The first time the Beastie was tested last year.

Graeme Obree is a true innovator. You only need to look at the Beastie, the bike with which he is attempting to break the human-powered land speed record, to get an understanding of the man’s pioneering spirit. Old Faithful, the bike he rode to twice win the world hour velodrome record in 1993 and 1994, was similarly outlandish.

However, Obree’s capacity to innovate came at a price. Old Faithful was banned amid fears by the governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), that allowing such drastic changes to a bike’s setup would give innovators like Obree an unfair advantage.

With the Tour De France well under way, we met up with Obree to get his views on UCI regulations and the effect this has not just on the sport but on cycling as a whole.

Does the UCI impose too many regulations on professional cycling?

Actually, I don’t think so. Every sport needs to be regulated. If there was no regulation, tennis players would be playing with rackets that are three feet wide and so on.

Isn’t there a danger that bikes will become identical?

Almost every bike is exactly the same now. If you go to a shop and buy a bike it will be the same bike as the rest, just with a different paint job and made by a different manufacturer.

If they changed the rules now people would be badly affected

It is like convergent evolution where cacti that have developed in different parts of the world are almost identical because they operate under the same rules (as imposed by earth). You would think they are closely related species but they aren’t.

The rules set out by the UCI have been the same for at least ten years. The manufacturer goes: here are the rules, let’s build a bike to its maximum potential within those rules. As a result they all look exactly the same and they all perform the same function even though they are built by completely different manufacturers.

What would happen if the UCI relaxed the rules?

If they changed the rules now, everything would have to adapt to a new level and people who have invested into this sport, the newcomers especially, would be badly affected. If the rules change then the goalposts move and everybody’s got to move their equipment which would be bad for the sport.

Were you not frustrated when you made innovations and they got banned?

Yes I was because I was operating within the rules as they stood at the time. They subsequently changed after, and in response to, certain innovations I made. But now the rules are clearly defined, they state clearly that this is what you can and can’t do so it is not an issue and this has bought stability to the sport. Poorer countries can now just go and buy a bike from a manufacturer and compete on pretty much a level playing field. If innovation is happening then they can’t. And if you want to innovate then attempt the IHPVA record.

While I believe it’s good for the sport, it is bad for cycling as a whole

However, while I believe it’s good for the sport, it is bad for cycling as a whole because the industry is driven by what is good for racing bikes. They don’t want a commuter bike that is better than a racing bike. In terms of aerodynamics for example, I believe most bikes should have a fairing of some kind at the front almost like a moped, which would make it 20% more efficient. But that would make it faster than a racing bike.

Another example is regenerative braking on a commuter bike – when you put your brakes on, you get that energy back when you take the brake back off again. Incorporating an innovation like that would make cycling a lot easier for general cyclists but it doesn’t happen because innovation is not allowed at the very highest level.

Manufacturers need to move away from the governing body of the sport and make bikes for people who cycle to work or about the countryside and not in a competitive setting.

Watch the video below to see Obree showing off the Beastie:

For more articles on Graeme Obree please read:

Graeme Obree unveils the finished Beastie

Breathing: The Graeme Obree Way

Graeme Obree tests the Beastie for the first time

Return of the Flying Scotsman: Graeme Obree

Graeme Obree: Hand-building the world’s fastest bicycle

Obree set for land speed record attempt in Britain

Graeme Obree calls for the return of airships

The End
  • Kevin Morice

    Tennis is not the best example as racquet sizes are not limited (or weren’t last time I checked, may have changed since). So you can have a 3ft racquet if you wish, but the physics of swinging it start to catch up with you and you rapidly end up back close to the current standard.

    Also the UCI sport governance isn’t the only limit on bicycle innovation. As many of us use the roads we are also governed by road user legislation; so power systems and regenerative braking start to put us in conflict with the licensing and tax legislations. e.g. When is a power-assisted bike a moped? Similarly farings and the resulting speed effect start to put us regularly into conflict with speed limits etc.

  • megamackie

    It’s not only bad for cycling as a whole, it’s bad for the transportation industry as a whole. Corporate bicycle engineers have settled on the conclusion that bicycles are made to sell, not to ride, and that race imagery sells bicycles. Industry has avoided including hybridized electric bikes in retail product mix. Industry has avoided comfort postures or work-oriented geometries. Even in the recumbent world, we’ve not seen a lot of work toward practical fairings.

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