Leadville 50 mile mtb race writeup

Today I woke up at 3am to drive to Leadville Colorado to compete in the 50 mile mountain bike race with my geared 29er - http://www.leadvilletrail100.com/lt100races/LeadvilleSilverRush50MileMountainBikeRace/overview.aspx . I had been training for quite a while, and my main goal was to get to the halfway spot before the 4.5 hour cutoff…which doesn’t sound too difficult, but believe me…it is!

I think the first 25 miles had around 5,000 feet of climbing (I forget the total descent), all between 10-12,500ft in elevation, and all offroad on loose/rocky/steep terrain.

The more popular race is the leadville 100 - Lance Armstrong has competed in it twice now I think, but from what I have heard, the 50 is like the 100 with the easy parts taken out! Some of the riders I talked to that have done both, said the 50 is much harder for them than the 100. The 50 starts above 10,000 feet in Leadville (the highest incorporated city in America) with a run up a steep hill, and then it is a 10 mile climb to the first turn where there is a 4 mile descent or so to the first supply station, from there there is another mile or so descent and then it is 10 more miles of brutal climbing all the way up Ball mountain.

Anyway, I was doing great the first 10 miles of the race, and passed a LOT of bikes on the unicycle. While doing this I heard “You’re my hero!” quite a lot. On the steep downhill the bikes had the advantage, but I was using my geared 29, so the high gear helped a little bit (I was mostly in low gear for the race though). The second uphill section was far too steep for me to climb with the 29er, so I was between riding some and walking and my time really suffered. I ended up getting to highest point on the trail but not before hitting the wall a few times (I was struggling to breathe in a few sections and had to slow my pace because of my exhaustion and the elevation), and after that there were a few miles of technical downhill before reaching the halfway mark. I missed the 4.5 hour cutoff by about 10-15 minutes :frowning: I can attribute about an 8 minute loss to the beginning of the race when 600 riders were crowding in a small trail section, so there was a line forming, but even if there had been no delay, I still would have missed the cutoff by a good 5+ minutes.

This is the hardest thing I have done on a unicycle, the first 25 mile portion of this 50 mile race was the harder half (with 66% of the climbing), and it was killer on the legs and the terrain was brutal non-stop. I pushed it pretty hard, and I am still happy that I made it to the halfway spot before some bikes, and I at least continued on to the halfway checkpoint (some bikes couldn’t make it).

Everyone was really cool about the unicycle and I got nothing but compliments on the trail from the 600 or so riders that competed, and even though I didn’t finish, I went home feeling achieved, and started thinking about what I would do differently for this race next year. I think the climbs would be easier on a geared 26er instead, with longer cranks (165mm at least). I was using a geared 29 with 150mm cranks, and it was great for the first 15 miles, but that last 10 miles was just killer and was screaming for a lower gear.

Hopefully I’ll see some pictures up on the site soon to share.

Time to go clean my wounds again from the few falls I had and try to sleep and recover from a difficult, but fun day.

Well Done. You picked on one of the hardest MTB races in the US of A.

It sounds brutal!


Why not use a geared 24" with 150 cranks if it has so much tough climbing? I thought that the wheel size on a 26" with a big tire and a 29" were not very different.


That sounds like the hardest 25 miler possible. You’re huge, James. Something to shoot for next year.

Looks like the full course is about 7400 feet of climbing. I thought riding Mt. Evans a few times (a lot of climbing up to 14,000 feet in elevation) would help, but it didn’t prepare me enough for this race because climbing on the road, even at high elevation, is MUCH easier than climbing offroad in leadville.

Thanks! I wanted to be the first to attempt it, but I think that there are some strong riders(including you) that could finish this race in the 8 hours allotted.

I have used a 24" muni about…once or twice in my life. I have always been a fan of the bigger wheels and I have been using the 29er for all of my muni rides, but yeah a 24 would have an easier climbing gear I would imagine. The 26" with a huge tire is about the same, but if I use a narrower tire than 26x3 it will be more noticeable of a smaller gear I think.


…can’t think of anything better to say, you did reeeeaaaallllyyyyyy well.

You should be super proud of yourself!
I just started riding 2 months ago. Im finally on the dirt. I just got back from riding Flying J Ranch in Connifer. I’m gunna keep riding and training and I hope one day to be able to ride with you!

That would be a good deal harder than any ride I’ve ever done.

Great job, James. That is certainly an achievement to be proud of, and now you are more aware of what is required to make your low gear sufficient to make those climbs doable.

Thanks for the write-up - It was a good read.


Awesome job, James. I’m sure you could shave off 15 minutes and make the cut off. Nice ride!

Very cool, yeah, it would be cool to meet up with some more CO riders sometime.

Thanks. Yeah, next year I am going to get in the front of the pack so I don’t have the 8-10 minute delay due to the 600 people trying to get on the track, and I am hoping using longer cranks and a 26er will make more terrain rideable.

I’ll also try to get some more unicyclists involved next year - maybe I can talk the organizers into adding a unicycle class, I wanted to be the first to attempt it, but next year I bet if you or aspen mike entered, you would do quite well. I really want to see a unicyclist beat the 8 hour cut off for this course someday.

Great work siafirede, I love to hear about unicyclist doing off-road races. Thanks for the write up.

Great job siafirede! Very inspiring to here about other guys taking on tough mountain bike challenges on a unicycle! I’m itching to get back myself having taking part in a couple of 12 hour mountain bike events on my unicycle in the past few years. Unfortunately my running is going well right now and I’ve got one more big race this year next month so not much riding for me! :frowning: It’s too dang nasty hot around these parts right now to ride, at least it isn’t very fun and heat stroke is a real possibility! But I’ve got some plans for this fall and you definitely helped motivate me to execute them!

Great job!

I think unicyclists like you with a trail running background would do very well at an event like the leadville 50. Come out next year! Next year I will make trail running a big part of my training just to get my cardio in better shape and to deal with the hike-a-bike sections better.

A 26X3 should be about 28" in diameter. I bet a 26X2.3" would be best, and even smaller diameter.

+1 on the Guni 24 w/ 150’s or 137’s if 150 is too easy. The lower center of gravity could make the technical bits easier (although a 26 would roll over stuff better), and I’ve heard, where speed would be similar, faster RPM’s w/ smaller circles is less tiring than slower RPM’s w/ larger circles.

Yeah, that is what I was thinking, I would love to see a 26x2.3 next to a 29x2.2 (nevegal tire is what I use). I think a 26x2.3 with 165mm cranks will provide a nice low gear.

As far as faster RPMs vs slower RPMs with larger circles, it is a trade off. As I have said, I have hardly ever used a 24" or 26" muni, I exclusively ride 29er muni (or occasionaly 36er muni), but it does limit me a little bit so I have been wanting to get a 26er for more downhill fun. I would love to try out a 24 with 137mm cranks and see how it would compare to a 26 with 150 or 165mm cranks on this course.

Blimey, that sounds like a hard ride - well done! It’s the type of thing I’d probably be stupid enough to enter if it was in my part of the world - don’t know how I’d get on though…

Nice one.



Nice work! It’s really cool that you went for this. Cutoff time or not, I’m sure you changed expectation levels amongst all the bikers on what is possible on a single wheel.