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Simon Usborne: 'Eric Barone hit 107mph on the slopes of Cerro Negro, before his bike broke in half and he nearly died'

Going down Westerham Hill recently, which winds down from the North Downs in Kent, I grabbed my drops, stood on my pedals, lowered my head and resisted the urge to brake. Eyes watering, face flushed and heart racing, I looked at my cycle computer as the road flattened out. I had peaked at 51mph.

It was the fastest I'd gone on two wheels – and it was thrilling. On my old bike I'd managed 49mph on the same road, which caused it to rattle and shake as if it was about to disintegrate. At least this time – on my shiny new Guru – the descent was smooth. It was also faster than I take the same hill in my car and got me wondering (in a slightly geeky way that may cause you to turn the page now), how fast is it possible to go on a bicycle?

Well, it turns out I was rather sluggish. Chris Hoy can do 50mph in the velodrome and pro-roadies regularly exceed 60mph. During stage six of the Giro de Italia last year, riders topped such crazy speeds on the descent off the Hochkrimml that even they compared stats: Juan Jose Haedo had clocked a knee-rattling 72.7mph.

Things get faster still, incredibly, on the flat. It's hard to push more than about 30mph on a road bike without help from gravity, but swap your ride for a streamlined recumbent and pedal hard along five miles of Highway 305 in Nevada, the smoothest, flattest road on the planet, and things start moving. Last year, Canadian cyclist Sam Wittingham reached 82.8mph in his aerodynamic bullet on wheels.

There's an incentive to get down a volcano quickly, though lava flows didn't contribute to the record set by Eric Barone, who hit 107mph on the slopes of Cerro Negro in Nicaragua in 2002, before his bike broke in half and he nearly died (YouTube him: the video is extraordinary).

But it gets faster! In 1995, Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg zipped across the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah behind a drag racing car with an adapted tail to keep all air away from the rider (a bit like cycling inches behind a bus). How fast is it possible to go on a bicycle? 167mph, that's how fast. But I'm happy with 51.

s.usborne@independent.co.uk or see Ind.pn/cyclotherapy