"BECOME WHAT YOU ARE" José Meiffret
"In case of fatal accident, I beg of the spectators not to feel sorry for me. I am a poor man, an orphan since the age of eleven, and I have suffered much. Death holds no terror for me. This record attempt is my way of expressing myself. If the doctors can do no more for me, please bury me by the side of the road where I have fallen."
Anyone who's familiar with the life story of motorcycle racer Burt Munro and his world record breaking rides on his highly modified 1920 Indian Scout will instantly identify with the life story of José Meiffret, the world record breaking cyclist. Munro's life as a motocycle racer was popularised in the 2006 film The World's Fastest Indian. Setting his first world record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in August 1962 at Speedweek, Munro recorded a speed of 288 km/h with his engine bored out to 850cc's. If you've seen The World's Fastest Indian you'll know the anticipation that surrounded the run of the forty two year old Indian Scout with it's 63 year old rider on board. Munro's record was set only a few weeks after José Meiffret scorched down the Autobahn near Friedburg Germany to set the fastest speed ever recorded by a bicycle rider of 204.93708 kmh on July 19 1962. (Currently held by Fred Rompelberg - 268,831 km/h) It was a significant hallmark of the era, men who made the most of exceedingly restricted circumstances and as a consequence were cut of steel.
Meiffret was an orphan who took to bicycle racing as a child. In Clifford Graves' account of Meiffret's life he wrote about the despair felt by Meiffret at being laughed at by his fellow competitors, after he was dropped in his first ever bike race. Meiffret took a long hard look in the room of mirrors and understood what the doctors assessment meant about his weak heart. In disagreement with his fellow racers and his doctor, Meiffret doggedly hunted down Henri Desgange to seek advice. Desgrange dispensed this "Try motor-paced racing, my boy. You might surprise yourself."1
Meiffret lived by the motto "To Become What You Are" and what defined the man who became what he was, came in the form of the test of Montlhéry Velodrome during the year of 1952. The concrete velodrome at Montlhéry was 24 years old when Meiffret smashed into it's cracked and weather beaten surface at approximately 128km/h.
Clifford Graves wrote:
At any rate, Meiffret flew through the air, hit the ground, tumbled three hundred feet, slid another twenty, and came to a rest, a quivering mass of flesh. Horrified attendants carried him to an ambulance, and newspapers announced his imminent death. That night surgeons found five separate skull fractures. Unbelievably, Meiffret lived through this ordeal.2
Now a bona fide member of the League of Steel Wheelmen,Meiffret did what any self respecting near death record breaker does and joined the order of Trappist monks. During his monk years Meiffret wrote the book Breviary of a Champion Cyclist 1957, including a special message from his old mate Henri Desgrange. (Bréviaire du Champion Cycliste)
Once fully recuperated and ten years after his near death experience at Montlhéry Velodrome, Meiffret tapped into hismonkish powers to become the fastest cycling monk on earth. On July 19 - 1963 at the moment he passed the "second flag chronometers and registered 17.580 seconds"3 a speed of 204.778 km/h was recorded. In the pocket of his racing uniform Meiffret carried a note which defined who he truly was, the full and complete embodiment of what he meant when he said "To Become What You Are". The note read:
In case of fatal accident, I beg of the spectators not to feel sorry for me. I am a poor man, an orphan since the age of eleven, and I have suffered much. Death holds no terror for me. This record attempt is my way of expressing myself. If the doctors can do no more for me, please bury me by the side of the road where I have fallen.
Meiffret's declaration that "death holds no terror for me" was also firmly evoked in graphic detail in the motif he chose to wear on his jersey, the skull and cross bones.
There are only three other men since who've breathed the same rarified air as Meiffret by using a bicycle to push the chronometers to record a higher speed, they are Alan Abott, John Howard and Fred Rompelberg.
Meiffret's records below show he shared one other thing in common with Burt Munro, he wasn't afraid of racing and training at an advanced age relative to what he was trying to achieve. Meiffret still clocked 146,341 km/h at the age of 59 in 1973. Today Meiffret's 130 tooth chain ring has become legendary, befitting of his admittance into the League of Steel Willed Wheelmen.
87,918 km/h 7 Sept 1949 - Aged 35
104,880 km/h 7 Feb 1950 Aged 36
109,113 km/h 27 Oct 1973 Aged 59
139,500 km/h 5 Oct 1950 Aged 36
144,578 km/h 27 Oct 1973 Aged 59
146,341 km/h 27 Oct 1973 Aged 59
175,609 km/h 13 Oct 1951 Aged 37
176,500 km/h 29 Sept 1961 Aged 47
176,557 km/h 2 Nov 1951 Aged 37
178,926 km/h 12 Nov 1961 Aged 47
186,625 km/h 12 Nov 1961 Aged 47
204,778 km/h 19 July 1962 Aged 48
For a full account of significant speed records set on bicycles go to Fred Rompelberg's site. 1,2,3Full story by Clifford L. Graves titled Date With Death