Last year, Gary (Unicus) and I got together for a couple of rides. At last we met again tonight for a MUni ride. I was on a Pashley 26, Gary was on his Nimbus 24X3, and his son, Will, and his mate were each on Onza 20 trials unis.
Riding with other people is always an eye-opener for me. You never know how good - or bad - you are until you can compare yourself to someone else. I remember my first ‘real’ MUni ride with Alan C. when we came to a T junction and I innocently asked, “Left up the hill, or right down the hill?” “Straight on!” he replied, and, without further ado, leapt into the void.
On Sunday, on an impulse, I bought a Gazz 2.3" tyre for the Pashley. It looked huge… until I saw Gary’s 3 incher (oooer, Matron!). Next to the real thing, my new acquisition suddenly assumed the proportions of a rubber grommet.
It was also the first time I’d seen an Onza trials uni. Cute, with matt black paint, tiny wheel, and massive tyre… and 140mm cranks which almost cut the grass as you ride. My own 20 has 110mm cranks.
So off we went up the hill, and Gary and I were more or less on a par. He rides faster and more smoothly uphill than I do, but there was little difference in how far we got before we dismounted. I’ve been used to the Coker, and flowing over rough ground, with shorter hills, and I had forgotten how tough proper MUni can be.
I’ve also become over dependent on the handle (transferred from the Coker) and I had to remember to let go and swing my arms when the conditions demanded. A handle’s good in a straight line, but holding it can sometimes cramp your style at low speed, up hill when steering a very precise course around obstacles.
We got to the top and had to stop… and there was the trig. point. We paused for photos, then I had a quick go on the Onzas (“Onzae”?). Suddenly I could see how it might be possible to use jumping as a legitimate technique! I’d already seen the lads doing some crazy stuff (jumping off high walls) but I had not fully understood the difference the fat soft tyre could make. I’ll never be that good, but now I know that at least part of the reason is my tyre. Honestly! :0)
Downhill produced a lot of swearing, mainly from me. To my chagrin, I taught the young lads a few words I’m sure they’d never heard at school. I was dressed for the occasion in helmet, wrist guards, knee guards, and elbow guards. Not one of those items came into contact with anything solid - except when my wrist guard caught Gary’s head as I flailed past him on a hill. However, I did manage to hurt my ankle on the pinned pedal when I UPDd on a tricky steep and narrow section, and my inner thigh when the open end of my seat handle dug in when I got hopelessly entangled in a tree branch that was lying across the trail.
Gary did some good falls too - most notably, falling on his backside almost exactly where I’d fallen and hurt my ankle. Meanwhile, the lads just seemed to hop, bounce and roll over everything - although I did notice Will’s arm covered in dust and dirt from a fall.
I was struggling sometimes to keep the 26 under control on the steep sections (the hills were too long just to spin down at high speed, and I ride to stay on, not to fall spectacularly. I got the impression that the weight of Gary’s 3 inch Gazz sometimes made it hard for him to make sharp turns on the descents. The two lads, on 20s, with fat tyres and 140 cranks had the advantages of low gearing, and just scooted over the terrain.
So, what is the way forward for serious off roading? I am firmly of the opinion that it’s best to find a comfortable crank size, rather than going for the longest you can get. If you follow this to its logical conclusion, then the only way to reduce the gearing further is to go for a smaller wheel. In the dry, I’m sure I could have ridden everything today better on the Onzas than on my Pashley. The smaller wheel would have given better torque up hill, and more control downhill.
But what about obstacles? The bigger wheel has a better ‘rollover factor’, but the smaller wheel is lighter and has a better ‘hop over factor’. Also, I’m a bit of a distance fiend, and long rides on small wheels are hard work.
And in the wet, deep mud, and deep undergrowth? Clearly, a bigger wheel will always be better when your sinking, slipping and sliding, or just trying to ‘tread down’ dry rotten twigs, brambles, and bracken.
Lots to think about, and great fun to ride with other unicyclists. Must do it again, Gary.
My provisional conclusions: I need a 24 with a 3 inch Gazz for wet MUni, an Onza 20 for dry technical MUni, and I need to be 25 years younger. Or maybe 20 years younger, then I could make a bid for the very pleasant young lady who asked me and Gary, “Why is everyone out on unicycles today? Two others just went past.”
I made a point of telling her that one was Gary’s son, whilst trying to imply that I wasn’t old enough to have a son that age. ;0)