Ton up: Graeme Obree plans to shatter human-powered vehicle world land speed record

Scot whose Hour exploits captivated the nation in the 1990s sets sights on 100mph target

by Simon_MacMichael   December 17, 2011  

Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree picture courtesy Charlie Milarvie.jpg

Nearly two decades after Graeme Obree first shot to fame by emerging from obscurity to take the Hour record, the Flying Scotsman has his sights set on another benchmark – he’s looking to break the human-powered vehicle land speed record.

Not only that, but the 46-year-old, who today formally launched his training manual, The Obree Way, told BBC Scotland that he aimed to shatter the current record of nearly 83mph in style.

"I don't want to curse it, but I would like to do 100mph," he said. "If everything was perfect, with the power output and aerodynamic drag then 100mph might be possible.”

Obree famously broke the Hour record, previously held by Francesco Moser, for the first time in 1993 on a bike, Old Faithful, that he had designed himself.

Chris Boardman would better his distance of 52.270km later that year, but Obree would take it back in April 1994, setting a new benchmark of 52.713km.

By the end of the year, Miguel Indurain would have bettered that distance, bringing to an end a few months of intense competition between individuals that captivated the cycling world as well as the wider public.

For some, Obree’s exploits evoked Sir Malcolm Campbell’s record-breaking feats of the 1920s and 1930s when he broke the world land speed record nine times.

Like Campbell, who in 1937 became the first person to reach a speed in a land vehicle in excess of 300mph, Obree plans to better the human-powered record in the United States and at a location synonymous with record atempts.

While Campbell set that record at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, which would become the default location for a series of successful attempts on the land-speed record until the 1980s, Obree looks likely to attempt to write his name into the record books at Battle Mountain, Nevada.

That’s where Sam Whittingham set what was then a new world record of 72.75mph in 1999, with the Canadian bettering that speed at the same location five times since then, most recently in September 2009.

In that month, Whittingham took the Georgi Georgiev-designed Varna Tempest, effectively a recumbent bike encased in a fairing, to a speed of 82.819 over the 200 metre timed section following a flying start to set the benchmark recognised by the International Human Powered Vehicle Association.

That’s less than 2.5mph quicker than the then record speed he had set back in 2001, so if Obree were to hit three figures, the effect would be akin to that of Bob Beamon’s long jump world record at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.

"I am setting out to attack the world land speed record, which is on a bicycle, but there's no rules," explained Obree.

"It's a branch of the sport called human powered vehicles. The record is set as under the same conditions as cars - it's on a flat road, not wind assisted, and with no other vehicle assistance,” he continued.

Obree added that the attempt would be made “on a straight, flat road,” and “probably at Battle Mountain."

"I'm building the bike myself with some help," he went on. "The whole thing is no more than three feet off the ground - it's basically a human torpedo - you pedal it like fury.

"I've kept my fitness over the past few years and I've kept it going which means I have good shout of getting the power up.

"I've been thinking about this for 15 years - but when it comes to the skin, it's not my area of expertise.

"The skin is a vitally important combination of carbon and Kevlar in case you fall off at 100mph. If that happens, then you're going to lose some of your own skin, which is not worth thinking about.

"I'm always thinking what the limits are - I take everything to a limit where it can be - and that's what sport is all about: taking everything to its possible limit."

Obree, who besides his Hour exploits was also world individual pursuit champion in 1993 and 1995, struggled with depression and attempted suicide for the second time in 2001.

That episode is recounted in his autobiography, The Flying Scotsman, later made into a film, though more recently he has been raising his public profile once more.

9 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Top stuff! A record attempt based on "a vitally important combination of carbon and Kevlar." And marmalade sarnies.

posted by ped [197 posts]
17th December 2011 - 23:06


I hope he does it!! Such an inspiring athlete, more so than many we have jabbering away in the media..

downfader's picture

posted by downfader [204 posts]
17th December 2011 - 23:09


~If anyone can, Obree can. Good luck!


posted by Michael5 [121 posts]
17th December 2011 - 23:11


We're all rooting for him - dunno how he can reach 100mph but I reckon he can beat the record


posted by OldRidgeback [2577 posts]
17th December 2011 - 23:42


I just love this guy, a true seat of the pants hero.


antonio's picture

posted by antonio [1108 posts]
18th December 2011 - 9:53


What an inspiration. Love it. Love it.

posted by lokikontroll [51 posts]
18th December 2011 - 11:46


Continue to be in awe of this guy! Look forward to following this story!!!

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1184 posts]
18th December 2011 - 18:34


Spoke to him yesterday, the bike will have him position lying face first on his stomach. Once the bike is built it is going to be tested on the A78 minus the fairing.


posted by euanlindsay [80 posts]
19th December 2011 - 9:57


Outstanding stuff! Something to follow with interest in the new year. Such an amazing character too. Wishing him luck.

posted by step-hent [718 posts]
19th December 2011 - 10:34