I used to be a member of the MZ Riders Club - a motorcycle club associated with old East German 2 stroke motorcycles made by MZ and Simson. When I sold my MZ, I kept in touch with the club, and kept threatening to ride to a meeting on my unicycle. In MZ circles, there is a thing called “Zed cred” which is the kudos you get from achieving the maximum with the minimum. 500 miles on a 250cc 2 stroke is big Zed cred; 40 miles on a Honda Pan European is nil Zed cred. Arriving at the club with only one wheel and no engine at all just has to score maximum points!
So which uni? The Coker hasn’t been out much recently, and I decide for a variety of reasons that it would be the best one - not least because if I’m going to impress my mates, the Coker has to be the most impressive. (Yes, in the context of the rest of this post, this is hypocritical. It’s a human failing.)
And for pedants: the club’s name has no apostrophe in it. I think it ought to have one too.
The ride starts on a low note when I have to stand like a lemon for ages, waiting for 3 little girls and a horse to plod up the path towards me and get out of the way. As they approach, the little girl says in that superior way that “proper little madams” have, “Oh, I had a go on one of those once. I could only ride it 5 metres though.”
Across the field, along the river bank, and there are too many people about - it’s Sunday morning, and they are entitled to be out, of course, but do they have to be in my way? And every single one of them catches my eye, makes an unsolicited comment, demands a response, and I’ve been talking to strangers all week for a living, and I don’t want to do it in my own time. Why does riding a unicycle make me public property?
Then I get to the suspension bridge, and I approach slowly, and wide, keeping a good lookout for cyclists. A young woman on a bike comes down off the ramp from the bridge. She isn’t concentrating, and she weaves towards me totally unpredictably, and not looking where she’s going. As I am forced to dismount to avoid a collision, she still displays no evidence that she understands that she is responsible for her actions, or that her actions have consequences.
A small crowd seems to accumulate, and I’m feeling grumpy. I fluff my first attempt at a mount, succeed clumsily the second time, and ride over the bridge.
More tarmac path by the river, more comments. More pedestrians who ignore my polite, “Excuse me, please,” or who sidestep into my path for no apparent reason. Then I reach the section of path that’s closed and have to ride on the road. Big black ‘n’ chrome 4x4s abound, and every driver has an insight to share with me.
I have a fairly joyless ride to Beeston Marina, finding that the Coker offers less challenge than the 700c on the riverside track, but is unwieldy in the tight manoeuvring I need to get over the canal footbridge. I used to do about 60 miles a week on this thing, but it’s amazing how quickly I’ve lost the intuitive feel for how it steers.
At last, at the marina, a coffee and an egg bap. Thee seems to be a local bread shortage, and they’ve improvised with cardboard.
Then it’s the nature reserve. Foolishly, I have chosen to ride a unicycle along a bridle path (open to pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders) at a time when every dog owner in Nottinghamshire has taken his dog out and let it off the lead. Progress through the nature reserve is slow and irritating, holding back, waiting for people to retrieve and restrain their dogs, waiting for people to realise that they are sharing a path with bicycles and at least one unicycle. People seem to go about in their own little bubble sometimes.
Then the piece de resistance: the person in a car, driving along the track, and expecting all the pedestrians, cyclists, children and the unicyclist to get out of his way because his vehicle is motorized. This is a bridle path, remember?
Out onto the road, where I am nearly knocked off by a sudden unpredictable spurt of acceleration from a woman driving a 4x4 truck as I ride across a road island. Then I cruise along a pavement (giving way to pedestrians, because this is definitely their territory) and I finally make it to the pub where I meet a few members of the MZ Riders Club and spend a happy hour or so talking about old times and mutual friends.
Time to leave, and I see that several blokes are in the front window of the pub watching me get ready. I suffer the indignity of a chorus of the circus tune (dit dit diddle iddle dit dit da da!) and as I mount, a rousing ironic cheer.
Out onto the pavement and a car drives past. A young male moron hangs out of the passenger window of a passing car, almost as far as his waist, and shakes his fist and shouts, “Are you f***ing real or what?” I’m sure that shouting unprovoked abuse at strangers in the street is an indicator of insanity.
Back to the nature reserve, which is still crowded. A tall fat ugly man in a football shirt approaches with a dog that is not on a lead. The dog snaps at my feet as I ride past. I swear at the dog. The man glares at me. I suggest he should keep the dog under control. He says I shouldn’t be cycling there. (So it’s OK for his dog to attack me?) I explain that it’s a bridle path, cycles are allowed, and if he can’t control his dog he should keep it on a lead. We part on terms of mutual hostility.
Through the marina, which is a pedestrian only area, and I always push the uni. Two people with whom I have not made eye contact feel free to demand that I let them see me ride it. I ignore them.
Back onto the canal bank, with some shouted comments from the occasional fisherman, and from one passing boatman. It’s usually a pleasant ride along this canal bank, but it’s too crowded today. I pass a young wino who is busy abusing passers by and swigging cheap cider probably paid for from my taxes. He laughs uproariously as I ride past, and is still laughing as I go round the next corner 500 metres further on.
Around the next corner, a hill that I always treat as a bit of a challenge. I’ve never made it up yet. Well, I won’t today, either, because anglers have spread their kit out all over the path, meaning I have to dismount and carry the unicycle. “What, can’t you ride it up that little hill?” says one of them. He is desperately close to getting a free swimming lesson.
Then more canal path, until I am again forced to stop by the angler who has spread his carbon fibre pole right across my path. At least he has the good manners to apologise after he has forced me to dismount.
Out onto the pavement and across Trent Bridge, where someone in a car feels it is necessary to sound his horn repeatedly as he passes me. Then I’m back down onto the river bank and, frankly, glad to be nearly back at the car.
I reckon that I’ve had more abuse and gratuitous comments in one ride than I’ve had for months. Is it the Coker that provokes it, because it is so big? I can’t quantify it, but I do feel that the 700c gets the least hostile response of all my unicycles. Maybe it’s simply the wheel size - it looks like a one wheeled bicycle, rather than a novelty item?
And I can’t say there have been many moments when I’ve enjoyed riding the Coker. My mounting and precision steering have got rusty over the last few months. On a rough track, the Coker just irons out the bumps and offers no challenge, compared to the 700c.
I may sell it.