by Old Bone Machine

Graeme Obree builds bicycles in his kitchen.

In 1993, at the Vikinskipet velodrome in Norway, he attempted to break the one hour track record, held by Francesco Moser. The record distance of 51.151 kilometres had remained unbeaten for nine years. Obree rode, Old Faithful, a bike he had built using washing machine bearings. He failed in his attempt by almost a kilometre.

With the velodrome hired for twenty-four hours, Obree decided on a second attempt the following day. During the night he awoke many times to drink water and to stretch, to prevent his fatigued body from seizing. The next day he set a new record of 51.596 kilometres.

I was Butch Cassidy in terms of swagger. I didn’t want any negativity. This was blitzkrieg. I’m going in there. Let me do it. I’m not going to be the timorous guy from Scotland. That’s what the difference was. Purely mental state. The day before, I had been a mouse. Now I was a lion.

Obree’s record though was broken a week later by Chris Boardman. Old Faithful was made of steel but Boardman rode a bike made of carbon with triathlon handlebars. He set a new record of 52.270 kilometres.

Yet Obree, to his credit, regained the record in 1994. He used the same track that Boardman had used in Bordeaux and with shoes bolted to his pedals he rode 52.713 kilometres in an hour.

Graeme Obree talks of the laws of physics. Aerodynamic resistance. The shape of a teardrop. Shoulders being the widest part of the body. He is driven by logic and his passion. Yet it all threatens to overwhelm him. His words become entangled in the aspects, the details.

I thought, you know what, there’s an old saucepan under my kitchen. I thought, old saucepan, cut the side off it, it’s already got a curve on it, wee bit more curve, squished it about a bit and stainless silver straight onto it, to that material, to form shoulder mounts. You know, about the whole job, once I thought, hold on, sacrifice a saucepan, the whole job from that point, shaping and silver soldering took about two hours. There was no going anywhere out to search for glass fibre, or get anyone, can you make that component for me. It was like saucepan to shoulder support in two hours without leaving my kitchen.

Beastie is Obree’s new monster, a prone bike, with shoulder supports made from a saucepan. The Beastie is bespoke. Obree will ride horizontal like an arrow within the teardrop and attempt to break the human-powered vehicle (HPV) land speed record.

He will endeavour to reach speeds in excess of 150 kilometres per hour.

So far, Obree has experienced a number of false starts. The last effort to test Beastie at an airport in Britain was hampered by wet weather. A hole was crudely drilled from the front of the teardrop to allow Obree some visibility. Despite setbacks, he remains positive and upbeat.

Days of light and days of darkness. Obree has attempted suicide three times. He has wrestled with demons both physically and mentally. He has suffered seasons of depression and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 2011, he disclosed to the world that he was a homosexual. His coming to terms with his homosexuality another demon in his life.

Obree has two children and is divorced from his wife, Anne.

I hope that Graeme Obree at age 47 (my current age) breaks the HPV record. That he rides into the light. I also dearly hope that he finds true contentment and happiness.

The evocative B&W images by Camille McMillan were sourced from Humans Invent. The main quote was taken from an interview by Humans Invent.

For those that have hit a black dog in the night while riding (and I’m speaking metaphorically, although I myself have physically hit a black dog in the night) should seek help at beyondblue.