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Posts Tagged ‘Karapoti Classic’

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

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.

IMG_2548  IMG_2556

Karapoti Classic 2013

There are very few races I can’t bear to miss, and the Karapoti Classic is one of them. The 50km race in Upper Hutt, New Zealand, is the Southern Hemispheres longest running mountainbike event, and one of the toughest, with three massive climbs, nasty rocks, shoe eating bogs, ruts, river crossings, slippery singletrack, and did I mention rocks? It is also the the world’s longest running Muni race, with a unicycle category since 2003. For someone who grew up in Wellington, Karapoti is part of local mountainbike folklore!  I now live in Australia, but have been flying back every year to do this race.

I came into this year’s race hoping to beat my personal best of 4hrs 11min, set in 2005. The course was the driest I’d seen in 18yrs of racing Karapoti, a stark contrast to last years ‘weather bomb’, which forced a postponement of the race. Hoping to beat my unicycle PB, I chose my Triton 26” Schlumpf, complete with hydraulic brakes, two gears, a titanium frame and a very special NNC Flatfish carbon seat. Quite a contrast to the no-gears, no-brakes, steel 29’er I used in 2005. Joining me this year was local rider Tim Armstrong from Upper Hutt, and Sam Lancaster–Robertson from Auckland, our youngest ever Karapoti unicyclist at 17 (born the year I did my first Karapoti!)

3-2-1…go!  The traditional scramble across a raging river was fairly tame this year, with the Akatarawa river as low as I’d ever seen it. Still worth taking care and not dunking yourself at the start of a race though! Once on the other side, it was a 2km ride up the road to the start of Karapoti Gorge. This is where high gear comes in most handy. I kicked the Schlumpf into 1.5 mode and cruised with the rest of the ‘special category’ classes- a mix of singlespeed, tandem, cyclocross, and retro bikes. Tim and Sam were riding ungeared 29″ and 26″ unicycles respectively, so would have to make up time on the climbs.

I hit the gravel singeltrack of Karapoti Gorge and was pleased to see it drier than most years, and able to be ridden in high gear. The cadence was slower, but I felt I was making good time on the Karapoti record. At the start of the warmup climb, I was 10min ahead of my usual splits…so kept telling myself: ‘don’t stuff this up’!  It could be a record year, as the legs were feeling good. After the ‘warm-up’ climb, the real climbing begins, on the never-ending grind up to Deadwood, which also happens to be what your legs feel like at the top. This is where unicycles comes in handy. Being more compact, but not necessarily lighter (despite all the carbon and titanium, the geared hub is a tank), I pass dozens of riders pushing their way up.

After Deadwood came the infamous rock garden- so named because of the boulder sized rocks and steep drop-offs which threaten to destroy your machine, never mind the person on top. Here is footage of the 2013 Rock Garden, with Sam Lancaster-Robertson riding the final section around the 4min mark:

At the end of the rock garden, the track turned skyward in what is known as the Devils Staircase, with parts so steep you’re scrambling on all fours. Luckily, this year was fairly dry, which meant no one sliding back down toward you, and their bike landing on your head.

The drink station at the top was welcome relief. After grabbing a handful of jet planes and jelly snakes, which everyone had dunked their grubby mitts into (who cares about hygiene), it was off down the 10km long ‘Big Ring Boulevard’. Not quite a big ring, but I flicked the unicycle into high gear, doing my best to avoid loose off-camber sections and ruts which made this section deceptively difficult. Riders were scattered along the track fixing punctures from high speed impacts.

I cranked along in high gear until both legs cramped, and I ended up on the side of the track for 5min, with another rider straightening my feet. The added torque was taking its toll, and I kicked myself for not fitting a handlebar for extra leverage. I was starting to lose time, and I wasn’t happy about it, so went back into low gear to spin off some of the lactate.

Something still wasn’t right.  I blamed fatigue for a couple of missed shifts, then my Schlumpf suddenly went into freewheel and I hit the dirt hard! After checking all limbs were intact, I looked down to find the cranks had worked loose and disengaged the Schlumpf gear. Not good. After faffing around for several minutes with shifter buttons, I hear Tim Armstrong whizzing by: ‘are you ok?’

During that incident my watch had ripped off, but after a cursory look, I had to get back on the Uni to try to catch Tim, which I did just before the start of the the Pram Track- arguably the toughest climb of Karapoti.  I decided to powerwalk….it was faster than riding after what my legs had been through. Trying to keep Tim in sight however, was impossible, as he flew up the track as fast as his legs would take him. I don’t think I have ever seen someone disappear up the pram track as fast as he did. The race was now on, as most of the time would be made on the climbs.

When we hit the top, Tim was nowhere in sight, and without my watch I couldn’t keep track of race time.  On the other hand, taking risks down Dopers Hill is not something you want to do, with the steepest part of Karapoti to come.  At the bottom of Dopers, a track official said Tim was just a minute ahead, so I cranked back into high gear and pedaled as hard as I could. I caught sight of him just before the start of the Karapoti Gorge, and upped the pace some more, only to wipe myself out again. I took it fairly gingerly down the Gorge after that, but managed to catch Tim again halfway down. This was the home straight, so I enjoyed the last rocky single-track and eased my way down the road to the finish.

After another river crossing (I cramped in the middle and ended up swimming), and it was up the finishing shute and across the line in 4hrs36min. Not anywhere close to the record, but happy to finish. Tim rolled across the line a few minutes later in 4hrs39min, and Sam completed his first ever Karapoti in 5hrs3min, not a bad effort!

Ken karapoti-sml

photo by Maria Williams