Have you ever wondered what would happen if a horse raced against a bike? Both are capable of hitting incredibly high speeds, but which is faster?
Let’s take a look at some of the facts and figures.
How Fast Can a Horse Run?
If you have ever gone to see a top-class horse race like the Belmont Stakes or the Preakness Stakes, you will know that these animals are capable of moving really quickly. The TV screen doesn’t quite show the impressive speed of horse races in the way that being at the racetrack does.
Of course, not all horses are equal. The average horse can gallop at about 27mph. This is pretty impressive but even better is the fact that the top speed ever achieved by a thoroughbred is 44 mph. In fact, the fastest a horse has ever been recorded at is an astonishing 55 mph over a short distance, which was achieved by a Quarter Horse, which is a breed renowned for its sprinting ability.
If we delve a bit deeper, we can see that the Guinness World Record for the fastest horse in the world is held by Winning Brew. This thoroughbred recorded the fastest speed for a hose coming out of the starting gate and running over 2 furlongs. He did this at 43.97 mph.
Some of the most famous racehorses of all time run very fast, but not quite enough to break this record. The legendary Secretariat was said to have averaged 37.7 mph over his Triple Crown races, setting new records such as becoming the first horse to become a winner of the Kentucky Derby in less than two minutes.
The earlier Man o ’War is another contender for the title of the fastest horse of all time, but the fact is that he recorded his 20 victories from 21 races a century ago, making accurate time and speed records hard to find.
How Fast Can a Bike Go?
As you can figure if you look at the latest horse racing results, there is more than one figure to take into account here. For example, Copenhagen produced statistics a few years ago showing that the average speed of a cyclist in the city is 9.6 mph.
In competitive racing, we have to take into account how the best riders use teamwork to maintain a high speed over long distances.
The fastest speed ever recorded for a ground vehicle powered by a human is 89.59 mph. This was achieved by Todd Reichert in 2016 without the help of external aids. However, he did it on a sleek recumbent bicycle, called Eta Speedbike, rather than a conventional bicycle.
To discover the fastest speed on an upright bike ridden in the conventional style, we need to turn to Jim Glover. Back in 1986, he rode a Moulton AM7 over 200 meters at a speed of 62 mph. This speed was achieved at the Human Powered Speed Championships held in Vancouver.
Another cycling record was set at an astonishing 183.9 mph in 2018. This record is held by Denise Mueller-Korenek and was created at the Bonneville Salt Flats. What makes it unique was that the bike reached this dizzying speed in the slipstream of a dragster.
The Tour de France riders compete at an average speed of about 40 km/h, which works out as just under 25 mph. The average, experienced rider should maintain a speed of about 20 mph over a fairly long distance, while a beginner should be closer to 10 mph.
Check out How to Cycle Faster
Buffalo Bill and the Cyclist vs Horse Races
What we have seen so far is that it is extremely difficult to compare the speed of a horse to that of a cyclist. There are many different factors to take into account.
For example, over a shorter race, the explosive start of a horse might well take it well clear of the cyclist once it has built up a head of steam. But it is hard to imagine any horse managing to maintain the steady pace over a long distance that an experienced cyclist can manage.
The only way to settle this debate once and for all would be for a race between cyclists and horses. Has anyone ever managed to organize a race like this? Perhaps surprisingly, we can turn to Buffalo Bill Cody for some answers.
The famous cowboy organized a series of horse vs cyclist events in Europe at the end of the 19th century. They were typically long races and the odds were stacked in favor of the horses since several of them would compete against one human cyclist over several hours.
One example was the event in Milan, where Romulus Buni cycled 99 km (61.5 miles) but a combination of 10 horses managed to get 3.7 km (2.3 miles) further.
S.F. Cody (he took Bill’s surname but they weren’t related) was another American who set up horse vs cyclists races. As with Buffalo Bill’s races, the horses were the more frequent winners. However, the cyclists sometimes won when the format and the venue suited them.
To sum up, there is no definitive answer to the question. Horses and bicycles can both go very fast, but the circumstances will determine which of them is faster in any given situation.