Coker -v- Holy Roller

Well, two Muni rides in two days - I must like this new tyre!

In fact, today started with me feeling a bit low. My legs were tired from a sequence of evenings that went: unicycle hockey, fencing, Morris dancing, fencing, followed by a 12 mile MUni ride yesterday afternoon. The weather was cold and grey, and it took me all morning to get into the mood to ride.

And now I have a problem choosing a wheel and a route. My regular run out towards Beeston Marina is spoiled by the roadworks that mean I have to ride for a few hundred metres on a busy main road with traffic lights. And my last experience at the nature reserve on a Sunday afternoon nearly had me selling the Coker and taking up macrame. I got in a real knot over that, you may recall.

But the other direction? Surely not more laps of the Water Sports Centre? If I ride clockwise round that big lake one more time, I reckon there will be a perceptible change in the Earth’s period of rotation.

But I haven’t taken the MUni to the Water Sports Centre for, ooh, years. Not since I had the Coker, I think. Let’s see what it can do.

So I drive down and park near the skateboard ramps. These are crowded with kids on skateboards and BMXes. (Thinks: should the plural be pronounced “Bee Emices”?)

I mount the MUni at the car, ride a short distance along the road, and through the “wiggle gate”. Here, the manoeuvreability of the MUni helps. The Coker’s wheel is too big to be sure of riding through this gate without catching it, and I have this irrational fear of falling and impaling my handsome face on a gate post. MUni wins a point. Coker 0: Muni1.

No one on the skatepark comments (good) and I turn quickly from the main path to ride along a trodden grass and mud path across the field. I concentrate on keeping the speed up, determined to learn to ride a MUni “properly” rather than plodding along and taking each obstacle slowly. Soon I am on the riverside path, and here the MUni shows its limitations. It feels painfully slow compared to either the Coker or the 28. The cranks are the same as on the Coker, but the MUni has less “flywheel effect” and it takes more effort to keep the cadence up. The 28, of course, has much shorter cranks, making it easier to keep up high rpm for longer.

Coker beats MUni on normal riverside path. Coker 1: MUni 1.

I reach the sailing club, and a “family cyclist” holds the gate open. I “sail” through with a nod of thanks, I zig zag between the boats that are being prepared on the grassy apron in front of the club house, and soon I am alongside the rugby pitch. Here, heavily built young men are jogging in unison, looking awfully manly. A young boy (from the junior team?) shouts, “Oi, mate, the circus is that way.”

Didn’t his mummy teach him not to talk to strangers? I give him a signal that might be taken to suggest that there are two circuses. I get a round of ironic applause from the rugby team, who have to stop to do this. Presumably asking a rugby player to jog and applaud ironically is like asking George Bush to walk and chew gum.

And on that amusingly satirical note, I reach the car park of the Water Sports Centre. I have a half-formed plan (more George Bush?) to ride most of my usual Coker route and see how the MUni compares.

Here’s the comparison of specifications before I ride the route. The Coker and the MUni have 150 mm cranks, and identical pinned pedals. The Coker tyre is 2.5" section, quite rounded in cross section, and with a simple tread pattern made up of small round studs of rubber. The new MUni tyre is 2.4" section (i.e. as near as dammit the same), similar in cross section, and with a simple tread pattern made up of small square studs of rubber, slightly deeper than the studs on the Coker. Apart from differences in weight, and the fact that the MUni has a handle, the two unis are very similar, with the Coker being around 38% bigger.

So, the plan goes out of the window immediately, because the nimbler MUni impulsively leads me up a rough ballast path I seldom ride. From there, there is a short and steep little climb that I don’t think I could do on the Coker, and I find myself on top of scoreboard hill, overlooking the rowing course. I can get up here on the Coker, but by a more gradual climb. Coker 1: MUni 2.

Then the MUni leads me down a steeper part of the hill than I would risk on the Coker, and I feel in control enough to let the uni have its head a little bit. Losing control on a descent on the Coker could be nasty, so I always keep it on a tight rein. Looks like the MUni is faster down short steep hills. Coker 1: MUni 3.

I then follow my normal “skyline route”, ducking under the arrow sculpture. I take a different gap in the sculpture than usual, and my wheel falls into an unexpected wheeltrap and I UPD. Hmmm. The Coker wouldn’t have tripped, but I would have hit my head on the sculpture, or chosen a different gap. Honours even? Still Coker 1: MUni 3.

The MUni eats the steep ballast track up to the top of the next hill, and I feel confident to take a steep descent I would never try on the Coker. The hill is short and grassy, and at the bottom there is the tiniest step down onto a ballast path, then a tiny little step up onto the grass and a short but steep uphill. I have ridden the Coker many many times from the first hill to the second hill, but never risked this short cut before. I do it confidently and easily on the MUni. Coker 1: MUni 4.

More grassy hills and then some muddy riverbank path past fishermen’s cars. The expected volley of commentary never arrives (good) and soon I am cutting through long grass to the parallel path which has uphills and downhills, with occasional muddy puddles crossing my way. Not much to choose here: The Coker would probably be slightly faster, but the MUni feels better balanced. I just enjoy this section of the ride, watching wild rabbits scatter before me, and feeling that I’m long way from the crowds that are, in reality, only 100 metres or so away by the main lake.

I cut through may favourite little zig zag between and beneath the trees - slightly easier, slightly less exciting, on the MUni - then plod across rough ground to the lakeside.

Next, the big test: the climb up to the back of the waterski lodge. This is the hill where I fell from the Coker and chipped a bone in my hand a couple of years back (on the easiest bit of the hill!). Before I had the Coker, I used to attempt to ride it on the MUni, but that was before I was confident at freemounting, and there were times when I was near to tears of frustration and exhaustion. Today, with a few hundred more miles under my belt, and a better tyre, I ride up the hill fairly easily. There’s just a little bit of arm waving in the long tussocky grass at the very top, but never any real danger of a fall. Then I take a steeper descent than usual to the side of the waterski lake, and approach the ski lodge. Honours even on this section. Still 1:4.

Most of the skiers move to one side, all apart from one young lady who has her back to me and is bending over to sort something out in a kit bag. For a moment, I can’t decide whether to aim for her right or her left, or something in between, but my good upbringing cuts in and a say, “Excuse me,” and wait until she has stepped to one side.

Then it’s the narrow railway sleeper bridge where I had a few falls on my last Coker ride. I make it across on the MUni, but ironically, I feel less confident than I normally would on the Coker. The problem with this bridge is all in my head.

My route then takes me back to the main lake, and I do a few circuits of bits and pieces of rough ground and poorly-trodden paths. Once more, I attempt a climb that I’ve never tried on the Coker. I make it to a summit that I’ve never reached before, and I spin down the long side of the hill, feeling very chuffed. Coker 1: MUni 5.

Back along the tarmac for a bit, and here the MUni is terribly slow, despite my determination to keep the wheel spinning. Tarmac, not good: Coker 2: MUni 5. Bored, I swerve off onto the grass, cut through a gate and along a short rough path before coming out near the main building of the Water Sports centre - all the hospitality suites and offices and stuff. I find a low wall (nil height at one end, 6 inches high at the other) and ride along the top and drop off. Mikefule, the trials god!

At the main seating area, where people sit to watch the rowing races, there is a small concrete step. The top of the step is level, but the tarmac that runs past the bottom slopes, so the step varies in height from almost nil at one end to a couple of feet at the other end. I have from time to time ridden off this step. Today I have several goes, gradually building up the height of the drop to something just under a foot. This is a rolling drop, just like riding off a kerb. I get bored with that. Wheels are round for a reason. Riding a unicycle vertically is like putting pogo sticks on the bogeys of a train. (But less spectacular or newsworthy in its potential effects.)

Where next? More of the same really, but with some diversions onto the mooring pontoons where I idle and admire the unexpected clarity of the water. It is almost gin clear today, where usually it is gin & orange clear. Under the water is a silent world of waterweed and small fish, and muted colours. It reminds me of my diving days, and I have a momentary urge to go swimming. There’s something beautifully peaceful about open water, until the very moment when you find out how cold it is. I remember the feeling of the cold hitting my forehead like a frozen hammer, and the chill of the first trickles down the back of my wetsuit, I shudder and ride on. (NB, those of you who have not dived in UK waters may not recognise that description; I’ve dived in the Indian Ocean, the Med. and the Caribbean and it is very different!)

I meander over towards the canoe slalom course. There is one particualr hill I want to try. It’s a short climb up mown grass, followed by a ride along a slightly uneven ridge, then a sudden short but steep climb of a couple of metres or so to the highest point. On the Coker, I can make it to the highest point about half the time, by getting my speed up and rushing" the hill. If I don’t gather enough momentum, I stall. If I time it wrong, I trip at the very start of the steepest section. How will the MUni do, with its identical cranks, similar tyre, and smaller wheel?

Answer: really badly. I can’t get much momentum up because the smaller wheel is more sensitive to minor bumps and hollows in the approach, and, anyway, it’s inherently slower. I fail to rush the hill, stall about half way up and dismount gracefully. It seems unlikely that I will ever make it up this hill on the MUni. I’ve done it several times on the Coker. Coker 3: MUni 5.

There’s a clumsy UPD as I step up onto the footbridge over the slalom course, and another on the next bridge. This is mainly technique, and partly a stupid pedestrian who stops in my path and just gazes in wonder. He’s just the sort of person who steps off the bottom of an escalator and stops dead, causing dozens of people to pile up. Whatever, neither of these bridges is usually a problem on the Coker, so thats 4:5.

Along the main lakeside, and I decide to ride up a “secret path”. This is a waymarked path, but so badly overgrown that most people probably don’t know it’s there. I did it once on the 700c with 110 mm cranks. I’m not sure I could do it on the Coker because of the overhanging branches and the tight man. It’s easy on the MUni. I’m not sure it’s fair to award a point here until I’ve tried it on the Coker.

Back to the far end of the main rowing lake, I follow a few rough muddy, stony and grassy tracks. I find a way through to the river bank that I didn’t know existed. This opens up the prospect of a few miles of unexplored riverbank - although directly opposite is the riverbank I’ve ridden many times. The riverbank looks boring - just slow flat rough grass. It’d be fun on the Coker, but pointless on the MUni, and I can work out the alternative route back by road and rough track which would be even more tedious on the MUni. Coker 5: MUni 5.

So back towards the main lake by a previously unexplored track, and I gradually make my way back towards the main entrance of the Water Sports Centre. On the way, I make a direct frontal assault on scoreboard hill, and make it about half way up. I dismount and realise that the sun is shining quite hot. I’ve been so absorbed in the ride that I hadn’t noticed. I sit and rest, taking in the view. I even take my shirt off (in England, in October!).

As I sit there, I see a jay fly past. That’s pretty special - only the third I’ve ever seen. The jay is a woodland bird (this is not even a heavily wooded area) about the size of a pigeon, and is notoriously shy. It is colourful, in a pastel-shaded sort of way, and with a startlingly white rump. It flies past only a fe metres away, perches for a while in a tree, then flies away. I watch the tree for a couple of minutes in case it returns, and am rewarded with the sight of a squirrel scrambling from branch to branch.

I have a couple of options at the main entrance/exit. I decide to ride along the road. Big mistake: if I pedal fast, I feel slightly ungainly on this small wheel, and if I pedal slowly then I’m an obstacle to traffic. My big theory of unicycling on the road is that you need to look like you’re meant to be there. The Coker looks ok, the 700c ok, the MUni feels wrong. Soon I have an irritated woman in a car crawling along behind me, too afraid to overtake, despite my signals. MUni on the road, no fun: Coker 6: MUni 5.

Back along the usual riverbank path, and across the field, and soon I’m back at the car. Just over 12 miles covered, and I’m pretty tired.

So the final score: Coker 6: MUni 5, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The MUni took me on routes I wouldn’t have attempted on the Coker. On those sections, it may as well have been MUni 10: Coker 0. The MUni is better up and down longish and steepish climbs, but the Coker has the advantage that it can “rush” a short steep hill where momentum counts for more than torque. I’ve got used to longer distances, and getting the boring bits out of the way quickly on the Coker or the 700c. My girlfriend has a Land Rover Defender, and it’s awful on the motorway, but we don’t use my 50 mpg Citroen at the bottom of her 7 acre field.

I know I couldn’t have attempted most of yesterday’s ride in the forest on the Coker. I know I could put 110s on the MUni for longer trips on boring surfaces.

So if I could only have one of the two? Good job I don’t have to decide!

holy crap u rite a lot!

Muni owns all.

Another well written… write-up Mike. I’m looking forward to your book in a few years. :smiley:

I almost feel like I was there with you. You’d have left me behind after the first couple of miles though.

Man, I actually look foward to reading about your rides!

Good lord, how was this revived from the archives?

I have been riding a lot less recently. Very busy at work, and lots of commitments with my Morris team, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary by attending almost every event you can think of.

Most of the rides I’ve done recently have been tried and trusted routes, pleasant enough, but nothing new and interesting to write up.

I did an unusual ride last Friday in an area where I used to play as a child. the area has been developed so much in the last couple of years that it took me over half an hour to find the canal that I used to walk along almost every day!

where are we riding next and when ? cant wait:)

DOH! maybe I should check the date of the post next time

Don’t worry about it Dangerdog.

After Mikefule convinced me to try Uni a while ago I’ve been practicing. Once I’m good enough I’ll try and motivate him to get out and explore some new places.

It’s that or try and write up my rides and I’d never be as eloquent or amusing as Mike. :smiley:

Only a matter of time before we get to the Water Sports Centre and as long as he’s on the Muni I’ll only be about a mile behind!

Well, you’ll certainly never be more than 5 km behind, as it’s a 5 km lap. In fact, once you’re just over 2.5 km behind, you can pretend you’re just under 2.5 km ahead.