Breaking the Rules: Graeme Obree

Obree in the initial stages of innovation. Photo via obree.com

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]

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71 Replies to “Breaking the Rules: Graeme Obree”

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

  2. @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.

  3. @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.

  4. @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.

  5. @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…

  6. @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.

  7. @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.

  8. 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)

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

  10. 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.

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  12. @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.

  13. 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.

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