Breaking the Rules: Graeme Obree

Breaking the Rules: Graeme Obree

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Innovation is ugly, inelegant. By it’s very definition, it is carried out with almost a kind of contempt for The Rules. With no regard for aesthetics, it is a domain ventured into by the casually courageous and mentally frail. It comes in fits and starts, and success is punctuated by devastating defeats. The same personality that drives innovation thrives on the momentum of success and easily passes over seemingly insurmountable obstacles with hardly a moment’s notice, and is also irreparably upset by inconsequential setbacks.

On an afternoon ride with a friend, Graeme Obree decided to turn up the bars on his road bike in order to achieve a better tuck while riding. After a succession of iterative improvements to that core idea, he arrived at a bicycle that carried cycling into perhaps it’s most prolific period of innovation. When it comes to innovation, success also carries with it the singular distinction of changing the world and the way we operate in it.

If ever there was any question that innovation can be ugly, his trusted bike, Old Faithful – famously built out of bits of washing machine and scrap metal – definitively put the question to rest. However ugly the machine, uncompromising function can in it’s own right be beautiful, and Obree’s “I’ve been kicked in the boys” tuck exhibited only grace and elegance as he flew around the track in Norway to set the World Hour Record in 1993.

Obree led the charge in revitalizing interest in the Hour, fearlessly taking on much better funded pros such as Chris Boardman, Tony Rominger, and Miguel Indurain. I look back on this period as perhaps one of the most exciting times in our great sport, and it all started with one crazy idea.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ml6KT5MArC8[/youtube]

// Etiquette // Technology // The Hardmen // The Rules

  1. eightzero :
    I’ve always thought the hour record should be ” anything goes”. So long as it is non-doped human powered, bring it.

    Including recumbents?!

  2. @Pedale.Forchetta

    I wonder what Merckx thought when Chris Boardman set the new hour record 10 meters over his old (equal bikes)

    In contrast to his comment about Moser, I think he was pretty human about it, wasn’t he? Something along the lines of, “yeah, well…it’s about time…”

  3. @Pedale.Forchetta

    Moser (winner of 1 Giro d’Italia, 3 Paris-Roubaix, 2 Giro di Lombardia, 1 World Championship and many more)

    What do you make of his 1984 Giro win and the fiasco regarding the helicopter in the final TT? I felt Moser – while I was certainly always a fan – was a bit out of place winning a Grand Tour and the Hour; a man for the classics, and not a terribly great time trialist, I also found it eyebrow-raising that he took the Hour. I love the scene in The Impossible Hour where Ole is training with Moser, his devoted team mate. Foreshadowing?

  4. @eightzero

    So long as it is non-doped human powered, bring it. Farings, electronic gadgetry, anything. No storage devices, but really – isn’t this a showcase for human powered devices?

    I’m with you on sentiment, but then you get this kind of shit rolling, and what good is that alongside a real cyclist?

    And really, isn’t that uci weight limit thing sort of out date? I rather understand the safety deal – the uci thinks someone will show up with a paper bike, but isn’t there a better way?

    Now you’re onto something. The UCI – Union Cyclist Irrationale – is a mess. Of course, there’s also the “everyone rides essentially the same bike” aspect to the idea, it’s not just safety…but safety is always cited as a core factor in keeping the rule. With drilled-out alloys, maybe weight is a relevant measure of strength, but the model breaks down completely with composites. That’s what happens when politicians and not subject-matter experts are the principle advisors on policy.

    I wonder how much strength the weights the riders are putting in their bottom brackets to meet the regulation is adding?

  5. By the way, I always thought the Superman position was rad looking

    I, for one, like the latest setup for the hour; the Athletes Hour for 1-1 comparisons, and then the absolute Hour (whatever it’s called) for anything-goes gear. I only wish the pros took that one more seriously. I’d love to revive the innovation from the early 90’s.

  6. frank :
    By the way, I always thought the Superman position was rad looking

    I, for one, like the latest setup for the hour; the Athletes Hour for 1-1 comparisons, and then the absolute Hour (whatever it’s called) for anything-goes gear. I only with the pros took that one more seriously. I’d love to revive the innovation from the early 90″²s.

    Completely agree about the Superman position. That just strikes me as so aesthetically pleasing and hardcore at the same time!

  7. And when in gets right down to it, is doing the hour on a track any less artificial that making farings illegal? Sure, there is a wind-assist issue, and an indoor track is the only way to eliminate that. But really…so there’s a faring. Big deal.

  8. When it gets right down to it, yes. And furthermore, fairings are a HIDEOUS ABOMINATION.

  9. @frank
    He in fact built old faithful from scratch

  10. @frank
    I agree with you Frank, still I think that the words of Merckx on Moser were totally undeserved and that’s why I mentioned Rule n.5

  11. Obree was brilliant, not just the hour but also the pursuit world titles. Check out the gigantic chain ring he’s pushing in the top photo.

  12. Recumbents are not bicycles – period.

  13. @frank
    Looking at the video again, it does look like he’s only got one fork blade, doesn’t it? This will require some further investigation. Anyone know what the deal was with the fork on Old Faithful?

  14. @eightzero
    Surely you jest, comparing riding on the track – together with it’s long and rich history and tradition – to riding faring-equipped recumbent?

    @Oli Brooke-White, @Rusty Tool Shed
    ++1

  15. Pedale.Forchetta :
    @frankI agree with you Frank, still I think that the words of Merckx on Moser were totally undeserved and that’s why I mentioned Rule n.5

    Well said and completely agree!

  16. Rusty Tool Shed :
    Recumbents are not bicycles – period.

    Man, I agree! Nothing rubs me more wrong than when I see someone on a recumbent. I mean, what the HELL are they thinking!!!

  17. Recumbents (and their riders) are a pariah to the cycling world and should be beaten severely about the head and shoulders with a Campy head equipped Silca frame pump anytime they claim to be cyclists or are riding a “bicycle” They are the antithesis of Rule #5, tradition, soul, etc. And then if you publish and article (in jest) in a magazine they get all indignant and cry like little babies and threaten to cancel their subscriptions (as if anyone really cares).

    See the difference?

  18. @Cyclops
    That second shot looks remarkably close to a self-portrait. Facial hair and recumbents are often found together.

  19. @Marcus

    That’s way harsh dude.

    BTW, Cyclops is sans facial hair now (except I could do an awesome comb-over with my ear and nose hair).

  20. @Cyclops

    Damn Cyclops! That photo contrast was worth the price of admission to this site today!

  21. I’ve been on group rides before where dude’s show up and ride recumbents in the pace line.

    How do you gents feel about this?

  22. Ron:
    I’ve been on group rides before where dude’s show up and ride recumbents in the pace line.
    How do you gents feel about this?

    I’ve nothing against them per se but no way should they be joining a paceline. They contribute nothing to the aerodynamics and enjoy all the benefits. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels.

    I don’t think I can sleep tonight knowing that this has actually happened. I’d feel much better if you told me it was just a hypothetical.

    Having said that, I’m surprised any recumbent could keep up with even a moderately fast group ride on rolling terrain. Maybe it was a visitation from the evil one for your lack of V.

  23. Ron :
    I’ve been on group rides before where dude’s show up and ride recumbents in the pace line.
    How do you gents feel about this?

    I feel that it is a fucking abomination and the recumbents should have been shot and the riders who allowed them in (and to live) shot as well! (Well, maybe not quite that bad, but pretty close! :)

  24. @Ron

    I would head the other direction and ride by myself.

  25. You know what belongs in a road bike pace line? Road bikes.

    No recumbents, no tri-bars, etc. Special dispensation can be made for cross bikes, provided they Rule #5 and keep up. And I know a few guys who can, BTW…

    I look at recumbents they way I look at Segways, Elliptigo’s, fixies (off the track), penny farthings and other ridiculous wheeled contraptions: novelty items. I don’t care who rides ’em, I don’t careto ride ’em.

  26. I think tri bars are OK in a group (they are here in Belgium – and the groups I ride in are anything from Kermesse riders, superprestige CX’s to Quickstep pros) BUT, you MUST ride holding the handlebars – period.

    And because they assume you know how to TT if you have tri bars, you better bloody do the lead out for the sprint(s) – and that’s 55kmh + here – wind or no wind. Otherwise they will consider you as a tagalong wimp.

    We have anything from reccumbents (faired or not), supprisingly fast dudes on citybikes, people with 1960’s CX bikes, 10 year olds learning the ropes to mopeds doing motorpacing all in the same place here – BUT people know how to ride. Everybody gets along great.

    PS – I am a Triathlete and roady

  27. @Cyclops
    Do my eyes deceive me, or is the recumbent rider equipped with both handlebar-mounted mirrors and a helmet mirror?

  28. Nate:
    @Cyclops
    Do my eyes deceive me, or is the recumbent rider equipped with both handlebar-mounted mirrors and a helmet mirror?

    To be fair to him he looks as though he is going to be overtaken often. He can’t be in breach of Rule #66 because recumbents are not bikes.

    It would be unfair to judge them on our standards. We are better.

  29. For an idea of what it is to prepare for and ride the hour, read “The Hour” by Michael Hutchison. Really puts into perspective why no-one, at least not any “names”, will take on the hour again. There is too much face to lose, even Fab wouldn’t dare to try. Look how little distance Boardman put into Merckx’s record and Boardman put his usual legendary research and preparation into the effort while Merckx just jammed it into the middle of his road season. The only advantage Merckx had was altitude.

    But we digress, Obree was the master, whose home-cooked genius the UCI deemed so evil and dangerous that they changed the rules twice just to stop him stomping all over their glamourous sport from his shed. Not only did he break the hour record on his own bike, but he did it the day after he’d failed to break the record.

    I hope one day the UCI will actually recognise his efforts* instead of denigrating them.

    *Like fuck they will

  30. That picture of the cyclops look-alike on the weird recumbent is great. It’s not even a standard one, it’s some crazy custom get-up that looks like it has a faux-leather “executive chair” from Staples for the seat.

    I saw a weird recumbent this weekend where the person was pedaling with their feet AND their hands. Not sure what that was about, clearly they weren’t paralyzed and didn’t need a hand-cycle. Seems like it would make turning harder.

    As for recumbents in a paceline? No fucking way. Whenever recumbent defenders talk about those vehicles, they always talk about how much more aerodynamic they are in that low position. OK, great. Well if your ‘bike’ (har) is so aerodynamic, you don’t need to ride in a paceline with people on standard bicycles.

  31. For the record: Recubedouche does NOT look like me.

  32. I dunno, you both look strikingly similar to me:

  33. @Cyclops
    I like fishing. Especially when fish bite.

  34. Shit, I can’t tell them apart! Seperated at birth? Cyclops does look pretty relaxed on the bike…

  35. @Nate

    Do my eyes deceive me, or is the recumbent rider equipped with both handlebar-mounted mirrors and a helmet mirror?

    The Rule violations are so rife, you’re better off pointing out where the doood DOESN’T suck. That said, good on recumbent riders for getting outside and doing something they dig on. Anyone with a passtime that doesn’t involve the words “AH”, “TAR”, and “EE” is good by me.

    I encourage them to pursue their sport, ride lots, and look good doing it. Which, admittedly, means get rid of the recumbent and get a road bike.

    @Gildasd
    Wow, if they are good enough to handle it, good on them. Mostly, it seems a lazy-boy is out of place on a roadie group ride as much as a mountain bike, but if you got the skilz, you got the skilz. Good on ’em.

    Personally, I admire recumbent riders the way I admire anyone who doesn’t do my sport; I appreciate they are into something I’m not, and I figure that I’m probably the one doing the cooler sport.

  36. @frank
    Oh, something I want to add. I am not a fan of recumbents, but they have their place. My dad, 65 years old at the time – who was building a timber frame house with my mom by hand from oak trees he logged from his own land and milled with his own two hands, fell off the roof while pulling some fucked up crazy stunt that no one should ever pull ever and busted his hip.

    His doctor told him he would never walk again and that the house would remain unbuilt. He had surgery, bought a recumbent and rode it all winter – IN MINNESOTA, WITH STUDDED TIRES – and then in the spring he got back on every one of his 17 – YES 17 – road bikes. (He’s the inventor of Rule #12, by the way.)

    He liked the recumbent because it “loosened his hip a good deal” and it “wasn’t so bad when I blacked out and crashed from the pain.” That there is a lesson in Rule #5.

    Oh, and he finished the house this summer.

    Respect.

  37. @frank

    Your dad is a hardman, no doubt. I’d never fault anyone for riding a recumbent that has an injury which makes riding a normal bike impractical. They still want to be out on the road and feel the wind whipping past them.

  38. @frank

    @mcsqueak

    I have a club mate who rolled ‘bent while recovering from back surgery as well. Like I said, not my cup of tea, but I’d ride one if there was no other option…

    But no way I’m riding an Elliptigo, there’s an idiot here in town galavanting around on one of those abominations, I make a point of passing him in a cloud of dust whenever I see him, even if I have to turn around to do it…

  39. @sgt
    I’ve done a shit ton of programming on this site to auto-link The Rules and Lexicon entries automatically in a nice, subtle link with a little overlay popup. It is well within my skills to write some code to eliminate – PERMANENTLY – the mention of the Eliptigo from this site.

    It deserves not be mentioned.

  40. @Jarvis

    The only advantage Merckx had was altitude.

    It was a pretty big advantage and I think it means Boardman really got aero and is a bad man. But I trust Fabooo will attempt a proper sea level hour record and beat Boardman’s distance. He wants it and provided he puts the time in on the track getting his position perfected, I’m betting on him. If he can’t, I don’t know who else has the motor and attitude. The horror.

  41. Gianni :
    @Jarvis

    The only advantage Merckx had was altitude.

    It was a pretty big advantage and I think it means Boardman really got aero and is a bad man. But I trust Fabooo will attempt a proper sea level hour record and beat Boardman’s distance. He wants it and provided he puts the time in on the track getting his position perfected, I’m betting on him. If he can’t, I don’t know who else has the motor and attitude. The horror.

    I would LOVE to see Fabooo go for the hour. Man, that man can ride a bike! (under statement of the year there)

  42. So you’re given a pass on breaking several rules simultaneously, consciously, and flagrantly, if you break the Hour Record in the process??!! OK.

  43. @VCScribe
    Correct. If you break the Hour Record, we will happily issue a signed certificate that gives you a pass to Break the Rules.

  44. @frank
    Killjoy…

  45. The hour record is a very simple calculation. You just need to be able to put out a certain amount of watts for an hour and a bucket-load of pain tolerance and you’ll break the record. According toe Michael Hutchison, it’s hard enough getting those wattage figures in the first place and even harder coping with the pain of the bike.

    For those who haven’t heard of Hutchinson, he’s a very handy time-trialist. Came fourth in the Commonwealth Games two minutes behind Millar. Cancellara could likely put another two minutes into them. Now I have no idea what the wattage difference is, but at a guess that would mean Cancellara wouldn’t need a particularly extreme bike position to get the numbers needed, but he would still have to get used to riding on the drops for an hour. Don’t forget, Merckx rode in that position all year, in all races. I can’t see the benefit of Cancellara trying the hour at the peak of his powers (ie now) as it would interrupt his whole season. He might try it as an end-of-career thing though, but that would compromise showing how good he really was. I’d rather see him battle Gilbert to see who will be the first to win all five monuments

    Oh and Boardman no longer holds the record. Some unknown Eastern European broke it in about ’03 or ’05. Unsurprisingly he tested positive a couple of years ago.

  46. @frank

    @frankLooking at the video again, it does look like he’s only got one fork blade, doesn’t it? This will require some further investigation. Anyone know what the deal was with the fork on Old Faithful?

    Old Faithful, currently resides in the Scottish Transport Museum, and is single sided. Yet another innovation.

  47. Obree really is a legend of our great sport. Will we ever see his like again now that the UCI have clamped down on the bikes the pros ride.

    I’d also like to see Faboo have a go at the record, but looking back over the last year surely Tony Martin has the potential to do this record some real damage. It would be great to see.

    Obree’s also about to publish a long awaited training manual which should be an interesting read.

    Oh, and if you haven’t read his book ‘The Fyling Scotsman’, do. It’s a cut above many of the cycling autobiographies out there.

  48. He did publish it and you can get it on ebook too.

    http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/category/books-and-dvd/books/cycling-reference-books/product/review-graeme-obree-the-obree-way-a-training-manual-for-cyclists-12-45809

    His latest escapade is the cycling speed record, part 2 is on youtube too..

  49. One crazy idea….has had a minor setback…but the plan is still on!

    http://www.obree.com/ihpva.php

  50. Graeme Obree just tweeted his appreciation of this article.

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