Graeme Obree – cyclist

Web Beastie

The Scottish cycling hero gave us a great interview for our July-August issue. So great that there was a lot of fascinating stuff we couldn’t squeeze in. Here it is.

Are you still a member of a cycling club?
Very much so, I don’t go out with them that often, because it uses energy that I need to use to go and visit people, but I’m a member of Fullarton Wheelers. I was out with them not so long ago round Tighnabruaich and that area.

Do they just treat you like anybody else?
Well, more or less. Obviously if someone wants to know something or ask me something about training, I’ll tell them what I think. I suppose it’s awkward for them because they kind of make you feel as if you’re just part of a club but then you can’t really be a club amateur cyclist. But that’s OK.

When you were at your peak did you do much training abroad?
Well, actually all my stuff abroad was related to flying somewhere for some event. And you see just slightly more than a submarine commander. Because what you’re interested in is, how’s my form, where is the food supply, where are the toilets and how far is it to the finish line? And that dictates your time abroad, because you’re so focused on the performance really, and so focused on your form. You don’t walk about and eat the right food and then go and look at the coast, it’s all focused on outputting that performance. I should have used more of my time to meet interesting people and see interesting places when I was abroad, but that’s generally how it was. But I’ve been very fortunate that I have been able to see Japan, Australia, South Africa, all round Europe, North America, Cuba, South America. I’ve been all over the place.

Photograph by Alex Hewitt

Photograph by Alex Hewitt

You’re your own boss and although you have all these pressures of time, you’re not tied down to a 9-5 job. So is it a possibility that you’ll get to see these places again?
My distance [the one-hour record] has been beaten by a British rider that is not part of the 90s continental road scene. So that’s kind of relieved me of that weight, it’s very liberating that it’s been beaten fair and square by Alex Dowsett, so that’s moving on from that [after our interview Dowsett’s record was in turn beaten by Sir Bradley Wiggins]. And almost being 50 focuses my mind a little. So my ambition is to write my book about how to feel better, and then move on to writing other kinds of books, which I might be rubbish at but I might be good at. And I might write them not for commercial reasons but just because I want to go and write creatively.

As in fiction?
Yes, fiction or plays … I’ve done some poetry, just because I need an output for creativity. Because if you think about bike building, it was creative. So as an output for my creativity, really what I want to do is write. I hope to never not own a bike. I can’t see me not wanting to go and ride round the countryside – that is my yoga or zen or meditation or whatever. I’m actually terribly rude because people are always wanting to ride with me. A lot of my friends want to ride with me, but that is my time and space to actually go and enjoy the countryside. And I’ve been to the countryside and just been like “I’m going to stop and sit here for half an hour”. And bike riders don’t appreciate that very much.

You like camping, but what about other things like walking, running, kayaking?
Unfortunately, I broke my kneecap about a decade ago and my knee hasn’t quite been right. Thankfully I can cycle, but if I run, it really doesn’t like it and I end up walking about with a walking stick. So I have to be careful with any of that stuff, as much as I would like to.

If you get a puncture, can you fix it in a matter of minutes?
Well, obviously you never mess about with patches unless you have to. And I think tyres have improved so much these days, if anything it’s worth paying extra for a good tyre because the amount of punctures you get is so much less. If you’re going to spend extra money on something, get good tyres. And whatever you do, don’t skimp on the undercarriage – basically your shorts that you’re going to wear. Because usually it’s at the furthest point when you realise that this wasn’t worth saving money on. You can seriously regret not spending extra money on your comfort.

At the time when the world governing body was outlawing things you had done – your bike design, your riding position – you must have felt quite bitter. Do you still feel that way?
Well, actually, I’m very thankful for it because looking back I realise that although I liked to be forward thinking, I sat in comfort zones for quite a long time. And comfort zones are like the laws of physics; an object will carry on in the same direction unless a force acts upon it otherwise. So I was an object and the force acted on me and innovation happened. So they were the force that acted on me, knocked me out of a comfort zone, which was riding in that position all that while and then – boof – you can’t do that any more. That was an asteroid to my world. As much as it wasn’t nice at the time, I certainly wouldn’t have come up with innovations had it not have been for that.

Obree plate section
Your Old Faithful bike is in the National Museum of Scotland…
That’s right. I was pleased when they put it on display. I got a letter through the post asking for Old Faithful. I don’t know what would have happened to it had they not taken it on.

Sir Chris Hoy did the foreword to your book, Flying Scotsman. Is he a good friend?
He is and he is a genuinely good, decent man. What you see with Chris is what you get. You know, sometimes celebrities aren’t up front. That’s not him, and he’s a genuinely decent bloke.

Any other leading cyclists over the years that you’ve been good friends with?
I’m actually a wee bit distanced from the cycling world. Yvonne McGregor, she’s worth a mention because she was also a world champion and she’s the third person that’s always forgotten about in the midst of me and Chris Boardman.

What advice would you give to a teenager who is showing a fair amount of promise as a cyclist?
Don’t let pushy parents push you, do it because you love it. And keep your options as wide open as they can be for as long as you can. Don’t start specialising until you have to because once you do it’s very hard to get out of that cul-de-sac.

To read the rest of Graeme’s answers you need to buy the current issue.



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