It's with considerable interest that Gizmag has followed cyclist Graeme Obree's latest quest to break the human-powered speed record on his self-designed and self-built bicycle, Beastie. On Friday at the World Human Speed Championships at Battle Mountain, Nevada, Obree finally made the attempt. Though he fell short of that ultimate record, he did break the world prone record (for cycling head first, face down) with an impressive speed of 56.62 mph (91 km/h). Yet the overall speed record was broken during the event, by a team from the Delft University of Technology and VU University Amsterdam.
Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, Obree revealed that the record fell after a number of incremental improvements from the 47 mph he achieved at the beginning of the week. "The timekeeper announced it is a new official world record, and that's a strange feeling," he said. "I've not heard that for 20 years." That was when Obree set the one-hour cycle distance world record on another bike he designed and built himself, Old Faithful.
Listening to the interview, it sounds as if Obree is reconsidering whether a prone bike can compete with the speed of recumbents, an idea he borrowed from the way skydivers dive.
He may have been partially convinced by the efforts of cyclist Sebastian Bowler and his team from Delft and Amsterdam, which managed to add 0.6 km/h to the existing human-powered speed record with a new and formidable pinnacle of 133.78 km/h (83 mph). Technically this is for a single rider in the 200 m flying-start category, but as the shortest distance of those contested, this tends to be the fastest category at Battle Mountain.
The Delft team had its own technical problems to overcome during the course of the week, finding that the high speeds achieved deformed the outer shell, compromising its aerodynamics. The team was able to fix the problem, and went on to break the record, set in 2009 by Canadian cyclist Sam Wittingham.
Though Graeme Obree's own achievement fell short of the 100 mph barrier he'd hoped to break, he sounds satisfied to hold the prone speed record. Yet Obree remains convinced that 100 mph is achievable. "I do still believe 160 km/h [or] 100mph is possible in the next 20 years with the developments I've seen here this week," he tells Cycling Weekly. "There is absolute cutting-edge technology here and brilliant, friendly people."