Short Film – Graeme Obree, Athlete or Genius?

Short Film – Graeme Obree, Athlete or Genius?


It’s kinda like, if you had a means to absolutely say if there is or isn’t a Loch Ness Monster – it would be good to do it, but it would be sad to do it at the same time. You are finding out new knowledge, but also… …kind of killing off a mystery. Graeme Obree’s story is the stuff of comic strip heroes. Designed and built a world-beating bike from scrap metal for a mere £70. Now, as World Champion, as well as the racing, there’s negotiations to film his life story And in his home town they are going to name a street after him. People look back to that era when it was simpler… …it seemed simpler, there was less science and there was still seat of the pants cycling Cycling’s ruling body at last year’s World Championships banished his highly unusual riding position… …with arms tucked in like a downhill skier. They made the decision the night before and only told me the morning of the event. But it was a great thing to happen. Because suddenly that paradigm was certainly poisoned and shocked… …and I was left with where I had to change or find a new way. Now Obree is back with a new style – dubbed the ‘Superman position’… …with his arms almost at full stretch in front. And then that got banned and regulated down to the current regulations of 75cm. With Endura’s help we are going to use a wind tunnel for an expert analysis. And can answer the question which body position was generally the best aerodynamically. Finally find the answer – 25 years later. This project was really about trying to go back to 1993 and measure those positions in a modern wind tunnel For the first time to have the opportunity to test The crouch position The superman position And also the conventional UCI position So we can get a really good idea of what advantage he actually had. We’ve been working with Graeme on the creative process for product and it did strike me that in all this time the number of arguments I’ve heard in the past about… …he wasn’t really a great cyclist it was more just the position he rode in. That debate was never put to bed and it just seems now that we are working with Graeme… …and we are working in the wind tunnel, it’s like trying to put two and two together. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know… …actually what did it do for him: how much was the athlete, how much was the advantage from the postion and put it to bed once and for all. I’ve never been in or seen a wind tunnel. I’ve seen them in magazines! It certainly is very clinical. Very scientific. It kinda feels like that… we are doing something special here today. Do you know what, you don’t get this opportunity very often in life. Because this is not cheap to have this. This moment and time on the test rig is not cheap or easy. The run will take about 10 minutes. We have to get some zeros. And then the wind comes on and we can repeat that for all the different positions. In the wind tunnel we measure the force that the air imparts on the body And at any given speed that force relates to watts. So we are aiming ultimately to reduce the wattage consumption of a shape if you like Ok. – Let’s give it a go. First of all we are going to test a standard 1993 bike that Graemes competitors would have ridden… …to give us an idea of what the level of performance was there to then later on… …compare back to that with crouch and superman position. Well, that’s smashing. I get to go a bike ride as well. I just actually realised I don’t get to keep everything after today. You don’t get to keep everything? – No! I tell you how it works… See. Before: ‘He’s a genius, he’s an amazing athlete… …he’s so fast… designed those positions…’ But once you’ve done the measures… ..I don’t keep all of them. No, that’s right. Suppose I am an amazing athlete and then the superman position is actually really slow. So that’s actually been an impediment all the time because he’s an amazing athlete… ..but then I’m not a genius because I made a rubbish position… I think that Graeme probably had mixed feelings because he maybe thought it was a no win situation. I suspect he thinks that people think he was an engineer and not actually a great cyclist, but… …to do what he did you’ve still got to be both. So your CDA for this bike setup is coming at around point 2 That’s kind of what everyone really strives to achieve when they are doing time trial in these days Alright? Point 2? Yeah it was always the benchmark for many years and 10 years ago it was really hard to achieve that. It’s quite a moment, I’ve never thought we ever would get this one in here – it’s amazing. It’s been very interesting. I’ve always wondered ever since we started doing this, I always wondered what this would do. Actually, how Old Faithful was thought of in the first instance – I thought, what would an alien think… …if it beamed right down here right now without any knowledge of anything? Clearly, the alien would go… Why… are you riding this very complicated, very hard to produce, very highly engineered… …bike that is the wrong shape? How does that feel? Weird. When I won the World Championship in 1993 it went wild – absolutely wild. I wasn’t expected to win it and that was… – my godness – the washing machine guy and the washing machine bike has won this World Championship. Then came along… the UCI goes you can’t ride like that anymore. And the UCI at the time… …bless them… …they just see this unknown guy from the mists of Scotland coming out with this bike… …built out of a washing machine with this crouch position which is beating the record. So they banned it. In that position it was just really surreal to see him in a modern Mercedes wind tunnel Making history again in a way. It has gone down from 0.204 to 0.17 Which is around 60 watts. How was that? As uncomfortable as I remember it. That should be outlawed, that thing. Getting back on to that after all those years… it takes a lot of muscular force to hold this. If you had done the World Hour Record in that original position you’d have been producing… …410 watts for the hour. Right In this position you only needed to produce 3550 watts for the hour so it’s 60 watts faster Alright? Folk will think ‘oh, that’s just an unfair advantage having that bike and that design of it and the positions’ But I invented all of that. So they could say maybe he wasn’t as good an athlete as I could’ve been just riding the drop bars And doing the standard line. Yeah, well, I used my intellect to gain that advantage. So how do you explain me winning the Time Trial at the British Time Trial Championship? On the tri bar position? 1997. That’s a strange one, isn’t it? Yeah! I got the impression with Graeme he was maybe a bit disappointed because… …it actually meant that when he did the World Hour record he was… …producing quite a lot less power than his professional peers. But for me that is the skill of a great time triallist – it’s someone that recognises… …the importance of aerodynamics and is able to adapt to what is the… …the most efficient and fastest solution. At 200 watts or 400 watts the fact is you are going faster and should be extremely proud of it. There’s a huge payoff for that position. In terms of the actual energy used to hold it but… …it’s efficient and it’s aero. That’s the payoff a lot of riders are compromising. Should we set up more handle bars and then go onto the superman? Let’s do that now then! – Right, okay. I like that superman position – just the feel of riding it. Like a spitfire or something – like that – because you are always looking over your hands like that… …and like you see little pictures like a machine gun… …so it’s like I’m gonna have you whilst you are catching up with riders. I do just feels so right and good. That I hope it turns out to be the best one because I like it so much. It’s been bugging you for years and now you’ll know. It will turn out to be 250 watts! Oh that feels so good! Compared to the last one! Because I’m the missing link – look at the length of those arms. This has been my problem in cycling: all these arms got to go somewhere. I tell you what, that is much more civilised. Surprisingly a lot worse. Was it really? – Yeah. Seriously? It was only 10 watts faster than the baseline. So, 50 watts slower. So you must have got fitter! I’m taken aback that that is so inferior to the egg position, or the crouch position… …or whatever you want to call it. I think when Graeme was racing in the superman position with quite a lot of success… …people probably imagined the advantage was all aerodynamic but it looks from today… …from the wind tunnel testing that it was a small improvement… …but probably what it meant was that it was also a really athletic feat and he was… …able to produce definitely quite a lot of more power than he would have done in conventional position. Well, the result is, surprisingly… …the crouch has it. By a substantial wattage. Second place is the superman position – only just narrowly beating the regular tri bar position. From the 90s bike. But the fourth question is: modern kit, full modern. Against all of those positions. This is the final part of enquiry. Very expensive… and… eh… somebody else’s! It’d be interesting to see what the figures say because it does look as… …if I was an air molecule I would go ‘oh, there we are – no trouble’. There are a bunch of air molecules – they come in gangs! I would reckon it’s better than superman but not as good as Old Faithful. Yeah, it does sit somewhere slighly closer to the crouch position than the superman position. The total power for superman position was 376 watts. For the modern UCI bike 354 watts. And for the crouch position 324 watts. That crouch position is still faster than the modern stuff? – Yeah. So your best position Old Faithful was 0.17 – that combined with modern technology would be… …down around 0.15 to 0.16 Which would be unheard of even in the modern era. For somebody in your size, yeah, absolutely. Beforehand he was joking, we are going to find out if I am a super athlete or a genius. And then afterwards he had been proven to be both. He had been a genius in developing the crouch position but he would then go on… …to great success in the superman position after that… …which actually gave him a pretty limited advantage compared to a conventional position… …so it was really fascinating. I think what you were doing is fascinating, you were taking huge steps going from one thing to another… …and what we do today is very different. We are trying to find a watt here and a watt there and gradually we would creep down. So. Masters Record it is then? Ah well – who knows. Your numbers could be looking good. Maybe I could just go… ‘that bad knee oh…’

About the Author: Michael Flood

100 Comments

  1. Any simple innovation that gets arbitrarily banned like rider position really makes the people who banned it seem like assholes. If it's better, then it should be allowed to become commonplace. Banning new innovations makes the sport boring.

  2. A Genius and a superb Athlete who overcame many hurdles and changed Cycling by challenging everything 🤘😎🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

  3. Make everyone ride Eddy Merckyx's bike. Then we know who is what is and why. I bet they all fail, badly.

  4. Looks like the Extended Superman has a way of opening up the airways to perhaps increase the athlete'sVO2max. Note that Chris Boardman's superman Hour Record is still about 1.5km better than the current conventional hour record, that's about 2.75%.

  5. There's more to the positions than just aerodynamics. There's a variety of ergonomics too: posture, energy savings, leverage, grip, weight distribution, stability, increased lung capacity (from arms raised).

  6. in his best position he had the least area exposure (drag and air turbulence), though it took greater effort for his upper body to hold it. If they tweaked those handles a bit to allow that position, it would break records (possibly illegal configuration however).

  7. it has to do with the geometry of your lungs and how you position yourself to better take in O2. Just ask anyone who as empasima.

  8. Frankly, Obree should have been knighted, instead the corruption of the (French controlled?) Cycling Authorities and the ‘Big Boys’ conspired against him.

  9. There's been a lot of discussion about his world hour records and then the outlawing of the position, but people forget that prior to it being banned (hoping my memory serves me well here) Francesco Moser, the darling of Italian cycling and time trialler extraordinaire also attempted the hour using Obree's position. He didn't break Obree's record, but got pretty close. So in my eyes and I'm biased as I rode with Graeme when I was a junior and he took me to many of my first TT's, he is an absolute legend and was undoubtedly a world class athlete. People also forget he was an amateur when he did this, working full time in Carrick Cycles in Ayr as a mechanic.

  10. as for me he's a genius … i love bike.. bikes are the perfect machine.,,, Graeme Obree did an amazing job… thumbs up for him.. loved the video

  11. I want to see the modern wheels including disc on the crouch bike. Or the handlebar setup of the crouch bike on the Scott frame.

  12. You can't just do a wind tunnel, you have to also consider how much energy each position takes to maintain. Crouch uses more energy to hold.

  13. Is Dick Fostbury also considered as a fake athlete for his position in high jump during Olympics 1968 ? I don't think so, and honestly, I don't see how it is different of Obree's situation.

  14. For me, Graeme Obree is one of the greatest Scots ever. He had impact, he is simply a very nice person and he has overcome so much. Kudos to him. His achievements stand like all great athletes, but, he was clean.

  15. Damn… are all Scotsmen such good and humble people?
    Also he won FAIR AND SQUARE — should not have been banned at all!

  16. imagine how good the numbers would have been in the crouch during his peak years where he was superman styling?!? hell of an athlete, cause he was doing his own engineering at the same time!

  17. A shame he was not allowed to continue to refine and perfect his design instead of banning it. Even modern bikes can not compare.

  18. id like to see a bike where the rider is riding basically lying flat on his belly and moving head first forward.

  19. After having watched it, what is amazing is after 25 years the man is as lean and athletic as he was 25 years ago. There are not many athletes that could fit into a skinsuit 25 years after their high point in the sport. A true legend.

  20. The chainstays on old faithful flexed like hell during his starts since he also used a large gear, the team mechanic had to switch his rear tyre every ride.

  21. the reason they didn't do the crouch position with all the modern bike and suit is because it's probably still 0.17, not .15 like he speculated. most of the air resistance is from us looking shaping like a wall not because bike's pipe shape is not aerodynamic.

  22. Success in sport is a culmination of both physical and mental prowess. A deficiency in one can be supplanted by excess of the other. As long as the rider is producing all the watts, it shouldn't matter the method. For outright records that is. Group competition still needs a modicum of uniformity, equipment-wise.

  23. Many thanks to Endura for this video. Graham Obree will always be regarded as a great athlete and innovator over and above anyone else. Just a shame that he was up against the commercial interests that were becoming all consuming at that point. Who in the industry wanted a guy who could prove a fixed gear bike of adapted design could beat the rest of the best on track and in time trials here in the UK let alone the world championship and hour records. The cycle trade in general has boomed since those days which is a good thing in many ways but at the expense of 'newby' mugs who imagine they have to pay out so many $1000 to ride a bike fast.

  24. Graeme, YOU are my GREATEST CYCLING INSPIRATION. Your unconventional ideas shook the industry and proved that a bit of genius and determination are worth more that what money can buy. I'm no pro… just a street rider but after 5yrs of cycling (single speed and fixed) I'm learning what best works for me. I have 15 bicycles lol. Most would be considered "franken-bikes" but even on a steel bicycle I blow away everybody. I purchased my first modern full carbon road bike 3 months ago but have yet to ride it. I'm not ready for it yet. I've graduated from single speed to fixed because every stroke counts when you're riding fixed. It took 5 years to realize that I have the best training tools for riding a geared bike as I'll MEET be able to afford things like vo2 max or even a computerized trainer. Next year, I will pull out my first bike and give it a go. I even dream the idea of competing even if only on a local/amateur level. Thanks for ALL YOU GIVEN. HUMBLY… WILL.

  25. Brilliant bloke. Funny, inventive and charmingly 'eccentric'.
    Most of my old cycing heroes have turned out to be a disappointment. Not Obree.

  26. If I get on a road bike and hunch down, is police going to pull me over for being too aero? also it's a position tough to hold, he is just a genius athlete. UCI's judge are just bought by industry, people should bike however they want, I'd say all the modern kit should be banned and carbonfiber bikes. everyone bikes on $70 walmart bikes in speedo and then the winner is a true athlete.

  27. Athlete or Genius? – both – but why no accept the rules whatever you think, break the "conventional" records and then through uncontravertable superiority exert your influence to say "my way might be better" (EVERYONE MIGHT SAY OOOH HE MAY BE RIGHT)

  28. I knew him for the movie and I absolutely respect him, my dream as a kid was to be a professional cyclist, I didn’t knew what category …….. I was a kid , but years latter after a lots of problems I buy a bike is not the best bike but is strong and affordable just like a bike must be, never pay a car price for a bike is stupid and ridiculous and totally against the cycling spirit I want to found a company to make the best electric bicycles and the best normal bicycles for non more than 25,000 Mexican pesos something like 1036 pounds ……… and i have a desing…baby and is really good. maybe i will got whit it. : )

  29. So, if many triathlons are not UCI regulated, why haven't more triathletes adopted the egg position, which seems most efficient, by quite a lot?

  30. Very, very interesting. Thank you. I'm glad the conclusion was what it was. Would have loved to have seen the egg results with a modern suit as well. I'm now going off to check the triathlon rules book before getting to work on my washing machine…it's broken anyway.

  31. Seems a bit up his own arse tbh. I don’t know anything about the guy but enjoyed the video.

    Shame they didn’t do the crouch with modern kit.

  32. What a wonderful person Graeme is, you sir are an inspiration, engineer to engineer, athlete to athlete but most of all human being to human being..

  33. If it was about being fair and about the athlete then everyone should get the exact same bike. Completely identical. But its not, all corrupt POS.

  34. “All those arms have to go somewhere” which also connects to the torso. The way ya have your arms positioned will effect the rest of your body. I like his thought process on that. When your crouch with the arms pulled back, there is not are pocket parachute effect with the torso compared to standard position and Superman position… it really helps hide the torso a lot more

  35. A true Scottish legend. Genius and amazing cyclist. Kudos to a great man, who fought his own demons and the demonic ICS, who tried to regulate him out of his achievements..

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