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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).

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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:

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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!)

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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.

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3…2…1…GO!

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.

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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!

 

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Thanks you Wright Spa Pools for such an amazing prize!

Dan Heaton releases Revolution One: A Story of Off-Road Unicycling

The long awaited full length documentary chronicles the history of our sport.  It shows how the sport developed from humble beginnings to where it is today.

 

 

Revolution One: A Story of Off-Road Unicycling from Dan Heaton on Vimeo.

The Art of Spin: Ken Looi revs up his IUF Standard 24″/125mm unicycle

This video shows me riding a IUF Standard 24″ racer. Maximum wheel diameter 618mm, maximum crank length 125mm. Cruising speed in this video is 18-19km/hr, or over 160rpm.

High revs can be fun!

This graph courtesy of Klaas Bil, showing the revving up and revving down phase:

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Villainous Heist

Check out this 1920s style silent movie, winner of the Alice Springs Bicycle Film Festival 2012.  This is pretty neat!

 

Villainous Heist from Lukáš Pečinka on Vimeo.

Cave unicycling

Unicycling and caving together, now that’s what I call Adventure Unicycling. Who would have thought?

Unicycle Caving from Garrett and Garrett Videography on Vimeo.

Queen Charlotte Walkway 2013

 

The Queen Charlotte Walkway is one of my favourite trails. It is New Zealands longest single track, at 71km, and runs along the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sounds, at the top of the South Island, New Zealand. My last trip here was back in 2005, so I was really looking forward to this!
Unluckily, the trip almost finished before it started, when my ferry was cancelled due to 9m waves along Cook Strait. After some frantic phone calls, a visit to the ferry terminal and airport later, I managed to get on a flight into Nelson. I was picked up by Marty, and managed a few hours sleep before getting up far too early (3.30am) to pick up the rest of the Nelson crew. Once we had Murray, Mike, and Rachel on board, we loaded up on coffee before starting our 2hr drive to Picton, where we met up with John and Sean from Brisbane.

After beating down the door of the village bakery, we fed ourselves with hot pies (never start a trip on an empty stomach), and loaded up the water taxi to take us to the start of the track. The little boat bumped along as we cruised the Sounds until we arrived at Ship Cove, site of Captain Cooks landing in New Zealand in 1773, and the start of the 71km Queen Charlotte Walkway.

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After setting up our unis and posing next to the Captain Cook monument, we started our ride. It was straight uphill, but the gradual climb bought us to some amazing views of Resolution Bay. At the rest stops we were visited by curious little Wekas in search of food.

We stopped at Furneaux lodge for lunch, huddling around their fireplace munching hot chips and ginger beer. Despite the bright clear skies, it was still a chilly winters day.

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After lunch we continued to Mahana Lodge, perched in a secluded spot in Camp Bay on Endeavour Inlet. The amazing thing about the Queen Charlotte Walkway is that whilst being away from civilisation, it has fantastic accomodation with hot showers, hot food and amazing views, all serviced by water taxis. Our gear was dropped off by water taxi, so we only needed to carry water, snacks and cameras during the ride.

We were welcomed by the lodge owners Ann and John Martin as soon as we arrived, who had a roaring fire waiting for us at the lodge. After a hot shower, we were treated to a delicious 3 course dinner with much of it home grown fare from the property. Despite protests by Martin and Murray, they ate their nasturtium salad: “Shhh…don’t tell anyone we had flowers for dinner!”

The next day saw us up bright and early, but we were sad to leave Mahana and our generous hosts. We headed off on another big climb, but our legs were feeling much better after being fed and rested. We enjoyed more stunning views out into the Bay of Many Coves and Kenepuru Sound.

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From there it was a gentle ride with some amazing singletrack all the way down to Portage, our next stop. The views of Portage Bay was even more incredible, as we looked over the Punga Fern shoreline into Kenepuru Sound. Another cosy dinner at the resort restaurant and it was off to bed.

Our third day would take us back to Anakiwa, but with some amazingly fun single track the whole way. We were left with permanent smiles on our faces as weaved through the native forest with views of the sounds on either side.

It was a good way to conclude the trip and an amazing weekend of fun riding, incredible views, good food and good company. If you had to choose one Muni trip in New Zealand, this has to be top of your list.

For more photos check our our Facebook Page

And Marty Richards writeup of the trip: http://www.nelsonmountainbikeclub.org.nz/2013/05/21#a4046

In memory of my grandad

My Grandad was incredibly proud of his 3 children and 5 grandchildren. Here is a family slideshow of us as kids, and we share a family tradition which led one of us to become a unicycle world champion.

Thank you Yeh Yeh for showing us the importance of balance.