How A Cycling Speed Record Was Nearly Set With a Porsche 935 Turbo

Ever find yourself caught in the slip stream of an 800 horsepower Porsche race car at speeds over 100 mph?

byChris Constantine|
History photo

What's the fastest speed you've ever been on a bicycle? Professional cyclists using dedicated race bikes rarely exceed 25 mph, and reaching 30 mph or more with the aid of a steep hill is a good way to get acquainted with road rash (speaking from experience). How about 149 mph though? In 1978, a track cyclist named Jean-Claude Rude almost reached this speed, while riding in the slip stream of a Porsche 935 Turbo race car. Porsche retold this story in a press release Tuesday. 

This strange and incredibly dangerous record attempt was inspired by similar records in the early 1960s and ‘70s, beginning with José Meiffret breaking the 200 kph (124 mph) barrier while riding behind a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL and then by Dr. Allan Abbott reaching 139 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats behind a 1955 Chevrolet. Rude set his sights on the 240 kph (149 mph) target, and recruited three-time overall 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Henri Pescarolo to help him achieve this record.

Porsche 935 Turbo (left), Jean-Claude Rude (middle), and Henri Pescarolo (right). , Porsche

Pescarolo was to drive an 800 horsepower, Martini-liveried Porsche 935 Turbo with a massive rear screen fitted to the rear to direct as much air as possible away from the cyclist, plus a roller bar on the rear bumper that would prevent Rude from falling if his front wheel made contact with the vehicle. Like the Porsche, the bicycle of choice was heavily modified, using a larger gear ratio that allowed Rude to cover 88 feet with each full pedal revolution. 

The attempt took place Aug. 23, 1978, at Volkswagen's famous Ehra-Lessien test track in Germany. Because of the bicycle's gearing, Rude needed to be pushed up to a comfortable speed by a motorcycle. All started off well, but at 105 mph, the bicycle's rear tire blew and became jammed in the frame, locking the wheel and causing a massive skid– not something you'd want to experience at 10 mph, let alone 100 mph. Thankfully, Rude's impressive cycling skills allowed him to control the slide and come to a stop with no injuries, but that was the end.

Rude starts his run, with help from a motorcycle and lance., Porsche

Tragically, Rude was killed while training for another go at the attempt using a high-speed train two years later. The Porsche 935 Turbo shed its weird rear spoiler and won Le Mans in 1979. And Pescarolo? He's still around, and had his own Le Mans racing team until 2013. 

Watch his interview regarding the cycling record attempt below.