Obree the innovator: predecessors to Old Faithful

On a recent This Week In Cycling History podcast, John Galloway and Cilian Kelly went off on a tangent (as they sometimes do) musing over the origins of Graeme Obree’s aero tuck position, used to break Francesco Moser’s hour record on his Old Faithful’ bike in 1993.

Obree was an innovator, rethinking his position on the bike and the bike itself,  achieving aerodynamic gains by  going back to first principles and bringing a ‘beginner’s mind’ to bike engineering. I’ve heard him speak about this in person several times – he would look at his bike and think (or maybe say out loud) ‘what if I had never seen a bike before – what would I do differently?’

Early frame innovations

Obree could weld his own frames and would design  Found on Bob Reid’s homage to the Flying Scot bicycle, the picture below shows some of the genesis of his frame innovations:

One predecessor of ‘old faithful’ was this machine he built and seen here at a road race in Carluke in 1987. The short back end prevented Graeme from using double chain-rings and the frame has a brazed-on chain guide.

Obree custom frame 1987

You can read about Obree’s story in his own words in ‘The Flying Scotsman’

Breaking ‘The Rules’

In this image below, a forerunner of the tuck position can be seen with upturned handlebars taking the drops and his arms out of the wind. As Frank Strack writes on his popular Velominati site, Obree ‘broke the rules’. (I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with ‘The Rules’ – figuring out their nuances was part of my route into cycling but at times they seem obstructive. I came up with my own ‘official rules‘ for which Obree was very much an inspiration – style, tradition and what ‘should’ be done are thrown out of the window in favour of what is faster, more affordable or more practical.)

graeme obree upturned bar position

Refining The Position

Back to Obree’s own innovations – note also the short wheelbase on the bike above with the front wheel practically touching the downtube. The seat tube is angled back and the rear wheel is extremely close to it. Before it’s time perhaps – nowadays the tubes of TT frames and ‘aero road’ frames are curved with cutaways to accommodate this.

A year or two later and his hands are on the upturned drops and there’s a slippery helmet to make things faster. This position was used to attack the UK hour record on Meadowbank velodrome.

These sorts of innovations, and other unconventional approaches to training, where Obree goes back to ‘first principles’ are detailed in Obree’s own training manual, The Obree Way:

obree upturned bars 1991

It’s not far from the now famous position used to break the hour record on the track.

The story of his track exploits and hour record exploits, battling against Chris Boardman, is told in The Race Against Time:

Graeme Obree tuck