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Graeme Obree agrees with UCI: "Every sport needs regulating," says Scots iconoclast

But race bikes are all the same, & nobody is innovating everyday bikes

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.

John 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 Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for 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 before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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munded | 10 years ago

For John - Fignon's BB - early Campag Ti axle:

skippy | 10 years ago

What a pity that the UCI Constitution is SO CURRUPT that only 42 people are able to vote for one of their OWN !

phat the rat , is happy to be called Jim Burn to his face but another 4 years of him standing still on the same spot?

Time the OLD TIMERS moved on ! YES they did Good in their DAY , but , with Genetic Engineering & peptides etc , do they really want their Families to suffer ?

When a few Team Managers are charged with " Corporate Manslaughter " of their Racers , then , and ONLY THEN , will the UCI consider moving into the 21st Century !

It will be TOO LATE for some Racers and there will be those who will say " THEY KNEW THE RISKS"!

Chris S | 10 years ago

I reckon there's an interim stage before we get faired commuter bikes, namely shaped clothing to fair the commuters! Remember you saw it first here.....  1

WolfieSmith | 10 years ago

I want a fairing! Red. With a shark's mouth painted on it.

No good in a cross wind though.  7

ashfanman | 10 years ago

Surely about time the UCI lowered the ridiculous 6.8kg weight limit? Even if it's just by enough to allow teams to run stock frames and top-of-the-range components without having to add ballast to meet the minimum weight limit.

Welsh boy replied to ashfanman | 10 years ago
ashfanman wrote:

Surely about time the UCI lowered the ridiculous 6.8kg weight limit? Even if it's just by enough to allow teams to run stock frames and top-of-the-range components without having to add ballast to meet the minimum weight limit.

The problem with running without a minimum weight limit is once everyone is running stock frames and kit without added ballast the the push is to bring lighter stuff out which could easily lead to catastrophic failures (are you old enough to remember Fignon and his titanium bottom bracket?)

TheHatter | 10 years ago

Really interesting article and viewpoint. Obree has so much to offer cycling and engineering.

TeamCC | 10 years ago

How big of a fairing would a commuter bike need to achieve the 20% boost, not the size of his record attempt bicycle I hope Capital Cycles

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