Passion and innovation
Those two words are what has driven and what still drives Graeme Obree to push himself. This piece is written from my understanding of the man having seen him talk last night at Stirling University as part of their Human Race series. The talk started with him asking how much we knew about his life, the general consensus was that the room had either seen the movie or read his book, he seemed surprised at this, but he gratefully thanks the crowd for being interested in his story 19 years after he flew from nowhere in 1993 to break Francesco Moser’s 1984 hour record.
Man and machine
His passion, his desire to succeed, his propensity to question things and his enthusiasm for inventing something new or different run continuously as he talks. From his worries about Q-factor to the development of the Superman position, we take it all in as he jumps around through different topics. He’s quite careful to say that he fully disclosed the Superman position prior to using it, he wanted his rivals to adopt it, so he could beat them with all things being equal.
His thoughts on the UCI rulebook come up and he’s concerned that it’s rigid and non-progressive. It doesn’t respond to the every day bicycle user who could benefit from a bike that’s easier to ride over long distances, would keep them dry, has some kind of backup power and is as comfortable to ride in June as it is in November. If cycling is to survive, it needs to change to become more available and less exclusive, if costs are prohibitive for any of the five continents, the effect on the Olympics will be disastrous. This isn’t unlike the problems facing motorcycle racing (my passion before cycling) where fuel consumption, big budgets and grid numbers are a constant headache for promoters and race series organisers. We need to keep moving forward.
The human body
When he talks of his training, he’s changed his approach at various times, formerly using negativity to drive himself on during his race preparation (imagine him shouting “IS THIS ALL YOU’VE GOT” into the maw of a blizzard!), but now he positively rewards good performance by doing something as simple as mentally congratulating himself at the top of a climb. His approach to diet (an interesting one for me given my previous bulk!) is great – if you think you shouldn’t be eating something, then don’t eat it. It sounds simple, and certainly leaves the onus on the individual not to rationalise their indiscretions. Asked how he feels it’s affected or enhanced his performance, he shrugs and says that it’s never done him any harm. We can all learn a lot from this man.
Human power, how would a Martian harness it?
His latest project is developing an HPV (Human Powered Vehicle) to reach 100mph. The current record is 82.819mph but beating that isn’t good enough for Obree. He talks passionately about the potential of humans, be it their physiology or mental capacity to push themselves further. The HPV project is set for September when he will travel to Nevada with his self-made machine to test whether he can break that record. He’s passionate about the project, that’s clear, and he doesn’t accept things at face value; he’s analysed how best to achieve the potential of the human body in the pursuit of speed, one method being the Martian technique: if Martians came to earth, how would they approach the problem of harnessing the power of the human body - His thoughts range from heat exchange to regenerative braking. It’s a pleasure to hear him talk, and despite what he may think, the lecture is tremendously motivational.
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes but sometimes they may turn out to be even more heroic than you had imagined.
You'll notice this says "To Nick", Nick is my boss and I was under strict instructions to get the book that he lent me signed to avoid getting a P45 on my desk! Mr.Obree was kind enough to sign it.