The picture above is from 1937. It shows Frenchman Albert Marquet setting a motor paced speed record of 85.3 mph. (139.9 kph.) Drafting behind a Cord car that has been rigged with box like structure behind the rear bumper.
A crude fairing made of fabric appears to be tucked into the rear doors; also note the extended exhaust pipe. The event took place in Los Angeles, California; I guess traffic was a lot lighter in 1937.
The quest to be the fastest cyclist in the world began in 1899 when Charles M. Murphy rode his bike behind a train on the Long Island Railroad, at Farmingdale. He covered a measured mile in 57.8 seconds (60 mph.) and from that day became famous Nationwide, known as “Mile a Minute Murphy.”
To achieve this feat, approximately three miles of wooden boards were laid between the railroad tracks to give Murphy a smooth surface to ride on. He was hauled aboard the pace coach by helpers, just before the track ran out, his feet still strapped to the pedals of his bike.
The next picture (Above.) shows Alf Letourner behind his pace car. On May 18th, 1941. Once more in California, near Bakersfield. Letourner set a new bicycle speed record of 108.92 mph. Note the size of his chainring, so large it almost touches the ground.
Forward to July 20th, 1985 when John Howard set a new motor paced bicycle record of 152.2 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah. This is the same John Howard who was on the US Olympic team, won the Ironman Triathlon in 1980, and marketed a line of bicycle frames I built under his name in 1983.
Unlike the previous riders mentioned here who, with the exception of the massive required gearing, rode pretty standard track bikes. John however, rode a purpose built machine, built by Texas framebuilder, Skip Hujsak.
As I remember, John had this bike made for a previous attempt on this record, before 1983 when I first met him. He brought this bike to my shop sometime that year. It had a very long wheelbase for stability, the most noticeable feature was the two stage gearing.
The chainwheel mounted on the left side drove a sprocket on a counter-shaft behind the saddle and above the rear wheel. A chainring on the opposite side drove the rear wheel sprocket. The wheels were, I think, were some high performance BMX wheels, probably the strongest available at the time.
John also wore some serious safety gear, a full length, one piece, leather suit and a motorcycle helmet with a face shield. Unlike the previous record breakers shown here. Apart from a helmet, no other safety gear was used; they wore regular cycling clothes. They would have picked up some very nasty road-rash had they fallen at those speeds.
There were many more sucessful record breakers over the years, I have only touched briefly on four of them.
There is also a short video of John Howard's record breaking ride on YouTube.
Addendum Aug 11th, 2008
A commenter pointed out the current record holder Fred Rompelburg, who in 1995 reached a speed of 166.944 mph. (268 kph.) on the Bonneville Salt Flats. I was out of the bike business by 1995 and completely out of touch, which is why I didn't know this. The bike was built by the late Dave Tesch.