Steve Jobs, rightly or wrongly, is remembered for completely reinventing his industry multiple times. The Apple 1 was the first home computer (although that was mainly the work of Steve Wozniak), the iPod killed walkmans and the necessity for CD’s (mp3 players already existed. Apple just took it mainstream) and the iPhone and iPad certainly weren’t the first smartphone or tablet, but they were the first smartphone and tablet most regular people had seen.
Not many people can lay claim to reinventing their chosen industry with such regularity, but Graeme Obree certainly can. And unlike Steve Jobs, Graeme Obree’s innovations are entirely his own.
In the 90’s he crashed into a scene where professionals had bikes which cost tens of thousands to make but all looked essentially the same and brought a bike he made himself, christened Old Faithful, using washing machine parts and his obvious skill for aerodynamics.
Against the odds, he broke the 1 hour record but saw the design for Old Faithful, which was designed to make the rider crouch in the same position as a skier, banned by the regulatory bodies on the made up grounds of being too dangerous.
So he went back to the drawing board and came up with old faithful mark 2 with its ‘superman pose’ of having his arms stretched out straight in front of him, promptly breaking the one hour record again, closely followed by seeing that design banned too.
It’s ironic that such a technical genius saw his innovations banned on the grounds that the sport was about physical prowess, not technical know-how, yet a few years later, he passed up the opportunity for big bucks of joining a professional cycling team when it became obvious he’d be expected to dope.
Old Faithful 1 and 2, or partial reconstructions of them at least, are on permanent display at the Glasgow Transport Museum and the story of that time of his life is told in the film, based on his own book, The Flying Scotsman
He’s currently out in Nevada trying to set the human powered land speed record with his latest invention, the Wee Beastie (named by that other national cycling hero, Chris Hoy)
It looks nothing like any bike you’ll have ever seen. The latest news is that he’s more or less accepted that he’s probably not going to manage it this time but based on previous form I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break the record a year or two from now with a more finely honed wee Beastie mark 2.
He’s never followed the received wisdom of doing things a particular way just because that’s how they’ve always been done. And when he finds a better way of doing things, he never asked for permission, he just went and did it. And time and time again, has was proved right.
He stands as a true hero and inspiration.