The female cyclists who broke world records and clocked up world firsts

From global circumnavigation to breaking the hour record, and a whole lot more

From circumnavigating the globe to clocking up the most distance possible in a set time, and even riding until reaching 100 years old! This selection of record-breaking female cyclists will inspire you to get out there and ride… and maybe even aim for a record or two yourself? 


Explorers and adventurers

While speed and time are easy to give a number, when it comes to adventure and exploration the number one is often the most impressive. The people who achieve those world firsts.

The current record holder for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe is Paola Gianotti, who completed the epic feat in 144 days.

Along the way, an accident resulted in several fractured vertebrae, but undeterred, she was back on the bike in three months and completed the expedition on the 30 November 2014, having originally set off on 8 March.

Juliana Buhring not only circumnavigated the world, but followed it up with two hardcore endurance races
Wlabici via Creative Commons

But the first woman to circumnavigate the globe and hold the record deserves a particular mention, because the phrase ‘bad ass woman’ has never been more appropriate.

Juliana Buhring set off from Naples on the 23 July 2012. She rode unsupported, unsponsored, and had only taken up cycling shortly beforehand. She completed her journey in December 2012, having ridden for 152 days and covered 29,070km (18,063.22 miles).

Buhring’s achievements don’t stop there, however. She took part in the first ever Transcontinental Race across Europe in 2013. The only female competitor, and she finished 9th overall.

The following year she competed in the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race from Oregon to Virginia. Not only did she win the women’s category, but also placed 4th overall, completing the 7,100km (4,400 mile) route in 20 days and 23 hours.

Maria Leijerstam pedalled her way to the South Pole
Maria Leijerstam via Creative Commons

Maria Leijerstam achieved one of those coveted world firsts when she became the first person to cycle to the South Pole — no mean feat!

On a recumbent bicycle and totally unsupported for the first half of the journey, it took her 10 days, 14 hours and 56 minutes to cover the icy 638km (396.43 miles) from the Ross Ice Shelf across the Antarctic continent to the Pole.

Going the distance

Clocking up the miles in a set time period is another measure of cycling prowess, and there are some exceptional examples.

UK rider Janet Davison set a new record for farthest cycled in one month between July and August 2015, accumulating an impressive 6,455km (4,010 miles) in that time, averaging 215 km (134 miles) a day around her local Cheshire circuit.

What kind of distance could you cover in year? If you have the dedication of Amanda Coker, the answer is 139,362.34km (86,573.2 miles) as recorded by Guinness World Records and verified by the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association.

Amanda Coker celebrates her record
Phil Webber via Creative Commons

However, lest you think the record attempt allowed her to travel and explore, the vast majority of her riding took place on one 7-mile loop in Tampa, Florida. She switched between a road bike, triathlon bike and recumbent bike, riding around 12 hours a day.

Of course one of the most famous and prestigious distance/time records is the Hour Record: what distance can you cover in a velodrome in one hour, from a standing start. It’s gruelling, and attempts usually take place at high altitude as the thinner air helps reduce air resistance.

The current holder is US pro cyclist Evelyn Stevens, who clocked 47.98km (29.81 miles) in February 2016 in Colorado.

US rider Evelyn Stevens holds the current women’s hour record
Harry How / Getty Images

Fastest women on two wheels

At the 2016 UCI DH World Cup round in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, multiple World Cup champion and world champion Rachel Atherton was clocked at 73km/h (45.4mph) through the speed trap.

Rachel Atherton has won numerous downhill mountain biking World Cups
Red Bull

Not only was that considerably faster than the rest of the female field, making her the fastest female downhill mountain biker on the planet, but also faster than most of the men’s field too, including world champion Danny Hart and her brother Gee Atherton.

But the title of fastest female cyclist on the planet goes to Denise Mueller, who clocked a whopping 237.78km/h (147.75mph) to take the official women’s bicycle land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 2016.

Riding a bike specifically designed for the purpose, she was towed up to 90mph, then reached the top speed under her own power while drafting behind a modified vehicle.

Unbroken records

We can’t talk about current record breakers without talking about some of the previous record holders, some of whom still have an impressive number of records to their name.

Eileen Sheridan is one such prolific record breaker. Born in 1923, she broke all 21 of the available Women’s Road Records Association titles in the UK in the 1940s and ’50s including the 12- and 24-hour records.

While many of them have subsequently been smashed, a few still hold to this day including her London to Edinburgh record of 20 hours, 11 minutes and 35 seconds, which she set in 1954.

Prolific record breakers

It’s impossible to mention record breaking women without mentioning Beryl Burton.

Born in 1937 in Leeds, Burton took her first national title just two years after taking up cycling.

Beryl Burton at the 1970 track World Championships
Getty Images

Over her impressive cycling career she took five women’s road racing world championship gold, three silver and four bronze medals, 72 national time trial titles, 24 national road race titles, and multiple national and international records.

One of the most notable record breaking rides was her 12-hour time trial, where she not only record 277.25 miles, 0.73 miles further than the men’s record holder, but also remained unbeaten by anyone of either sex for two years.

Future ambitions

Finally, for those of us who cycle, it’s hard to imagine a time when we might have to hang our bikes up due to old age. However, there’s hope for the future from Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment.

Calment holds the Guinness World Record for oldest person ever. Born in 1875 she lived an impressive 122 years and 164 days, and died in 1997.

Her active lifestyle played a part in her extraordinary longevity, and she was a keen swimmer and tennis player. She also loved cycling and rode her bike up to the age of 100. Now that’s something to aim for!

These are just a few of the women out there achieving incredible feats on their bicycles, and we know there are many more. Who else do you think deserves a mention? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.