Graeme Obree is famous as cycling’s great iconoclast, the man who turned against-the-clock riding on its head with the unconventional riding positions and home-built bikes he used to break the Hour Record 20 years ago this month.
Given that Obree was persecuted by the sport’s governing body, the UCI, who repeatedly banned his innovations, it’s rather surprising to read in an interview on Humans Invent that Obree doesn’t think the UCI imposes too many regulations on cycling.
“Every sport needs to be regulated,” Obree said. “If there was no regulation, tennis players would be playing with rackets that are three feet wide and so on.”
Rules changed after innovations
But surely the way his ideas were banned was frustrating?
“Yes, because I was operating within the rules as they stood at the time. They subsequently changed after, and in response to, certain innovations I made.
“But now the rules are clearly defined, they state clearly that this is what you can and can’t do so it is not an issue and this has bought stability to the sport.
“Poorer countries can now just go and buy a bike from a manufacturer and compete on pretty much a level playing field. If innovation is happening then they can’t. And if you want to innovate then attempt the IHPVA record.”
Today’s bikes all the same
As a result, says Obree, today’s road racing bikes are now all extremely similar.
“Almost every bike is exactly the same now,” he said.
“It is like convergent evolution where cacti that have developed in different parts of the world are almost identical because they operate under the same rules (as imposed by earth). You would think they are closely related species but they aren’t.”
Commuter bikes with fairings?
This emphasis on development of racing bikes means that bikes for other purposes are neglected.
“While I believe it’s good for the sport, it is bad for cycling as a whole because the industry is driven by what is good for racing bikes. They don’t want a commuter bike that is better than a racing bike,” said Obree.
“In terms of aerodynamics for example, I believe most bikes should have a fairing of some kind at the front almost like a moped, which would make it 20% more efficient. But that would make it faster than a racing bike.
“Manufacturers need to move away from the governing body of the sport and make bikes for people who cycle to work or about the countryside and not in a competitive setting.”
Anyone who’s ever ridden a bike with a fairing knows what Obree’s talking about: they’re fast. Maybe after he’s cracked the human-powered land speed record in September, we’ll see a Graeme Obree line of faired commuter bikes.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.