The Obree Way

Graeme Obree & Jack Thurston - Photo © Anna Gudaniec

Earlier this month, Graeme Obree was at Look Mum No Hands! for the London launch of The Obree Way, a training manual for cyclists.

Obree is a two time individual pursuit world champion, has twice broken the world hour record and is multiple winner of British national time trial championships. He is renowned not just for his athletic prowess but for his technical innovation on the bike and with the bike itself. His autobiography, The Flying Scotsman, was made into a major feature film. At 45 he is still on the bike and currently planning an attempt on the world land speed record for a human powered vehicle.

In a wide ranging conversation with Jack Thurston, presenter of The Bike Show, Obree talks about his own life as an elite athlete, his approach to training and his enduring love of just riding a bike.

“It’s a sport, it’s a pastime and it’s a form of transport. You don’t football down to the shops.”

Graeme Obree, 19 January 2012.

Channel 4 produced an excellent documentary about the rivalry between Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman. It’s on YouTube in four parts.

Red Flag, Yellow Flag

Oh, how the tables have turned.

In the late 19th century, people looked with alarm at the new ‘horseless carriages’ that were appearing on the public highways. Governments on both sides of the Atlantic responded by passing ‘red flag laws’ to regulate this new and potentially dangerous form of transport.

In the UK, the Locomotive Act of 1865 required motor vehicles (mostly steam engines at that time) to be led by a pedestrian, waving a red flag or carrying a lantern, to warn bystanders of the vehicle’s approach.

According to Wikipedia Quaker legislators in Pennsylvania unanimously passed a bill through both houses of the state legislature, which would require drivers of “horseless carriages”, upon chance encounters with cattle or livestock to

    (1) immediately stop the vehicle,

    (2) “immediately and as rapidly as possible… disassemble the automobile,” and

    (3) “conceal the various components out of sight, behind nearby bushes” until equestrian or livestock is sufficiently pacified.

The bill was vetoed by Pennsylvania’s governor.

With the coming of the internal combustion engine, steam gave way to petrol-power and a new breed of ‘automobiles’ took to the roads. The UK Parliament repealed the red flag law in 1896 and raised the speed limit from 4 mph on country roads (2 mph in towns) to 14 mph. Motorists celebrated with an ’emancipation run’ from London to Brighton, an event that is still commemorated in by a vintage car rally.

More than a century later and in the town of Kirkland, Washington, it is pedestrians who are encouraged to carry yellow warning flags when crossing the road.

Sergeant Mike Murray of the Kirkland Police Department is in no mistake about who’s to blame when a car runs down a pedestrian in his town:

“we had 62 car-pedestrian collisions in the city and of those 62, none of them were carrying a flag”

Progress, eh?

But don’t be downhearted. The fightback is underway. And it’s deliciously subversive:

Down at the London Bike Show

Made in London: Lovely cycling mackintosh from Water Offa Duck's Back

Jack goes down to the London Bike Show, an annual fair of bicycles and cycling paraphernalia. He eschews the latest electronic gear systems in search of novel products made by interesting people.

The following products are featured on the show:

Georgia in Dublin: Stylish and waterproof clothing for women and men.

Respro: High viz gear for cyclists including the ubiquitous hump and the evergreen elasticated ankle bands.

Bill’s Bike Tools: Makers of the Pedal Aid, an ingenious tool for assisting the removal of difficult bike pedals.

Hornit: The world’s loudest bicycle horn at 140 decibels.

Water Offa Duck’s Back: Classically styled cycling macs with ingenious reflective properties.

The Lost Cyclist with David Herlihy

In 1892 a young accountant from t, USA, quit his job and set off to cycle solo around the world. Frank Lenz rode a Rover Safety Bicycle, a revolutionary new design that would soon consign the traditional high wheeler – or penny farthing – to obscurity. It was the birth of the bicycle as we know it today. And Lenz is one of the pioneers of cycle touring. Cycling historian David Herlihy’s latest book tells the story of his courageous, extraordinary and ultimately ill-fated journey.