Graeme Obree, the Scottish cyclist, is building a bike on which he hopes to smash the world speed record and reach 100mph.
It was dreamt up in the bath, designed on the back of a scrap of wallpaper, constructed in part from an old saucepan and put together on the kitchen table, but this is the bicycle its inventor hopes will reach the improbable speed of 100mph.
Graeme Obree, the former world champion cyclist, is building a new machine on which to mount an assault on the land speed record for pedal power.
The 46 year-old is due to make his attempt in September, on a long stretch of flat road, just outside the town of Battle Mountain, in Nevada.
After building up speed, he will be timed over a distance of 200 metres (656ft), in an attempt to be monitored by the International Human Powered Vehicle Association.
If he reaches his target of 100mph, he will not just break but smash the current record of 82.8mph, set at the same site, in 2009 by Sam Whittingham, a Canadian cyclist.
Obree’s new machine is being assembled at his one-bedroom flat in Saltcoats, North Ayrshire, in the kitchen which doubles as his workshop. He has already scavenged parts for the machine’s shoulder rests from an old saucepan.
“It is like choreographing and dancing to your own music,” he said. “To me it is a form of artistic expression. This will be everything I have to offer in terms of being a builder and rider. It’s a holistic approach. I’m using old stuff – recycling a bit of bike, reusing a bit of old chairing. It’s like Scrapheap Challenge [the television series] in a way.”
He said that designing the bike was largely done “conceptually” as he lay in the bath. Later, designs were sketched on the back of a large piece of torn-off wallpaper.
In line with this homespun approach, rather than assemble a vast support team for the project, Obree has just enlisted the help of his 18-year-old son, Jamie, to assist in building the bike.
They are also assembling a backup vehicle, which can be ridden by Obree if the main bike develops a problem. Otherwise, it will be used by his son. The only other team member is a manager, who is still trying to drum up support from sponsors for the bid, just four months away.
Obree’s belief that his design can potentially travel at 100mph is based on calculations that he describes as “back of the envelope physics”.
To reach that speed, he will be pedalling in a gear, which is around three times bigger than the top gear on a road racing bike. The pedals turn a chain which drives one set of gears, which then transfer the power to the rear wheel through a second chain, doubling the pedal power of a conventional bike.
A single turn of the gear will propel his bike around 30ft – compared with around 10ft achieved by a road racer’s top gear.
“You just roll it and go up through the gears. If you get into the top gear you are already doing 80mph,” he said.
The wheels are home-made but are the same size as those used on BMX bicycles, and the gears are from a conventional bike.
While he is confident that “the engine remains in decent nick”, the bid will be as much a test of engineering as physical strength.
His riding position, which will have him lying horizontally on his front, pedalling head first just a few inches from the road, is completely unlike the design used by Whittingham to set the existing record. The Canadian, like other speed cyclists, rides in a reclining position, with his head at the back of the bike, and his legs turning pedals at the front.
To maximise aerodynamics, Obree will also be surrounded by what he calls “the skin”, a carbon shell that is reinforced with bullet-proof Kevlar so that it does not disintegrate if he crashes. “It’s basically a torpedo – a land based missile,” he said.
One obvious problem is testing his new bike in advance of the record attempt. “We’ll just have to take it out onto the A78 and try it there – I’ll get a mate to drive behind me while I’m doing it,” he said.
If it was anyone else, there would be a temptation to dismiss the bid as complete fantasy. Obree, though, was the man who revolutionised cycling not once but twice.
In 1993, he broke the record for the distance travelled in one hour on a self-made bike that, amongst other used parts, contained the bearings of an old washing machine.
That design, which allowed Obree to ride in a similar position to a downhill skier, was subsequently banned by cycling’s governing body.
Rather than be cowed by the apparent injustice, Obree simply designed a new riding style, which became known as the ‘Superman’ position.
In 1995, he returned to win a second world individual pursuit championship. Yet this riding innovation, which was copied by his great rival Chris Boardman and just about every leading cyclist, was also outlawed.
His cycling career, as well as his long battle with depression, was dramatised in the 2006 film, The Flying Scotsman.
His described the motivation for his latest challenge. “I was thinking those medals in a drawer or what I have actually done are worthless unless I use it to inspire somebody.
“Before, I thought, ‘I have to get that hour record or I will feel terrible and I can’t bear to live with myself if I’m a failure’. Now I find myself in a win, win situation. In a lot of ways, my message would be more powerful if I don’t get this record because it’s OK to have a vision and just go for it. A lot of people don’t do things for the fear of ‘what if I don’t manage it’.
“My biggest fear is not crashing on a bike and losing some skin. It’s sitting in a chair at 90 and saying, ‘I wish I had done more’. I don’t know if I will break the record but I will give it the best punt I can.
“I’m inspired by the possibility of things, I’m inspired by the fact that we are dying, I’m inspired by my mortality.
“And, in any case,” he added, “having my nose to the wheel, going 80, 90 or maybe even 100mph across a road in America – that’s pretty exciting.”
Source: Jeremy Wilson on telegraph.co.uk