Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge '04; 100miles on a unicycle

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 2004

The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is a 100mile/160km ride around NZ’s biggest lake, attracting over 10,000 riders from around the country every year. It’s a beautiful ride, with lots of awesome scenery along the way.

Last year was the first year we entered unicyclists in this event- with two teams and a solo rider. We were a bit sparse on the unicycle front this year- just me competing. But I was determined to better my time last year (8hr20min) and go under the 8hr mark.

Here’s the stats:

Distance: 100miles/160km or Enduro 2 Laps 200miles/320km or Super Enduro (for crazy people) 3 laps and a little bit extra 500km
Total Climbing: 1500m
Total Descent: 1500m
Total riders: 10,010
Total unicyclists: 1
Total Penny Farthings: 1
Total Tandems: lots
Total Recumbents: 2 or 3
Total Handcyclists: 1
Total Olympic medallists competing: 4

Fri 26 Nov

Colin (my training buddy) and I arrive in Taupo, after a 5hr drive from Wellington. Colin was riding his first challenge (on a bike), while I was riding my second (on a unicycle).

Due to the fact that 10,000 cyclists and their support crews decide to turn up at Lake Taupo (population 22,000) this weekend, all the motels are booked out. We set up camp in somebodies front lawn.

Registration at the Taupo Event Centre. I win a cycle computer as a spot prize, while Colin wins a box of chocolates.

Sat 27 Nov

The alarm rudely awakens us.

I get out of the sleeping bag and have a power breakfast consisting mostly of day-old peanut butter and honey sandwiches and Salt and Vinegar chips. Yummy. Colin finally wakes up.
“Aw, it’s too early to be out of bed, let alone ride a 100miles”

Almost ready to go for the 8am start. I attach my bell to my unicycle. Hmmm, might come in handy.

We cycle to the Lake Taupo waterfront, and arrive just in time to see the lead pack clicking off the start line.

It’s still at least 30min before we get to leave the start. With 10,000 cyclists, we are seeded way back in the bunch start. Good chance to get a nice espresso at a Café opposite the starting gates. No way was I going to ride anywhere without my Caffeine fix!!!

Queue up behind several thousand cyclists at the start gate

We finally click off the timing chip at the start line. Yay, only 100 miles to go. There was a short descent with hundreds of supporters/spectators on either side- cheering everyone on! What a fantastic way to start a big ride.

The first hill was it’s usual perfect unicycle gradient- even though I had shorter cranks this year (110mm, instead of 125mm). I passed hundreds of cyclists on the first few ascents. Taupo has exactly 1500m of climbing, most of which is in the first half of the course. It was great fun passing so many bikers- but I held back from going as hard as I did last year, where I started cramping at the 20km mark. Not a good idea when you have another 140km to go.

The bell (attached to my GB handle) was the perfect accessory for passing on these hills dingdingding….unicyclists coming through on yer right! Colin finally catches and passes me at about 30km.

I overtake The Postie (dressed in his post-mans uniform and bike). “Are you stopping to deliver mail along the way?” I ask. He rolls his eyes. He must have heard that as many times as I’ve heard “where’s your other wheel?”

I nearly fall off my unicycle at the ¼ way sign- that’s 1hr 45min riding- on track for a 7:00hr finish. I’d also ridden on one of the hilliest parts of the course. This can’t be right!

I pass the guy on the handcycle, Tom Scott, cranking the whole 100miles around Lake Taupo. That’s gotta be hard work!

Sometime after 11:00am
60km mark. I’m so glad I didn’t go too hard up the first hills. I remember not being able to stand up at this point last year. I stretch, let the blood recirculate my crotch, and take the opportunity to tighten my nuts (which were coming loose).

It was off down the hill feeling much better, until I hit the Waihaha hill. The “Hahahaha” hill. Well, no ones laughing as we grind up this *&#! hill. My legs start cramping, time to ease off somewhat.

Somewhere around Noon
I get to 80km after grinding up the Kuratau hill. It was a great psychological boost- mainly because it is over half way psychologically- most of the big hills are behind us. I wave at the hundreds of relay riders changing over at the 80km interchange. Must have lost a fair bit of time because it’s almost at the 4hr mark when I cross 80km. I’m now on track for a 7hr30min finish if I can get some speed on the flat part of the course.

The next 20km are mostly gentle, rolling roads. It gets quite windy and I tuck in behind a small bunch hoping they would drag me along. Unfortunately, with such a huge frontal profile, I end up more useful to the people behind me. It started pelting down with rain but cleared after about 20min.

100km- it’s all downhill from here (almost). This is my favourite decent, with lot’s of fast sweeping corners and a pictoresque view of Lake Taupo as you descend the Waihi Hill.

110km- it’s all flat going for the next 40km. I’m glad I switched over to 110mm cranks and a GB handle this year. 125mm may have been easier for the hills, and the KH handle better for descents, but my new setup couldn’t be beaten for this flat stage. I tuck down low and try to make up some time before the Hatepe Hill.

I’m passed by a bunch of Enduro and Super-Enduro riders. They started at 1am this morning and 7pm last night respectively, on a mission to ride either 2 laps (320km) or 3+ laps (500km) around the lake. They must be mad!
“Go Ken”
“Geez- you guys deserve a medal. Go Enduro!”

I save just enough energy to grind all the way up the Hatepe Hill. It’s a short 2-3km ascent, but after 140km it’s the last thing your legs need.

A guy three quarters of the way up sitting on his lounge chair plays his banjo:
“Not far to go now….
Not far to go now…
Up the Hatepe Hill….”

The Challenge riders: “*&$!”

I race down the other side of the Hatepe and pedal hard toward the finish. It’s still another 18km but I was still optimistic of a 7hr30min finish. The legs couldn’t do it in the end, and I rolled across the line in 7hrs 43min 9secs. Not bad, I’d cut 37min off my time from last year. Woohoo!

It was a great event, hopefully we’ll have many more unicyclists competing here in future.

Ken Looi

Two-wheeled winning time: 3hr57min57s
Unicycle Time: 7hr 43min 9secs
Unicycle placing: 4077 place from 4424 solo riders
Super Enduro winning time: 19hrs 6min 9secs
Enduro winning time: 10hrs 35min 22secs

Coker standard frame
36”Airfoil rim
Coker 36” tyre; Stans Tubeless conversion
Tommy Miller SS spokes
UDC hub
110mm BE cranks
Snafu Sealed bearking pedals
KH Carbon seat, Fusion cover, cut-down foam
GB Handle, cut down bar-end attachement
My lucky Ding Ding bell.

I rate my setup pretty highly this year- it was perfect. No saddle soreness after 160km is a good thing. And that Tubeless wheel just flies up those hills. The GB handle was a bit scary on the high-speed descents, but very stable on the flat.

Food eaten during the race:
5 Whittakers Almond Gold Peanut slabs
2 Leppin Squeezees
1 banana
1 savoury muffin
4 blueberry muesli bars
About 3L of water


That sounds like an awesome ride! Congratulations on the improvement on your previous time. The largest bike ride I’ve unied in only had a couple thousand riders and almost no spectators, but even then you could feel the energy from all the people. I can’t imagine a ride with a ten thousand riders and cheering fans. That must be pure electric.

Wow, congratulations Ken! That’s incredible…you ascended and descended about 1/6 the height of Everest! :slight_smile:

On a side note, Everest is now officially 8850m high (as opposed to the old 8848m).

Will we get to see any photos of you riding the course?


Thats incredible! Thanks for the writeup. I enjoyed it very much.

Fantastic ride, awesome time, your an animal.

Ken, the machine does it again. I have no idea how he managed those hills with 110mm cranks. I struggled up them last year on a coker with 150mm cranks!

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to ride or drive around lake Taupo, the hill climbs are definately not nice. Plenty of cyclists get off and walk up the hills because they are so tough.

Ken, that is awesome. Congratulations on having the guts to use 110mm cranks (and then being able to climb 1500m on them too)! But I think I know what really got you through: it was the 5 Whittakers Almond Gold Peanut slabs!! Man those are great.

If you lose a little of your speed and fitness next winter before we head to Switzerland it’s ok. I’d like to be able to ride some of the time with you!

Sub-8 hours!!! Wow.


That is an incredible pace for 100 hilly miles.

100 miles in 7 hours 43 minutes gives an average speed of 12.96 mph. That’s a good pace to maintain on the flats for 100 miles. It’s damned impressive with the hills and the time taken for rest breaks.

Do you have a cyclecomputer to keep track of your max speed during the ride? Any idea how fast you go up the hills? My guess is that you must be going almost 10 mph up the hills and about 15 mph on the downhills to keep up that kind of a pace.

We need to get you a geared Coker and give you a shot at the 100 mile speed record before Christian Hoverath gets a chance to take the record.

so you only did the 160km Ken? i read in the booklet that you were goin for the big double? still, an impressive effort nonetheless, you are by far the road/endurance guru

very impressive riding
very kewl write-up


can u give me some idea of the kind of training program u do?

You are a Coker Beast!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your writeup! What a great adventure, sounded amazing.

Keep it up!



(Sorry for the slow reply, I had to fly to Perth on Monday.)

Anyway, thanks everyone…I had a blast! If you’re ever in NZ at this time of year- I can definitely recommend this ride- it’s got such an awesome atmosphere- with over 10,000 riders hyping you up. I was forced into a permanent grin (?grimace) thanking everyone that encouraged me along the way.

Andrew, sorry, I was too busy riding to take any photos- although there’s some pics of my Coker bar set up on my website (below).

Peter- you gotta change over to SS spokes and Tubeless- the Diet Coker wheel rocked on those hills. I don’t think I could have done it last year with my heavy stock wheel. I also paced myself a bit better so I had some gas left at the Hatepe Hill. The 110’s were probably slower on the uphills compared with the 125’s, but more than made up for it’s smoothness on the downhills and the flat section.

Nathan, Whittakers are the only chocolate bar that stays semi solid in my back pocket- I love it :stuck_out_tongue: I think I’m slightly fitter than at Unicon, but definitely not as fit as last year. It was a case of riding smarter and not blowing myself up in the first 20km, hence the faster time (And I skipped the 20min Steak n’ Cheese Pie break :roll_eyes: ). My new lightweight set-up helped quite a bit too. Look forward to riding with you in Switzerland!

John, I didn’t have my cyclecomputer set up because the cyclecomputer mount on my GB bar was a handy place for my bell :stuck_out_tongue: (No way was I going to swap my lucky bell for a speedo!) I would guess I averaged slightly less than 20km/h on the hillclimbs, and about 22-25km/h on the flattish bits (according to a biker). Maybe close to 30km/h on the downhills, but I was a bit scared too go too fast with the GB4 bar- it’s not got as much leverage to stop as the standard seat (I don’t have brakes). I cut down on my rest breaks- probably only 30secs at each 20km drink station, and a couple of stops to screw my nuts back on. Incidentally, I do intend on having a crack at the 100mile record early next year (check out my website). Problem is trying to find somewhere flat in near where I live.

Gild- I just ride :stuck_out_tongue: Maybe one day I’ll buy myself another heart rate monitor- reminds me of the bad old days when I was training for mountainbiking-it wasn’t much fun. My regular ride is about 34km long, 3-4x/week, on similar sort of terrain as Lake Taupo. I figure as long as you can ride at least 1/4-1/3 the distance, you should be fine on the day. I run a couple of time a week- (about 5-10km) if it’s too dark to ride when I get home.

Joe- I may consider the Enduro next year- but really wanted to get my time below 8hrs first. It would suck to know you’ve done a lap and have at least 8hrs to go. BTW, there is a 445km race from Christchurch to Nelson next year if you’re interested in being in a team :sunglasses: I may go solo if I can get a support crew together.

Sidenote- the guy that won the race- Jeremy Yates- former Junior World Champ, CSC team rider, has just been suspended for taking performance enhancing drugs. Real shame…I hope the samething never happens in our sport.


Good to see the website up and running. Mind if we link to it at