Usual rules: there is one deliberate mistake in here - an error in general knowledge that a non-unicyclist or first time forum reader has as much chance of spotting as anyone else. If you spot the “mistake”, PM me with the answer, but please don’t post the answers in the thread. If you don’t want to play, fair enough, but please don’t spoil it for those who do. I will post the correct answer and the best (intentionally) funny ones in a couple of days.
Pressure of work and other commitments have combined to keep me off the unicycles for about three months now. What little leisure time I’ve had has been spent putting 4,000 miles on the new motorbike that Cathwood advised me to buy. I’ve managed about two uni rides since my last “wride up”, and they were short and largely uneventful.
Today, there was no excuse: the sun was out and the sky was clear blue, with a few scattered cumulus clouds. I had a morning free, and I was determined to get out on a unicycle. I chose The Bacon Slicer, my custom-made 700c wheel, with its 23mm almost slick tyre, pumped to just over 130 psi (9 Bar), and with 114 mm cranks. After all, what could be more suitable for riding along a muddy river bank?
I park in the car park near to a pub in Stoke Bardolph. The scene is inviting, with the blue sky reflecting off the water, the sheep grazing on the river bank opposite, and a flotilla of ducks, coots and great crested grebes drifting in the middle of the river.
I am a little nervous about free mounting after such a long break, but there’s no need to worry; I am up first time, although my foot is a little out of place on the pedal.
I ride from the car park, across the short stretch of tarmac and up to the gate. I dismount for the gate, then freemount a little clumsily before setting off up the tarmac road that leads upstream. The river is to my left, a little higher than usual, and the water is brown from close up, although in the distance, it is sparkling metallic, winding between green fields. The far bank is sandy, just right for kingfisher burrows, but I seldom see one along here. Two horse riders are riding along the top of the flood bank opposite, silhouetted against the sky.
I ride for about half a mile, getting used to the feel of the unicycle. Balancing and steering is easy, but I can tell that I’m much slower than I used to be. The first obstacles are speed humps - what we used to call “sleeping policemen”, and they are just steep enough to focus my attention; the high pressure tyre is unforgiving of lapses of concentration!
I dismount for the cattle grid, then remount more neatly than previously. Within 50 metres, I feel confident enough to turn away from the river onto a mud and gravel path that runs through the willow woods to my right. Picking my way along the path is easy enough, as long as I take it steady. On any of my other unicycles (except perhaps the Road razor) this would be no challenge at all, but I am very aware that it only takes one shifting pebble, or one unexpected slip to bring me down.
I do well until I reach a small incline. I have ridden up it on previous rides, but today, with the ground damp, and me out of practice, I UPD and have to walk the short distance to the top. I remount and ride further through the woods, my bare legs occasionally brushing on the few late nettles still growing next to the path. At the next incline, I UPD again.
50 metres after that, I reach the brow of a sudden decline. I know it is gravelly, and it is steep enough for a fall to hurt, so I hold back for a moment, scanning the route ahead - and I don’t notice the root beneath, which trips my wheel, forcing me to run all the way down the hill.
Minutes later, I come out of the woods back onto the river bank, where I see two middle aged men on mountain bikes. I politely hold the gate open for them, and they thank me in Geordie accents.
It is a truth fairly widely acknowledged that the most banal comment made in a Geordie accent can appear droll (Ross Noble has made a career of it), but this truth does not extend to, “Have you left your other wheel at home?” It sounds just as silly in Geordie - although somewhat less intelligible. The two mountain bikers politely wave me on ahead, but I point out that they are likely to be faster than me “as I haven’t been out on it for a few weeks” and they ride on.
Freemounting is now a problem; the track is very muddy indeed, and even when I get on, there is insufficient traction to get moving. This would be meat and drink to the KH24, but the Bacon Slicer, despite its name, appears to tbe vegetarian, and not thirsty. After a few wheelspins and slides, I turn back, and decide to ride back down river on the tarmac, missing out the wooded section.
A few minutes later, without incident, I am on the main road, passing the car park. As I do so, I think I see a wren fly low in front of me before disappearing into the shrubbery. To my right is the river, to my left a hedge. On the river are ducks and grebes, overhead, gulls, terns and crows, and flying in and out of the hedge are chaffinches. Then, by a stroke of luck, I catch a brief glimpse of Britain’s smallest bird, the halfinch.
Half a mile later, I am amazed to see an abandoned caravan in a layby. Here’s me, unwilling to drop so much as a sweet wrapper, and someone has simply towed a caravan here and dumped it. The windows are smashed, and one of the panels is split, and it is clear that it has been here for some time. If the kids don’t torch it soon, it will be too damp to burn!
Immediately after this is an S bend, which I negotiate with caution as so many drivers these days drive as if they have given no thought to the possibility that a unicycle miight be around the next corner. However, today I am in luck, because an elderly motorist coming the other way actually sounds his horn before crawling round the bend in first gear.
The next obstacle is the gate that allows entry to the Stoke Bardolph Estate, after which it is easy riding on smooth tarmac for half a mile or so. I then have choice of riding across a cattle grid, dismounting and walking across, or using the pedestrian gate at the side. I go for this option, then turn right down a rough ballast track to my right, heading back towards the river.
Soon I reach one of my favourite tracks. It’s dead straight for half a mile or so, with high hedges on each side, and trees that meet overhead, making it like a tunnel. The ground is rutted and muddy, and would be far better suited to the Coker or the MUni, but I decide to go for it, and manage the whole length with only three or four UPDs. At one point, I do the coolest sideways slide down the edge of one of the ruts, and manage to stay on.
I decide to take the easy way after that, and follow tarmac roads and ballast tracks towards the main road. This section passes more or less without incident until my attention is drawn by a particularly loud Hardley Davidson on the road ahead. I am just thinking uncharitable thoughts about weekend warriors when I lose concentration and UPD. I’ve been riding faster than I thought, and it takes a flat out sprint to stop me measuring my length in the grit.
After the gate, I cross the road then ride along the cycle track towards Gunthorpe, the busy main road to my right. This is unpleasant, but it is only a couple of minutes before I turn off into the village of Gunthorpe. After that, the ride is less stressful, and more interesting. Soon, I am back alongside the river, and making my way towards the Gunthorpe Tea Rooms.
Predictably, on such a lovely Sunday, the tea rooms are crowded. This is a regular tea and cakes stop for cyclists, and I enjoy a chat with a few older members of Calverton Cycling Club. Being mainly men of a certain age, they have all riden fixed wheel bicycles and know a thing or two about crank length and the perils of fast descents. One of them used to do time trials on a fixed wheel tricycle, which makes him far crazier than any of us, and we laugh as we compare scars and stories.
After filling up on wholly inappropriate sports nutrition (egg and chips) I ride back though the village, then along the cycle path beside the main road until I can cross and go back onto the Stoke Bardolph Estate. My plan is to ride more or less straight back to the car, and I do this easily, although not without some saddle -related discomfort.
The only incident is when I catch up with a slow-moving bicyclist. Do I overtake him, then have to stay ahead, or do I tailgate him and annoy him? I choose for the second option, and stick with him for several minutes before the need to negotiate a pack of pedestrians and loose dogs separates us.
I arrive back at the car after about an hour and a half’s varied riding. Not the most exciting “wride up” ever, but it was just so good to be back on the wheel.