July 17 is the 20th anniversary of Scottish cyclist and national treasure Graeme Obree’s epoch-making capture of the world Hour Record at the Hamar velodrome, Norway. To celebrate the occasion, Obree will be talking about the record ride at a special event in Glasgow.
Up Close and Personal with Graeme Obree will be hosted by broadcaster, musician and cyclist Dougie Vipond who will help Obree unlock the memories of that ground-breaking ride.
Obree famously used a the bike he made himself costing less than £100, complete with parts salvaged from an old washing machine. Old Faithful and washing machines were to become synonymous with Obree.
A maverick with his own ideas about training and technology, Obree didn’t fit in the cycling world of the time, though that makes him a fascinating speaker. His ‘preying mantis’ riding position was outlawed by the UCI, as was the ‘Superman’ position he came up with next. He eventually walked away from professional cycling when his team, Le Groupement, sacked him for refusing to take part in the team’s drug program
More recently, Obree has turned his attention to the human-powered vehicle speed record, which currently stands at 82.819mph, set by Sam Whittingham at Battle Mountain, Nevada, USA in 2009.
Obree recently tested his idiosyncratic faired recumbent, the Beastie, at Prestwick Airport and clocked 50 mph, demonstrating to sceptics that the bike could at least be ridden quickly in a straight line. Check out the video at The Guardian.
Beastie is unusual in that Obree pilots it in a face-down, head-forward position, very different from the feet-first position of most recumbents.
Obree now plans to take the Beastie to Nevada in September for the annual World Human Powered Speed Challenge. He is not making big predictions; that’s never been his style. “All I can do is go and give it a good punt,” he said.
Twenty years later it’s hard to remember just how astonishing Obree’s taking the record really was. For decades, the Hour Record had been the preserve of cycling’s greats. In the two decades before Obree, only two men, Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser, had held the record.
Over the following three-and-a-bit years, the record would fall six times, first to Chris Boardman, then back to Obree before the old guard reasserted itself and Miguel Indurain ad Ton Rominger had successful cracks at the record. Finally, in 1996, Boardman set a mark of 56.375km that has never been surpassed.
Meanwhile, the UCI was watching with ill-disguised horror as the record bikes became increasingly removed from the classic drop-handlebar track bike used by Merckx in 1972. They conveniently forgot that Moser had used then-illegal disk wheels in 1984, and banned first Obree’s ‘preying mantis’ position, then his and Boardman’s ‘Superman’ position, before finally losing patience with the whole affair and mandating that the Hour Record would only be valid if ridden on a bike like Merckx’s.
With 49.441km, Boardman managed to just edge ahead of Merckx’ record in 2000, adding an agonising 10 metres on the Manchester Velodrome, a doubly remarkable ride for being conducted at sea level compared to Merckx’s effort at over 7000 feet in Mexico City.
Five years later little-known Czech pro Ondřej Sosenka set a mark of 49.7km. Three years later Sosenka tested positive for methamphetamine and between the technological tedium of the UCI’s rules and the perception that a record held by a convicted doper was tainted, everyone more or less lost interest.
Well, with one honourable exception. The high point in the recent history of the Hour Record is Michael Hutchinson’s The Hour: Sporting Immortality the Hard Way, a superb, funny account of his own unsuccessful pursuit of the record.
Tickets to Up Close and Personal with Graeme Obree are £20 through Obree’s website. The event will also be streamed live on line.
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.