The Holy Roller tyre has been such a revelation that I started to wonder whether I could try some longer cranks again. A year or two back, I had a ride on 170s that was so disastrous that I swore never to use them again. I gave them away, posting them to someone from this forum who has never thanked me, and who I think no longer posts here. I guess they went straight on eBay.
Anyway, the Holy Roller handles so well compared to the Gazz that I’ve recently found myself spinning rather than plodding on the 150s. Time for a change?
The cranks arrived very promptly earlier this week (thanks, Roger), and went on yesterday, so today I was ready to try them out.
Up to Sherwood Forest on a cold damp morning. It’s about 11:30 and the carpark is full of people setting up mountainbikes. One advantage of the unicycle: it comes straight out of the car boot and off you go!
Whoah! It’s a bit zig-zaggy. The cranks have a slightly increased Q factor, but I think it’s the length that makes the most difference. The pedalling action is less smooth. Also, slow speed manoeuvring is less precise. I tend to turn as the front foot goes down. On other unis, I’ve noticed that shorter cranks make steering more accurate.
Still, apart form bailing out to avoid flattening a particularly vacant child with a particularly stupid dog that leaps across my path, stretching its lead taut in front of me, I ride with no big problems. A reasonable speed is possible, but it feels slower and harder work than spinning the 150s.
Soon I’m in the forest, first riding along a series of hard-packed ballast roads, then taking a side-track of mud and pine needles between regimented rows of conifers. I like the tranquility of riding in a pine forest, the tyre silent on the soft needles, but the scenery can get a bit repetitive. It must have lulled me into a semi-hypnotic trance, because I suddenly UPD for no good reason. Perhaps I hit an unusually substantial pine needle? They all look the same to me, but perhaps the culprit slipped away during the initial confusion.
Back out onto a wider track, then I divert onto narrow muddy single track. The tyre slithers, but I stay on until I reach a deep and wide puddle. Discretion is the better part of valour, and wet mud in my shoes this early into a ride would be a Bad Thing. I walk past.
Eventually, I reach the place where I used to park before my car was broken into. I have a particular route in mind because I think it will test the 170mm cranks. There is a long steady climb up a hard-packed ballast road, which turns out to be slightly easier, but slightly slower than it was a couple of weeks ago on 150s.
On the way, I hear dogs barking, and people shouting, and I could swear I hear a brass horn being winded. Is this the (now illegal) hunt? It certainly sounds like it, and I begin to run through a number of options ranging from phoning the Police to throwing my unicycle through a Land Rover’s windscreen. (Not wanting to open the debate here, but, as you might read between the lines, I’m anti-bloodsports.)
But no, thankfully, it’s not the hunt. It’s husky sled racers. Yes, really. I’ve met these characters in the forest before. They have three-wheeled chariots, towed by teams of huskies. They proceed at a steady brisk walking pace, like Monty Pyhton’s idea of Ben Hur meets the Snow Queen, shouting “Mush!” and getting very irritated when one of the dogs stops to cock its leg against a tree. As I ride past on my MUni, I marvel at the strange hobbies some people have.
Then I reach the right turn at the top, and the wheel spontaneously turns left up a steep little hump of mud, and I find myself riding through leaves and gloop, in roughly equal proportions. Last week, I consciously avoided taking this turn. This week the ground is wetter, but I take the turn with some confidence. Is that the new cranks, or my attitude? I think it’s a bit of both.
This track is exceptionally wet and rutted, with pools of standing water across it. I zig and zag (sometimes zagging and zigging, for variety) and avoid the worst of the slime, but I eventually UPD. At that moment, a group of four 2-stroke trailbikes appears at high speed, the riders whoopin’ and hollerin’ like rednecks in a B movie. I step to one side but they turn the other way and disappear in a flurry of smoky rooster tail. (Dish of the day at the local Cajun restaurant, no doubt.)
The next leg of the ride is a long straight forest track, with some low hanging branches which shed last night’s raindrops on my face as I brush past them. The ground is chewed to the consistency of oily toothpaste by trail bike tyres, and I discover that the best place to ride is where the top layer of leaves is undisturbed. Occasionally, the leaves conceal a small log, or a hole, or even a mudbath, but at least the ground is generally more solid.
With only a couple of UPDs and a short break for a rest, I make it to the start of the long sand and gravel descent, then the section of single track that brings me out near to a gate across the road. At the gate, I am greeted with surprised remarks by a couple of elderly bicyclists. Their comments are fairly standard, but friendly, and I repay them with a, “Yes, but think how much money I saved.”
Half a mile later: a hill that I failed twice last week, mainly because of lack of traction in the wet. I come round the corner to the start of the hill and see two mountain bikers pushing their bikes up the hill. This is all the incentive I need, and by judicious selection of route, and avoiding the slimiest patches, I soon catch and overtake them. This provokes witty remarks about how my “bike” is lighter than theirs.
The two riders have all the gear, with fashionable-looking underbed-urinal-style helmets, clean white cycling shirts (clean white shirts, two miles or more from the car park!), leg armour, matching gloves the lot. They make no effort to overtake me though, and when I do UPD, tripping over a 4 inch thick log, I find that I overtake them within yards.
Then I’m on a long steady climb up a muddy footpath, and I hear bicycles approaching. Four appear, in convoy, freewheeling towards me. There will obviously be no display of courtesy from them, so I make an elaborate show of riding my single wheel off the main track and riding off piste through undergrowth to let them pass. Not so much as a word of thanks, and I even detect a hint of derisive laughter as they ride away.
Later, I meet four different mountainbikers, in matching shirts, matching helmets… all dressed spookily the same, and looking like extras from a Saturday morning superhero cartoon. They are hovering at the top of the “Dual Descender”, apparently uncertain whether to proceed, so I ride between them with the curtest of curt nods, set off down the descender, and thankfully make it out of sight before my first UPD in deep mud.
After a few loops of my regular tracks, and one or two trips down previously unexplored paths, I’m getting tired. I arrive at a bird-watching tower: a hide set up on stilts about 4 or 5 metres high. I climb up there, eat a Snickers, drink some water, and get my breath back. There are very few birds - just a crow, and a small flight of seven something-or-others in the distance.
A group of mountainbikers approaches noisily. As they passs the bottom of the tower, one says scornfully, “A yoooonicycle!” He looks up, sees me, and says, “Oh, er, hello.” He then thinks for a bit and says, “Do you do the jumps on that?”
I reply, “Some of them, yes.”
“Well, can you do a…?” (He uses a word that is meaningless to me, but is no doubt an impressive stunt, and rides off, apparently feeling he’s put me in my place.)
Later, I meet four young lads who look like they’re going to be trouble, but they are much more polite, and ask questions which show a genuine interest. As I chat with them, directing their attention to unicycle.uk.com, the two whitte-shirted bicyclists I overtook on the hill a long time back arrive. They stop and look at the nearby BMX humps and bumps. I ride the nearby BMX humps and bumps. The mountain bikers show no signs of decision, so I ride the humps and bumps again UPDing on the very last one, then ride away.
Moral: never buy a white cycling shirt. It might make you afraid to cycle in the mud.
By now, I’m very tired - I can tell this when I UPD for no good reason, and then miss my first attempt at a freemount. Mounting is ever so slightly easier on the 170 mm cranks. I’m finding it harder to keep the speed up on the easy bits, and my left thigh is banging against the end of the handle. This is presumably because the seat is 20 mm lower, and the leg is coming up 20 mm higher than was the case with the 150s.
The last leg of my rde through the forest takes me along a narrow grassy track between conifers and silver birch. At this time of year, you get fly agaric toadstools in birch woods. They’re the red ones with white spots. I see some splendid specimens, some with heads about 20 cm (8 inches) across. Allegedly, pixies live near fly agarics, but you can only see the pixies if you eat the fly agarics - the toadstools are halucinogenic, and were consumed by Viking warriors who wished to go berserk in battle.
Back to the car, tired, but happy. I’ve ridden for around 2 hours, so I guess that’s around 12 miles. By the end of the ride, I feel comfortable with the 170mm cranks, although I’m still not entirely convinced whether they are significantly better than the 150s. They’ve certainly taken me up a couple of hills I couldn’t have ridden on the 150s, and they haven’t given me too many control problems at low speed in the slimy mud. What this has shown is that the tyre was a critical factor, because the uni was almost unrideable on anything half as rough as today’s ride with 170s and the Gazzaloddi.