A bridge too far?

Last Friday I rode 40 miles on the 28, at the end of which, I felt that my Velo saddle was taking liberties with my private anatomy. On Monday (at lunchtime) I ordered a Miyata from Roger, and on Wednesday (before 8:30 a.m.) it arrived. He should run our railways! :0)

So tonight was the big test: how does the much-vaunted Miyata compare with the much-criticised Viscount, or the widely lauded Velo? (Bearing in mind I seem to be in a minority, and quite like the Viscount but dislike the Velo!)

I set off from my usual place, and rode down the river to the Water Sports lake, then round the far end and turned back into the teeth of a strong wind. There were white caps on the waves, and small trees were swaying. I make that about a force 5, up to 25mph wind. Hard work to ride against, anyway!

Suddenly I feel an insistent tugging at my foot. I look down and see that my Judas shoe lace is negotiating a price with my crank. Just in time, I dismount voluntarily and retie it.

So I abandon Plan A which was to do 4 laps of the lake and compare my speed and comfort to what I would have expected on the Coker/Viscount. Instead, I divert up and over the hill and out along the lane towards Radcliffe on Trent. I rode this lane last week on the Coker, and it was quite easy, but the rough sections were a bit of a challenge on the 28 with its skinnier tyre.

The potholes, although not deep, are close together in places, and, like “mud cracking” in school geography lessons, seem to tessellate in a hexagonal pattern in places. You know those card trays that fruit sellers use to display oranges? It was like riding on the raised sections of one of those, avoiding the dips. (Except it was much much bigger, didn’t collapse under the weight of the unicycle, there were no oranges. Oh, and I didn’t get told off by a fruit seller. But other than that, it was identical.

So I reach the end of the lane. Radcliffe on Trent stands across my path in all its stern majesty. Now I’ve reached one of those existential moments - I can discover who I am by observing what I do; I can understand what I want by seeing what choice I make. Will I turn back, take the easy option, the road I know well, and enjoy a leisurely ride around familiar routes? Will I ride on, braving the traffic, and the catcalls of nasty rough boys? (Radcliffe is full of 'em.) The prospect of the “two bridges” circuit occurs to me. About 20 miles (30km) but with lots of road riding, some hills… but it will be dark soon…

I ride on, into Radcliffe, then up the hill, past the Police Station and approach the village limits - an obvious ‘landmark’ at which to turn back… but I am lured on, out onto the open road, with no footpath, and fast traffic. It’s not dark enough to need lights, but it will be soon. How good are my batteries? I have only LED frame-mounted lights, and no head torch with me.

Ahead of me, over the big hill and round the fast sweeping curves where the motorists play, never expecting to meet a unicyclist, lies a crossroads. To the right is the winding lane which leads to the main A52, and a grim ride back along the footpath; to the left is the legendary Shelford Hill, scene of many bicycling adventures in my youth; ahead lies East Bridgford… but that would be silly.

And I only know what I’m going to do when my left arm sticks out to signal I’m turning left… then it’s the long and steady descent into Shelford. On 110mm cranks, the torque isn’t a problem, but the timing is: with short cranks it’s easy to get it wrong, and the pedal suddenly flicks past the point of no return… then it’s good bye unicycle, and Mr. Bum meets Mrs. Floor. Fortunately, I make it down the hill safely.

Is the pub open? I’m over an hour from the car, and have a choice of about 14 level miles, or about 8 miles back via the big hill. Eyes left, ignore the pub! I can hear the pint calling, “Drink me, drink me!” but my face is a mask of self control.

And finally, I reach the bridge - a psychological point of no return, because if I cross the bridge then the rules dictate that I must return to the car by the other bridge. Anything else would be failure. I’ve been saving this two bridges ride for a year, waiting for the right occasion, and now it’s happening spontaneously.

From here, it’s mainly familiar paths. I have ridden most of the sections before, but stringing them together in the best combination for safety, speed, comfort and light is a challenge. The Miyata seat is no worse than the Viscount, and much better than the Velo, but I’m over an hour into the ride, with only one brief stop, and I’m the man who fidgets on padded dining chairs as soon as I’ve finished my pudding.

Back through the mainly smooth tracks of the Stoke Bardolph Estate, and then it’s onto the road again - and it’s dark enough to need a rear light, but not so dark that the front light shows up. The road runs by the river and is a bit of a race track for boy racers, and I notice the tell tale tyre marks of handbrake turns. Hopefully it’s still to early for them to be out.

It’s something of a relief to make it to the next off road section. This section is tarmac, but with no cars. I’m back by the river, and on the other side I can see the big hill between Radcliffe and Shelford. It’s hardly the mountain section of the Tour de France, but I’m quietly pleased with myself as I survey the highest part of my ride from the lowest part.

15 miles in and a fisherman’s dog rushes out to chase me. It starts snapping at my left foot as I pedal. I swear at it, then realise it’s only a puppy playing. I stop and fuss it and chat with its owner, who is apologetic, then interested, then impressed. He’s built for comfort, not for speed, and the idea of long distance unicycling is right up there with astrophysics and successfully chatting up women: he’s heard it goes on, he takes his hat off to the practitioners, but it’s not really part of his day to day experience.

There then follows a section of single rut - that’s like single track, only with a more pronounced U shape. The ground is baked hard; the rut is uneven, and in places the nettles are head high. I ride a long way standing on the pedals - excellent calf exercise -then the UPDs and missed mounts start. It’s a temporary blip, but I am tiring.

As I ride, I’m trying to work out my route. Which is the best cut through? Which way is smoothest, but best lit? How can I minimise the road sections? It all falls into place. My legs are still reasonably strong, but the cadence is slowing. Fore and aft balance is starting to become less smooth. If I’d set off to come this far, I’d have brought food. And at 19 miles it starts raining! Only slightly, and not for long - but it’s threatening. The wind is gusting stronger now, probably a Force 6. A few small twigs have been blown off the trees…

The final section is alongside the main road, but I manage every junction crossing but the last one without having to stop. I still feel fresh enough to take the slightly longer but prettier route back to the car. I arrive sweaty, but still reasonably fit. No food in the car either! :0(

Unicycle: 28 inch (700c x 32) with a road tyre.
Cranks: 110 mm.
Total distance ridden: 21.72 miles (34.94 km)
Total elapsed time: 2:41.42
Total RIDING time: 2:31.37

Average journey speed 8.04 mph (12.94 kmh)
Average RIDING speed 8.6 mph (13.84 kmh)

That’s amazing! My record is 12miles on a 24x3.0 muni with 158mm cranks. Average sppeed was about 9mph on the paved path (6 miles) and 5-7mph on the easy single track. There was a very steep and dusty fire road right before the single track which kinda exhausted me. The first time I tried the ride I sheared the tire off the rim and had to walk 3 miles before I ran into a biker with a pump. That day convinced me to at least carry a pump, and possibly some wrenches with me. It was fun, though.

Hope you had fun. That sounded like a fantastic ride, albeit a bit long. Were you sore?

Really enjoyed reading that, MikeFule, thanks.

Those are impressive figures on a fat heavy tyre with very long cranks. 9mph average on a tractor is very good!

My 28 is light, with a narrow tyre, and 110mm cranks. My Coker is faster in most circumstances, with a 36 inch wheel and 150mm cranks. On my 24 (with only a 1.95 section tyre) I have achieved figures like yours on 102mm cranks.

The secret to big distances is a steady and sustainable speed, careful choice of route, the courage to get an hour or more away from home/the car, and still to carry on, and the determination to stay in the saddle for that little bit longer before resting.

The ideal distance machine has a fairly big wheel and a crank:wheel radius ratio somewhere around 1:3, rather than 1:2 which you get on many smaller wheeled unis ‘out of the crate’.