Another cool video from Nicola, shot during Unipal, the Himalaya’s Unicycle Tour.
Yes, we really do pedal that quickly!
Another cool video from Nicola, shot during Unipal, the Himalaya’s Unicycle Tour.
Yes, we really do pedal that quickly!
The first Saturday of March means only one thing on my calender…The Karapoti Classic! This years edition was looking very fast indeed, with perfect weather and a relatively smooth course.
My weapon of choice was my trusty Triton 29″/125mm. In 2015 I experimented with an ultralight 26″/114mm setup, which was great for the climbs, but felt rather knocked about on the rough, so it was back to the big wheel this year.
– Triton 29″ Sponge Titanium
– Quax 125mm cranks
– KH cromo hub/KH 29″ XC rim
– Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29×2.25
– Wellgo MG1 pedals
– NNC Flatfish carbon seat
– Thompson elite seatpost
We lined up on the the banks of the Akatarawa River, the traditional start line of the Karapoti. Having a unicycle means I can get across before the bikes, which I duly did. My crank choice was shorter than previous years where I used 145mm, and I was unsure whether I’d have the legs to push 125mm. The fears quickly dissipated as I spun my way up Karapoti Gorge, keeping up with my start group.
The biggest bummer was missing my race buddy Tim Armstrong, a local unicyclist from Upper Hutt. He’d done serious damage after coming off his unicycle a couple of months before- and ended up with a forearm held together by external fixation! Normally at this part of the race I’m doing my hardest to get as much time as possible on Tim. He’s a formidable climber, and closes the gap on the way up Deadwood.
Nevertheless, my legs felt good, the cushy 29’er tyre and short cranks were smooth, and I was going as fast as ever. The entries were down this year, so there were fewer riders to get around on the climb up Deadwood. I remembered my *ding ding* bell, which I would ring as I passed people.
“Outta the waaaay!!! CAN’T STOooP!”
I heard a guy scream as he ploughed down the first rocky section after the warm up climb….straight into me! Luckily the unicycle is virtually bomproof, but my left thigh was left bruised and bloodied. It didn’t slow me down but still hurts days later.
After reaching Deadwood it was a nice spin over the rolling section at the top, then a fast dive into the Rock Garden. I was running 38 PSI in my tyre, which is firmer and bouncier than usual. In 2014 I came close to smashing the 2005 unicycle record (and possibly going under the magic 4hr mark), until a pinch flat took forever to fix! Never run 20 PSI at Karapoti.
The Devils Staircase had been bulldozed and graded. I was both gutted and pleased at the same time. The original steep, boggy, fissured slippery slip was an iconic part of the Karapoti. At the same time, I knew I was on track to breaking the Karapoti Record, particularly if I could pick up a few minutes on the Devils Staircase. The climb now resembled Deadwood and Dopers- rideable for many mountainbikers.
Over the top of the Devils Staircase and it was on to Big Ring Boulevard. This is supposedly the fastest part of the course, but on a unicycle it can be tough going- you are dodging rocks and and ruts and generally shaken to bits. This year, it was smooth and the 29″ Racing Ralph stuck like velcro, rolling over everything.
By the time I hit Dopers Hill, I was confident I would break the unicycle record, barring something stupid, like crashing or puncturing. I cramped a little so eased off up the climb.
The last section down the Gorge felt like I was flying- I came close to spinning out my 125’s. As we hit the Akatarawa river again, I was careful not to fall in like I usually do. Just had enough juice to remount and climb up to the finish line. It is always good at the end!
Unfortunately, after checking the final time, I’d done 4hrs14min49secs! Three minutes slower than my 2005 record. I’m still scratching my head where those 3 minutes went- felt like my fastest Karapoti ever.
Oh well, there is always next year.
After getting back from Unicon 17, I realised that I have far more wheels than unicycle frames, and it was time to get a dedicated frame for my 700c standard racer. I had been using my 2008 Triton sponge frame, which is an amazing unicycle frame, but looks rather silly with a sleek racing wheel. It was designed for a 29’er mountainbike wheelset, and had enough clearance to drive a truck through. That notwithstanding, every time I wanted to go out for a ride, I’d be swapping wheels in the frame.
I was originally planning a titanium road frame, but with Dmitry at Triton busy with bicycles over the 3yrs I had been pestering him, I had to find a local alternative. With three titanium unicycles and a Litespeed titanium road bike, you can probably guess I am a big fan of the grey metal. The great thing about titanium is that it is strong, corrosion resistant, doesn’t need painting, and still looks great many years later. It is also hard to work with, which is why there are few ti builders around.
So with a bit of research I came across the new stainless steel tube sets being used on bicycles. Most of the bicycle tube manufacturers are making them, and they are perfect for custom bike frames. As yet, though, I am not aware of any stainless steel unicycles. Stainless steel doesn’t need painting, is light, strong, and, in my opinion, looks even better than titanium….I would be swapping grey metal for the shiny one.
I looked up several frame builders in New Zealand, but settled on Anders Waiker at C3 (crucial custom cycles) in Petone, not far from where I live. It meant I could pop by during the week to sort out any design issues. He makes some beautiful mountainbike frames, so I was keen to work with him.
We decided to use the KVA MS3 tubeset, which has a built in curve for a bicycle chainstay. We thought the s-bend would look pretty cool on a unicycle. It took a few weeks for the tubes to arrive from the US, but here they are:
Now you’d think a unicycle frame is a fairly straight forward thing to build, but once you add in curves it becomes a bit more complicated. Luckily, I could bring in my 700c wheel to slot into the frame to help with measurements, because my framebuilder is local.
We had less clearance than expected, which meant that Anders had to crimp the legs slightly. On the other hand, the s-bend gives heaps of foot clearance, which is vital to anyone who races standard class. You want your feet as close to the frame as possible to maintain a high cadence, but you don’t want your feet hitting the frame either. An added bonus of bicycle tubing is you get the special things they do to bicycle tubes, such as double butting. These tubes are superlight!
Anders fillet brazed the frame, giving it a smooth seamless appearance. Check out the seat-tube and fork leg interface:
The fork was completed with a mirror finish (it took Anders 3 days to polish it!), and sent off for painting. Unfortunately the painter had undergone hand surgery, so it took a couple of months to get it back. Anders topped the frame off with a very nice Thompson seat clamp.
The complete specs are:
Nimbus Eclipse hub
Wheelsmith SS spokes
Mavic Open Pro rim
Schwalbe Kojak 700x35c folding tyre
Nimbus Venture 89mm cranks
Welgo M111 pedals
Kris Holm seat post
NNC Flatfish saddle
Total weight is 3.410kg with the above specs. I did some swapping of components (75mm nimbus cranks and 700x23c Rubino Pros), and swapping seats (my other Flatfish saddle uses lighter foam), which brought it down to 3.133kg. Not far off a sub-3kg unicycle, which should be achievable with a few component tweaks.
So how does it ride? Unlike a bike, the frame has less influence of the ride than the wheel itself. The main requirements are stiffness, particularly on climbing and cornering, adequate clearance, and lightweight.
I’m pleased to report the C3 stainless racer performs well on all three counts. I jammed it up the steepest hill I could find, which would normally flex any unicycle frame. Despite trying my hardest, there was no rub at all, even with the small clearance between the spokes and the frame. It corners like a dream, tracking exactly where I point it, even when driving hard into a turn.
The s-bend stiffens the frame and gives oodles of room to get my feet close to the midline without rub. Not a big deal for most riders, but for anyone spinning over 160rpm, the last thing you want is to hit the frame with your foot. Weight-wise, the frame is comparable to the Tritons at a shade over 600g. Although the butted stainless steel tubes are lighter than titanium, the bearing holders on the Tritons are quite unique. As a result, the C3 frame is weighted toward the bearing holders, which gives it a lower centre of gravity- not a bad thing.
Although I built the unicycle as a racing uni, most of the time…it won’t be. That means no excuse for wearing lycra either! Baggy shorts are not a good combination with unicycle frames, they tend to snag on the fork crown. With the s-bend C-3 racer, I can ride my unicycle any time, anywhere, and not worry about ripping my shorts to bits.
Oh yeah, did I mention it looks cool?
I flew down to Christchurch on Labour Weekend to meet up with Anna, who had been busy performing puppet shows in Christchurch. She had been telling me about the Alps 2 Ocean trail for the best part of the year, so we finally decided to do it together during her South Island Tour.
The new 300km trail is part of the NZ cycleway, and takes you from Mt Cook Village to east coast of the South Island. We were also going to visit Anna’s nana, who lives in Twizel, in the middle of the A2O trail. Our plan was to complete the first half from Mt Cook Village to Omarama.
It was the first time I’d been to Christchurch since the earthquakes, so after Anna picked me up from the airport we went to the city centre to have a look around. We walked through the square, gazing at the ruins and new construction. The last time I was at Cathedral Square was on our 2007 South Island Unicycle Tour, so it was quite sad to see so many buildings demolished or damaged by the quake.
We had lunch at the new mall next the square, which was built out of shipping containers. After a quick stop to pick up riding supplies at the Cookie Time factory, we set off on the picturesque drive to Twizel.
We arrived at Nanas house but she was out playing golf, so we were greeted by her Great Uncle Alec who had driven down in his camper van from Tauranga. Anna showed me her childhood hangouts in Twizel, then we picked up fish and chips to fuel up for tomorrows ride.
“We’re doing what?!!!” Anna had slightly mistaken the geography of the area. Instead of a comfortable 60km ride she’d planned for our first day, it would be a 74km ride to Lake Tekapo, followed by a 94km ride to Lake Ohau the next day. We were starting on the regular A2O ride, but cutting across to the alternate start at Lake Tekapo.
“…but I thought Tekapo was along the way!”
Luckily having Twizel on the trip route meant we could start in Mt Cook Village and finish at Nana’s place later that day. It would still be a challenging ride, as we would be completing two sections in one day.
Uncle Alec drove us in his campervan to the start of the A2O trail at Mt Cook Village. From there the track starts off fast and flowy, a scenic 8km trail to Mt Cook Airport. This was more helicopter landing pad than airport, as the chopper is the only way across the river unless you fancy an icy dip. The all too brief 2 minute ride gave amazing views of the mountains and river below. It dropped us off at Tasman Point, before ferrying other passengers to the glacier.
From there we cycled toward Lake Pukaki, following the Tasman River, and had lunch of peanut butter sandwiches along the riverbank. Once we hit Lake Pukaki the track turned into a gravel road, with the Southern Alps seeming to rise above it. The lake is an amazing shade of blue, photos don’t do it justice!
Half way down the lake we stopped at Braemar Station to fill up our drinkbottles, much to the bemusement of the farmer and his son. It was getting really hot so we considered cooling off in the lake. Although it was a warm day the lake was anything but! After dipping our toes into the glacier fed waters we decided a swim was not on the cards.
By the time we arrived on the final stretch to Twizel, the sun was setting. Anna was getting tired so we finished our ride at the dam. Anna’s Nana picked us up and drove us back to Twizel to stay the night.
The next day we got up bright and early and started back at the Pukaki dam. The first part of the track meandered through dry grasslands typical of the MacKenzie Basin landscape, the ‘Pukaki flats’. It took us back to Twizel but we bypassed the town by taking the alternate ‘flood’ route. Anna wanted to show me Lake Ruataniwha, where she had spent many childhood holidays. It is an artificial lake created by another massive dam; part of the Waitaki Hydroelectric project of the late 1970’s.
There was a Salmon farm by the dam. We stopped to have Salmon Pie, Salmon Chowder, and then fed the fish which would one day become someone else’s lunch.
The gravel road after that was incredibly rough and it was a struggle for Anna, who kept bouncing off the rocks. It was getting very late by the time we reached the Lake Ohau Weir. The wind was starting to howl, but the fast flowy track and amazing scenery of Lake Ohau made it worthwhile. At the end of the track we were picked up by Tony, a retired farmer from Buscot Station who now runs their backpacker accommodation. He entertained us with tales of farming in this region and the challenges they faced. We watched him feed baby lamb and then cooked up pasta for tea.
It was a drizzly morning but Tony dropped us off at Lake Ohau lodge, where we warmed up by the fire, hoping for the weather to clear. A couple of mountainbikers had decided to cancel their ride because of snow at the top of the ridge, but we had to get going regardless. Luckily it wasn’t as bad as we thought. Our ride started with a gentle 10km climb, but the drizzle had simply turned into mist. The landscape was quite different to the day before, with a light dusting of snow on the mountains. The track summit was just at the snowline. Anna copped a couple of snowballs as she arrived at the top.
The 18km descent took us to Quailburn Road. The gravel road then takes you through farmland for another 35km…before a turn off to the ‘Clay Cliffs’. We decided not to take the detour as it was getting late….maybe next time! The ride finished with a short singletrack to Omarama. Nana picked us up again and drove us back to Twizel, having completed the first four sections of the Alps to Ocean trail.
What is the best thing about November? Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge of course! This is New Zealands biggest cycling event, with close to 10,000 people taking part every year. I remember my first in 2003, and if memory serves me right, I have only ever missed one LTCC since then, which would make 2015 my 12th LTCC, and the 10th on a unicycle (I have ridden the two-lap 320km enduro twice, on a bike). The best thing about Taupo is atmosphere- with so many people out there riding and enjoying the views around the Lake, there is always someone to chat to.
My partner Anna was doing her 2nd LTCC, but this time she would be doing the 80km solo challenge. Last year she had ridden the first 2 legs of last years LTCC as part of a relay team, but this was the first time the LTCC organisers have had a 80km category, comprising the second half of the circuit. She was super excited about being able to cross the finish line,especially with another year of riding experience. Her friend Martha was visiting from Italy and also doing the 80km challenge on a mountainbike.
We arrived in Taupo on Friday a bit later than expected, but thankfully still in time to get registered and drop the bike off (it has to be placed on a truck to be taken to the 80km start). Anna would carry her unicycle onto the bus in the morning- the advantage of a compact unicycle. We were staying at Warren Ellery’s place- Taupo unicyclist and upholsteror extraordinaire.. Anna was drooling over Warrens collection of sewing machines. Unfortunately he was away this weekend, but generously donated the use of his house for our LTCC base.
After stocking up on some last minute supplies, Anna and Martha cooked up pasta to load up with carbs, whilst I settled for meat pies (hey- you can eat anything you like if you’re going to ride 160km the next day!).
We got up early to get Anna and Martha to the start line. Chocolate nutty porridge for breakfast is a perfect way to fuel up!
No 6am start like last year- Anna and Martha would be bused to the the 80km transition to ride from there. I dropped them off then came back to set up my unicycle. This would be the first time in many years that I had gone back to the 36″ ungeared unicycle- the original wheel I set my 2004 record on.
The setup was:
KH 36 Frame
36″ Airfoil rim laced to UDC hub
Wheel TA tyre (an oldie but a goodie!)
Regular 36″ tube
Wellgo MG1 pedals
Flatfish saddle with KH T-Bar
114mm quax cranks
It was nice to be on a solid, ungeared 36″ again, although I had originally planned to build a lighter 36″ using updated components. Unfortunately there is a limited supply of 36″ rims in the country so it will have to wait till next year!
Anna was riding her 26″/110mm unicycle with very large Maxxis Hookworm tyre- one of my favourites. She hadn’t had any experience on bigger wheels so elected to take her trusty 26″.
I got to the start line to line up with the Group 8’s (7-8.30hr groups) for the 9am start. It was a smaller field than I expected- which I put down to the earlier start for slower group 9s (6am), which allows them plenty of time to arrive at the finish line.
I set off down the hill in light drizzle. It’s a familiar start and something I always look forward to, because after a short downhill, it is a long climb with a slope perfect for a unicycle. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I’d passed all the riders in my start group. We yo-yo’ed back and forth for the next 160km with riders passing me on the downhills and me catching them on the climbs. My legs felt good but I don’t do humidity well- it was drizzling but also very warm. I managed to keep a 20km/hr average, so on track for an 8hr round taupo.
The rain cleared and it was a beautiful day. The supporters were out in force, with lots of people on the side of the roads cheering people on. By the time I hit the 80km mark, I knew Anna and Martha would have gotten off to a good start. I had several almond gold slabs to munch on, but I was wishing I had brought a few more savoury snacks. I got over Kuratau Hill- one of my favourite climbs, and it was mostly downhill from there.
According to my calculations- if Anna was doing struggling I would catch her as we rounded the lake, or after Hatepe Hill if she was doing great! In fact, I didn’t see her at all as I made the final turn into Taupo. At that point I bonked and had to down 3 almond slabs in succession, just to get through the final 10km.
I rolled into Taupo in 8hrs 11min 21s, quite a bit slower than my 2004 record, but still respectable (I did 8hrs 20min in 2003). Anna had gone under 7hrs, with a time of 6hrs 58min 15s. An astounding effort, considering she rode a 26″/110mm unicycle a whole 80km! Martha finished in just over 5hrs, wishing she had done the full 160km race.
It was a great weekend of riding and we are looking forward to next years (40th anniversary) event!
Congratulations to Sam Wakeling (UK), we have a new 100 mile world record!
Sam unicycled 100 miles in 6hrs 18min 13s at the Croft Circuit race track, in Darlington, UK. The previous record of 6hrs 44min 22s was set in 1987 by Takayuki Koike (Japan).
Sam rode a geared Schlumpf 36″ Unicycle with 145mm cranks.
Roger Davies was making a simultaneous 100 mile record attempt at the same circuit, on an ungeared 36″ unicycle. Unfortunately, after being ahead of the previous record mark, Roger had to abandon his attempt. Hopefully we’ll see another ungeared record attempt from Roger in future!
Please support their charity, Water Aid. They have raised over £500 so far.
The 100 mile record has stood for over a quarter century, and is one of the toughest records in unicycling. It has had several attempts on it since Takayuki Koike (Japan) set the record in 1987, and still stands at 6hrs44min22s.
On the 9 July, Sam Wakeling and Roger Davies will be attempting the world record. Sam will be riding a geared 36″, while Roger will be attempting the record on an ungeared 36″.
Check out their website for updates: http://100.samwakeling.com/
And the RSU discussion
Good luck guys!
One of the nicest things you can do in Perth, Western Australia is to visit Rottnest Island, which lies 20km west of Freemantle.
It is several years since I had ridden there, so my mum and I decided to take a trip out to the pretty island with its beautiful beaches, quiet roads, and interesting wildlife. We caught the Rottnest Express, which takes 30min to get across to the island. Mum had a hire bike, which you can pick up as you leave the ferry, while I brought along my trusty 29″ touring unicycle.
The island has a couple of road loops, so after a picnic breakfast we took off on a clockwise circuit. The first stop was at Kingstown Barracks, where troops were stationed during WWII, to keep watch over the Freemantle coastline. There are some old army bunkers and a railway supply line that had long been abandoned.
We followed the coast all the way to the Westernmost point of the Island, Cape Vlamingh. By that time we were starving so had our lunch on top of a cliff.
On the way back, we saw some ‘Quokka’s’, which is a native marsupial that looks like a giant rat. They come right up to you looking for food!
We went past the lighthouse which is a nice little climb, and afforded amazing views across the whole island.
Further along, we stopped at the Oliver Hill lookout, which is home to some very big cannons from WWII. I wonder how far my uni can be propelled with one of these:
Finally we headed past the serpentine lake, and back to the settlement where we finished our ride with ice-cream!
It’s a perfect day trip, 37km in all, which will vary depending on which route you take and how much backtracking you do. There are several off-road tracks to explore, so bring your 29’er/Muni along. There are multiple ferry sailings during the day, but allow ~5hrs to ride, lay on the beach, go for a swim, and have a picnic!
Here is the link to our full album