Dispatch from the Road

Do You Feel the Need for Speed?

by Jane Larkworthy
Lael Wilcox riding the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Trail. Photo courtesy of Rapha.

Every competitive athlete knows that setting records is part of the game. Very few athletes get to trail blaze the first record, as cyclist Lael Wilcox knows.

F.K.T. 

If this trio of letters makes sense to you, you are probably a marginally serious athlete who has the need for speed. For the uninformed, or the un-needy for speed, FKT stands for Fastest Known Time. And if you’ve ever participated in an event that was based on speed, chances are you might not know the official FKT or who holds it, but you might remember your fastest time. Going forward, why not refer to it as My Fastest Time? MFT.

For most of us mortals, our MFT is probably not the record FKT, but that’s not the point, according to  the folks at Rapha, the London-based cycling lifestyle company beloved by the tech set. As far as the folks at Rapha are concerned, FKTs exist to inspire people to set their own individual records on various routes. And who doesn’t have at least a modicum of a competitive spirit, even if it only involves pushing oneself?

Lael Wilcox certainly knows how to push herself. The professional cyclist recently set out to ride the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Trail as part of Rapha’s Gone Racing program. While she had ridden parts of the trail before, she had never done it in its 858-mile entirety. Moreover, no official FKT existed. 

So she pedaled Alaska — from Dead Horse to Valdez — and timed herself (well, herself and her all-female crew of six, who also filmed the trek), thus establishing an FKT.

“I came up with this idea last summer that I wanted to ride a time trial,” Wilcox explains to the camera in the video that documents the ride. “The idea is to encourage other people to both come up to try to break my record, but also to just ride the road.”


The route for the most part shadows the Alaska Pipeline, which, also for the most part, remains in pristine wilderness, with the exception of the manmade pipeline. During Wilcox’s ride, the terrain of mostly dirt roads turned into muddy messes, courtesy of a generous amount of whipping rainfall. Pelting rain, coupled with footage of Wilcox wringing out her soggy sleeping bag each morning, made me appreciate my own warm bed, not to mention the fully charged battery on my electric road bike. But it did get me thinking about other MFTs I could revisit.

I swam competitively in junior high, but hadn’t really swum more than one lap since. As I’ve begun gaining strength and adding more laps with each workout, I’ve started thinking about the MFT that I set back in the late ‘70s. Could I break it? Hell, no. But I have started watching the big clock against the wall at our local pool and find myself swimming faster to see if I can get in the ballpark of My Fastest Time. The added incentive makes the workout more entertaining for me.

And that’s precisely Wilcox’s point.

“We don’t have to have races or events to do amazing things on a bike. Just being out on that terrain — it’s so wide open. It’s really unique.”

She completed her ride in three days, 18 hours, and 47 minutes, adding that it was “a lot faster than I thought I could do it.” 

It probably helped that she had the right kit. But it’s definitely because she’s a trained athlete in excellent shape. Whatever the reason, we can thank her for placing an FKT on this Alaskan treasure for others to beat.

“I like the idea of time trials and setting FKTs because they’re so personal,” she says. “You could take any route in the world and try to ride it your fastest, or try to set the overall record on it that people could challenge at any time.”

For now, I’m focusing on the former.

Want to up your riding game? Maybe it's time to invest in an ebike.