Fast and Long!It'll not come as a surprise that racing and other forms of competition are a fundamental part of cycling. After all, it's human nature to compete in ANY endeavor!
So, how fast can a cyclist go? From an earlier post (The Rise of the Recumbent), it'll also be no surprise that all the flat-out speed records are held be advanced forms of recumbents, or, more accurately, "human powered vehicles" (HPVs). By advanced, I mean with radical gearing (HUGE chainrings on the bottom bracket and hard-shell fairings to reduce aerodynamic drag.)
Gardner Martin grew up here in the Shenandoah Valley (in Clarke County), and went on to found the Easy Racers company in California. In 1975 Gardner designed his first race bike. His machines have won numerous events on road courses, at the velodrome, and have set 21 world records.
In 1979, legendary cyclist Fast Freddy Markham became the first person to exceed 50 mph on a bicycle while aboard an Easy Racer. He would go on to become the first to achieve 60 mph, and in 1986 won the heralded DuPont Prize after exceeding 65 mph. The Gold Rush that he rode to set that record is now property of the Smithsonian Institute for display in various museum exhibits.
Doesn't look like any bicycle you've ever seen, right? Hardly a practical machine - the gearing is so high that the rider has to have helpers to hold him upright and push him along until he can pedal enough to stay upright to start! You can find a lot more about this company at http://www.easyracers.com/racing.html.
The current world record, an amazing 89.6 mph, was set in 2015 by a Canadian, Todd Reichert!
There are MANY kinds of records - sprints, races, tours, endurance, distance, etc. - that we can't cover them all here. You can Google "cycling records" and pull up dozens of records.
But distance/endurance/speed combinations are, to me, some of the most amazing feats of human athletic performance. For example, there's been a "Race Across America" (RAAM) since 1982 - that's a 3,000 mile coast-to-coast race with no rest days. This race is longer than the more publicized "Tour de France"!
The first race was won by Lon Haldeman (on the left in this picture), the first person to ride coast-to-coast in less than 10 days. Nowadays, the race has many divisions or classes, and is open to any cyclist (not just professionals) who qualify.
Finally, the competitor I find most impressive is Mark Bowman who, in 2017 rode around the world (18,000 miles) in 79 days! Think about riding 16 hours a day, consuming 9,000 calories a day, and averaging more than 240 miles a day!!