A neat little article on Mountain-Unicycling, with a video from Kris Holm:
Click on the ‘movie’ at the top, or go here for the short film:
Some absolutely breathtaking scenery and MUni action from Turtle of Liechtenstein:
I’ve just ridden 160km around Lake Taupo, one of the Southern Hemispheres biggest cycling events, with over 9,000 taking part: www.cyclechallenge.com
We had a team of four entered (Rox Price, Steve Taylor, Bryan Page and Warren Ellery), and Tim Newton attempting his first ever 100 mile century ride.
I was entered as a solo rider, doing the full 160km. I was also feeling pretty fit, although I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to beat my 2004 course record (set on a 36″ Unguni*, 110mm cranks) of 7hrs43min. (*Unguni=Ungeared unicycle)
My last proper unicycle ride was back in August, on the Yunnan Unicycle tour, but I had been doing plenty of running back in Australia. The big thing for me was being 4-5kg lighter than my usual race weight, which was like not lugging around a big sack of potatoes for 160km, including 1600m of total climbing/descent.
The unicycle of choice was a 36″ Schlumpf, with 145mm cranks, KH T-bar, cut down KH seat and Magura HS33 brakes mounted on a KH frame. I was running a standard 36″ tube and a shaved Nightrider tyre.
It was essentially the same set-up as last year, except I had a brake, and more importantly, seat foam. My slowest ever time around Taupo was in 2010 (9hrs58min), which I was pretty disgusted with, and blame entirely on the seat. I thought I’d save weight by removing the foam padding from the KH seat (who needs it?). Instead, I had a strip of inner tube over the bolts, and a seatcover on top. It would make a good torture device if you were to bash it against your bottom for 10hrs, as it happened. At 80km, I wasn’t able to sit down. In fact, I was not able to sit down for another 2wks.
That said, I was happy with this years setup (with a thin layer of cut down seat foam); until race day when I found that my wheel was completely out of true and rubbing hard on the brake pad. After a quick wheel true at Top Gear Cycles (5min before my race start- thanks guys!), I had a working brake and a straight wheel.
3, 2, 1, go!!!
I set off with the 7hr+ group at 9am. Tim Newton and Rox Price had set off at 6am, before the waves of riders, as they were aiming to get in relatively early, and to avoid the worst of the wind.
When we hit the first hill, it was the usual case of passing dozens of bicyclists, due to the perfect unicycling gradient (about 5%). Most were not used to seeing a giant unicycle go past, so I was greeted by plenty of cheers and people shaking their heads in disbelief.
*ding ding* It’s handy to have a bell when you pass bicyclists
Then we hit the open road and a strong headwind. It was by far the windiest I had ridden in the 7 or 8yrs of coming to Taupo. You know it’s windy when you have to pedal hard, in low gear, to go downhill. Having wind + road camber makes it quite difficult to keep tracking in a straight line. I was blown off a couple of times.
It was at about 5km when I realised that despite having a straight wheel, it was flexing so much that I was pedaling hard and going nowhere. I eased off the pressure and tried to spin as lightly as I could, until 10km when I thought riding against my own brake was somewhat ridiculous, so I got off and released it completely. So now I had a scary big gear with no brakes!
I hit the 10km mark in 35min, not good for setting a record, so I decided to try claw back a 20km/hr average and finish in 8hrs. I hit 20km in just over 1hr 8min, then when we turned left towards Kinloch, I was hit with probably the strongest wind yet. The headwind was bad, but the worst was the side wind, which meant you were constantly adjusting your balance. Bicyclists make for very poor wind breaks, so drafting them had limited benefit. I was left pedalling in low gear even on the flats or downhills, which was painfully slow.
Despite that (or in spite of that), my legs were feeling quite good, so whenever I had respite from the wind, I cranked up the big gear and tried to make up time. I slowly crawled back the deficit to hit 40km in about 2hrs 10, then 60km in just over 3hrs. Somewhere along the way I passed Steve Taylor from the Uni Relay Team, pedaling furiously and looking strong.
I went past the half-way relay changover in 3hrs 53min, which got me pretty excited, until I reached a sign at 4hrs 10min that said I was at the 80km mark! I should have known after doing this so many times- the relay changeover location was at an earlier location to previous years.
In past years, I had never done the second 80km faster than the first, so after muttering at the wind and my stupid brake, I relaxed and took it at a pace I’d do on a unitour, and just enjoy the ride. I was still fighting with the wind, but you know you have good legs when you find yourself looking forward to Kuratau Hill, the longest climb of the day.
I clinked back down to low gear and starting grinding past long lines of bicyclists on the way up. The brake was still rubbing, even after being pushed out as far as it would go. Every time I stood up off the seat, I could feel increased resistance. It was impossible to accelerate up the steep bits, so sitting and spinning seemed the order of the day.
After reaching the top, I bombed down the other side and over Waihi Hill as well as one could without brakes. The bottom of Waihi Hill to Turangi (about 30-40km), was a long, flat road, perfect for the Schlumpf 36. I would be able to claw back some time and hopefully finish in under 8hrs30min. The wind was certainly better, but still tricky with a crosswind. On the other hand, I had my time-trial legs on, and was able to keep up with most of the bikers.
Then I hit the 130km sign at 6.00hrs! I couldn’t believe it. Either I’d just ridden a spectacular flat time trial, or the distance markers were not very accurate. It was probably a combination of both. I decided that if I could keep up a 20km/hr pace over the final 30km, I wouldn’t just go under 8hrs, I’d break my old 2004 record.
With a resurgence of energy, I cranked up the Schlumpf as we skirted the lake, until finally we hit the last killer climb- Hatepe Hill. I shifted down, but still unable to stand up without my brakes rubbing, I had to gently spin my way up. Not good, as I got that dizzy ‘I’m about to bonk’ feeling. I hopped off half way and chowed down on a OSM bar, whilst power-walking up the hill. Better to lose some pride and walk, than blow up and miss the record.
Once over Hatepe, it was a cautious descent for the Schlumpf in high gear. I hit the bottom straight, with 33min to do the last 15km. Possible, but cutting it fine. I watched each marker tick by- 10km with 23min to go, then 8km, 7km. I was going to be within a whisker of beating the 7yr old record, until I hit the home straight, and a wall of wind. It virtually stopped all the bicyclists in their tracks. You could hear them clicking down the gears as I did the same. The last 2-3km was the most painful grind in low gear into the headwind imaginable. I turned the final corner into the finishing shute and crossed the finish line in 7hrs 48min, 5min shy of my old record.
Sharon was there with a nice cold Coke, the best fizzy drink I’d had in a long time. I had salt crystals crusting down my helmet straps and on my face.
Tim came in a little while after me, after stopping at a cafe for food. I went right past without seeing him. He looked remarkably fresh after his longest ever ride, and (from memory) completed the challenge just over 11hrs.
Anyway, thanks to Warren and Sharon for their hospitality, and all the other unicyclists who were there supporting and competing in Taupo.
See you next year!