A Need For Speed
Posted on January 01, 2017
Don’t blame Denise Mueller alone for her drive to achieve nearly unimaginable bicycling goals. After all, the self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie” probably comes by it genetically. Mueller’s father, at age 70, biked the perimeter of the continental U.S. — all 12,100 miles — in just over nine months. Her mother, who raced demolition derby cars in the 1960s, celebrated her 80th birthday by jumping out of an airplane. So, when Mueller set the record as the fastest female cyclist in the world last September, racing to a jaw-dropping 147.757 mph, it was only slightly less surprising than if it had been anyone else.
Mueller first unlocked her passion for extreme cycling back in 1987, when the then middle school student, eager to ride the new bike her grandfather had bought her, heard about an upcoming ride benefiting Children’s Asthma League. With three distance options — 25, 50, and 96.5 miles — she probably would’ve guessed her father would choose the 96.5 mile course for them to do together. Despite the grueling training, Mueller was hooked. “I fell in love with the social aspect of being around all these people challenging themselves, and the excitement of doing a huge event like that,” she remembers.
Shortly thereafter, a serendipitous meeting connected Mueller with bike racer and the 1985 men’s speed cycling record holder, John Howard, who caught her in his rearview mirror riding the draft behind his car on her bike. He got her into competitive racing and from that point forward she racked up 13 national championships and two world championship podium spots by 1992. After the usual complications of life pushed Mueller, the second-generation owner of Rancho Santa Fe Security, to hang up her bike for nearly 20 years, she reconnected with Howard. He convinced her to get back to racing. Two consecutive national championships later, the pair started talking about the land speed record.
Then, in another stroke of luck, the two connected with the Hoehn family of Carlsbad’s Jaguar Land Rover dealership. No strangers to extreme sports (Karen Hoehn and her daughters, Susanah and Jo Hannah, have participated in the punishing Gazelle off-road rally in Morocco), their Hoehn Adventures arm was eager to partner. The team, equipped with a mouthful of a title, Hoehn Adventures Project Speed Powered By Cylance Denise Mueller, set off for a new speed record.
At the dry and dusty Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, with Mueller in the seat of her custom-made, $25,000 bike and driver Shea Holbrook behind the wheel of the Range Rover Sport SVR, Mueller was towed to what is already a pretty spectacular speed, approaching 100 mph. She then released her towline and furiously pedaled using the draft of the tow vehicle. After four failed attempts on the four-mile course (previous records were set on a five-mile course but conditions that day forced a shortened track), the record was hers on the fifth run.
Not one to be complacent, Mueller has already set her sights on breaking the men’s record of 167 mph this year. Despite the pursuit of records and the thrill of the ride, Mueller has a more holistic view of what she’s accomplished. “I would eventually like to do inspirational speaking to get people inspired to set goals and get moving,” she says. “Get Active. Get back into the game of life.” Deanna Murphy
Portrait: Photo by Jinna Albright Photo Bonneville Salt Flats: Photo by Richard Lee Photography