Graeme Obree : an Innovative Racing Bike Designer
Graeme Obree is a Scottish racing bike designer,
who found fame during the 1990s by breaking the World One Hour Record,
while riding on bikes that he designed and built himself.
Graeme Obree riding his "old faithfull" bikedesign (foto: Wikipedia).
While most other racers were conservative, with their choice of equipment and their riding position, Obree made many experiments to try to improve his performance. Obree found that by tucking his arms against his body he was able to be more aerodynamic, this new riding position was so successful that the world governing body of cycling (the UCI), banned it from competition. This bike design Obree named 'Old Faithful', because later design variants often failed to improve upon its performance, and Obree felt familiar with riding it.
As a result of the UCI ban, Obree created another riding position, this time with his arms straight ahead of him, which was named the 'Superman' position, (after the comic book character).
Chris Boardman used this position to ride more than 56 kilometres in one hour, which is still the absolute record for distance ridden in one hour on the track.
The 'Superman' position was also banned from competition by the UCI, as it was seen as being too extreme, because it reduced the vision of the rider and their control of the bike.
As well as experimenting with more aerodynamic arms positions, Obree also used a narrower than normal spacing between his pedals, to cause less air resistance from his legs. This extra narrow pedaling position required an unusual frame design, with a special narrow bottom bracket bearing (taken from a washing machine), and the removal of the usual support tubes around the bottom bracket axle bearing.
Obree has also designed and built HPVs for racing, one machine (which he named 'The Beastie'), broke the record for the fastest machine with the rider in a head-first prone riding position,
(as opposed to the more usual "recumbent" HPV riding position,with the feet being at the front, and the rider lying on their back rather than their stomach).
Throughout his career as a racing cyclist, Obree experimented with his own training methods, while many professional riders have used drugs, to try to gain an advantage, Obree tried things like riding up hills in large gears, to simulate the effort of racing hard, he also modified a static home-trainer bike, to increase its pedaling resistance load.
More than 20 years after Obree's first experiments, many racing cyclists have copied his narrow riding position, with Olympic Gold Medals being won by riders using extra narrow handlebars.
Now every serious racer knows that they need to adopt an aerodynamic riding position, (especially for time trials and track sprinting), to try to minimize wasted effort.
While nowadays many professional racers use an expensive wind tunnel, to measure their air resistance, and try to improve their performance, Obree worked alone. He couldn't afford such scientific equipment, and had to do without sophisticated technological specialists like aerodynamists, nutritionists, physical trainers, or experts in bio-mechanics, as are commonly used by the largest and best funded teams nowadays. Obree had to master every aspect himself, as best as he was able to, within his very limited budget. Obree also raced in a standard racing suit, unlike some modern day racers, that use special customized suits tailored just for them, and often used only once.
Further information :
Graeme Obree has his own website : Obree.com In 2003 Obree published his autobiography, titled : 'The Flying Scotsman'. ISBN 1-84158-335-9
In 2006 a movie was released about Obree's life story, called : 'The Flying Scotsman'.
In 2013 Obree published a book describing some of his training methods, titled : 'The Obree Way'. ISBN-13: 978-1408196427
In 2015 a documentary film was released about Obree's 2013 HPV record attempt, at Battle Mountain in America, called : 'Battle Mountain: Graeme Obree's story'.
In 2017 a short video was put onto YouTube, showing Obree being tested in a wind tunnel, using several different riding positions, and comparing the aerodynamic performances of the different set-ups.
There is an English language Wikipedia page about Obree : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graeme_Obree
More about Graeme: https://stories.endurasport.com/graeme-obree-1