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Archive for the ‘Racing’ Category

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 2018

November generally means one thing…Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge!

This year was extra special because it was going to be our first road trip with our baby Gryffin Looi.  
We packed up the car, baby in the back seat….

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It took a while to get up to Taupo- we had plenty of stops, including the mandatory Ice-Cream stop in Hunterville


and on the desert road

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We arrived in Taupo about 7pm. This year I had the number 2 plate (I had stayed up till midnight to register, but missed out on number 1 again!).  I won a pump as a spot prize.  
I had intended to ride my 36, but haven’t got around to replacing the bearings, so it would be another year on the 29.  The setup was similar to last year- my Triton 29 with Carbon wheel and 89mm cranks.  The main difference would be that I finally get to try out my Mad4One handle saddle.  It’s generally not recommended to use a brand new seat for the first time on a 160km race, but I had a quick ride on it beforehand and it felt fine….
The start was wet- the forecast was for rain through the day.  It was great having my support crew Anna and Gryffin at the start:

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3,2,1, go!


I set off in Group 8, which is for riders expecting to take 7- 8.5 hours.  Taupo starts with short descent followed by a gradual climb.  By the time we hit the top of the first hill I’d overtaken all the bicyclists except for one rider….the gradient is perfect for a unicycle.  From there it was lots of rolling ups and downs, and we spent much of the next 80km trading places.  It stopped raining for an hour or so, and I was able to knock off the first 80km in under 4 hours.  Unfortunately, I had a fall at 70km, wiping out on a bump I didn’t see.  There was no major damage apart from some scrapes and bruises, but I started cramping and lost my free spinning speed when I got going again.  
It started raining and getting quite cold by the time we reached Kuratau, and the legs went on strike.  It was a long slow climb and descent before hitting the flat. I stopped at the Turangi Z-station for a quick pie before slogging the rest of the way back to Taupo. Apparently it was not a fast year, with few people going under 4hrs.  It was amazing to roll into the finishing straight with Anna and Gryffin patiently waiting for me!

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My time of 9hrs 02min was slower than previous years, partly because of the weather but mostly due to the legs not co-operating in the second half of the course.   I still had a great ride and was happy to get to the finish for the 15th or 16th time (I’ve lost count!)
The Mad4One handle saddle (medium) worked well. It was very light and easy to maneuver, although I was more used to a lower handle with the Flatfish/T-bar combination.  When you ride 160km on a unicycle, any seat is going to hurt. The Mad4One and Flatfish/T-bar are the best setups I’ve used, they just hurt in different places.  I had more wrist pain with the Mad4One, because the upright position forced my wrist to abduct for prolonged period.  On the other hand, without the plastic base of the KH style saddle, I didn’t get sore palms from pushing down with my hands.  I have to ride it a bit more to form a stronger opinion, but I think the Mad4One would be a good medium distance saddle, whereas I prefer the KH/Flatfish for shorter distances, and perhaps the KH/Flatfish/T-Bar combo for longer distance.

New Womens Unicycle Hour World Record! 27.027km

I had the pleasure of timekeeping yesterday for Mirjam Lips  (Switzerland), who was attempting the womens unicycle hour record at Unicon 18, San Sebastian, Spain.

She broke Nadine Wegner’s previous record of 23.65km with a new distance of 27.027km, with a very strong ride on a 400m athletics track.

Congratulations Mirjam!

Karapoti Classic 2016

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.

The setup:
– 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.

Karapoti Photo Album

C3 stainless steel project

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:

KVA MS3 Stainless Steel Tubeset, ready for welding

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:

Sexy curves

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?

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Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 2015


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.

3-2-1 go!!!

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!

Sam Wakeling and Roger Davies attempt the 100 mile world record: 9 July 2015, UK

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!


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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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 who was in to mountainbiking. Not much has changed in the last two decades, except nowadays I ride Karapoti on one wheel rather than two.  I have not missed a single Karapoti in the last 10yrs, despite living in Australia.
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.   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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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!

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: