I rode in the Blazin’ Saddles XC bike race (in Haldon Forest near Exeter) last weekend. The organisers were quite keen to have a unicycle in the race, but British Cycling took a bit of persuading (they thought I’d be in the way, and a unicycle doesn’t fit their description of a suitable XC bike ). They eventually let me in, riding in a race with the youth and fun classes, which actually turned out very well with nobody annoying anybody else - the other riders took the micky a bit at the start, but nothing more than that. It was three laps of a 3 1/2 mile circuit, and was much more technical than I was expecting, with some ridiculously narrow singletrack (lots of pedal strike and plant-tangling threats), very steep downhill, tight off-camber wet rooty forest and a frankly evil mile-long steepish fire-road climb to finish the lap. Probably the hardest ten miles of my life, but really good fun. I think I could have run the rooty stuff faster than I rode it, but I wanted to ride as much as possible to prove it was possible (most people didn’t think it was possible to ride a XC course on a unicycle and thought I’d have to run it all). The best riders in the youth category (16 year-olds) were pretty quick as I expected and the first two lapped me twice before I started my third lap. The rest of the field was much more spread out though, so I didn’t end up looking too much of a fool. They seemed pretty impressed I had actually finished the whole race. The marshalls were very supportive and seemed genuinely surprised I was still going each time I came round - one was amazed I got up again after a spectacular skidding face-plant right in front of him on a particularly evil steep downhill singletrack - saved by the pads that bikers don’t wear :), although my arm and shoulder are still aching a bit and I managed to get a pedal bite on my thigh somehow .
My time was just over two hours, seven minutes behind the last bike. The fastest bike time in my race was just over one hour. So reasonably respectable I think, considering technical foresty slippery rooty stuff is really not my strong point, and some of the bikes were VERY fast on the downhill sections.
It would be good to get a few more of us in the next round (3rd September) - perhaps they may even let us have our own class next year. Let me know if you’re up for it.
Thanks Steve. Oddly enough my last lap was the fastest (all three of my laps were within five minutes of each other I think) - I was learning the best lines as I went round, and recovering quite well from the climb as soon as I hit the flatter bits again each lap. I think I could have done another lap or possibly two just as fast if I hadn’t run out of water - I’ve always been better at endurance than outright top speed. I was the same when I was time-trialling on the bike - my average speeds over 10 and 25 miles were pretty much the same, whereas most people would expend all their energy in a shorter race and keel over at the finish with a very fast time - I was ready for another ride! It seems I’ve got some sort of natural pacing mechanism
I’m not saying it wasn’t tiring though… I was feeling pretty knackered on that long climb each lap, but there’s always the ego boost of catching some bikes on the hill and looking forward to the fun singletrack bits at the top kept me going. I think the most physically tiring section for me was the off-camber rooty forest part. Wet roots couldn’t just be ridden over or the wheel just disappeared down the hill. On a bike you could just lift the front wheel over and the back seemed to behave OK with only a very slight twitch. I tried several approaches (being more used to rocks than roots) like hitting the root at an angle slightly up hill (semi-successful, but lack of speed resulted in a couple of very sudden UPDs) and trying to hop it completely (needed too much energy and not consistent enough - I’m not a good hopper) and finally settled on hitting the root fast and straight and just “going light” in a sort of semi-hop like I would if I was riding a bike up a kerb. If it hadn’t been raining the night before that section would have been much easier and faster.
All very good fun though - a really good varied course. I’ll try to make it out there for some forest track practice before the next round (it’s nothing like the gravelly rocky treeless trails I normally ride).
I did another round of this series yesterday morning. After the vile weather on Saturday I thought it was going to be another mudbath like Sleepless, but the surface in Haldon woods seems to have enough gravel in it to avoid the gooey stickiness, so the tyre didn’t get clogged. Roots were pretty lethal though. It was another excellent course, technically right on the limit of my skill and physically pretty hard as well with lots of steep up and down, incredibly tight and narrow singletrack and (not expected at all in a xc race) a flight of steps with log edges (nice and slippery)
Unfortunately I had a cold… not bad, but not helped by being out in the rain all day on Saturday being an exhibit at Princetown carnival :(. I thought about not racing at all, but didn’t feel too bad yesterday morning, so dosed up on aspirin and energy gel and went for it… by half way through the race I felt so ill I decided to pull out before I threw up or keeled over and took somebody else out - I was the only one in the unicycle class anyway, so was really just racing for fun, and this had become no fun
I cruised round to the end of the lap and pulled off the course, soaked in sweat and apparently not looking too good - got a semi-official, but fairly light-hearted, ticking off from the race organisers for racing while ill (oops :o), saying I should have known better being an ex time-triallist etc (true really but I felt OK when I started, honest ).
Good fun while it lasted though and it’s improving my tight singletrack riding no end (a couple of UPDs this time, but no real crashes) - they certainly set some evil courses for this series. Looking forward to the next round in October - anybody fancy doing it with me next time? be more fun with another unicyclist to race against.
Yes, October is the last round this year. It’s only a small series - I’m mostly doing it because it’s close to home. There’s some nice bike trails (red/black) in the forest as well if anybody wanted to make a day of it (and still had any legs left after the race), and of course my usual Dartmoor routes.
Now British Cycling have let me enter on a unicycle and I’ve proved the point to them that it can be done it would be nice to be able to get some more entries for next year - we’d need nine riders though for them to create a separate unicycle class which would be cool but sounds unlikely (I’m riding in the “fun” class this year).
Cool… now we only need another seven
Even if we can’t get enough interest for an official unicycle class it would be good if a few of us could do it. Tue was quite keen to do it this year, but the dates always seem to clash with something else - I expect he’ll be up for it next year.
I think the main problem for most people will be getting to Exter for what is really only a two-hour race. But like I said before, there’s good possibilities for making a whole day or even a weekend of it for people who have to travel (it’s easy for me, less than an hour up the road, that’s why I contacted them in the first place).
If Sleepless was a typical 24hr course (it’s the only one I’ve done so all I can use for comparison), this series is quite different. Much more technical singletrack stuff and not much open fast bits - probably not coker territory. I found it physically much harder than Sleepless even though it was only ten miles or so (and riding with a slight cold yesterday completely killed me after less than half the distance). The people are friendly though, even though they think I’m a nutter.
Rode the last round yesterday. Another excellent course - felt even harder than before with lots of steep narrow downhills to kill the legs before the slog up the fireroad. All ridable though (although I did walk/run up some of the steeper climbs because it was quicker). By the last lap I was getting cocky and taking risks on the singletrack, which resulted in a couple of crashes - one into a gorse bush :(, and one a very scary unintentional coast down a precipice - but no injuries worse than a couple of bruises and lots of thorn pricks. Somehow I think I was a fair bit faster than before, even though it felt harder - possibly the lap was a bit shorter, or perhaps I was just on good form - I certainly felt more confident in the forest this time.
I’m definitely doing this series again next year - dates aren’t confirmed yet, but it would be really good if we could get a few unicycle entries. Smart Coaching have also said they’re happy to allow unicycles in any of their events now - they’re running a few random events over the winter, like night time-trials and hill climbs.
A quick update: Smart Coaching fell out with British Cycling over something to do with insurance and timing gear and have cancelled the Blazin Saddles series for this year
Bit of a bummer - it was nice to have some local races. They say they’re going to run a few one-off races during the year, so I’ll enter those as they come up, if only to keep their uni-friendliness up, but no proper series. Maybe next year… I really hope they can get something sorted out - it was a really friendly atmosphere and they seemed genuinely keen to have unicycles in their races.
Spot on. It’s a Nimbus II 26x3 with 150s. I actually prefer it to a 29er for xc riding (my usual routes near home have some very rocky bits where a big tyre is nice, so I’ve just got used to the 3" - a 29er feels too skittish to me).
As for the UDC square taper hub, I’ve never had any problems with it so I see no reason to change. I’m not a big dropper and that hub seems strong enough for my riding style. If it breaks I’d probably replace it with a KH or something, but I’ve had no problems (not even a loose crank) in 2 1/2 years of regular all-round riding, commuting and racing.