Graeme Obree should need no introduction, but alas, he shares his name with an iconic Scottish locomotive.The Flying Scotsman, as the he became known at the height of his career, announced his retirement to the cycling world in September 2013, Few Scots can claim to have come close to all that he has achieved.
Graeme Obree was born on 11 September 1965 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, but he lived most of his life in Scotland.
In his first competitive cycle race, he arrived at the starting line in shorts, an anorak and pair of Doc Martens. Thinking the race finished where it had started, Obree stopped 100m short of the finish line and had already started changing his clothes when officials alerted him to his mistake. He finished the race
His greatest achievements include two one-hour records and two 4000m Pursuit championship gold medals in the velodrome.
The cyclist had a knack for building his own bicycles. To clinch the one-hour record from Francesco Moser (51.151km), he forged his iconic “Old Faithful” bike. After watching a washing machine spin at 1,200 rpm, he opened it up and took the bearings for the bike. He lowered the handlebars thinned the bottom bracket on his way to crafting a cycle with which he could adopt his bizarre riding position.
Speaking to The Telegraph in 2007, Obree said:
“The record had fascinated me since Moser broke it. It was the ultimate test – no traffic, one man in a velodrome against the clock. I didn’t tell myself that I will attempt the record, I said I would break it.”
On 17th July 1993, he did that – beating Moser’s distance by 445m to set a new record of 51.596km, but his triumph was short-lived. One week later, rival British cyclist Chris Boardman extended the record distance to 52.270km.
Using the Bordeaux circuit that had worked for Boardman, Obree retook the record on 27 April 1994 with a distance of 52.713km.
Eventually Old Faithful, and home-made modifications were banned by concerned governing bodies of cycling, but his record was intact.
Obree was infamous for his meticulous preparation and for building his own bikes from a wide range of professional and household objects.
He set another record in 2013 – riding his experimental Beastie Bike over 56 miles per hour in the desert plains of Nevada, while competing in the World Human Speed Championships. He’s also attempted to break the Human Powered Vehicle Landspeed Record.
Multiple Olympic Gold medalist Chris Hoy says of Obree: “Graeme is a genius in the true sense of the word. His uncanny ability to tackle problems from an angle that no-one else could have thought of, makes him a one-off.
“He sees the world in a different way to us mere mortals and comes up with ideas and solutions which make you laugh, shake your head and say ‘why didn’t I think of that?!”