Obree, Graeme - Old Faithful
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The invention of the bike
Obree had built frames for his bike shop and made another for his record attempt. Instead of traditional dropped handlebars it had straight bars like those of a mountain bike. He placed them closer to the saddle than usual and rode with the bars under his chest, his elbows bent and tucked into his sides like those of a skier. Watching a washing machine spin at 1,200rpm led him to take the bearings, which he assumed must be of superior quality, and fit them to his bike. Obree later regretted admitting to the bearings experiment, because journalists referred to that before his achievements and other innovations.
Obree called his bike "Old Faithful". It has a narrow bottom bracket, around which the cranks revolve, to bring his legs closer together, as he thought this is the "natural" position. The bike has no top tube, so that his knees did not hit the frame. The chainstays are not horizontal to the ground. Thus the cranks can pass with a narrow bottom bracket. The fork had only one blade, carefully shaped to be as narrow as possible. A French writer who tried it said the narrow handlebars made it hard to accelerate the machine in a straight line but, once it was at speed, he could hold the bars and get into Obree's tucked style.
At a high enough speed, [I could] tuck in my arms. And, above all, get in a very forward position on the bike, on the peak of the saddle. The Obree position isn't advantageous simply aerodynamically, it also allows, by pushing the point of pedalling towards the rear, to benefit from greater pressure while remaining in the saddle. You soon get an impression of speed, all the greater because you've got practically nothing [deux fois rien] between your hands. Two other things I noticed after a few hundred metres: I certainly didn't have the impression of turning 53 × 13, and the Obree position is no obstruction to breathing. But I wasn't pedalling at 55kmh, 100 turns of the pedals a minute, yet my arms already hurt.
Old Faithful banned
Obree developed another riding position, the "Superman" style, his arms fully extended in front, and he won the individual pursuit at the world championships with this and Old Faithful in 1995. That position was also banned. However, in May 2014 the UCI relented, acknowledging that fixing the kind of equipment to be used was hindering technical progress. It restored previous banned world records, from 2000, now to be described as "Best hour performance".
The original Old Faithful bike is on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, while two near-replicas built for use in the Flying Scotsman film are displayed in the Riverside Transport Museum in Glasgow.
In March 2018, Obree tested another replica of Old Faithful in the Mercedes-Benz F1 team's wind tunnel to gauge the aerodynamic efficiency of his various riding positions on the bike, having never previously participated in wind-tunnel testing before. It was found that the CdA (drag coefficient) of Obree's initial "tuck" or "crouch" position was 0.17, compared to a conventional 1990s bike position of 0.20 and a modern conventional position of 0.188, leading to an estimated gain in speed of about 2-2.5 km/h over his rivals in the nineties and a gain of 1.5 km/h over contemporary track cyclists: meanwhile the "Superman" position was found only to be marginally more efficient than the 1990s conventional position, and less efficient than the modern conventional position. Obree however noted that the discomfort of the "crouch" position takes a lot of energy out of the rider through holding the hands and shoulders in place, whilst the "Superman" position was much more manageable.