2x160km around Lake Taupo 2006

Kicked off my training for the SINZ Unicycle Tour (www.sinzuni.org) on the weekend with another ride around Lake Taupo.
It’s NZ’s biggest cycling event, around our biggest lake, with 10,500 cyclists taking part. This year we had 2 Unicyclists- Rowan Chivers and myself, both riding solo.

I was an awesome day with thousands of riders filling up the main road out of Taupo. The weather was perfect, apart from the strong headwind which I found rather pleasant but most people hated.

We started off in waves of several hundred. It took over an hour and a half to start all the riders. I joined in the 7-9.5hr group, which I think meant that we were at the back but also in a pretty relaxed and friendly bunch. I started alongside my flatmate Byrdie and a recumbent rider I knew called Peter (incidentally also a unicyclist). Rowan was a few hundred people in front of us and I couldn’t see him. I prepared for the worst after the commentators poked the usual circus and camo* jibes at poor Rowan. (*he likes wearing army camouflage gear but still stands out in the crowd of 10,000). Luckily I snuck past with barely a comment.

It was a short sharp downhill followed by one of my favourite hillclimbs. It was the perfect gradient for a Coker and I was passing hundreds of cyclists up the hill. I caught Byrdie but then she motored off when she got passed by the unicyclist :smiley:

It was up and down for the first 40km or so. For some reason I had no power in the legs and couldn’t figure what the problem was. I thought I was riding on a flat tyre until I looked down and realised that my seat was too low. I stopped and raised my seat about 15mm which made it feel like a totally different machine. Climbing much better now, I managed to ride another 40km before I realised that it was still too low. Another 5mm and it was perfect. Unfortunately my legs were blown because of that stupid error and I was really struggling to maintain my speed close to 20km/hr. The other disappointing thing was that I found myself struggling on the downhills also. I’m still looking to regain that ‘freespinning’ technique for descending. Instead, I found myself fighting the Coker all the way down each hill which is last thing you want. I think I lost at least 10km/hr on these descents compared to previous years.

Anyway, I finally hit the 80km half way mark in just over 4hrs. The legs were starting to feel a bit wobbly so I had to take a 15min break at my favourite pie shop before Kuratau Hill, one of the biggest climbs of the day. I reckon the best ingredient for a Steak n’ Cheese pie is a 100km unicycle ride immediately beforehand. If you could package that into a pie you’d could easily build a multimillion dollar meatpie empire.

After Kuratau was the descent towards the Lake, the first time it comes into view. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this downhill like I usually do, still struggling with my descending technique. It was a long descent and a long time to be fighting your unicycle. Just as I thought my hands were going be permanently clamped onto my GB4 handle in a state of rigor mortis, we made it to the bottom.

It was at that point I was humbled to see crazy Robin ride past. This guy get’s nuttier every year. Last year he rode 100km to the registration, then, with only an hours sleep, did the 2 Lap 320km enduro challenge, then wanted to ride 100km back home. This year he was riding the Super Enduro Challenge- 4 Laps or 640km in total. He did take a few breaks now and then- catching sleep on the side of the road. Not bad when I think he’s probably aged in his in his late 50’s to mid 60’s. Old guys are so hardcore :astonished:

Another 20km of flat stuff, then 10km of windey road around the Lake, then a short sharp climb, followed by a gradual descent, then it was the final leg to Taupo.

I finished in 9hrs 3min according to my watch, which is way off my previous time of 7hrs 43min. Still…it was a great day to be out riding :slight_smile:

Rowan rolled in to the finish line in about 13hrs, which is a looonng time to be out riding. It must have takens some serious determination to finish. He was riding a 28" with (I think) 125mm cranks. Good stuff!


Some Stats:
Total Distance: 160km
Total Elevation climbed: 1600m
Time: 9hrs03min
Avg Heart Rate: 151bpm
Max Heart Rate: 195bpm
Calories burned (according to HRM): 6396
Food eaten: 3x Peanut Slabs, 2x OSM bars, 1 banana, 250g of salted Cashew nuts, 1x 660mL bottle of Coke, 1 x Steak and Cheese pie, 1 Liquirice/Chocolate roll. 2L camelbak and about 1-2L of water/energy drink at support stations.

Semi Diet Coker. I swapped my superlight frame and seat set up for the more familiar Std Coker frame and GB4 Handle. The main reason was that I thought the Diet frame was too flexy for the climbs and that the Deathgrip handle too small a platform to rest your hand comfortably on for 8-9hrs. For something like this, I probably should also have used my heavier Bicycle Euros than the superlight but wider Q factor Schlumpf cranks.

It still weighed in at about 8kg:

  • Coker tyre
  • Tubeless conversion
  • Airfoil rim
  • Tommy Miller spokes
  • UDC narrow hub
  • Schlumpf 114mm alloy cranks
  • Std Coker Frame
  • KH carbon seat
  • Fusion cover and cut down foam
  • GB4 Handle
  • Lucky ding ding bell

Lucky ding ding bell. :smiley:

Sounds like a great ride, and you did a great job, even with the few seat problems in the beginning. =p

Awesome ride Ken and Rowan! Hurrah for the Kuratau pie shop!

Wow 13 hours is a very long time to be riding - superb effort Rowan. Paulie told me about your finish (after the finishing gate had been packed up) down a human tunnel formed by the remaining spectators. Sounds like quite a finish. :sunglasses:

Say Hey to Dave for me!

Sounds like quite a ride! You’re complaining about a time that few people could even match, with everything working perfectly! I think you’ll be fine for SINZ.

Beau and I did a fun race you would’ve liked on Thanksgiving Day: 30km with 1270m climbing! We did it all without a dismount, setting our “longest time in the saddle” record at 2:32. I wish more unicyclists would’ve entered - there were about 70 bicyclists and the two of us.


How long do you usually spend in the saddle? I usually go about 20 miles before I take a saddle break. Then after that it tends to be every 10 miles, but im experimenting with seat setups to increase this. Stupid saddle soreness.

Hi James,

It depends on what the terrain is like. Usually if it’s hilly I’m on and off the saddle a lot anyway. Flat riding is much harder on your crotch. Also, I can ride longer with bike shorts but I was wearing my trusty NZO shorts this weekend- they don’t have much padding. I think I probably averaged a short break every hour or so initially, and then up to every 20-30mins near the end.

I think the longest I’ve ever ridden without a dismount was about 3-4hrs during my 24hr record ride. That was with 100mm cranks and I was pedalling pretty fast. The shorter the cranks the less saddle discomfort you get.

Yes, the shorter the cranks the less discomfort. Normally on tours, we stop every 30 minutes or so (10km). Although sometimes more like 20km at the beginning of the day. And towards the end of a long day, riding 10km without a break may be impossible!

My previous record was 2:02 in the 43km marathon at Unicon. It was surprising how little discomfort there was after 2 1/2 hours since we were riding uphill nearly all the time - not steep enough to be standing up much, but it is way more comfortable than flat or downhill, that’s for sure.



Originally I was reluctant to enter the race, because by the time I considered entering I would already have been stung with the late fee, on top of all the other costs of going to such an event. Ken challenged me to enter by sponsoring me to ride, so I decided I had better do a little bit of training to soften the blow. I doubled my daily rides into town from Bell Block, and rode to Oakura and Waitara, and Stratford (my biggest ride was Bell Block to Stratford and back to New Plymouth, approximately 80k total which took me 6 hours ish.) I had a few thing go wrong with my unicycle prior to the race. Countless punctures- even a blowout! My seat tore from wear and tear, cracking along the sides. The rear light stopped working.

I bought a pump and four inner tubes. I put Peter Bier’s old 700c x 28mm tire on. I got a ride with my flatmate to Mokau on Friday the 24th and hitch hiked from there. I accidentally left my helmet by the side of the road there. It was raining a little bit some of the time but I got a bunch of rides and got to Taupo with no trouble. The final ride was with a biker from Wellington who took me all the way to the registration.

I ran into Pauly Paul and some other Central City Circus folk immediately, as they had been hired to perform. At registration, I won a portable MP3 player Shoqbox thingy just for entering. I txted Ken and he put me in touch with Pudding, who picked me up and took me to his Aunty’s place where we watched Over The Hedge on a high definition TV. Dave, Pudding’s brother was most generous in offering me a place to stay at short notice, very close to the event.

I left my pack at Dave’s place and cycled down to the start of the race at 7:15am. I don’t know how long I waited, it was cold and windy, and I was glad I brought my hooded sweatshirt. There was so many bikes it was rediculous. Some of the most popular comments were “You’re not!” or “You’re not going round the lake on that are you?” or “How do you brake/go down hills?”. One of the Marshalls requested a unicycle demonstration while people gathered, and I busted out some wheel walking and one footing and spins and backwards riding and stuff, and got a good applause. I noticed an abundance of positive comments rather than circus ones and commented to a trainer-wheel rider. When the commentator at the start line found out I’d been riding 10 years he asked if that is when I joined the circus, and the trainer-wheel-rider said “There it is Rowan!” and I did not comment. I predicted I would finish in 12 hours or less, and explained how I didn’t need to wear a helmet because “a bike has two or more wheels”.

When group 8 (the slowest group) finally started I rode off as fast as I could. I won the 100m 200m and 800m races against Ken because he chose to be further at the back of the group. He soon caught up and spoke to me for about a minute before leaving me in the dust, even though he had no schlumph hub on his coker. I remember saying hi to a Byrdie as she went past, cos I mispronounced her name. I tried my carpet shoe out on one of the downhills (for gliding) but it wasn’t very effective- small stones were being picked up by the wheel and acting like marbles underfoot, and the round crown isn’t the best for putting vertical pressure on the frame.

I carried my 1.5l (2/3 full) bottle of water all the way to the first water break without drinking it. I stopped for a reefer and a drink and kept going without bothering filling up. It was pretty interesting the yoyo effect of the hills with the bikes. Ken has mentioned the phenomenon before in a writeup I’ve read. They all pass ya on the way down and then you go flying past some of them on the way up. I think its to do with the way a unicycle keeps your legs at an ideal angle like almost standing up so you get a decent cadence without having to take your weight out of the seat completely. That and the fact you have half the weight and less loss of energy through the chain.

I kept up with a few of the slower riders for a while, but eventually with more reefer breaks I fell back into being right at the back. During the second joint I saw three cop cars go past. There was heaps of interesting stuff by the side of the road. I saw two pumps, two cycle computers, heaps of inner tubes and tires and various bike parts. I was appalled at the useless bikers not carrying their litter to rubbish bins. The whole 160k was littered with leppin squeezy packets, energy suppliment wrappers, drink bottles and snack wrapping etc, even though there was rubbish bins provided every 20km or so. Surely it will all get cleaned up after the event but I reckon if you can bike for 160km and carry your snacks with you, then it is a small effort to carry a wrapper to a bin.

At about half way I realised I wasn’t going to have enough reefers for all the rest stops, so I stopped smoking and just rode and ate and drank and talked and stuff. After 100km I was feeling pretty tired and just wanted to finish, but I was optimistic cos there was less than half way to go, but also pessimistic about finishing before dark since I never really kept track of the time.

I was sitting on the footpath eating a rice wafer when the safety car came and asked if I was OK and if I needed a ride back or something. I let them know I intended to finish and thanked them and took off again. It must have been the last 40km I had the safety car following me with their orange lights flashing. It was a blessing in a way- it made me feel a bit stink that I was holding up the traffic on some of the narrow bits of road but it also made me feel safe and supported. Every time I stopped they would stop too. I stopped to pick up $1.50 from the road and I made them back up so I could get it. I rode up Hatepe hill with quite a decent pace and caught up to the last Solo bike rider one last time (to be passed by him again soon after).

The first 10k of the last 20k felt like the hardest even though it was downhill or flat. My legs were cramping up slightly and they were definitely feeling the soreness. The backs of my arms were glowing with sunburn. The event had finished and cars loaded with bikes and people were going past constantly. There were so many violations of the “Improper use of an audible warning signal” laws that police would have found it impossible to enforce. It seemed like half the cars were tooting/waving/cheering/thumbs upping etc… and the closer I got to town the higher the percentage of cars tooted…eventually almost all of them. The last 10k got easier again as I knew the goal was getting so close, and I could see landmarks that reminded me of the town and the constant waving back to cars distracted me from my own discomfort.

On the home stretch there was what seemed like hundreds of people on the streets of the town- letting out a roar of cheers which alerted a bunch of people near the finish line that I was coming. The bunch gathered on the road and formed a human tunnel for me- giving me high 5’s and a couple of beers and a heroes welcome back. Everyone seemed to have heaps of respect for me and were very generous with their compliments and congratulations. A woman told me she had thought I was crazy when I said I was going to ride around the lake… but then when she saw it done it turned into respect (or something). I don’t think completing the challenge completely rules out crazy but it was good to have fans at the finish. Someone told me the finishing time was 8:13pm. If Ken is right that we were held up an hour and a half at the start then it only took me 11.5 hours not 13- but 13 if you count from 7:15am.

Pauly Paul txted me and tracked me down to where I was seizing up on the seat by the abandoned finish line (no officials to be seen… nobody to hand the transponder in to). He put me in contact with Dave who I had met at the Juggling festival, and everything turned out good, - Dave offered to drive me home. Pudding delivered my pack to me, and thankfully he took my responder and said he would hand it in to someone for me. I got a burger and drove some of the way home in Dave’s van. It was painful trying to lift my leg enough to get it into the van. We were a bit worried when we ran low on petrol and couldn’t find a petrol station. We found one that wasn’t open, and Dave went around the corner to the deisel pump with the credit card slot- put some money on it and then came out to the forecourt and pumped the van full of petrol. Round the corner was a petrol station that was open but it was still good to be saved. Dave came and visited New Plymouth for a couple of days and dropped me off home.

So far we all lived happily ever after…
But the round the mountain is coming up on the 27th of January. I guess I am compelled to do that now because it is less than 160km (it is 150km) and it is apparently less hilly than Taupo. Ken- you should fly up to the north island on the 27th and do the RTM and then fly back and continue your SINZ trip. J/K

Over all I think it was well worth doing. I relied on good Karma to pull me through and everyone who made it happen for me I am most grateful to. Thanks Ken, Pauly, Marcus, Dave, Dave, and everyone who gave me rides and support. Thanks Peter for the tire that gave me no punctures!

Nice write-up Rowan! What a ride… Isn’t being a rock-star great?


Wow Rowan that was an incredible writeup. I’m afraid to say that you definatly outdid Ken in terms of amazement. I really got a great feeling of amazement as I read your article and I even laughed at a couple parts. Particularly when you picked up the buck fifty off the ground, and when you realized you would have to ration the pot (from the sounds of it you went through alot of it :P).

Big ups to all of you that participated.

Wow, you went 99.5 miles in 9 hours and 3 mins.
You should go for it if you haven’t. But anyways, amazing ride write up, you are an amazing coker rider.

You missed the most incredible part of his writeup. He did the ride on a 700c non-geared unicycle!


Yeah thats what blows my mind, its amazing that some people actualy ride those things XD. I also don’t think people would be gliding on a coker downhill :p.

So, I need to change it, he is an amazing rider.

Rowan is my new hero (not that he ever wasn’t). Congratulations to both Rowan and Ken. It’s an elite group that has done 100 miles on a unicycle.

Yep, Rowan certainly did a great job. I’m pretty sure he said he was using 125mm cranks too!

Disapppointed I didn’t catch up with Rowan after the event- we arrived pretty late and I was staying with friends and didn’t have a car.

Just in case anyone points out that 160km is slightly less than 100miles, both of us would have ridden at least a couple of Km’s to the start line…which should easily put us over 100miles. Also, 160km is the minimum distance according to the organisers. I don’t use a cyclecomputer so can’t confirm that measurement, but people who do have all measured more than that- some up to 162km.

Rowan that made me crack up, the way you were skinning up all the first half, and losing track of the time all the second half. I dunno how you do it mind, after a few smokes I’d be having a sit down and watching the pretty things rather than doing a super long distance ride. Respect for doing it in a disorganised way, and it’s cool that your mates (and other random people) all supported you to get there and stuff.

Ken - I have a feeling your SINZ training is somewhat ahead of mine. I’ve been doing about 60k a week plus some night rides so far…