Obree on Old Faithful
|Full name||Graeme Obree|
11 September 1965 |
Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England
|Current team||Fullarton Wheelers|
|Discipline||Road and track|
|Rider type||Time Trial Specialist|
|World Hour Record 1993 (51.596km), 1994 (52.713km)
World Champion (4000m Pursuit) 1993, 1995
Infobox last updated on
Graeme Obree (born 11 September 1965,), nicknamed The Flying Scotsman, is a Scottish racing cyclist who twice broke the world hour record, in July 1993 and April 1994, and was the individual pursuit world champion in 1993 and 1995. He was known for his unusual riding positions and for the Old Faithful bicycle he built which included parts from a washing machine. He joined a professional team in France but was fired before his first race.
He suffers from bipolar disorder and has attempted suicide three times. His life and exploits have been dramatised in the film The Flying Scotsman. Obree has created some radical innovations in bicycle design but has had problems with the cycling authorities banning the riding positions his designs required.
Obree was born in Nuneaton but has lived almost all his life in Scotland[specify] and considers himself Scottish. An individual time triallist, his first race was a 10-mile time trial to which he turned up wearing shorts, anorak and Doc Marten boots. He thought the start and finish were at the same place and stopped where he had started, 100 metres short of the end. He had started to change his clothes when officials told him to continue. He still finished in "about 30 minutes."
Obree suffers from bipolar disorder. He attempted suicide in his teens by gassing himself. He was saved by his father, who had returned early from work. In the 1990s he took an overdose of aspirin washed down by water from a puddle. He had personality problems, sniffed the gas he used to weld bicycles, and was being chased for £492 owed in college fees.
The bike shop that he ran failed and he decided the way out of his problems was to attack the world hour velodrome record. It had been held for nine years by Francesco Moser, at 51.151 kilometres. Obree said:
- The record had fascinated me since Moser broke it. It was the ultimate test - no traffic,[n 1] one man in a velodrome against the clock. I didn't tell myself that I will attempt the record, I said I would break it. When your back is against the wall, you can say it's bad or you can say: 'I'll go for it.' I decided, that's it, I've as good as broken the record.
The bike 
Obree had built frames for his bike shop and made another for his record attempt. Instead of traditional dropped handlebars it had straight bars like those of a mountain bike. He placed them closer to the saddle than usual and rode with the bars under his chest, his elbows bent and tucked into his sides like those of a skier. Watching a washing machine spin at 1,200rpm led him to take the bearings, which he assumed must be of superior quality, and fit them to his bike. Obree later regretted admitting to the bearings experiment, because journalists referred to that before his achievements and other innovations.
Obree called his bike "Old Faithful". It has a narrow bottom bracket, around which the cranks revolve, to bring his legs closer together, as he thought this is the "natural" position. As shown in the film, he thought a tread of "one banana" would be ideal. The bike has no top tube, so that his knees did not hit the frame. The chainstays are not horizontal so that the cranks can pass with a narrow bottom bracket. The fork had only one blade, carefully shaped to be as narrow as possible. A French writer who tried it said the narrow handlebars made it hard to accelerate the machine in a straight line but, once it was at speed, he could hold the bars and get into Obree's tucked style.
- At a high enough speed, [I could] tuck in my arms. And, above all, get in a very forward position on the bike, on the peak of the saddle. The Obree position isn't advantageous simply aerodynamically, it also allows, by pushing the point of pedalling towards the rear, to benefit from greater pressure while remaining in the saddle. You soon get an impression of speed, all the greater because you've got practically nothing [deux fois rien] between your hands. Two other things I noticed after a few hundred metres: I certainly didn't have the impression of turning 53 × 13, and the Obree position is no obstruction to breathing. But I wasn't pedalling at 55kmh, 100 turns of the pedals a minute, yet my arms already hurt.
Taking the record 
Obree attacked Moser's record, on 16 July 1993, at the Vikingskipet velodrome in Norway.[n 2] He failed by nearly a kilometre. He had booked the track for 24 hours and decided to come back the next day. The writer Nicholas Roe said:
- To stop his aching body seizing up, Obree then took the unusual measure of drinking pint upon pint of water so that he had to wake up to go to the lavatory every couple of hours through the night. Each time he got up, he stretched his muscles. On the next weary day, he was up and out with minutes, at the deserted velodrome by 7:55 am and on the track ready to start just five minutes after that. He had barely slept. He had punished his body hugely the previous day. Surely this was a waste of time?
- I was Butch Cassidy in terms of swagger. I didn't want any negativity. This was blitzkrieg. I'm going in there. Let me do it. I'm not going to be the timorous guy from Scotland. That's what the difference was. Purely mental state. The day before, I had been a mouse. Now I was a lion.
Obree set a new record of 51.596 kilometres, beating Moser's record of 51.151 kilometres by 445 metres.
Losing the record 
Obree's triumph lasted less than a week. On 23 July, the British Olympic champion, Chris Boardman broke Obree's record by 674 metres, riding 52.270 km at Bordeaux during the rest day of the Tour de France. His bike had a carbon monocoque frame, carbon wheels, and a triathlon handlebar. Their rivalry grew: a few months later Obree knocked Boardman out of the world championship pursuit to take the title himself.
Regaining the record 
Francesco Moser, whose record Obree had beaten, adopted Obree's riding position—adding a chest pad—and established not an outright world record but a veterans' record of 51.84 kilometres. He did it on 15 January 1994, riding in the thin air of Mexico City as he had for his outright record, whereas Obree and Boardman had ridden at close to sea level.
Obree retook the record on 19 April 1994, using the track that Boardman had used at Bordeaux. He had bolted his shoes to his pedals, to avoid what had happened in the final of the national pursuit championship, when he pulled his foot off the pedal during his starting effort.[n 3]
He rode 52.713 kilometres, a distance beaten on 2 September 1994 by the Spanish Tour de France winner, Miguel Indurain.
Old Faithful banned 
The world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale grew concerned that changes to bicycles were making a disproportionate improvement to track records. Among other measures, it banned his riding position: he did not find out until one hour before he began the world championship pursuit in Italy. Judges disqualified him when he refused to comply. The magazine Cycling Weekly blamed "petty-minded officialdom."
Obree developed another riding position, the "Superman" style, his arms fully extended in front, and he won the individual pursuit at the world championships with this and Old Faithful in 1995. That position was also banned. The original bike is on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, while two near-replicas built for use in the Flying Scotsman film are displayed in the Riverside Transport Museum in Glasgow.
Other achievements 
Obree was individual pursuit world champion in 1993 and 1995. He broke the British 10-mile individual time trial record in 1993, won the RTTC 50-mile championship the same year (a record 1h 39m 1s), and won the 25-mile championship in 1996. In 1997 he timed 18m 36s in a 10-mile time trial and next day won the British Cycling Federation 25-mile championship. The writer Peter Bryan, of The Times, said:
To see Obree in full flight, shoulders hunched and elbows tucked into his ribs, is a memorable sight. His face contorted with pain illustrates the effort he is putting in. And yet, not too many minutes after he has finished a ride the champion is sufficiently relaxed to talk with a queue of pressmen.
Professional career 
Obree rode his hour records as an amateur. He took a professional licence after winning his first world championship, telling Bryan: "I reckon I can make more money on the bike than I get from unemployment benefit."
He joined Le Groupement (fr), a French team but did not attend a meeting in Les Carroz d'Arâches (fr) and was fired for "lack of professionalism." Obree had been racing in Florida when the team first met. But he was on holiday there when the team met again for publicity photographs. He got to the next get-together but flew to Paris instead of Lille, where the meeting was held.
The team manager, Patrick Valcke, said:
- "If a rider has that attitude, it's best to stop working together as soon as possible. We paid for his tickets [to fly from Glasgow to Geneva] and he didn't even turn up, didn't even phone to explain why he was not coming. He said that he did not want to leave his family so soon after the death of his brother (see below) but he could have phoned to tell us that. I don't want any more to do with him."
Obree said: "I was too ill to attend the get-together and had no success when I attempted to contact team officials on 1 January. My wife, Anne, who is a nurse, insisted I was not well enough to travel to France."
The Le Groupement team fell apart after a short time, when the sponsoring company was involved in scandal, with accusations that it was nothing but a pyramid selling scheme. Some of the team members claimed that they were owed money, and their wages had not been paid.
Attitude to doping 
Obree said of his short professional career:
- "I still feel I was robbed of part of my career. I was signed up to ride in the prologue of the Tour back in 1995, but it was made very obvious to me I would have to take drugs. I said no, no way, and I was sacked by my team. So there I was, 11 years later, sitting there waiting for the Tour cyclists to come by, and something welled up in me. I feel I was robbed by a lot of these bastards taking drugs. I also hate the way that people think anyone who has ever achieved anything on a bike must have been taking drugs. I was surprised how resentful I felt when I was in Paris. It had obviously been simmering away in there for years. That's something new I'll have to talk to my therapist about."
He said in L'Équipe:
- "In my opinion, 99 percent of riders at élite level take EPO or a similar drug, not particularly to dope themselves but to be at the same level as the others. And I find that rather sad."[n 4]
His web site says:
- "AND by the way, I never took drugs to improve my performance at any time as has been happening in the sport for a long time. I will be willing to stick my finger into a polygraph test if anyone with big media pull wants to take issue. In other words, if you buy a signed poster now it will not be tarnished later."
Further suicide attempt 
Obree's brother, Gordon, died in a car crash in October 1994, and Graeme Obree again slid in and out of depression. In 2001 he was found unconscious at Bellsland Farm in Kilmaurs, 12 km from his Ayrshire home. The Obree family horse was stabled there, and he was discovered by a woman checking a barn. He had tried to hang himself. His wife, Anne, said he had been diagnosed as having severe bipolar disorder three years earlier.
Present day 
Obree is divorced from his wife, with whom he has two children. He continues to race occasionally in individual time trials for Ayrshire-based Fullarton Wheelers cycling club. In May 2005, he crashed in the rain in the national 10-mile time trial championship near Nantwich in Cheshire. He was a member of the winning three-man club squad that took the team title in the Scottish 10-mile championship in May 2006. In December 2006, he competed in the track event, Revolution 15, in a four kilometre pursuit challenge.
In January 2011, Obree disclosed in an interview with the Scottish Sun that he is gay and that his difficulty with coming to terms with his sexual orientation contributed to his earlier suicide attempts. "I was brought up by a war generation; they grew up when gay people were put in jail. Being homosexual was so unthinkable that you just wouldn't be gay. I'd no inkling about anything, I just closed down." He came out to his family in 2005.
New Hour record attempt 
In May 2009, Obree announced that he would make an attempt at the "Athlete's Hour" record on a bike he had built himself during 2009. Obree said in October 2009 that the attempt had been cancelled as the bike he'd built himself was not suitable for the conditions. He will not be attempting this again.
HPV land speed record 
In December 2011, Obree announced that he would make an attempt at the human-powered vehicle land speed record, hoping to hit 100 mph. In May 2012, he revealed that the bike he is building for this attempt is a prone bike.
Book and film 
He published his autobiography in 2003 titled The Flying Scotsman.[n 5] He said: "It started with the psychologist saying it would do me good and ended up as my life story." A film based on the book premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2006, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Boyd. In November 2006 Metro-Goldwyn Mayer bought world distribution rights and the film was released in the US on 29 December 2006; it was given a UK release on 29 June 2007. The DVD was released in the UK on 5 November 2007.
- The slipstream from passing traffic can increase the speed of time-triallists on busy roads
- The track, 250m round, was built of Siberian pine in three and a half weeks. It was demolished after the world championships were held there.
- Bolting shoes to the pedals was pioneered by the Australian sprinter John Nicholson at the world championship in Leicester in 1970. Riders today use conventional shoe fixings but hold their feet to the pedal with supplementary straps.
- "A mon avis, 99% des coureurs de l’élite prennent aujourd’hui de l’EPO ou une drogue similaire. Pas forcément pour se doper, mais pour être au même niveau que les autres. Et c’est plutôt navrant."
- Published by Birlinn, UK, with a foreword by Francesco Moser
- Graeme Obree profile at Cycling Archives
- Nicholas Roe (2007-06-09). "Against all odds". Daily Telegraph.
- "Six sporting legends honoured in Scottish Sports Hall of Fame". Scottish Sports Hall of Fame. 16 March 2010. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
- "undated cutting". UK: PCi.
- Gordon Cairns (1999-06-09). "Graeme Obree: Homegrown Hero". BBC.
- Graeme Obree reveals he is gay
- Duffy, Gerry (31 January 2011). "Obree: I'm gay". The Sun. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
- Alastair Campbell (2006-06-13). "Graeme Obree: 'I was driven by fear'". The Independent.
- "Article title unknown". UK: Cycling Weekly. January 2002.
- "Article title unknown". France: Vélo. October 1993.
- "Graeme Obree rescued in hanging attempt". Bikebiz. 2002-01-09.
- Cycling Weekly, 29 March 1997
- Graeme Obree: Homegrown Hero
- "Graeme Obree". Cycling Info. 2008-06-17.
- Cycling Weekly, 23 September 1995, p22
- "Cycling's world pursuit champion has ridden into trouble again", The Independent
- "Article title unknown". UK: Cycling Weekly. 1995-08-19. p. 26.
- "Article title unknown". UK: Cycling Weekly. 1995-09-23. p. 20.
- "Obree's riding position banned", The Independent
- McIver, Brian. "Scots cycling legend Graeme Obree & stuntman Danny MacAskill race into Riverside Museum ahead of opening". Daily Record, 31 May 2011. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- "Obree sacked by French team". UK: Cycling Weekly. January 1995.
- L’Equipe Magazine, France 19 October 1996
- Official website
- "Newsletter". Scottish Cycling. late 2006.
- David Arthur (2006-12-12). "Revolution 15 Report". Road Cycling UK. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
- Jeff Jones (2009-05-21). "Graeme Obree bidding for hour record again". Bike Radar. Retrieved 2009-05-22.
- "50 Cycling Heroes Named in British Cycling's Hall of Fame". British Cycling. 2009-12-17. while in March 2010, he was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.
- "Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree targets new world record". BBC. 2011-12-17.
- Steve Smith (May 6 2012). "Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree uses old saucepan to build world record bid bike". Scottish Daily Record. Retrieved 2012-07-23.
- Tejvan (May 8, 2012). "Graeme Obree’s World Speed Record". Cycling UK. Retrieved 2012-07-23.
- Reno Rambler (May 07, 2012). "Graeme Obree in Battle Mountain?". Retrieved 2012-07-23.
- William Fotheringham (2003-09-17). "Obree opens up on a story of speed, success and suicide". The Guardian.
- Brooks, Xan (2006-07-12). "Flying Scotsman to launch Edinburgh film fest". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
- Wilcockson, John (2006-10-26). "MGM to release Obree movie in the U.S.". VeloNews. Archived from the original on 2007-06-22. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
- "Flying Scotsman Released on DVD". CyclingEdinburgh.info. Retrieved 2007-11-03.
Related media 
- Flying Scotsman: Cycling to Triumph Through My Darkest Hours Graeme Obree VeloPress 2005 ISBN 1-931382-72-7
- Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree Birlinn Books 2003 ISBN 1-84158-335-9
- Graeme Obree at the Internet Movie Database
- The Flying Scotsman speaks: Graeme Obree interview stv website
- Graeme Obree interview: Velo Club Don Logan Podcast (Feb 2011)
- Official website
- Graeme Obree - Biography at CyclingInfo.co.uk
- Graeme Obree's home made bike photograph