Karapoti 2009

I post about the Karapoti every year, but it’s the worlds oldest and arguably toughest MUni race, with a unicycle category since 2003. It’s 50km of giant hills, big rocks, unicycle eating bogs, river crossings, in Upper Hutt, just 30km North of the UNICON XV venue in Wellington, NZ.

This year we had 5 unicyclists competing, including three from Australia. Will Sklelars, Geoff Huntley, John Bradley, Sean Bennett and myself (Ken Looi) all took part, and Seans son Jeremy on a bike. It was also one of the roughest courses we’d seen in years. With heavy rain just before the event, the river mass start was particularly interesting. Imagine a start line that involves running across a river which came up chest deep.

We lined up on Saturday, alongside the retro (no suspension/clipless pedals), singlespeed and tandem bikers. The Pro-elite riders went first, in a frenzy of splashing as they ran across the Akatarawa River. Several riders went down and were swept away by the river.

We were up next, but strategically picked the shallowest part of the river to cross. Geoff Huntley took the deep end, but was out of the river first as it was also the shortest route.

From there it was onto a short 1km road section up the Karapoti Gorge. Will Sklenars flew past on his 29" Schlumpf, and that was the last I saw of him for a while. It made quite a change to be doing the chasing! The Karapoti was very rough this year, with lot’s of exposed rocks and slippery mud. However, that worked to our advantage, as the gears and brakes on the bicyclists began jamming and skipping. It didn’t slow down the unicyclists nearly as much!

The first big hill, appropriately called Deadwood (that’s the feeling in your legs at the top!), was the perfect oppotunity to pass hundreds of bikers as they were all reduced to carrying their bikes. I almost caught Will after he bombed down Deadwood and hit the river at the bottom. Unbeknownst to me, he’d pinch flatted and had jumped off the trail at the top of the hill to fix the puncture. I kept racing ahead thinking this guy had some sort of rocket propelled legs!

The Rock Garden was next, and the roughest I’d seen it in many years. Big slippery rocks and bike sized drop offs made for an interesting section. I rode the last bit but was not suicidal enough to do the middle section.

At the bottom of the rock garden was the hike-a-bike section, known as the Devils Staircase. Even the top-proelite riders/ex Olympians are off the bikes and scrambling up this hill. Several riders were on all fours and many more ended up sliding back down the staircase as they lost their footing.

The Jelly-Bean rest stop at the top of the Staircase was a good chance to refuel and then it was onto the fastest section of the course- Big Ring Boulevard. Unfortunately, we had no big ring!

I was hoping for a good time, or even beat my old Karapoti record of 4hrs11min. Alas, I must have lost a lot of time on Big Ring as I spent most of this section dodging rocks and bicyclists flying past. I hit Dopers Hill just on the 3hr mark, which left me an hour to get to the top and back down to the finish.

Dopers was the final of the ‘big three’ hills, and certainly the longest and hardest. After numerous false tops, I reached the top in 3:30, after coming close to hitting the wall and cramping before I eased off the climbing legs.

From there it was a very fast and very steep downhill back to the Karapoti Gorge.

I hit the finish line in 4hrs20min, which was 9min off the record, but for the conditions pretty reasonable. The top bike time was 2hrs28min (record 2hrs14min).

Will came in next, looking surprising fresh considering he’d been out on the course for 5hrs40min and had two punctures to contend with. Sean Bennett came in next, followed by a exhausted John Bradley. Geoff Huntley came out on the medical support van…the body a little worse for wear.

I can hardly walk today, so hopefully the others are Ok :stuck_out_tongue:

Ken Looi 4hrs 20min (Placing 520)
Will Sklenars 5hrs40min (Placing 821)
Sean Bennett 6hrs 44min (Placing 859)
John Bradley 7hrs 26min (Placing 865)
Geoff Huntley DNF
Total riders: 1011
Total finishers: 865
Fastest time: 2hrs28min

Ken Looi

p/s: if anyone is staying on after Unicon 15, this is a ‘must do’ event in any MUni riders ‘to-do-list’.

Sounds extreme man, props to yah. That’s too bad about his 2 punctures!

Some pics at the finish



ouch! :astonished: some shin guards might have helped that one guy!

Great write-up Ken! Damn that sounds fun. Sorry to hear Geoff had some trouble - man what a race.


Epic! This one is definitely on my “to-do” list; if I can ever swing a trip to NZ! I’m trying to find events like this closer to home to do. You are definitely a huge inspiration to me! Great ride Ken, and other fellas!

This race sounds great. And crazy hard. Congrats to all participants!

congrats fellas! I know from first hand experience how hard that race is. And with the kind of rain you’re describing, I’m amazed that you could even hike up some of those inclines at all. I can’t say that I miss that race, but I do miss the rock garden, and of course, the post-race gorging.
Way to go!

Nice. Its crazy how many bikes you beat Ken!

Not too nice to see that a unicyclist came last, but whatever :stuck_out_tongue: Sounds extreme.

I’m sure there were still people who didn’t finish or didn’t get a qualifying time.

I took a quick look at the results 2009 page.

The 7th overall was riding a “Retro”, 15th riding SS :astonished: , and the first woman was 22nd, beating TONS of male pros. Very cool!

A Ken, you even beat at least one male pro rider!

The beauty of this course is that it’s very suited to unicycles. Big Ring Boulevard and the bottom of the Rock Garden were essentially lined by riders on the side of the trail fixing punctures. Throw in mud and you end up with chains skipping/breaking, suspension forks locking up and brakes ground to metal.

The hike-a-bike sections like The Devils Staircase is great for unicyclists too!

Yep, hike-a-muni is much easier than hike-a-bike! :slight_smile:

We had this thought on our Panama trip, when we were hiking though thick jungle ravines. It would have been almost impossible to hike through with a bike.

A lot of people didn’t finish.

I know. There are a lot of muni rides that I’ve done in the past couple years that I would never have done on a bike (descents into some local gorges), mainly because they involved excessive, steep, “hike-a-bike” to get back out! But carrying a uni is no sweat (well some sweat) by comparison.

Well alot of inexperienced bike riders are scared of their front break, and rightly so. But the way I get down the really steep slope is I usually have to crank on my back break, and take my front break to like half way or something, so long as it doesn’t exceed your back break you’re ok. If it’s REALLY steep, I end up dragging my back tire all the way down, it’s really fun but scary the first time you do it. Obviously this is not the best idea when you have rocks and roots sticking out on your way down though…

Some photos of the weekends riding now on Geoffs Smugmug site:

Also a few others during the race:





cool race

Ken, what wheel were you riding?