Downhill Time Trials on Unicycle

I’ve been unicycling for 6 years and riding trails for about 4 years, but it has recently become far more interesting now that I’m riding a trail consistently and tracking my progress. A group of people from work hike up and down Mt. McCoy in Simi Valley, CA weekly, so I join them with my unicycle and ride down the switchback descent The trail drops 520 feet in 1.4 miles, so while it’s not very steep, the switchbacks have small radii and are quite challenging to ride through.

After 14 logged runs (20 total?), I’ve finally managed to descend the trail without falling off. Previously I had fallen off between 1 to 20 times, either on a switchback or on a rocky area on one of the traverses. I’ve been logging GPS during my rides and posting the results to Strava, which then computes my segment time.

Here is helmet-cam video from one of the descents several months ago:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_hB95lF4kE

The first attachment shows a plot of my descent times, which mostly improve with each run by several seconds. The difference between runs 13 and 14 (latest descent) is over a minute and is my biggest gradient. My average speed on run 14 was 5.7MPH, so there’s definitely margin for faster descents, although it would be very challenging to descend in less than 10 minutes.

The second attachment shows the number of times I fell off the unicycle versus run. I’m super-happy that run 14 shows 0 falls, even if some of the early runs show a bunch of time spent off the saddle. I try to standardize the effect of falls on my descent time, so if I bail off, I backtrack briefly to repeat the segment - usually successfully. If I fall a second time at the same spot, I’ll start from just past it and continue on. This way I penalize falls a bit but don’t let myself get stuck on the trail.

The final attachment shows the GPS track overlayed on Google Earth, which frankly doesn’t fall on the satellite view of the trail very well.

I’m excited about continuing these time attacks and perhaps transitioning later to a more challenging trail.

2012_10_2__McCoy_Unicycle_Descent_Times.png

2012_10_2__McCoy_Unicycle_Descent_Falls.png

Just curious, what are the specs on the uni you’re riding?
Nice job, congrats.

That’s pretty interesting to see graphed, it is good to be able to see progress clearly.

The uni looks kiss a 24 w/ very long cranks from the vid. :o

Looks like a good easy way of tracking your improvements. + all one needs is a stopwatch.

You’ll get a lot faster if u can just make the turns instead of stopping to hop turn (or do it in one hop) :slight_smile:

LanceB,

I’m riding a Sun 24" street unicycle with a round-profile BMX/off-road tire. It’s certainly not the fanciest ride, but it’s been comfortable (relatively) and performs well enough on the trail. The wheel, saddle, pedals, and cranks are stock, so I’m not sure about the individual dimensions, weights, or materials.

skilewis74,

You’re absolutely right about the approach to switchbacks. I started off riding to the outside and hopping to turn around, then started hopping/pivoting on the trail itself, and now I can mostly ride through the turns with just a minor hesitation, if at all. Running continuously helps improve the descent times considerably.

It’s been about a year since my initial post, so I’ve updated the plots with 12 new runs. After my initial ‘no falls’ run, it took another 7 attempts to make a clean descent, although now I’m quite a bit more consistent and fall relatively rarely.

The times have converged to around 11:35 seconds, with surprisingly little variation. My best run was yesterday at 11:34, although really I’d like to pick up speed and make a descent in less than 11 minutes. That will take faster runs on the traverses and less time setting up for the switchbacks. The challenge now is that I’m riding comfortably on the traverses, rather than pushing myself to ride at a speed where I have less margin to correct for mistakes and bumps.

Average speed during the descents has plateaued to 5.9MPH and needs to increase to 6.2MPH in order to break 11 minutes.

Here’s the Strava link to the latest run. It shows a speed vs time/distance plot with peaks around 7-8MPH.
http://www.strava.com/activities/83110764

Thanks for your feedback on this.

2013_9_18__McCoy_Unicycle_Descent_Times.png

2013_9_18__McCoy_Unicycle_Descent_Falls.png

2013_9_18__McCoy_Unicycle_Descent_Speed.png

That’s pretty interesting. I’m not very far from you, I would like to join you sometime and watch and maybe give it a try myself. Send me a PM with details if you’d like.
Thanks, LanceB

That looks like a great little trail and riding regularly with tracking is motivating and fun.

I started recently to use GPS logging during my rides to get numbers and in a while I hope I will be able to see improvements :wink:

Keep up the graphs, they are very interesting (and it would be fun to see what LanceB stats are on the same trail :p:p).

I’ll have a go at it next week. I can pretty much guarantee my time will be at least 2X what Joojoo is posting. :astonished:

That looks like a fun trail. Though it’s hard to tell from your video’s camera angle, it doesn’t look like a mountain bike trail. Tight turns! But definitely much room for improvement in speeds and turning. To train for the turns, you could even try practicing in a parking lot. Set up some cones, or similar objects, plot a course around them, and practice riding through that course as fast as you can. You can time yourself to rate your progress.

Here’s a video of the world record on the IUF Obstacle Course (now called the IUF Slalom), set in 2002 by Marc Hafliger of Switzerland.

Though you can’t dig into the turns as hard as someone can on consistently smooth pavement, your knobby tire has a lot of grip and the physics are essentially the same for sharp turns on dirt.

For strength training, ride up. :smiley:

Thanks Lance for a great hike/ride today!

We met for the weekly Tuesday lunchtime assault on Mt. McCoy earlier today.

Here is the track for the ascent of McCoy’s steep face, left path:
http://www.strava.com/activities/86282563

Here is the track for the descent along the switchbacks:
http://www.strava.com/activities/86282565

We spent some time discussing strategies for different parts of the trail, so today was not a record-setting day, but it was quite enjoyable to take the trail more deliberately in the company of a fellow unicyclist.

johnfoss,

I rode this trail frequently on a mountain bike, although the very narrow switchbacks can be quite technical, with the tightest ones requiring about an 80-degree handlebar angle. Regarding technique, Lance and I discussed a variety of strategies, and thankfully my skills are a bit improved compared to what is shown in the video. I’ll film the next ride and post it, which will show that I’m riding through all the turns, although not nearly close to the traction limit even on the loose soil.

I’m here to report that Joojoo is a genuine bad-ass trail rider. The photo and video don’t even begin to describe the trail he negotiates on his basic 24" Sun. It’s about an 800’ decent of gnarly, rocky switchbacks, with some steep drops along the way. I just hiked it today, observing. I’ll give it a full-on try when I’ve improved my skills and endurance. Fun stuff!