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.