When I first heard about Chris Robin’s Obree Bike it was just a balsa wood core. Aside from the wheels, it didn’t look much like a bicycle at all — probably kinda like how Obree’s original bike appeared when he first introduced it to the international stage at the 1993 World Championships.
Chris Robin’s Paragon was built at home taking heed to the same innovative ideas that Obree had put into his Old Faithful (also a homebrew bike). So while most people I know would never have thought to construct a frame out of balsa wood, I’m sure that twenty years ago a lot of people would never have thought to turn a washing machine into a bottom bracket. Could this be the bike that Obree would have built if he were competing today?
I’ve recently had the pleasure of chatting with Chris Robin about his experience creating this bike…
RTBL: This bike has taken almost a year to build. We all know who inspired the design but what exactly motivated you to take on this project?
CHR: My Father showed me a picture of Obree when he broke The Hour Record in 1993. I was 14 years old and pretty much into BMX and MTB. at the time. When I saw that picture it just blew my mind. It wasn’t like anything I have ever seen before and ever since that day I have always wanted to ride a bike like Obree’s Old Faithful. And because you can’t buy one off the shelf I had to build one.
RTBL: Your bike looks pretty faithful to the concept of Old Faithful yet with some obvious differences. Granted it’s not a replica bike — but why did you make the choices you made (i.e. why balsa wood)?
CHR: No you’re right, It’s not a replica. I wanted to do my own version of an Obree bike but I also wanted to stay true to the original in some parts. Like the Specialized tri spoke wheels and the Rolls saddle and the super slim bottom bracket (40mm and a q-factor of 84mm). Otherwise I wanted to have a more slick aero feel to it, like the GT Super Bike. Not just for the looks but also to improve the aerodynamics compared to the original. Then the limitation of my small workshop and wallet did the rest. For example the balsa wood is pretty easy to come by and it comes in really nice flat board. And I could just use all my wood working tools to get the shape going. It was almost like building a wooden sculpture. Really fun and creative.
RTBL: What was the most difficult part of the construction?
CHR: Probably the fork with the integrated stem and handlebar. It was a nightmare getting all the angles right and then getting the glide bearings to work.
RTBL: What was the most rewarding?
CHR: Riding the bike along the black line at the track in 45km/h. Probably the biggest bicycle experience since I first learned to ride one.
RTBL: How does it ride? Are the results what you expected?
CHR: It rides really good. Really really good. The track I’m riding is a very short and steep one, 190m with 52° banking. I read in Obree’s book The Flying Scotsman about a race he did on a velodrome in Geneva which was 160m and 52° banking. He described that he had a good advantage against the other riders because his position let him go faster in the steep and narrow curves. He describes it like he could “hang on the gear” better than the other riders. I wanted to take that further by having a really steep steering angle (80.5°) to avoid the bike from wanting to “climb”. More or less everyone thought this was a bad idea. People calculated that it would wobble and so on. But the thing that happens is that when I get into position and lay the weight on the handlebar the bike just goes like a train. And when I’m in the bend the G-force pushes me harder against the handlebar witch makes it even more stead so instead of wanting to climb the bike flows round the black line amazingly natural.
RTBL: You dropped a teaser video from the Falun Velodrome a couple weeks ago. Have you attempted riding The Hour yet? Are we going to be able to see more of that soon?
CHR: I have not made an attempt on The Hour yet, but I can promise that you will be seeing more velodrome action very soon.
RTBL: After spending so much time and energy on this project, does everyone think you’re crazy now? Any regrets?
CHR: Most people think I’m nuts. But I have gotten so much support from so many people throughout the project and it is thanks to them the bike is finally ready. The only regret I have is that I should have done this earlier.
Frame: Carbon fibre with balsa wood core. Integrated saddle (San Marco Roll´s model) and seat post. 70mm spacing between dropouts
Fork/ Handlebar: Carbon fibre mono fork with integrated stem and handlebar.
Handlebar width 30cm (at the widest)
Headset: Nylon glide bearings 24mm wide
Front wheel: Specialized tri spoke with modified hub
Rear wheel: Specialized tri spoke with cassette tread, the cog is mounted backwards to get the chain line as narrow as possible. No lockring needed.
Bottom bracket: Shimano Tiagra customized to 40mm width
Crank arms: Shimano Tiagra 170mm reshaped for a narrower q-factor
Pedals: Integrated pedal axel on Shimano shoes
Chainring: Custom made alloy 50t
Chainring bolts: Dia comp alloy
Cog Shimano Dura ace 13t 1 1/8 (now I have a 12t)
Chain: Izumi NJS 1 1/8
Tires: Dugast pink silk latex pista
To stay tuned with updates on Chris Robin’s Paragon, follow this thread on Fixed Gear SE.