A truly inspiring Flying Scotsman

Graeme ObreeEven if some weeks have passed, here are my thoughts on Graeme Obree’s talk in Stirling. I was intrigued what he was like, excited to see the real Graeme Obree live in front of me (after watching The Flying Scotsman for a few times already). I wasn’t disappointed, not a single moment. The more he talked, the more I could find myself in the things he was talking about, so while typing a few bullet points into my iPhone, as Owen was using the old-fashioned notepad next to me, I came up with the idea to post some stuff here.

There are quite a few similarities between Graeme and me, although several world records, fame and the accent set us apart, but not too much else. And I haven’t quite mastered building bikes out of washing machine parts and inventing the superman position, but then I have 14 years to catch up. Watch this space in the meantime, and best of luck to Graeme with his new project. There was something magic in Obree’s talk, and the more the evening went on, the more he revealed of it. Here are the tips I took with me while I was finding an almost scary similarity between the two us us.

Don’t just train harder, train cleverer. True. Indeed very true.

You can’t actually judge if you are able to do something until you’ve done it. Even truer. And I think I don’t need to mention any of my rides that were, and still are, generally perceived as crazy. I have only bailed once, and that still kicks me, as I don’t know if I would have made it. But I would have never believed that I can cycle 445km on a singlespeed bike with full equipment, until I stopped with a big smile on the Zeebrugge ferry and knew that it was possible. You can stretch that endless, just doing things has magic in it.

Use positive thinking. I totally agree. Negative thinking doesn’t get you anywhere. I think both Graeme and me demonstrated quite impressively where positive thinking can get you. I gives you great memories and strength, negative thinking breaks you.

Graeme’s preparation for winning world titles was done on Ayrshire roads, on lovely dual carriageways. Another thing we have in common. I don’t train in Ayrshire, but the Central Belt is no better, and I don’t mind racing cars on dual carriageways, shall I absolutely need to use them (carriageways). Lesson: Forget posh turbo trainers, get a simple bike and ride, no matter how bad the infrastructure is. And even if you have a shit day, try to spin it around and see the positive side of things. It might rain a lot in Scotland, it might be windy, but would you ever get that sense of achievement if only riding when the sun is out? No.

Just do it! Don’t think about it, do it. Spontaneous decisions are the best. If you need to eat, follow your human instincts, forget about all your fancy gels. Eat fresh, eat healthy (being a vegetarian makes you no better or worse rider though). Graeme made it clear he hates any drugs, hence is disaffection with the Tour de France. Same for me. Marmite sandwiches get you a long way, I agree.

When he talked about crossroads, I had to think about the little note my brother posted on his front door. If you have two options, choose the difficult one. Once again Obree was talking about that, and I couldn’t agree more. There will never be a straight way ahead, simply forget about that. And again, if there would be, it would be boring.

Everything must have extremes, and it’s up to any individual to find the right point within low and high. I couldn’t agree more. I like Graeme’s radical approach to rethink ergonomics on the bike, but also to shed conventions that are forced upon us just because people are reluctant to change. He explained how he managed to figure out his superman position, by starting at the most extreme angle and then gradually working to find the ideal position by adjusting constantly. And his approach to competitors was genius. By showing your competitors at an early stage what you are trying to do, you actually gain advantage. If they still winge afterwards that your innovation has set them apart and made you win, tell them they are dumb. They could have copied you, if only they would have believed in innovation from an early stage.

And yes, the lovely Tour De France question, and why he never got it. He couldn’t watch the finish of the 1996 Tour because he never got it. Fair enough, but it was highly surprising that the talk was followed by a documentary about the Tour. Bad programming choice from the venue which put it on. Yes, it might be billed as the greatest cycle race in the world, but I can fully understand how an honest boy from the West Coast of Scotland gets totally fed up with the circus spinning around the race, with all its good and bad things attached to it.

The point where I agree most with him, is his take on cycling, mainly now a middle class sport in the UK. A lot of things have gone wrong here, otherwise we wouldn’t have the discussions about cycling we have at the moment. With cycling becoming as or even more expensive as horse racing as competitive sport, we should really ask ourselves if that is anyhow beneficial. Maybe the number of UK successes on the world stage speaks a different language, but cycling had declined in a shocking way in the UK, but is possibly on the way up again. Graeme’s opinion on that was clear, and so is mine, there is a reason why I am enjoying my singlespeed riding so much. I liked his idea of competition on £300 bikes, which would even give the poorest of kids a chance to get into the sport. I will bear that in mind every time I pass ignorant roadies (most of them are nice) on their expensive kits with a singlespeed, and I simply cannot hide my satisfaction. Passion makes you a good rider, not an expensive bike (it makes you look even more ridiculous if you can’t properly ride it). A few people should learn that lesson, including the UCI.

Being there, some negativity is good. There is possibly nothing better than challenge someone who says you can’t. Proving them wrong makes you a better cyclist, both of us have done that a few times. He broke the world record, I proved all critics wrong that doubted that cycling in Winter is a good way of transport.

If you don’t believe you can do it, you won’t do it. If you believe in it, just have a go, things will work out eventually. With confidence and vision you can go a long way, I totally agree on this one as well. I also share his belief that everyone is good at something. Some people find out at a very young age, some take a bit longer. Listing to Obree, he was just lucky to discover what he was good at at an early age, while some people search for a long time. Again I could find myself in his words, the same applies to me, but I took more time to find out. I also share his belief to do as much as you can , until you find out what is best for you. Maybe that explains my desire to change jobs, locations etc. quite frequently, although I am actually at a point to say that I have found my passion, which is a wonderful thing to realise. And maybe that’s a great last point to end here, looking back to a great and utmost inspiring talk. Thank you Graeme, I have enough inspiration and drive to think about doing some more public speaking soon.