Before I get into anything, I’d like to totally superly thank everybody for all the props and congratulations; it definitely feels quite amazing to think I’ve got a world record in anything at all, much less something as cool as unicycling. This has definitely been quite a trip for me, to say the least.
If it’s all right, I’d like to address some of the concerns I read about over in the marathon results thread in a separate thread (this thread) to kind of hopefully… air things out a little. Also, without claiming to know more than those who’ve already spoken on the matter, I’d like to take the liberty of describing the direction I see road unicycling going in the future. Not that I’m necessarily an authority on the matter, but I just feel more comfortable posting in a new thread, where maybe we can have a positive discussion or none at all if we’re not in the mood. It felt sort of funny being the subject of the small bit of heat in the other thread(s) from a couple days ago, when what follows is how I’ve been thinking for the past weeks. I’m only a small part of what’s to come, and don’t think I deserve that kind of attention! (and I didn’t even beat Ken or Jan by very much in the marathon (and Ken was on a geared 29!)!) Anyway, there seems to still be a bit of tension regarding the whole geared vs. ungeared issue, particularly with kinds of things like what-performance-means-who’s-better-than-who or who-could-beat-who-on-what-equipment, but more importantly, what all this means for the future of the sport.
I don’t really think I did anything awesome during RTL or Unicon, other than to make the point that there’s a whole lot of room for improvement in the sport of road unicycle racing right now. I think we all made that crystal clear when seven of us, both geared and ungeared, broke the 10km world record on Sunday while weaving through throngs of riders on 20" and 24" unicycles on gravel roads. I also agree with Ken about the implications of the fact that none of last Unicon’s top riders were on geared 36 setups. Nothing that’s happened at RTL or at Unicon proves that I’m a faster rider than anyone or everyone else. To those who’ve defended my recent riding as something amazing, I can’t thank you enough for your votes of confidence, but everything I (or anyone!) have done so far can be nothing more than a starting point, and I’m planning on being quickly rendered obsolete once we get some really insane riders on these new geared rides. The racing ahead will be very intense, indeed. There are definitely plenty of ungeared riders right now who are planning on going geared soon, and I’m looking forward to the competition. I don’t know who will be fastest once we’re all on efficient (geared!) unicycles, but, case in point, I’m not expecting it to be me.
That said, I think the notion that a geared 36" can allow someone unfit to get a record doesn’t really hold much water. I definitely believe that the geared 36" significantly broadens the base of people capable of beating the records; no one disputes that. But to do so on a geared 36" requires a different type of fitness; whereas “fitness” for an ungeared rider would entail a quick, light spin at insane cadences, “fitness” for a geared up rider necessitates an ability to consistently put out large quantities of power for long periods of time in ways that don’t upset the balance of the unicycle. (I can only start to do this; real cyclists would eat me alive.) As an example, I think Sam and Dustin are considerably more fit than I am as far as ungeared riding is concerned. I might be able to compete with them, but I’d definitely not be faster, not by any means. On a geared uni, hopefully the gap will be narrower, because I’m much better at pushing things with my legs than spinning them. All in all, though, a geared rider puts the exact same amount of energy into the road as an ungeared rider at the same speed; the crux of it all is that the unicycle must match the body type of the rider in order to be efficient. I’m thinking I might do better on a 2x36 setup, whereas, say, Sam might be better off spinning more quickly on a 1.5x36. It’s not necessarily because I’m more or less fit than anyone, but because we’re all different riders. Furthermore, a “faster unicycle” is not by any means a ticket into the record books (you have to actually muscle these things around!), unless the state of the record books is such that said “faster unicycle” is so much more compatible with your body that it allows you to beat some things, which has (so far) been the case for me. Comparing gear-inches and claiming that higher gear-inches result in more speed, I think, is like comparing the distances we can pee in still air at standard temperature and pressure with terrestrial gravity; it’s kind of pointless. Up until now, bigger gears have meant faster riding, but 54" is getting to the point where it might not behoove some to go bigger, while others may want to keep going for more. I picture my sweet spot around 70-80", which is right where I cruise on my bicycle. A 3:1 36er would be pretty stupid for me, but maybe not for someone who can leg-press six of me.
To attempt to further dispel the notion that a geared unicycle allowing unfit people to get records is a “Real Bad Thing,” I want to put forward that even if an unfit rider can get a record, it only means that the record is ripe for the picking, and will soon be lifted back out of reach of the masses by the top riders who will reclaim it by doing what the unfit rider did to break it. If it isn’t reclaimed soon by a top rider, then it, well, pretty much deserves to be slow for the available equipment, because there’s no excuse to not go as fast as you can go. I think that includes money, too, as $2,000US for a top-end world-record capable unicycle is only a fraction of what many not-so-strong Joe-Schmoe cyclists spend on their road bikes. If a record is fast, it’s because someone wanted badly enough to really set it in the sky. (Just to be clear, I don’t think my two records are very fast, given what should be possible on a geared 1.5x36, or especially on a geared unicycle in general.)
Also, Ken is absolutely right that the feats of ungeared riders of years’ past should not be overshadowed by the new wave of geared madness. Not many of us can ride like Sam and Roger and Dustin and Ken except, well, Sam and Roger and Dustin and Ken and the few other ungeared elites. These guys spin like I can only dream of spinning. Does it make them more “fit” than me? For ungeared unicycles, yeah, definitely. For geared unicycles? We’ll see; they haven’t yet had a chance to show us what they can do with them yet, and when they get their gears, the racing will be on! I’m definitely not in a comfortable spot here, because these guys are beasts! That said, perhaps the mad spinning of years’ past should be preserved in a separate category of “fixed 36-inch and under” wheel records, but even then, some records have been set on 43+ inch ungeared wheels, and further, based on that line of logic, there should be no reason to have separate records for every wheel size, which would be something I think we all would deem wholly unnecessary. We already have a 24" limit; perhaps we should have a 36" limit, then a true “unlimited” category, where anything on one human-powered wheel is fair game. Formerly limited to 36" wheels, it seems that the unlimited category started to mature to the point where the records were getting tough to beat, and now that we have gears riders beginning to be capable of using them, many of us are clamoring for limits to what was originally “unlimited.” So, where do you draw the line and stop making new categories? I’m not going to claim to know that just yet. Right now, despite the bigger-than-36"-fixed-wheels-already-having-records inconsistency, I think I’m in favor of a third category, a fixed-36-and-under, containing all records except mine and Signe’s at Unicon just now, and including the previous records made on 40-something inch wheels. This opinion, though what seems like the best option right now, doesn’t completely jive well with me, because I don’t think we should be spawning new categories every time there’s a technological advance.
Road unicycling is growing up, and I think this tension is quite akin to a growing pain. I consider myself extremely lucky to be at the forefront of it with all the other fast riders who competed at the front of RTL and the 10k/marathon, at the birth of the “really viably fast unicycle” era. Granted, we’re still nowhere near the bikes, but the gearing and quality of the unicycles will undoubtedly allow someone in the future (undoubtedly much stronger than any of us right now) to seriously tear it up and do something comparable to what is done on upright bicycles. I’m pretty sure that 22 miles in an hour would be possible with on a simple 1.5x36 setup with short cranks and good conditions and a really fast rider, but with, say, 175mm cranks and a 2-or-3 to 1 gear ratio on 36" plus years of training and balance, I’d bet that 26+ miles should be possible in an hour on a unicycle. By no means am I the rider to pull off that kind of a feat, but I’m sure some of the serious cyclists I sometimes ride with would be able to do it if they let themselves get comfortable on such a machine. As a comparison, I’m pretty sure I could do around 24-25mph for an hour on a well-fit road bike, and if I were to attempt the unicycling hour record right now, I think I could peg it around 19 or 19.5mph, but not quite the magic 20 just yet. Seeing as there are folks who can do 30 miles in an hour on a road bike, I’m sure that if you gave one a good gear ratio and taught him how to ride, he’d push through 25 or so miles on a well-fit, stiff unicycle. For me at least, that’s unthinkable. I think, for any of us right now, 25mph for an hour is pretty much comprehensible only as a dream. There are seriously plenty people that strong, though. Back at school in Irvine, I frequently ride my road bike with a bunch of 30-50+ year old guys, and the majority of them can crush me at any time they choose, so soundly that I wouldn’t be able to stay on their wheels for 60 seconds even if I dropped the hammer and went completely anaerobic in their drafts. In USA Cycling, I’m a Cat 5 rider, maybe strong enough to be at the strong end of Cat 4, but not yet sufficiently experienced. I can’t touch many Cat 3 riders, and there’s 2, 1, and Pro after that. Assuming unicycling’s new development of geared hubs will attract ever-better athletes to the sport, all common sense dictates that my piddly two records here at Unicon (and any others I’ll hopefully try to have the honor of setting in the near future) are just begging to be smashed.
Before I go, I want to say that, by beating these records, I mean no disrespect to anyone, and I’m honored to be able to be at the front of this revolution, so to speak, even if it’s only for the obligatory fifteen minutes. Geared hubs have really opened up the world to road unicycling as we know it, and this is only the beginning. Riding these speeds geared up has only given me more respect for the abilities of the ungeared champions, and I hope that records continue to be broken at the rate they have been as of late, regardless of whether or not the riders are geared. Like many of us, though, I predict that most, if not all, will be geared.
So, if you’ve read this far, thanks for reading, and I’d love to know what you guys think. I really don’t want to be the guy who comes in from nowhere and tries to invalidate years of top quality riding by suddenly beating it on a new machine. I just happened, at Unicon 2008, to be the guy who best matched his unicycle, at a time when road unicycling is in quite the state of flux… and I couldn’t be happier with my fifteen minutes. (so thank you!!)
Beyond all that, all I have left to say is this: here we go. To the future!