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Vietnam to Cambodia by Unicycle- OXFAM Cycle Challenge 2004

This was what kicked off my interest in Unicycle Touring, and inspired this website.  Back in 2003, I heard about a charity challenge being put together by OXFAM.  A group of bicyclists (and one unicyclist!) spent a year fundraising for OXFAM in Cambodia.  We cycled from Saigon to Siem Reap, having a lot of fun visiting our sponsored OXFAM project along the way.


James Anderson Unicycling in Mongolia

Here is a pretty neat video of James Anderson, a NZ Unicyclist currently teaching in Mongolia, riding unicycle trials in Ulaan Bator.

Those of us who came on the Monguni Tour will be familiar with the setting!

Unicon 17: The 17th Unicycle World Championships and Convention

KenI’ve just returned from Montreal, Canada after competing at the 17th Unicycle World Championships and Convention, or Unicon.  This is the biggest event in unicycling, with over 1100 competitors from 34 countries taking part in the 2 yearly event.  We had a small team from New Zealand, with myself competing in the distance racing events.

It was a fairly successful Unicon.  The standard has improved every year since I attended my first one in Tokyo 2004 (Unicon 12), and since my marathon world title in Switzerland 2006.  It is good to be competitive 10yrs after your first one.

I decided to race standard class (with limits on wheelsize and gearing), to try a new challenge and to get back to the basics of why I enjoy unicycling.  Since  2004, we have seen the emergence of everything from geared hubs to disc brakes and handlebars.  It is getting ridiculous having to lug a heavy 36″ geared unicycle to the other side the world…I got into unicycling because of the elegance and simplicity.  A bike is faster, weighs less, and has ten times as many gear ratios, so I have no reason to ride a clunky geared unicycle for pleasure.

My first serious race was the 10km standard (24″ wheel, 125mm cranks).  This was run as a criterium next to the Olympic Park in Montreal.  The 10km standard is fast and furious with top riders revving their unicycles to well over 180rpm.  I had a slow start, but gradually crept up the field to sit behind two French brothers (Adrien and Jerome Caire), and two lead riders (Noah Leber and Christoph Hartmann) well ahead.  It was a fun tactical race with me drafting the riders trying to figure out how I’m going to win the race for third.  I rolled out of the final corner first, but it came down to a sprint to the line with Adrien Caire edging ahead for third place.  So a fourth place finish but an age group gold medal (30-39yrs) for my ever first standard race, and under the 30min mark with a time of 29min 24s.

The next big race for me was the cross country, but with a course set up more for downhill riders, I was happy to pace other riders for a mid-field finish.  A bit of a disappointment as most riders ended up walking 30-40% of the course.  The setting at Mt Tremblant was amazing though- it’s a ski village about 2hrs drive from Montreal.  I enjoyed the views and the delicious ice-creams instead.

What the cross-country lacked was made up entirely by the Cyclocross race.  It was set in the park next to the track racing, which meant lots of bumpy grass, a couple of short sharp climbs and some stairs to content with.   The coolest thing is the twirly whirly spiral at the centre of the course- it took several laps to nail it smoothly.  The Le Mans style start was fun, but again I had a slow start with at least 10 riders ahead on the first lap.  I gradually picked them off one by one, until I was sure I was in third place, chasing Czech rider Jakub Rulf, but crossed the line only to find another rider (Johannes Gabbert) had finished 2secs ahead…if only I’d known!  So another fourth placing but good enough for another age group (30-39yrs) gold.

The last and final race for me was the Marathon standard (700c wheel).  A last minute course change meant the race was shifted from the city to the Formula 1 race track on Île Notre-Dame, a man-made island on the St Lawrence  river in Montreal.  As you can imagine, this made for very fast racing with an almost entirely flat course and sweeping corners.  Although hills are more my thing, I was thrilled with this 4.3km course.

The start went a little bit better this time, I was in the lead group off the line.  The great thing with standard racing is that girls are almost competitive with guys, particularly on flat courses, because it comes down to cadence.  It doesn’t matter what gender you are, so long as you can pedal fast!  And that’s what we found, with one of the Japanese girls riding 65mm cranks opening up a gap with another Japanese girl, a German rider (Rolf Leonhardt) and myself in the chase group.  We caught her after three laps, and then settled into a good rhythm.  I was losing a lot of time on the corners, so I focused on cutting a good line through each turn.  By the 7th lap, I noticed Rolf had slowed, so I attacked and immediately opened up a gap.  Unfortunately the only thing I succeeded in doing was drop the Japanese (Asahi and Nanami Takada), with Rolf chasing back onto my wheel.  By the final lap I knew I was in trouble, as Rolf can sprint very well (he races track).  We rounded the last corner with Rolf gapping me, a little early and I caught him a few hundred metres from the line, but he went again and won the Marathon championship title by fraction of a second!  So a silver medal for me and yet another age group (30-39) gold.

It was one of my favourite Unicons, and I enjoyed seeing Montreal with my mum who came as support crew!  We ended up buying a few too many bottles of Maple syrup so feel free to drop by my place for waffles and pancakes if you’re in town.

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Good luck to Team NZUNI at next months UNICON. Here is a sneak preview at their team shirt!



Good work Sam!

Unipal 2015: The Nepal Himalayas Unitour

Ken Looi unicycles in Nepals Annapurna circuit 2002

Announcing…the long awaited Himalayas Unicycle Tour.  Open to anyone who can ride off road on a unicycle.

Nepal is home to 8 of the worlds 14 mountains over 8000m, so what better place for our next AU/Grasshopper tour than the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal?

Dates: 6 April to 17 April 2015 (with optional 4 day extension to 21 April 2015)

Cost: US $1640 (+US$400 for optional 4 day extension)

Closes: 31 August 2014

For more info…go to the Unipal page on AU.

This is a proper off-road trek, but check out our last trip to the Himalayas in 2009 (West Bengal):

Karapoti 2014

You know you’ve been around for a while when you take to the start-line of a mountainbike race, 20yrs after your first one. And what a start line it is- on the banks of the Akatarawa River…your feet are soggy and you’ve had a swim even before hitting the pedals.
Back in 1994, as a pimply high-schooler, it was ‘THE’ mountainbike event for anyone in New Zealand. Not much has changed in the last two decades, except nowadays I ride Karapoti on one wheel rather than two. It is an ideal unicycle race, because of the impossibly steep hike-a-bike sections like the Devils Staircase.
The weapon of choice this year was my trusty Triton titanium unicycle, decked out with 29” KH XC rim, 145mm cranks and 2.25” Racing Ralphs, and the carbon NNC Flatfish saddle. Simple, lightweight and bombproof! I decided to take the Maguras off just before the race, to save a bit of weight and add mud clearance. After racing last few years on a geared Schlumpf- it felt good to get back to the basics…no brakes, no gears, no handlebar, just a fixed wheel. I’m unconvinced a geared hub was a good option anyway, and wiped myself out last year after the cranks came loose and disengaged the hub. Unicycles are meant to be simple machines!
There were only two of us racing 2014 Karapoti- local lad Tim Armstrong from Upper Hutt, and myself, now relocated back to Wellington after several years in Australia. Tim is a formidable runner, so I was keen to get as much distance on him up the Karapoti Gorge as possible, which is pretty much how it panned out. After splashing across the Akataratarawa river, I pedalled as fast as I could up the gorge, opening up a gap before hitting the warmup climb. With Tim chasing hard, I put everything into maintaining a flawless spin.
My fitness levels were pretty average this year, but much of it depends on how you feel on the day. When we got to Deadwood climb proper, I knew I was having a great day because I just felt happy. Like really happy, instead of wanting to vomit and cry in the same spot every other year. It was a combination of great weather, smooth Karapoti conditions, lightweight unicycle and many things going great in my life right now.
Before I knew it, I was diving down the Rock Garden. Instead of gingerly clamouring over boulders, I was skipping my way through lines of mountainbikers….a $10k full suspension bike is no good when someone comes flying past with a unicycle on their shoulder.
I got to the bottom of the rock garden having passed several dozen riders, and scrambled over to the Devil Staircase. I was pleasantly surprised there were very few riders cluttering (I mean that in the nicest possible way) the staircase. Karapoti numbers seemed a little down on previous years. This made a perfect opportunity for a speedy climb, rather than ducking and weaving under a carnage of people slipping and sliding with bikes on their heads.
I got to the top of the staircase, legs still feeling quite okay, and bombed down Big Ring Boulevard as fast as I could. I was having so much fun that before I knew it, I was at the base of Dopers Hill and tackling the final climb. Tim Armstrong was still nowhere in sight, so I heaved a sigh of relief- I’ve never seen anyone go up Dopers Hill as fast as he did last year.
By my split calculations, I was on track for a sub-4hr Karapoti, which would beat my 2005 course record of 4hrs11min. It gave me extra impetus to pedal that bit faster.
I was almost on the home straight when disaster struck. Or, more to the point, a pile of rocks I was too lazy as to avoid struck my wheel. The painful hiss of a pinchflat was a little annoying- in the dozen plus times I’ve raced Karapoti, I have only ever flatted in training. Even more annoying was fumbling about trying to get the wheel off. Why hasn’t anyone invented a quick release unicycle wheel? I wasted well over 10min changing the tube, and just as I tightened up the final bolts, Tim Armstrong comes sailing past. A Deja-vu moment as he did the same thing last year when I was fixing another mechanical.
I hopped back on to chase him down, only to realise that I had not put enough air in the tyre. The wheel was squirrelling around all over the place! Luckily we were already at the top of Karapoti Gorge.  I passed Tim and had to juggle staying in front whilst not pushing too hard over rocks in case of another pinch flat. There were some very close calls as my tyre bottomed out (post-race tyre pressure measured 12 PSI and there was a tear along the tube, luckily not quite a pinch flat).


Onto the final sealed road and I knew I was safe, but only had about 100m on Tim. I spun as fast as I could until I reached the Akatarawa River- splashed right into the deep end and ended up swimming. My legs cramped up on the other side, I wasn’t able to remount, with Tim coming up behind me. I sprinted (or waddled/crawled) across the line barely a unicycle length ahead of Tim. The closest Karapoti unicycle finish ever, in 4hrs14min31s!
This was one of the most fun Karapotis I’ve ever done, despite being a little gutted at missing the sub-4hr due to the puncture. It gives me a goal for next year, because I know it’s doable. Tim had taken 25min off his Karapoti PB and was within 3min of the race record…so next year could be the most exciting race yet.

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Unistan: Unicycling the Silk Road, Uzbekistan

Here is the long awaited slideshow of the first ever unicycle tour of Uzbekistan. Watch as we travel the Silk Road, through ancient cities, over mountains and desert.

Unistan: The Uzbekistan Unicycle Tour video

Another beautiful video shot by Nicola Cassanelli.   He shows off our recent Adventure Unicyclist tour of Uzbekistan.

You’ll enjoy this!


Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 2013: on a Standard 24″/125mm unicycle!

Another year and another chance to ride around Lake Taupo!  This is New Zealands biggest cycling event, with 9-10,000 riders making the annual pilgrimage.  The picturesque 160km circuit takes in 1650m of climbing and descending as it circumnavigates NZs biggest lake in an anticlockwise direction.   This would be my 10th Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, with 7 completed laps on a unicycle, and 2 ‘enduro’ events (2 laps/320km) on my road bike.  My fastest time to date was 7hrs43min on a 36″ ungeared unicycle with 110mm cranks.

I thought I would do something different for a change, and instead of pushing a 36″ Uni with/without gears, I’d go back to something a little more traditional, a standard racing unicycle.

The IUF ‘standard’ which is used for track racing and the 10km standard races at Unicon, has a maximal wheel diameter of 618mm and maximal crank length of 125mm.   It means that everyone in these races compete on the same gear ratio.   The idea is that performance is dependent on the rider and not the equipment.

What I also like about this setup is it’s simplicity.  Each year something new is bolted to my race unicycle- gears, handlebars, hydraulic rim brakes and then disc brakes…it was nice to ditch the 8kg boat anchor in favour of a 3kg standard racer.  It might not go as fast, but it rides like a unicycle, not a tractor with gears.

The weapon of choice was a Quax Black Witch with Nimbus 92mm hub, and the original NNC Flatfish carbon saddle:


Anyway, back to the topic of racing.  I was in Group 9 (the slow group!), which meant a far too early start at 6am.   Porridge and bananas were shoveled into the fuel tank (along with 2 pre-race coffees!)


I was surprised at the size of the group, but the more the merrier!  Bryan Page was at the startline with me, on his Schlumpf 36″.  He was teamed up with Eric Pulvermacher to do 80km each in a relay.  Andrew Frazer, who holds the Penny Farthing record for Taupo, was also there, as well as several recumbents and handcycles.  I was plastered in sunscreen despite the fact it was supposed to be cloudy.



The race begins with a short dip before a long gradual climb.  As soon as we hit the climb I started passing bikes.  Lots of them.  The standard uni is perfect for spinning your way up a hill, and I was pleased to find myself at the front of almost all the group 9 starters by the time we hit our first downhill.  This undulating 60km section of the course rolled generally in an upwards direction, so I maintained a good position despite having bikes whizzing past at every little descent.  I had passed Bryan early on the climb, and was trying my best to stay ahead until the course flattened out.

To my surprise, I hit the 10km mark in 31min, which was not quite my 10km race pace; but it was mostly uphill and I wasn’t exactly revving the engine.  I backed off a bit and and hit the 20km marker in 64min, which was still giving me a comfortable 18km/hr average speed.  I was aiming to come in under 10hrs, and preferably 9 1/2hrs.

The next few 10km markers went by at roughly the same 33min pace, although I was starting to feel the effects of spinning a unicycle very fast with  little resistance!   I went through the 80km interchange at 4hrs 38min, which meant I was now losing quite a bit of time.  The main problem was a buttock issue.  When you have no handlebars and a cadence of over 160rpm, it starts to hurt after 60km.  Luckily I had one of the best seats made for unicycling, which helped a lot, but not quite enough.   I needed to stop every 20min to reperfuse the buttocks, and later it became every 5min.

Anyway, I was still surprised to be ahead of Bryan at the relay interchange, so I focused on getting to Kuratau Hill before Eric with fresh legs would come past.  Kuratau Hill was my favourite climb this year. With a super lightweight unicycle I was spinning my way past long lines of bikes.  It was also a chance to relieve pressure points because of the increased pedaling resistance.

Once over Kuratau it was getting somewhat more painful. This is the longest flat section which would be perfect for spinning at 20+km/hr…if only I was able to sit down!   I had a saddle sore the size of my thumb on each butt  cheek.   With no lack of encouragement from passing bicyclists, the best I could manage in return was a grimace disguised as a crazy grin.  By the time we could see the Lake, I was spending a large amount of time on the side of the road.  At least it was a pretty view!

Anyway, to cut a long grind short, I made it to the final big climb of the day, Hatepe Hill, which I had also been looking forward to. Unfortunately, I blew out my tyre at the bottom, and had forgotten to pack tyre levers. After some struggling and cursing to get the tyre off, I managed to borrow a tyre lever from another rider, and got my new tube and wheel back in place, a little annoyed at wasting 30min for a simple tube change.

After riding over Hatepe, it was a slow and painful descent to the final 15km straight.  I bonked at the top, but still had enough almond peanut slabs in my camelbak to top up the tank.

The wind started picking up at this point, but didn’t affect the smaller unicycle nearly as much as a 36″.  I made the final turn into Taupo and spun my way to the finish line in 11hrs 36min.   A bit disappointed at not going under 10hrs when I was on track for the first half of the race, but glad to have finished.


As a consolation…I was passed out in the food tent when they called out my number for one of the major spot prizes at this years challenge, a $25,000 Spa Pool.  Could have done with a soak in the spa then, but it was empty!



Thanks you Wright Spa Pools for such an amazing prize!