On Saturday Peter Bier, our 2 Cokers, his wife and I drove in convoy to the finish of the Hamilton to Auckland Express in Pukekohe. My car was left there then we drove the final 40km of the course on our way to Danny’s flat in Hamilton. There were some hills but they weren’t too terrifying, so I decided to use 127mm cranks. We knew that the first 55km were very flat, so we knew short cranks would be okay for this section. I was glad that we did drive the hilly part of the course, because otherwise I was going to take a pair of 150mm cranks with me for the hilly section.
Saturday night was occupied with some downtown trials riding with Hamilton uni club riders Danny, Tim and Joe. I rode on a statue of Riff Raff, a Rocky Horror Picture Show character - what a hoot! In Garden Place there were some rounded brick walls which were just begging to be ridden. Even though they were about half a metre wide, their curvature made them like riding a skinny. And what skinnies they were - 100 metres long! Peter Bier has reportedly ridden these one-footed.
Race day started with a bang. Quite literally in fact. At 5:30am a tremendous bang woke me up. There had been a car crash right outside Danny’s flat. There was a car upside down on the footpath with an uprooted tree on top of it. It had hit Danny’s flatmate’s parked car and shunted it 3 metres off the road onto the footpath. The driver had done a runner. Both cars were totalled. Too bad Danny’s flatmate’s car wasn’t insured. I took some photos and went back to bed.
A few hours later we were at the start line. My coker’s hydraulic brake line had accidently been broken off earlier in the morning, so I had removed the broken line and calipers for the race. Not having ridden my coker with short cranks in a long time and without a brake made me a little nervous, but there was no way to fix it. Danny, Peter and I started at 8:30am, 1.5 hours earlier than the bicyclists. My pre-race time estimate for the 97km of the race was 6 to 6.5 hours.
The first few kilometres were through the outskirts of Hamilton, then we were out in the country on State Highway 1. We cruised along at about 17km/hr and got to Ngaruawahia in less than an hour. At this point we left the main road and crossed the Waikato River onto quiter country back roads. The course followed the Waikato River north on flat roads to Huntly, a small town with a coal-fired power plant. We had a Powerbar stop outside the power plant, after being chased by a pair of rabid dogs. This was the first time I’ve ever been chased by a dog on a unicycle! Some local kids on BMXs gave me a race as we were rolling along. My gear (127s on a 36" wheel) was just bigger than the kid’s 16" BMX’s. Nonetheless the kid insisted that he won the race…
Peter and I had done some mental calculations that the main pack would pass us at 11:00am, having started at 10:00am. The first tandems zipped past us at 10:45am, followed by a pack of fast bikers. After this point there were always cyclists around, either in front or behind us. At about the 50km mark the hills began. The first one was a bit of a shock after so much flat terrain, but I soon got into them, even passing some two-wheelers going uphill which was very satisfying. Once we hit the hills we tended to spread apart - me up ahead, then Peter in the middle then Danny. We stopped a couple more times for Leppin carbo squeezies and muesli bars. Danny changed his cranks to 150s at one stop. Both me and Peter had newly installed cycle computers on our cokers, and we compared readings at each rest stop. The readings were very close, which means that our calibration was probably correct. We were averaging 17.5 km/hr, maximum of 28.6km/hr.
We stayed together as a group until the 70km mark. I was up ahead and planning on waiting at the top of a large downhill which we’d spied on the drive down, but it was raining when I got there so I continued riding. Luckily there was cell phone coverage and I was able to call Peter and tell him (all done while riding, of course!). At some point I set a new maximum speed of 30.6km/hr. I was quite pleased to have cracked 30km/hr. During the rain shower I realised I was running out of water - how ironic. I stopped at a closed g.a.s. station in the hamlet of Pukekawa, but the only water source was a tank of presumably rain water which had a very dirty tap. I decided to continue without filling up. I rode to the next town, Tuakau 15km away, but still there was nowhere to fill up my camelbak. At 88.7 kilometres I ran out of water completely. Luckily there was a truck repair workshop 200m up the road where the mechanics, suitably impressed that I’d ridden from Hamilton on ‘that thing’, let me fill up. They were pretty clued up and even asked me about geared unicycles!
The final 10km were relatively flat, easy cruising to the country town of Pukekohe. The race finished at the A & P Grounds which had a gravel driveway. The gravel had been covered with thick astroturf, presumbably to make it easier to ride on a bike. Unfortunately it made what would have been very straight forward riding on a unicycle rather difficult. The astroturf itself was thick and felt like that icky ‘riding on carpet’ sensation, and also covered over big potholes in the road. I had my only UPD in 97km here, within 200m of the finish. Nonetheless I remounted and finished ‘hands in the air’ style across the line. Total time 6 hours 12 minutes, riding time 5 hours 28 minutes.
Kirsten met me at the finish and took some photos while we waited for Peter and Danny. Peter rode in 20 minutes later, followed by Danny 5 minutes back. After crossing the line, recovering a bit, and talking to many interested bikers , we decided that 97km was so tantalisingly close to a century that we’d have to go for a short ride to pass that milestone. Until this point 80km was the longest road ride that I’d ever done on a unicycle. We rode 2km along the flat then turned around and came back. As we were riding back, I glanced down at my computer every hundred metres or so, watching it approach the century. 99.8km, 99.9km and next time I looked down I actually saw it change from 99.9 to 100.0km - very nice!
I found the race to very enjoyable and the distance highly achievable, having done only a few 4 and 5 hour training rides in the weeks before.
I’ll post some photos soon.