25 years on: a Lotus bike, Chris Boardman and the World Hour Record

preview

There are very few world records in sport which have remained unbroken for a quarter of a century, and even fewer which may never be beaten. This month marks the 25th anniversary of what is widely regarded as cycling’s blue riband – the World Hour Record. It was set by British rider Chris Boardman in September 1996 riding a Lotus Type 110 and, for a variety of reasons, may stand forever.

The World Hour Record is a wonderfully simple affair; a rider pedals as far as possible in 60 minutes, all alone in a velodrome. There are almost no external environmental forces acting on the rider and bike, only altitude and barometric pressure which cannot be controlled. It’s a record loved by the cycling community because of this purity, where the ability and performance of the rider and, to a lesser extent the bicycle, is all that counts.

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Chris Boardman changed cycling forever with his now-legendary gold medal ride on the Lotus Type 108 in the 4,000m Individual Pursuit. Subsequently Lotus provided a fleet of new Lotus Type 110 bicycle frames to the GAN pro-cycling team for whom Boardman rode. The 110 was more suited to road racing, being designed to take the gears, brakes and road wheels required, and with more compliance in the frame for improved comfort.

Boardman replicated his Olympic success, winning the Prologue time trial at the 1994 Tour de France and breaking records in the process.

At the end of the Lotus frame supply agreement with GAN, almost all the Type 110 frames were returned to Lotus. Some were purchased – and are still used today – by Lotus staff. Boardman specifically requested he keep one of the frames, to which Lotus agreed.

Then in September 1996 the cycling world erupted with the news that Chris Boardman set a new World Hour Record, his distance an extraordinary 56.375km. It shattered the previous record by over 1,000m and Boardman’s previous personal best – set in 1993 and at the time a world record – by a mammoth 4,105m.

Boardman visited the Lotus factory at Hethel soon after, arriving in his personal Elise, which Lotus knew he didn’t get to drive much as he could not carry a bike on it. To resolve this unfortunate lack of use of one the world’s greatest drivers’ cars, ingenious engineers from Lotus designed and built a one-off bike rack to mount on the engine cover!

A quarter of a century later Boardman’s record still stands. That’s because world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, reclassified how the record could be challenged, banning attempts using monocoque frames. It has now been reclassified as the ‘UCI Best Human Effort’; the World Hour Record must now be attempted using conventional bikes and has been broken many times.

Even with the latest hi-tech materials, better understanding of bicycle aerodynamics and improved athlete fitness, Boardman’s high water mark has never been bettered; the current record is 55.089 km set by Victor Campenaerts in April 2019. It’s an amazing achievement but still 1,300 metres short of where Boardman finished riding a Lotus 110.

Boardman was arguably the greatest time trial cyclist of his generation, further demonstrated by the fact that in 2000 he set a World Hour Record under the new rules and on a conventional bike. He didn’t ride as far as when he was on his Lotus, but the UCI had consigned the 108 and 110 to the history books for competitions. 

Lotus’ involvement in the world of cycling lay dormant for many years, restarting in October 2019 with the launch of the Hope / Lotus track bike. It was Lotus’ innovation in developing the front forks and handlebars which contributed to its success at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, where it won seven medals including three gold. Maybe that is the bike to challenge Boardman’s 25-year record?