400 meter track racing

I’ve noticed that all the tracks I’ve seen are now coated with a spongy, rubbery, textured surface. My friend and I were at such a track yesterday and I wanted to see how fast I could do a lap on my 36er, but it seemed like the softer surface slowed me down. Would a traditional gravel track allow for faster speeds? I’d be interested to know if anyone here has tried riding on a track with the rubberized surface, and your thoughts about it. Thanks.

I ride on our local school track regularly. It’s rubber and definately has a higher rolling resistance. I can really tell with the Coker ribbed tire. It’s faster when colder out, and slower on hot summer days, which makes sense.

I should say I’ve never tryed for time on either, but it would seem the rubber would be faster due to zero wheel slip. Cinder or dirt tracks have loose material on top.

I don’t think you would get meaningful differences. Nowadays, all the “good” tracks seem to be paved with tartan, that rubbery stuff (there may be other names). We’ve been racing on it at the big unicycle conventions since the 80s. The track I used to train on, in the early days, was asphalt (or similar) and definitely felt a little faster.

When I moved to California in 1994, there were basically two kinds of tracks around here. Most common was (is) dirt, which would be bad to crash on and I avoided. The other was tartan, which was usually behind a locked gate. That stuff is more sensitive to bike tires and other non-track usage, so they seem to keep them locked up.

For organized Track racing, tartan is the common surface today. Whatever track a race is held on, everybody else is riding on the same surface so the conditions are equal. Though there is a little more friction there, I think race times are only affected slightly.

Wheel slip isn’t an issue in Track racing. On the rare occasion when we get to do the Slalom/Obstacle Course on tartan it’s a bonus! Traction is a big factor in that one. Regular tartan is a little mushy, but in 1981 when we raced in the University of Michigan Indoor Field House, they had a textured rubberized surface that was very firm. It was the best surface ever, and a Floyd Crandall set a record on the (old) Obstacle Course that was never broken.

I LOVE this thread. Thanks for starting it! Track and Field was always my favorite sport and I spent years competing and now have spent years just going to tracks to walk and reflect on old memories. One of the perks I get for helping with the local pole vaulters is to use their track for training. Somewhere along the line I got the idea to see how many tracks I could ride my unicycle around. It has been a great adventure and has given me a bunch of good stories about people who get nervous about unicycles and kick me out of their facilities.

I, too, have noticed some of the differences in track surfaces and even the differences with weather changes. And when I go into the high school gym floor, man, is that smooth and easy going compared to the synthetic surfaces. I just wish there was more room in there.

The day will probably come when I can attend a track event at a unicycle convention and participate with everyone. I would love to hear more stories about how that competition is organized.

I think there probably is more rolling resistance on the rubber coated tracks compared to gravel or other hardpack tracks. But then again, that RR might be minimized or even mostly eliminated if I were to run my tire at the full 65psi. But I did feel a definite, albeit slight “bounce”, while pedaling, that I had never felt on traditional tracks, but lower tire pressure (about 45-50psi) could have contributed to that.

MuniAddict, where is your picture from? What track is that? A high school track or college track?

It’s Pacific Palisades High. My fastest lap on my ungeared 36er is :58. I do feel like I hold back from going totally all out, but it’s mainly due my fear of falling at speeds faster than I can run, lol! Part of it is also the time it takes to mount and get up to speed. I’m also wondering if I could go faster with my t-handle removed. I could also get up to speed faster with 125’s vs the 114’s I was using, but overall I think the 114’s are better. The area I felt the most resistance was in the turns, where I could really feel the tire “digging in”.

I used to be a competative sprinter in my teens.
I ran on loads of surfaces but loved the rubberized ones. When wearing spiked running shoes they dug in well and you could definitely get more power down instantly from the blocks.
It does have a bounce to it that you get used to. I found that bounce beneficial on a day running lots of heats as it seemed to reduce shock to your ankles and knees meaning less aches.

Can’t help on a uni though. :confused:

That was about the record for 24" racing back in the late 80s/early 90s. Probably a little faster now. My best was 1:01.

I never advocated for racing big wheels on athletics tracks because it can get crowded (and dangerous) on the curves when many lanes are filled. It takes some special technique to get into and out of the turns while staying in your lane, and inexperienced riders could get into some nasty crashes. We tried 700c Track racing starting in 2004, but it doesn’t seem to have caught on. Instead, unlimited wheels and Road races seem to be the future of high speed unicycle racing.

I think the purpose-built 24 track racers, being way lighter and much faster off the start helps, plus you can pedal them insanely fast compared to a 36er.

Wow! 58 seconds is flying. What size cranks are you using? I have 160mm cranks and have only had my 36 incher for a month so if you add about 30 seconds on to that time…well, that’s about where I am!

Interestingly enough, I was driving home from visiting family (about 100 miles away) and saw a high school track near the highway. I stopped to check it out and they only had the asphalt layer down! I rode around it and wow was it smooth. Probably the next time I am up that way they will have the rubberized layers on and I will be able to compare the ride.

Absolutely. The shorter the race, the more important a quick start is. So it’s very important in the 100, and still can be a factor in the 400, though in longer races it becomes less and less meaningful. I the Guinness races we did at Unicon III in 1987 (about 10 attempts to break the 100m record), it was all in the start. The two fastest guys seemed to have the exact same top speed, and each of them won several times, but whoever got the best start off the line was the winner if he didn’t fall off. See photo below.

And yes, it’s a lot easier to find and push your pedal-speed limit on a 24" wheel, when you can usually run out of any max-speed bails. By contrast, the speeds I travel on my 36" are based on going as fast as I feel comfortable. At high speeds, my unicycle (or my brain) gets increasingly sensitive to the tilt of the pavement (camber) and other factors, which usually slow me down. I don’t ever want to over-lean at top speed and eat it at 36" speeds, especially in high gear!

That’s regulation Track racing, with 125mm cranks and max. 24.333" wheel diameter.