In the (not so) bleak midwinter

Two days’ holiday to use or lose by the end of the year! Despite last night’s hint of rain, this morning is bright and clear, if a little chilly - ideal for a ride, although I decide I need a T shirt under my cycling shirt.

The MUni has just been fitted with a UDC gel saddle, in place of the Viscount with its metal handle, so this will be a test ride. For those who care: the uni is a Pashley 26 with 170mm cranks and a Maxxis Holy Roller 2.4" tyre.

I drive to Sherwood Pines Visitor cente in Sherwood Forest. As I arrive, England have just bowled out Pakistan fairly cheaply and with overs to spare. Things are looking good.

The uni feels a bit wobbly. My last ride was on the 700c, and it always takes a little while to adjust. I’m still in two minds about the massive 170mm cranks. They do give me more control on descents, and a bit more torque on hills, but the ride can feel ungainly on the flat.

200 metres from the car park, I overtake a man who is walking his dog. He bids me a polite “Good morning,” and that is the best comment I’ve had for ages. As it turns out, it is the best comment of the day, because in a ride lasting around two and a half hours, I don’t see anyone else at all!

The first section is a slight downhill along a wide packed-grit road, so I turn off as soon as possible into the forest. Soon I am scooting along beneath pine trees, the tyre almost silent on the bed of pine needles. The track winds this way and that, first descending, then climbing. It gradually turns southwards, until I have the low sun straight in my eyes. It may be dimmer than a thousandth of an atom bomb, but it’s still bright, and I can barely see the trail. Dazzled and confused, I pass the wrong side of a tree and find myself boxed in by deep undergrowth and UPD.

A couple of hundred metres later, I get trapped again, but this time I spot the problem quickly enough to stop, stillstand, idle and attempt to turn on the spot. The ground is uneven and sloping, but I’m doing well until I suddenly find myself face to face with a massive pine tree. It refuses to step aside and, again, I UPD.

Further up the hill, I find myself on a long straight trail, with the sun to my left. This area is all pine forest, artificially planted, and with that slightly sterile uniformity you get in plantations. It is almost silent except for the occasional chatter of birds. A squirrel darts across in front of me, running for a few steps then leaping high with all four feet off the floor before it continues on its way.

I have a vague plan to explore parts of the forest I seldom visit, and this leads me down a lovely long descent where the trail is only footpath-wide, and winds between trees and over roots. I keep ducking my head to deflect low growth from the trees. The Holy Roller is made for this sort of riding, and the uni is flowing. Then I come to an unphill section that is harder work, and eventually, to the main road that bisects the forest.

When I had a 4x4, I used to drive along this road from time to time. The last couple of winters have not been kind to it, and sections have eroded to leave holes so deep that even a Land Rover would bottom out. The surface has mixed patches of fine sand, coarse sand and loose gravel. I surprise myself by ridng most of it, with only a couple of UPDs, but it is exhausting.

At the first opportunity, I turn back into the forest, where I find a path that swoops down steeply before finding its way beneath beech and oak trees. By now, I am out of breath, and when the inevitable UPD comes, I take the opportunity to stop and sit on a tree stump and recover. It was frosty last night, and there is still a chill in the air. My breath forms clouds, and vapour rises from my body and drifts slowly away on the breeze. I watch squirrels racing up and down the trees, and wonder if the taptaptapping I can hear is a woodpecker. Spiders’ webs sparkle in the sunlight - they are a fraction of a millimetre thick, but visible from 10 metres away.

Behind me are pine trees, their green canopies against the pure blue of the clear sky. As they sway, slightly out of phase with each other, I am reminded of the times I dived in kelp forests. There is the same feeling of being in a three dimensional environment, and of being small, and far beneath the surface. The forest is a good place to be.

Back on the uni, I soon reach a short gravelly climb where I memorably overtook some white-clad bicyclists a few weeks ago. This time, my wheel strikes an obstacle, unseen beneath the carpet of autumn leaves, and I UPD. There are more trips and falls over the next mile or so, and I start to get bad tempered with myself. Fatigue is setting in far too soon because I am out of practice.

But eventually, I reach a long swoopy downhill section and my morale improves. This section soon pops me out onto a wide access road, but I go straight across and find more challenges, with swoops, humps and hollows apparently deliberately carved for mountain bikers. This is the sort of riding that is fairly easy as long as you read the ground carefully, but it looks dramatic and feels good. You swoop down into the hollow, splash through the muddy puddle at the bottom, but try to keep enough momentum to make it up the next slope. For the last couple of pedal strokes, you stand on the pedals and pull on the handle, then almost stall at the very top as you see what the next descent holds in store. Great fun!

And this section finally spits me out near to an area I recognise, where there are more artificial obstacles. I ride 'em all, including the tricky little drop off a log (did I mention I don’t do drops?) and I ride 'em all again. I even try a couple of descents I’ve not done before.

From here, I have four options, and one of them I never take, so I take it this time: it’s a half-concealed track that disappears into the woods, and presents me first with a couple more mountain bike humps, and then with a long climb up a rutted gravel track. With dry autumn leaves lying in a deep layer, this is never going to be easy, and I UPD about three quarters of the way up. Each time I remount, I stall within a metre or so, my wheel spinning on loose gravel. I remember what my grandad said to me: “If at first you don’t succeed, suck a lemon.” I have no idea what it means, but I remember it.

Eventually, I decide that “suck a lemon” is a metaphor for “walk to the top of the hill” and I do so.

The next section is fantastic: I turn off the main path and find myself riding beneath and between small silver birch trees, and much larger beech trees. The ground is golden with beech leaves, and I notice with surprise that they are dry and have retained their shape. That means they’ve only fallen recently - and it’s midwinter in two days’ time!

When I UPD on yet another concealed obstacle (I could do with a leaf-plough on the front of the uni) I realise I am not only breathless, but sweating like a particularly sweaty thing on a hot and humid day - which is strange as there is frost on the ground in places! More because I can than because I need to, I remove my shirt, and for the next couple of miles, I am riding shirtless in late December, beneath trees that have not yet lost all their leaves. When I stop for refreshments (Snickers: all the sports nutrition you need!), I notice that some of the gorse bushes are in bloom. Nearby, columns of insects dance above the broom bushes. Can someone tell Mr. Bush that global warming really is happening?

Note for American readers: “plough” = “plow”. This regional difference in spelling was a vital clue in a Sherlock Holmes story. The Two Garridebs?

Shirt back on, I find myself scooting along a straight but sandy track that seems to run across one of the highest parts of this area of the forest. The sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view, but it isn’t raining in my heart at all. A light aircraft drones over head, and as I look up, I see airliners high above leaving long white fingernail scratches in the sky. One of them catches the sun just right, so that it becomes just a big bright reflection with no shape to it at all - a UFO sighting for those who wish to believe.

Before long, I find myself at an observation tower. I’ve never been sure if this tower is for forest rangers, fire control, or for particularly intrepid ornithologists. What I do know is it would be an admission of maturity not to climb it, so I always do. As usual, there ain’t an awful lot to observe - just spruce trees in uniform rows, and the odd crow or magpie flying past. Crows really do fly in a straight line - did you know that?

Back down to Earth, I remount, and take an increasingly vague route through the forest, alternating wide easy tracks with narrow muddy twisty bits. I am starting to flag a bit, but the day is too nice to waste. The vagueness of my route brings me back to a place I recognise, and I follow a remembered path to yet another area of mountainbike obstacles. Unfortunately, when I arrive, I am so exhausted that I need to rest and recover before I can ride any of the course.

I am still at that stage where I’m not quite sure about the best way to assault a shortish but steepish hill. Attack it too fast and if I misread the slope, I end up tripping. Attack it too slowly and I end up standing on the pedals, struggling and stalling. The 170mm cranks are optimized for torque rather than speed, and it would be interesting to have two unicycles with me - one with 170s and one with, say, 125s, but otherwise totally identical. I think the 125s might help me to rush some of the obstacles.

However, when I finally do get it right and crest one of the hills at the limit of my feeble powers, I am confronted by a long steep descent, and there’s no way I’d even try it on anything shorter than 170s! I ride down it, then up the next hump, then down the next big descent. I guess that’s a total descent of 10 - 15 metres over 40 - 50 metres horizontal distance. A little bit of me wishes I had an audience, because this is as good as my riding gets.

From here, I follow the trail back towards where I hope to find the car - I am so tired, I even think of walking for a bit, but pride wins and I keep riding. The next section is fairly flat and I take it slowly, recharging my tired batteries as I go. I come across a bit I’ve not visited for a while, and there are some steep bits here. Determined to have one last hurrah, I approach one of the descents. It has a packed mud surface, and is about 45 degrees at the steepest part, with a slight step near the top where a tree root breaks the surface. There is an easy run out at the bottom, and I decide to go for it.

With my foot badly adjusted on the pedal, I hit the tree root, stand up, and apply back pressure. I feel a tendon click in my knee and a slight but sharp pain. I have two choices: ride or bail out. Bailing out means possibly broken bones or major abrasions; riding may mean tendon damage as well as the broken bones or abrasions! (How I love this sport!) I have only a moment to decide, and I ride it, spinning as fast as I can, and with as little pressure as possible on the pedals. I make it to the bottom intact, and my knee feels OK. Presumably something in there had just clicked into or out of its groove for a moment. A frightening moment, but no harm done.

By now, my legs are er… on their last legs. I decide to go straight back to the car by the shortest route. As with all such decisions, I change my mind from time to time as interesting side tracks tempt me, but the ride is nearing its end. By the time I get back to the car, I can barely push the pedals.

I switch on the radio as the eighth wicket goes down, and England have thrown away their advantage in the most abject fashion.

So: what about the UDC gel saddle?

Hmmm. The saddle and its combined bumper/handle is noticeably lighter than the old Viscount saddle with a metal (Reeder?) handle. The difference is around 500 grammes - approximately a pound.

I don’t notice the seat being any more comfortable than the Viscount, or than my Miyata on my 700c. In fact, for the last mile or two, I found myself supporting my weight with my hand on the handle - something I woudln’t normally be doing after two hours or so riding Muni.

But the handle is good. The metal handle was asymmetric, and designed for right hand use. The result was that it used to catch my left inner thigh when riding up hill, and my left ankle when UPDing. The plastic handle/bumper does neither of these things.

The UDC handle is stronger and gives more leverage than the Miyata equivalent. It is nicely shaped.

The handle is either ribbed for strength, or grooved for lightness - two ways of saying the same thing - and as I wear fingerless wrist protection, I have a slight soreness on my finger tips and can see where the ridges have made marks in my delicate skin.

It’s certainly a better quality, better designed and lighter item than the Viscount. I am a bit sceptical about the gel thing, though.

is the UDC handle bigger than the miyata handle? thats one thing I really didn’t like about the miyata is it was hard to fit my hand, so I’m curious…of course, I have a GB4 handle anyway, so I’m good. but I’m still curious.

nice write up, sounds like a fun ride!

is the UDC handle bigger than the miyata handle? QUOTE]

Yes. It projects slightly further forwards from the seat, the grip is slightly chunkier, and there is more room for the fingers. It is altogether a stronger, more spacious, and better handle than the Miyata one, with the slight niggle that the ribbed/grooved effect can be a bit sore on the fingers.

Great write up Mikefule. Y’know I thought I was occupied goint to a children’s party and doing a workshop on Prestatyn highstreet on Saturday and on Sunday boozing and eating the day away with hubbies rellies. Now I almost believe that I was riding.


A fine and weighty tome capturing the essence of winter riding and helping a the crescendo to the holiday season - the only thing left to complete your year is to join the EMU christmas hockey match tomorrow evevning - same place same time as always. Its the Christmas fancy unicycle dress hockey week no doubt an unmissable event of the noblest intentions. Having read many of this year Fule Tales it seems that you’re almmost the “Daddy” of unicycling pimping/customising with the fine tuning of the one wheeled besties so it would be great to see you out - plus the 20" will be getting rusty if its left in the shed :wink:

See you then


On Mon, 19 Dec 2005 12:06:40 -0600, Mikefule wrote:

>Crows really do fly in a straight
>line - did you know that?

I knew it without knowing I knew it. Because of course, a crow flies as the crow flies.

Re: In the (not so) bleak midwinter

“Mikefule” <> wrote in
> However, when I finally do get it right and crest one of the hills at
> the limit of my feeble powers, I am confronted by a long steep descent,
> and there’s no way I’d even try it on anything shorter than 170s! I
> ride down it, then up the next hump, then down the next big descent. I
> guess that’s a total descent of 10 - 15 metres over 40 - 50 metres
> horizontal distance. A little bit of me wishes I had an audience,
> because this is as good as my riding gets.

Let me assure you Mike, that you do indeed have an appreciative audience for
the ride and that the descriptive writing gets a standing ovation.


They may be largely have abandoned religion, but the modern generation do
not lack for Gods. The collection plates are just much bigger with
donation compulsory…

Great write-up Mikefule, I really feel like going for a muni ride after reading that! Sherwood Forest sounds like a very cool place to ride.

I hope someone buys you a digital camera for xmas, the story would be even better with a couple of pictures!

Today’s moral: don’t ride in december with your shirt off. Been feeling rough and developing a nasty cold* all day. Only three working days to infect my colleagues before Christmas…:wink:

*The world shall hear of new man-flu again:D

We don’t need pictures, Mikefule’s write-ups paint thier own pictures.


A word writes a thousandth of a picture.

True, I suppose there are plenty of other people who post pictures of their rides, but not many who write about them this well. So cheers Mikefule for making the effort to do the write-up, I’m sure taking pictures would be much easier!

Here’s a link to one of my few stories that was supplemented with photos. Judge for yourself.

Taking photos when you ride alone is a bit tricky, and they are always rather posed.

Kind of nice to put a name to a face though (or is that a face to a name, not sure?)


nice read as always… but you seemed to have forgotten the milage of your ride like you normally so :slight_smile: