i have to admit to being in the fortunate position of frequently being sent review copies of cycling books, sometimes from publishers who seem less than interested in what is subsequently written by way of review regarding these selfsame books. however, the extrremely nice people at birlinn publishing not only sent me a copy of 'the flying scotsman' by graeme obree, but they had it autographed by the man himself. this i take as a great honour, considering it was graeme who, albeit inadvertantly, gave the name to this very website, and previously the fortnightly column in the ileach. if you ever have cause to look up the archive of the post, you will see that i have been doing this for quite a number of years, and now have the chance to review the autobiography of the man who started it all.
i still have, labelled and stored in a corner of the video bookcase, a vhs a tape of footage from eurosport of graeme winning the 4,000 metre pursuit world championship in 1993, and was rather distraught, as were many scots and followers of 'l'incroyable mister obree', that things never quite seemed to go quite right after that. with the banning of the infamous'tuck' position by the uci to the adoption of the 'superman' position, used to great effect by arch-rival, chris boardman in both the hour record attempt and pursuit championship of later years, graeme's subsequent performances were less than consistent.
at the time, that's just what it all appeared to be. a scottish upstart in the sport of cycling, who had seriously upset the apple cart by appearing as if from nowhere, taking the hour record on a bike crafted, in part, from washing machine bits, then following this up with superior performance in track pursuiting before hitting a downward spiral, apparently back to where he came from.
i met graeme years ago when he owned 'the bike box' at prestwick toll (i lived in prestwick for about twenty-one years and my parents are still living there). he was very personable, friendly and not at all aloof, even trying to find a way that we could both purchase bikes from caratti sport and save on carriage (if you bought more than four bikes, the delivery was carriage free, but oft-times, i had no need of more than four bikes on a cycling agnostic island such as islay). graeme eventually sold the bike box and moved back to irvine, and i lost touch.
there was a notional opportunity to meet again a few years back when graeme opened the sustrans route from claonaig, on the kintyre peninsula, to campbeltown. he was to arrive via arran, and myself and a colleague were to meet him at claonaig and cycle to campbeltown. due to ferry times and schedule changes, only the other chap managed the pedal with graeme, (it was a grotty day anyway) though i do have photos.
with the release of this book, the flying scotsman, all has become clear, though not at all cause for cheer for all that. if you read this book - and i strongly suggest that you do, whether you are the least bit interested in cycling or not - you will discover that all in the obree success story has been considerably less than joyful.
there are parts of this book that will make you want to cry. the old cliche of 'man's inhumanity to man' is anything but a cliche in this instance. graeme's initial interest in cycling was as a way out of the turmoil, and bullying that he and his brother suffered during their early childhood, having committed the cardinal sins of being the offspring of a policeman and 'incomers' to boot (quite literally in many cases). the option of the bicycle meant that graeme could reach the far end of the village, and relative freedom, without being subject to taunts and fists that usually accompanied walking.
this interest led to joining a cycling club where like minded friends and the fact that he was rather good at it, offered a way to grow and improve. it also became a way to self justification. winning became a way of justifying the sorry existence and worthlessness that he felt. it was this self justification that pushed him to not only the world hour record attempt, but to go again within twenty-four hours at hamar stadium when he failed to break the record the first time, something almost unheard of in cycling due to the necessity for recovery after such strenuous effort. try cycling at over 30mph at all, let alone round a wooden track for an hour.
things were on the way up, and having had numerous outings against chris boardman by way of national time-trials in the uk, graeme then came up against boardman in the 1993 world pursuit championship. the rest, as they say, is history. unfortunately obree's state of mind was not as positive as his cycling success, and he lapsed into periods of severe depression which would often leave him contemplating suicide, something he had tried as a child, and something that he attempted again not all that many years ago, when he tried to hang himself in a stable near his home. he remembers nothing of the moment. ironically it seems likely that his exaggerated lung capacity, achieved through cycling, was the factor that prevented him dying at that time.
it was during a following period of rehabilitation in hospital that he wrote this book. it is a very honest account of a life filled with incredible highs and desperate lows, but written in a very matter of fact manner that must have required great courage, since many incidents show graeme in a less than ideal light.
graeme says, in an interview in cycling weekly, that he found the writing of the book to be very therapeutic, and his recent appearance at the world masters' track championships in manchester (riding several demonstration laps on 'old faithful - the washing machine bike in the old, and outlawed 'tuck' style) showed that he has lost none of the fan club that he has probably always had. as an added bonus, the foreword to the book is by francesco moser, holder of the hour record that graeme beat in 1993.
if ever anyone deserved all the success in the world, it is graeme obree. lesser humans would have caved in a long time ago. the book is available in paperback at a mere £9.99 and is published by birlinn publishing of edinburgh. if you've read thewashingmachinepost at all over the past years think of it as a way of giving something back to the man who must take full credit for the post's existence, and buy and read a copy of this book. you will never regret it.
this whole website got its name because scotland's graeme obree built his championship winning 'old faithful' using bits from a defunct washing machine.
on a slightly different note, my regular reader will have noted the addition of a 'colnago c40' rollover to the left. this contains a reprint of a recent article featured in cycle sport magazine, which they were very kind to let me present here (because i'm a colnago geek) i have also found an excellent review of the colnago c40hp here
i have been asked to add the following link to the post by wheelygoodcause. they're a cycling club dedicated to arranging epic rides for charity and do not charge charities for the pleasure. They ride because they want to. here's the link.
Remember, you can still read the review of 'the dancing chain' the utterly excellent book on the history of the derailleur bicycle by clicking here
any of the books reviewed on the washing machine post can probably be purchased from amazon.co.uk or amazon.com
as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.
this column almost never appears in the dead tree version of the ileach but appears, regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.
on a completely unrelated topic, ie nothing to do with bicycles, every aspect of the washing machine post was created on apple macintosh powerbook g4, and imac computers, using adobe golive 6 and adobe photoshop 7. needless to say it is also best viewed on an apple macintosh computer.