Moor fun on the MUni

Another chance to get out on Dartmoor: Monday 8th Aug.

I started at the side of the small disused quarry, 400 metres above sea level, and set off down the kilometre long rocky track towards the shallow ford. When I rode this track a couple of days ago, the uni was difficult to handle. Now I’m back into the stride of ridng the 26, and I’ve also put a bit more air in the tyre, and it’s much easier to ride.

Half way down the track, I meet a walker with a dog which runs at me barking. “He’s never seen a unicycle before,” explains the owner. There is a slightly ironic emphasis on the syllables,"u"and “ni”.

I take the stepping stones across the ford, then decide to ride up the steep rough track opposite. The surface is ballast and chippings. Some of the stones ping out from under the tyre, others skitter away, some just don’t move. The worst are the ones that start to move, then suddenly stop, nearly tripping the wheel.

I make it most of the way up the steep slope then hit a drainage curb that runs across the track, and I UPD. Less than a mile into the ride and I’m breathless, so I take a few minutes to rest. I’ve dropped down about 20 metres, then climbed back up about 30. Aspenmike has nothing to fear from me!

Continuing up the track, I reach the crest, then it’s an easy gradual descent along a shingly track. I meet a group of walkers. The leader says, “That’s impressive.” I thank him, and the rest of the walkers burst into a round of applause. This is slightly weird, but well meant.

Soon, I pass a portaloo. This really is strange. Chemical toilets seem to be springing up left right and centre on the moor. It does rather spoil the impression of remote wilderness!

There is a steepish section of track down to a deep ford, and I cross via the stepping stones at the side. The next section of track climbs up steeply from the ford, and I take a few seconds to plan my route. To my surprise, I ride the section first time, with no UPDs. Then, of course, I fall off for no good reason on an easy bit.

A hundred metres later, the track sort of fades away into a deep spongy grassy strip that is hard work to ride on. After too many UPDs, I decide to walk for a bit. I come to a narrow sheep track that goes round the contour. For no obvious reason, I find this hard to ride, and I get increasingly frustrated. I start to feel like I’m not that good a rider.

The other day, I exhausted myself by trying too hard when the going got tough. I’m on holiday, and I should be riding for fun, not to prove some obscure Freudian point, so I decide to abandon this route and ride back down the slope to the ford and retrace my steps. Later, when I check the map, it turns out this was a wise decision.

With only a couple of mistakes, I make it back down to the tarmac road that loops around this section of the moor. There is a long slog up a steep hill which I make in two sections. Half way up, I am overtaken by farmers’ boys on quad bikes, who grin as they pass me. 4 wheels and an engine - now why didn’t I think of that?

The next mile or two are steady climbing, mainly on tarmac, but with some unmade road. I stop twice. The first time is for refreshments. My Snickers bar is starting to melt, so I hold it underwater in a clear cold stream for a few seconds before unwrapping it. The second time is when I meet a huge black and chrome 4x4 (US = SUV) coming down the hill.

A quick multi choice test: Michael is slogging up a steep hill on a unicycle in hot sun. Mr. Git is driving down the hill in his 4.2 litre air conditioned 4x4. Who gives way? Is it:
a) Michael, or
b) Michael?

That’s right. And cheecky Mr. Git even gives me a self satisfied smirk and a thumbs up as he passes. Can’t possibly put two of his shiny alloy wheels off the tarmac, can he?

I reach the high point of my ride at 566 metres, and have splendid views across Dartmoor. Two Sea King helicopters (we Sea King here, we Sea King there…) are practising low flying manoeuvres, one at a time. One flies high, the other drops into a steep sided valley below.

The road down from here is quite steep, and I have to be careful not to "spin out"and lose control.

A track to the right attracts my attention, and I explore it. It is a long steady climb on sand, grit and loose stones, but not too difficult. I reach a turning point, with a military hut in it, and continue down an ill-defined track across the moor. This gets steeper and steeper until the last bit is beyond my nerves and skill and I bail out.

I sit for a while. Below me is a narrow, fast flowing river. Across the valley is Steeperton Tor, and I can see two walkers, “toiling on the slopes of Mount Doom”, dwarfed by the scale of the hillside. A buzzard hovers overhead. I’m only a mile from the road, if that, but it feels so remote.

The next stage of the ride is difficult. The track is badly rutted, and large rocks are embedded in it. There are also loose rocks and patches of grass and loose stones. I reach the point where I am UPDing every few metres, and missing some mounts. In the end, I decide that the rewards are not worth the effort, and I carry the uni for a quarter of a mile or so.

Eventually, I reach Oke Tor where I stop, rest, admire the view, and tootle on my harmonica for a bit. From the top of Oke Tor, I can see an easy looking track down to the road, and I decide to take this.

In fact, the track is not that easy. In places, the grass grows in a thin layer over the granite. In other places, it is deep and soft. It is never possible to predict how the uni will respond. On moment, I hit a bump and the bump yields to the tyre; the next moment, I hit a similar bump and it stops the tyre dead. It’s like eating meusli blindfolded, not knowing if my spoon will contain a raisin or a hazelnut.

Back down to the road with about three UPDs and much foul language, I decide to follow the tarmac back to the car. I need to pick a friend up in nearby Okehampton, and I’m running late. Progress on tarmac is so slow on a MUni, when I’ve been getting used to the 700c. However, I eventually make it back, hot, tired and hungry, but with the sense of an enjoyable and varied ride in some beautiful scenery.

“Only” 11.25 miles of riding, plus half a mile or so of walking

Re: Moor fun on the MUni

I had this happen on my latest (proper) go at my Really Big Hill… there I was, fixed grimace on a face about to explode, gasping for breath, a river of sweat running down the hill… so what does he do but stop right in the middle of the road and point. His amusing comment when I was forced to get off did not go down well.

Bah humbug.

I’ve only ridden on Dartmoor twice; the first time was a fairly short spin on the muni; the second was an unintentionally much longer trek on the 29er around some of the bleakest bits of the moor I’ve seen for a long time. It started off okay, on a pleasant Saturday afternoon in the car park by the Avon Dam. Many hours later I was still out there, in the dark, with only a vague recollection of how to get back after having left my A4 printed map on a rock half way round…

Would you recommend the area you went to? I keep getting an urge for some proper out-in-the-wilderness 29ering, rather than the never-more-than-a-mile-from-a-main-road that the Quantocks offers. This time, though, I will look after my map.


Re: Re: Moor fun on the MUni

I’m not really experienced enough to comment in detail. I’ve only had about 5 or 6 rides in total on Dartmoor so far. Also, I don’t know enough about your ability and style.

The area of Dartmoor that I have written about is the most remote area of all - within a mile or two of the legendary Cranmere Pool. There are no through roads, so only people actively visiting this area go to it. You get dog walkers, hikers, kite fliers and so on. It is rare to see more than 20 cars in an hour’s ride, and most of them are parked.

If you can get up onto the skyline, there are fantastic views and a real sense of isolation. However, many of the tracks are very hard work for someone at my level of experience and ability. I find embedded rocks in an uneven surface quite tiring in long sections. My preference is for long steady sections with occasional short sections that are at the limit of what I can achieve.

I have only ridden a 29er very briefly, so don’t know what is possible on one. More "rollover"than a 26, lower gearing than a Coker?

I doubt I could ride a Coker up some of these hills, and I definitely couldn’t ride a 28 x 35 down them without damaging the rim. A 26 x 2.3 copes with most of it. At my level, it’s a case of almost every yard being rideable, but stringing the yards together can be a problem.

I rode about 8 miles around Sousson’s Wood and up as far as Headland Warren (near Grimspound) today and found that more to my liking. Hard work, but rideable.

I’ve not ridden much on the Okehampton side of the moor so I can’t comment on that, but on the high moor around where I am (Princetown) there aren’t that many legal tracks. No shortage of mileage, but it can be quite a way between junctions - so varying the route can be difficult without adding large distances (or driving somewhere different to start from, but I usually like to ride in a loop from home). Most of the bridleways are rideable for me (technically mediocre rider) on my 26x3, and I suspect may be even better on a 29er. Lots of rocks (fist to football size or larger) either loose or embedded in the ground, as Mike mentioned - I enjoy riding over those, but some of the uphill rocky stuff defeats me on the uni (although it’s easily doable on a bike, but then I’ve had much more biking experience).

I think it’s a fantastic area to be if you like a bit of bleakness (but I may be a bit biased!) and views. The main bummer is that a few years ago it was made a criminal offence to ride off the bridleways, so no riding on open moor any more (it used to be technically outlawed but not really enforced that much), but to be fair it isn’t really very rideable over most of the open moor anyway - it’s either boggy or covered with very bumpy tussocky grass. But once you get out of easy tourist-with-dog range from the nearest carpark you still get the “you and your uni against the elements” feeling even on the path. If you fancy an easier ride, there are a few old railway lines. If you want a navigational challenge, some of the lesser-used bridleways can be extremely hard to follow - just marked with a wooden stake every hundred yards or so, usually knocked over and trampled into the ground by cows. I haven’t come across any really good singletrack stuff like in the Quantocks, but there is probably some somewhere on the moors (around Dartmeet possibly?)

Being used to Dartmoor, I found the Quantocks really good in that there are loads of tracks in a small area, so varied routes could easily be taken on a loop from the same start point.

I would say definitely give it a go if you’ve never ridden down (up?) here - perhaps drop in on me if you’re around :slight_smile:

BTW, I’ve not noticed these toilets that Mike keeps mentioning…


The Quantocks are fantastic for short loops of singletrack, but in some ways it’s the opposite of Dartmoor in that there’s too much choice. Each up-and-down loop doesn’t take all that long so you’re seeing the same bits over again on different routes. The riding is excellent but you don’t feel particularly adventurous or at one with nature.

Then I saw this photo (spot the teeny tiny bikers in the bottom left corner) and now have an urge to take the 29er somewhere incredibly remote.

I think I’ll have to add North Dartmoor to the list of places to go when I get a free day on a weekend… I’ll let you know!