My last two rides were pretty unsuccessful, and the opportunities for riding are harder to find at this time of year. Yesterday dawned bright and clear, but there was Christmas shopping to do. Today, with a ride half planned, I awake to dull grey skies and a damp chill hanging in the air. The unicycle is already fettled - I put the 110mm cranks on last night - but my riding kit seems to be widely scattered about the house and takes some time to collate.
So I drive to the usual starting place, take a little longer than usual to get ready, and do a few half hearted calf stretches. It’s about 9:15 a.m., so there is only one kid on the skateboard ramps, and he seems engrossed in perfecting a specific technique for stumbling from his inverted skateboard, and he makes no comment as I pass.
I mount first time, but the uni feels a bit twitchy. Most of my recent rides have been on a 26 x 2.5 MUni with 170 mm cranks. Today I’m on a 700c x 28 mm high pressure tyre, and 110 mm cranks. It’s like changing from a tractor to a sports car, and the adjusment is bound to take a few minutes.
Round the corner onto the river bank, and I’m confronted by a carpet of slimy autumn leaves. On my last ride, with the seat an inch too high, I had UPDed on these leaves - or some very like them - so I proceed with caution. Then I’m back onto the tarmac, and riding past the club houses of the rowing club and the kayak club where a motorist has a couple of attempts at dislodging me from my steed as he parks, changes his mind, pulls out and parks again.
Next is the City Ground, home of the once mighty Nottingham Forest. The City Ground has some sort of offices or an entertainment suite at the front, with glass-to-ground. As I catch sight of my reflection, I pull my tummy in, sit up a bit straighter and try to look as unclownlike as I can. The folly of vanity: that a 43 year old bloke can wear skin-tight lycra and ride a one wheeled bike, but still hope that he doesn’t look daft!
By now, the chill is taking the edhge off my enjoyment of the ride. The breeze is in my face, and the skin of my bare arms puckers as the hairs stand up. Why the Americans make such a fuss about the right to bare arms is beyond me, especially at this time of year.
As I swoop through the tunnel under Trent Bridge, and turn sharply to the left up the S shaped slope, I notice a knocking from my left crank. I slow down to take the load off, and cruise to a halt at a bench a couple of hundred metres later. Tools out (as Alice Cooper nearly said) and by putting as much pressure on my tool as I can with my injured wrist, I tighten both my nuts as far as they will go.
Back on the uni, I ride along the top step of the embankment, then swoop round and up and over the suspension bridge. It doesn’t seem long ago that the suspension bridge, with its closely-spaced bollards across the bottom of the ramp, its steep ramp and its slatted deck, was a major obstacle on my rides. I still treat it with caution - perhaps more respect than it deserves - but in fact it is easy to ride. With the longer cranks (I was previously on 102s) it is almost disappointingly easy.
After the bridge, I turn onto the tarmac path that runs parallel to the river, and see a drama being acted out. An elderly man is flat on his back; two or three younger people are helping him to his feet, but it is not clear that he wants to be helped; another elderly man is shouting a mixture or encouragement and derision. I suspect that cider might be involved - I could possibly even specify the brand. I give the drama a wide berth and swoop down across the wet grass to the lower path and ride alongside the river as far as the toll bridge.
The toll bridge no longer charges. A few years ago it was converted to a cycle path and foot path. As I approach it, I see three elderly bicyclists on the bridge, obviously waiting for companions to join them. I recognise the green and white tops of Notts DA of the CTC, and as I get closer, I also recognise the ugly mug of Reg - a miserable bloke I never got on with when I was in that club. I nod as I pass and the other two make a friendly comment. I doubt Reg recognises me.
I am going this way to avoid a section of main road where the cycle path is blocked by reconstruction work. The interesting challenge is that I’m not at all sure how to find my way back across the river. I know that there’s a cycle path across the next bridge (Clifton Bridge) but I’ve now idea how to join it.
My route takes me under Clifton Bridge,where the massive concrete pillars are decorated with graffiti. On one there is a new design: a picture of Spiderman in his classic blue and red costume (I never liked the black and white one), but with his head about ten sizes too big, and his eyes exaggerated. His tiny body is in a typical Betty Boop pose, and the effect is most amusing - graffiti as ironic art.
From here, I need to climb up a steep tarmac ramp to the cycle path next to the main road. There is a slight kerb at the bottom of the ramp. I “unweight” the wheel as I hit it, but overdo it, so that the wheel takes off. With no contact between the tyre and the ground, the wheel skips round until my foot hits the bottom of its travel, then the wheel lands and bites and I UPD - the first of the day.
I remount, and zig zag round the anglers’ car park between muddy puddles before approaching the ramp from a different angle. The ramp is about as steep as I can ride with these cranks - I certainly couldn’t do it on the 102s - but I make it to the top intact. I then walk across the main road and remount. Now, how do I find the path across the bridge? There follows a few frustrating minutes in which I am lost in a maze of footpaths, cycle paths and a pedestrian underpass. At one time, I ride up a steep ramp, only to find a dead end, a bus shelter and a startled pensioner. That’s slightly better than a dead pensioner and a startled end, I suppose.
When all else has failed, I read the signs and follow them.
I ride over the bridge and down to the road that passes the football ground and the golf course. This is usually a very quiet road, but I time my arrival with about 22 cars. Presumably there is a football match on and most of the players are travelling alone. I have to idle for about 2 or 3 minutes until there is a gap and I can join the convoy.
Next is the sports field. Here the 28mm slick tyre is no help at all. The path is simply a narrow strip of trodden mud, with the friction coefficient of Teflon flavoured toothpaste. I manage to teeter most of the way across the field before a complete loss of traction has me UPDing. The surface is so bad I can’t even remount, so I walk for a bit.
Then it’s what used to be a favourite section - the swoopy path by the river. However, it is part way through being improved, and will never be as good again. It is wider and straighter, but the surface is not yet flat. On the Coker, it would be easy; on the MUni, it would be boring; on the 700c, it’s just irritating.
After this section, there is more slimy mud, and I’m starting to regret my choice of tyre. Maybe I need a winter tyre with more grip. The precision steering and tactical route selection that made the 700c such an enjoyable challenge in the summer are less fun now, when the path is a winding strip of slime.
Eventually, I get back onto a hard dry surface and make good speed, slowing occasionally for dog walkers. I reach the weir. Beeston Weir is quite spectacular, with various concrete structures which break and mix the flow of the water, presumably to reduce erosion at the next bend in the river.
At the side of the weir is a concrete platform, and access to this is down a concrete ramp. I often ride down here to sit and contemplate infinity (i.e. “rest”) for a while. However, they have dug the ground at the top of the ramp, presumably to re-seed the grass. This means I have to ride across a narrow strip of exposed wet soil, with a steepish little drop. As I put back pressure on the pedals to control my speed, the tyre slips, the wheel locks and I skid down the hill before regaining control and riding onto the ramp. Two lads who were just starting to make derisory comments express admiration instead.
Later, I ride the short distance to the marina café where I purchase a rather disreputable Sunday paper and consume coffee and calories. This will be the furthest point of my ride, partly because I’m tired, and partly because I know that this tyre would be no good whatsoever on what would come next if I continued.
I ride back alongside the canal, almost without event.
An angler waits until I pass and says, “'Ere, mate, how do you knw you’re not going to fall off that?”
It’s a strange question. I slow almost to an idle and reply, “I will, sooner or later. I’ve fallen off twice already today.” He seems satsified with the answer.
I reach the steep little pedestrian bridge. I have never ridden over this on 102s. It would be exaggerating to call it easy on the 110s, but I manage it without serious difficulty. 8mm, an extra 8% - but it makes all the difference. I am starting to think that the test of a good unicyclist is not to be able to ride with ever shorter cranks, but to be able to ride reasonably fast with longer cranks.
I won’t give chapter and verse on the last couple of miles, because I’ve described the route so many times before, and it passes without incident.
Back to the car, the computer says:
14.19 miles (22.8 km)
Max speed 12 mph (19 kph) which is pretty good, considering that I never deliberately tried to ride fast.
1:39.52 riding time.
That’s an average riding speed of 8.5 mph (13.6 kph) which is slow, but takes into account all the nadgery sections and the slime.