Comment: Why I think Kurt Searvogel’s annual cycling record deserves our respect

New Highest Annual Mileage Record holder Kurt Searvogel's achievement has been questioned on social media

When we posted the news on Monday that Kurt Searvogel had broken Tommy Godwin’s 1939 mark to set a new highest annual mileage record for a cyclist, there was a surprising number of people who were less than charitable about his amazing feat.

At the time of writing, the 53-year-old American still has four days left in which to accumulate mileage, and has totalled 75,437 to beat Godwin’s 77-year-old record of 75,065 miles. That’s an astounding 209 miles per day. [update: he finished his year on 76,076 miles]

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Naturally, anyone clocking up that sort of mileage day in, day out, without a break deserves respect, whether they did it for a week, a month or a whole year. Searvogel is also currently achieving this at an average speed of over 19mph. Some days over 20mph.

>>> American Kurt Searvogel breaks cycling highest annual mileage record

I know that personally I would struggle to ride 50 miles at 19mph, let alone four times that distance having also done it the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that…

“Wow. Must be awsome [sic] to be able to ride your bike for 12 hours a day everyday on lovely, sunny, flat roads on a lovely new hi tech bike. This ‘record’ doesn’t come close to the 1939 feat,” wrote one Facebook user.

“I agree with comments, Tommy had snow to contend with, adapted butchers steel bike. Kurt rides in Florida weather on a fairy bike,” said another.

And most strangely: “Doesn’t count, for me this has to be in one calendar year, starting and ending on Jan 1.”

Although these comments give a lot of respect to Godwin’s original record – ridden on a bike of the era and on roads of the era – they give little respect to Searvogel’s achievement. It’s the sort of thinking that saw the UCI Hour Record die a miserable and lonely death before the ridiculous rules about using out-dated equipment were scrapped.

Do you have to make things as hard as possible for yourself, otherwise the record isn’t ‘real’ or ‘worthy’? Imagine if that was applied to every journey made in everyday life. “I’m walking into work today, backwards, with no shoes on, over broken glass and with a full sack of squirming eels on my back, otherwise I don’t deserve to be employed.”

I should point out that it was this magazine (then known simply as Cycling) that created the record in 1911, though that was slightly before I started working for it.

The record’s rules, clearly stated on the UltraMarathon Cycling Association website, say that you can ride any bike you like as long as it’s not a recumbent with a fairing (though there’s no mention of fairy bikes). You have to ride solo rather than as a team, but drafting is permitted as it’s a distance record not a speed record. Literally, you just have to get on a bike and ride as far as possible in a year.

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Of course, Godwin’s 1939 record was a gargantuan achievement, and its 77-year unbroken run proves that. But Searvogel’s record is equally as worthy, showing just as much effort, sacrifice and commitment as Godwin’s. And, of course, he has ridden further.

Searvogel rode in all weathers, and through injury and saddle sores – and even managed to get married in October (and then ride 175 miles directly afterwards) which also dispels the comment that “He must be single or is now,” as a Facebook user said.

Part of the spectacle of Searvogel’s record was the competition with British rider Steve Abraham, who is also undertaking the record attempt. Abraham had to reset his attempt in August after breaking his ankle in the spring as a result of being hit by a moped: Godwin certainly didn’t have to contend with the same level of traffic as any modern rider on the open road.

Nor did Godwin have to contend with having every facet of his achievement questioned and mocked on social media. In that respect: bring back 1939.