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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!

  • Nathan Hoover

    December 2nd, 2013

    Nice write-up. That is really a wild thing, riding 100 miles on a standard uni – you did great. I would’ve been amazed if you could finish in under 10 hours.

    I’m glad the story has a good moral: Almond Peanut Slabs to the rescue! Oh, and congrats on that hot tub you won – should fetch a nice price if you can find the right place to list it.

  • Pierre

    December 3rd, 2013

    Great story!
    It’s encouraging, and depressing at the same time. I started to unicycle a bit more than a year ago, I have a 24″ Muni. When I read that you were averaging at 18km/h, I’m flabbergasted! I don’t even think I’ve hit the 15km/h mark on a short burst…
    Congratulations, you’re a hero. Now you just have to dig a hole and install that mini pool in your garden!

  • Gizmoduck

    December 4th, 2013

    I think it’s definitely doable in 10hrs. I was cruising quite comfortably at 18km/hr for several hours.

    If I can sort out the seat issue- maybe handlebars and better bike shorts, I might tackle another century. I’m already considering doing it another one on the Std Uni.

  • Julian

    December 4th, 2013

    Congrats Ken. Love this sort of endeavour. I do like a long ride on my 24 but I think you have set the benchmark there. Trust the caboose healed quickly.
    As for the spa? Well….. not sure what to say! Must’ve felt weird to receive such a thing off the cuff like that.

  • Jakub

    December 6th, 2013

    Excellent job! Love the story and quite something else with that ride/setup choice. I’m still waiting for that kick ass seat you use to be mass produced :). Thanks for an awesome source of inspirational uni goodness.

  • Rob

    February 7th, 2014

    Wow! Congratulations and OUCH! I’ve done a 100 miles on a 24″ once but it had a KH/Schlumpf MUni hub! Very impressive to cover that kind of distance on standard 24″ unicycle.

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