Graeme Obree forced to give up world record dreams

Doctor advises abandonment as new bike's failure on the track sends Scot into depression

by Simon_MacMichael   November 18, 2009  

Graeme Obree hour record 1993

Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree has abandoned plans to attempt to secure the world hour record for the third time.

Obree famously rode into the record books twice during the early 1990s on his home-made ‘Old Faithful’ bike that incorporated parts from an old washing machine.

But the Scotsman newspaper reports that the former world champion, who has a history of depression, has been ordered by his doctor to give up hopes of setting a world best distance for a third time because of fears for his mental health, despite the 44-year-old being in excellent physical condition.

Obree had announced his plans to have a third tilt at the record earlier this year, this time with another home-made bike cobbled together in his shed at his home in Ayrshire, boasting a 67-tooth chain ring, and Reynolds 653 tubing put together with silver soldering.

After around 18 months of training on the bike, with the Scot reportedly very happy with its performance on the road, he tried it out at the Manchester Velodrome in August under the supervision of GB national coach Doug Daley and discovered that it just didn’t make the grade on the track.

Having deliberately embarked on his record bid without the backing of a sponsor, going back to square one wasn’t an option for Obree and he was therefore forced to give up his dream, with the newspaper quoting him as saying: "If I had to go back to scratch and spend five weeks on the track, like Chris Hoy did, it would cost a fortune without a sponsor."

Obree has a history of clinical depression, twice attempting suicide, and the bike’s failure to perform was a huge disappointment for him. “I spent weeks under the duvet,” he said. “I never had back-up plans, I was so sure about the bike. A normal person would just have been bitterly disappointed but it went beyond that because of who I am."

Despite that, Obree believes he was right to have pursued the record for a third time, saying: "Oh well, nobody died. I had to find out. I would have regretted it if I didn't give it my best shot."

Obree earned his ‘Flying Scotsman’ nickname by twice taking the hour record in the early 1990s. In July 1993, he took the record from Italian cyclist Francesco Moser, setting a distance of 51.596 km at Hamar in Norway. He lost the record a week later to Chris Boardman, but the following April regained it, this time on the same track in Bordeaux that the Englishman had used, setting a distance of 52.713 km. That record lasted until September 1999, when it was taken by Miguel Indurain.

The success of Obree and others in using a variety of weird and wonderful machines to break the record, as well as employing the “Superman” riding style that the Scotsman pioneered, led world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, to rewrite the rule book to ban aero wheels, frames and helmets, as well as the unorthodox riding position, from attempts on “The Hour.”

Obree, who was individual pursuit world champion in 1993 and 1995, documented his career and battle against depression in his 2003 book, The Flying Scotsman, in which he also talks about his brief flirtation with a professional road career. The book formed the basis of a 2006 film of the same name starring Jonny Lee Miller.

Now, Obree is writing another book, called A Survivor's Guide to Depression, which he claims will contain "good, solid advice" on how to overcome the illness.


4 user comments

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The reason he couldn't attempt the record was that his new bike ("cobbled together" is a bit harsh - he's a talented bike designer) gave him a stretched out aero position, but he found that this position didn't give him enough support to resist the down force through the banking.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1425 posts]
18th November 2009 - 15:43


Thanks for the extra insight, cat1. Just to clarify, "cobbled together" was meant affectionately and certainly not as a slight - the fact that he took the world record twice on Old Faithful speaks volumes for his talents as a designer.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9310 posts]
18th November 2009 - 16:05


He built it without a jig too!

He really is a very talented engineer and bike builder.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [688 posts]
18th November 2009 - 16:18


Graeme and I have been talking about this attempt for quite a few months. There will be the nay-sayers who clearly want to diss him for trying but don't forget he was the one who "tried" the tucked position and "tried" the "superman" position.

Without the personality and innovation of Graeme cycling would be a lesser sport.

posted by joeatjbstdotcom [5 posts]
18th November 2009 - 17:15