode across the USA a couple times back in the 1990s. We averaged 100mi/day and I believe our longest day (fully laden) was 130 miles. In the 1970s we did a few rides (again fully laden) that included some 150 mile days.

This spring, grid willing, we'll ride our 40th TOSRV.

That seems like a lot of riding to me. But I don't think you can even approach these over 20k miles/year figures and live anything like a normal life.

This guy basically did nothing but ride for a year.

Right. "It's not normal."

PS: As to gear, I'm still riding my 1987 Trek touring bike. It's only my third bicycle ever. (Most of) my 1972 Fuji S-10-S is still in the garage; my 1966 Huffy Sportsman is lost forever.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:30 AM on January 19, 2016


I, too, am fascinated by the human-relation aspect of this. Kurt Searvogel is supported by his wife, Alicia, who follows behind him in the RV that they live in (when not driving or cycling). From one of the links,

What is an average day for you in your role as chief crew for Kurt?

Average day? We live out of a Sprinter RV van. I drive and drive. My main job is keeping Kurt on his bike and to be there with whatever he needs. I do everything and I drive. He eats a ton, so I grocery shop every other day. Laundry has to be done on the road and also needs to be done every other day. Everything is a scavenger hunt all day long. Finding food, grocery stores, laundromats, bike repair shops, vehicle repair shops, diesel gas, hotels and RV parks… and I drive. Always stopping for ice to keep the 6-8 SPIZ bottles and food cold (refrigerator is broken), all between driving. I get his bikes ready and do minor repairs. Load and unload the RV from hotels or plug and unplug plus dump if we’re at RV parks. Keeping him safe is difficult and can be a battle. I try to video when possible, edit and post when we have internet. Oh, did I mention I drive? I’ve supported and ridden, so I get the overall picture. There are so many minute details that a rider may be too zoned out to communicate, yet appreciate when attended to. In other words, Kurt is like taking care of and chasing a two year old, but he’s an adult.

Digging a little bit further, I found this on an August article from espn.com: Kurt is 52 years old, used to weigh 260 pounds, and owns his own business (which was being run by his ex-wife during his year on the road).

So, there are worse things to do with your money, I suppose. But I wouldn't want to have Alicia's job for the year; that sounds absolutely deadly. And what would have happened if he hadn't broken the record? How would you think about your year on the road, having taken a year away from your life as well as from your wife's, if it was all for naught?
posted by math at 9:35 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, and why not just ride around in circles, or around town, instead of putting your wife into the role of servant for a year? It's not like Kurt was getting a lot out the experience of crossing the country five hundred times in a year (or whatever it was).
posted by math at 9:36 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


A few years back I logged my rides for a state challenge, in which they had rankings for both total mileage and total number of trips. That one was great for me, since I do basically no recreational bicycling, but run lots of errands in between work and home, and according to the rules, each stop counted as a separate trip. I didn't have quite enough trips to win anything (and definitely not enough miles!) but I may have had the highest trips-to-miles ratio of anyone participating. Because there's never a bad time to stop at the library.
posted by asperity at 10:37 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm confused by a few things. It looks like Goodwin's record was set in a single calendar year, which this new record was not. I guess the new rules don't require that. And I'm not sure how Goodwin can hold the overall 365 day record if that record isn't recognized (if it's not recognized then he doesn't hold it. And if he does hold it then Searvogel does not).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:23 AM on January 19, 2016


So there are three separate things:

- Searvogel holds the record for a pre-declared 365 day period.
- Godwin still holds the record for a calendar year.
- Godwin is also the person who has ridden the most miles in a 365 day period, but that wasn't the challenge he was attempting at the time, and no one seems to consider this the same as the year record.

For whatever reason, the first one is considered the most important. To be honest, I share your befuddlement.
posted by grahamparks at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


It turns out I've misspelt Kajsa Tylen's name. I do apologise.
posted by grahamparks at 12:49 PM on January 19, 2016


I don't think he's normally anything like so efficient. If you look at his latest ride there's an 80 minute stop in Sleaford town centre and only a couple of hours later a 100 minute stop apparently at a village pub.

Does the data show the wobbles and weaving after leaving the pub?
posted by Dip Flash at 6:09 PM on January 19, 2016


Not nearly the same level of mileage, but also a touching story of riding a bike lots: previously
posted by d. z. wang at 6:37 AM on January 21, 2016




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