Father and son team up to create new cycling world record

In his latest world record attempt, Jon Ornée turned to his dad for a major assist.
Jon Ornée hugs his dad after setting a new world record for a 100-mile bike ride while drafting.
On Oct. 5, he unofficially set a new world record for “Fastest 100 Miles By Bicycle While Drafting” at the Michigan International Speedway. John Ornée Sr. drove the lead vehicle, a 2012 Odyssey minivan, with his son following behind. 

“He pushes the limits, in a good way,” says his dad, who appreciated the opportunity to join in one of his son’s adventures. “Initially, it was a little stressful, just to kind of find a rhythm and to be sure that he was safe behind me. After about 20 laps, it fell into a routine, and we were comfortable with being able to talk to each other a little bit — if for nothing else to keep us both alert.”

The younger Ornée hit the 100-mile mark at 2:20:46 for an average speed of 42.6 mph. He’s applying for a Guinness World Record for “Fastest 100 Miles By Bicycle While Drafting.” 

A new category

To Ornée’s knowledge, this hasn’t been done or certified by anyone previously. The current record for Fastest 100 Miles By Bicycle (without drafting) is 3:11:11 (31.4 mph average). Drafting behind a vehicle is a huge advantage because it reduces wind resistance and increases speed, which is why Ornée applied to create a new category. 

“Honestly, it was as much of a mental challenge as it was a physical one. It was critical that I remained focused at all times so that I stayed in the “sweet spot” — close enough to the minivan to reap the benefits of the draft but far enough back that I didn't hit the back bumper in a moment of lapsed focus,” says Ornée. 

That sweet spot was about 3 feet off the bumper. This endeavor was much shorter than his other record-setting adventures — swimming across Lake Michigan and cycling across the state south-north (369 miles) and west-east (205 miles). 

A lot of turning

One of the unique aspects of doing this speed record on the NASCAR race track in Lenawee County was the banked surface. Ornée rode near the bottom of the track, where it was flatter but was still angled a bit. There was a lot of turning. 
Jon Ornée set a new world record for “Fastest 100 Miles By Bicycle (While Drafting)” at the Michigan International Speedway with his dad, John, driving the lead vehicle.
“The only truly straight section was the backstretch, which felt like a dream. It was a chance to relax every lap before doubling down on focus, position, and effort for the turns,” says Ornée, adding that his neck and back were sorer than his legs from being in a constant tucked position for more than 100 miles.

Ornée wore a Bluetooth earpiece so he could talk to his dad. He describes going around a track while staring at the back of a vehicle as fun for the first couple laps, and somewhat hypnotic for the rest of the time. Talking to his dad was key to keeping his mind engaged.

‘Something spectacular’

Last May, Ornée, 39, was hit by an SUV while training on his bicycle. After the near-death experience, he recovered while riding indoors to rebuild fitness, but was hesitant to get back on the road. 

“Honestly, I was scared. Cars and bikes clash too often. We’re supposed to share the roads, but several issues — including poor infrastructure, driver education, distracted driving, and road rage — regularly place cyclists in danger. Frustrated and scared for my life, I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if a car and bike teamed up for a change and did something spectacular?”

Ornée Sr. says he is elated the way his son bounced back to accomplish two world records last year and three this year. 

An entrepreneurial spirit

Ornée is the fourth of six children, with three brothers and two sisters. He has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, always thinking outside the box, and very fun-loving, his dad says.
John Ornée and his son, Jon Ornée.
In a family of competitive swimmers or water polo players who became college athletes, Ornée jokes he was the black sheep because he opted to run cross-country and track, and then focused on music rather than sports in college.

He grew up in Grandville until the family moved to Zeeland when he was a high school sophomore. He attended Hope College, where he studied religion. His passion for music led to co-founding the rock band AG Silver, which released four albums and toured the U.S.

About 15 years ago, he began competing in triathlons. His more recent athletic ventures allow him to mix athleticism, creativity, wonder, and strategy.

“There's a lot of strategy and technicality in these various adventures and, certainly, the latest one was just curiosity,” says Ornée. “I drafted behind bikes on group rides, and I drafted behind vehicles for short spurts of time. I thought I could go pretty fast for 100 miles, but you don't know until you try.”

Practice rides

He and his dad did some practice rides on quiet roads to get an idea of what could be possible, but they knew it would be impossible to do the 100 miles safely on an open road. Getting permission from the Michigan International Speedway took about six months. The rental fee was picked up by sponsor Michigan Bicycle Law, which advocates for safer bike laws and represents cyclists.

Father and son share identical laughs, which layer over each during the conversation.

“I'm told I sound like my dad, which is a really good thing,” Ornée says with a laugh. 

A breather and music

After three world records in eight weeks, it’s time for a breather, he says. He plans on returning to the studio with his wife, Necia, to record some more music and release more music videos this fall for their band, Lady & Gentleman.

He is also going to pivot his training to prepare for a stab at the Everesting world record this winter (running the cumulative elevation of Mount Everest — 29,029 feet). He’s talking with his EP!C RIDE teammates about another World Ultra Cycling record attempt or two next summer. His younger brother, Dave, was part of the relay team that swam across Lake Michigan in August. 

Ornée is used to collaborating with family, so calling on his dad for this latest adventure seemed a natural choice.

“I was certainly a little bit skeptical at first, just how safe it could be, but he said that he wouldn't trust anyone with his life more than his dad,” says Ornée Sr. “Well, that really pulled at my heartstrings and made me want to be there for him and to join him in this adventure.”

Besides, at age 69, it was nice to make a little history: “It was fun just to be on the speedway. I told my kids after this, after the race, just remember I crossed the finish line first.”

Follow Ornée's past and future adventures at JonOrnee.com.

Read more:

6 friends prepare for 60-mile 'Epic Swim' across Lake Michigan

How 6 friends made 'Epic Swim' across Lake Michigan

8 cyclists, 1 Epic Ride, 1 new world record set in Michigan

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