A day of unusual comments, and slight achievements…
Another late night, followed by another late morning… but (to paraphrase the late great Buddy Holly) “the sun was out, the sky was blue, there was not a cloud to spoil the view”… so it was time to go a Cokering, along the mountain track, la la la la, la la la la, a napsack on my back.
Having recently boasted of my almost 100% success rate on freemounting, I was disappointed to need two attempts on flat tarmac. Within a hundred yards, I had to dismount for a gate, and again, it took two goes to remount. This was a pattern repeated throughout much of the morning. I was wearing shoes with stiff and heavily treaded soles, which might have made a difference, but I think it was just fatigue. I know my legs were none too keen when I invited them to propel the Coker up the first hill. My three sports - Morris dancing, unicycling and fencing - are all leg-intensive, and occasionally, the legs just run out of push.
I had forgotten my trip computer. This was probably a good thing, as if the numbers are there, I find I ride ‘for the numbers’ which tempts me to take the faster option at junctions. I sometimes miss the more interesting side trails. Pointless vanity, but I can be as vain as the next man (unless he’s Tony Blair, in which case, I concede!)
Today, unable to record my distance and speed for posterity, I ambled where the mood took me, picking some winding and undulating single track. There were patches of sand and gravel. Sand must be the worst surface to Coker on (except for thin ice over a pool of sharks, I suppose) and I UPDd a few times. I wasn’t really getting into my stride.
Eventually, I popped out of the woods into an area set aside for mountain bikers/BMXers, with a few swoops, ramps and jumps. There were lots of kids there, and I thought, “Here we go, wait for the merciless scorn.” But I was wrong. The first comment was, “Hey, mint! Look, a unicycle!”
This spurred me to essay a couple of the ramps. I UPDd gracefully as I crested one, remounted neatly, and swooped down the next and across some broken ground and out of sight, followed by shouts of encouragement.
Dividing the MTB/BMX area is a high bank of earth with an undulating top. I was able to remount on this and ride along the top - silhouetted against the skline in all my glory - then down a big swoop and up a ramp where I didn’t quite manage to get over the top edge. Posing shamelessly, I baled out at exactly the right moment to fly over the top of the ramp without the unicycle, and landed runnig, making the whole thing look a lot more dramatic than it was.
Quitting while I was ahead, I rode off into the forest, eventually finding myself at a Visitor Centre, where I stopped for coffee, and was ‘interviewed’ at length on the subject of unicycling by a middle aged lady mountain biker. She had some intelligent questions, and took a real interest in the answers. Made a nice change.
From there, it was back into the forest, turning this way and that, and convincing myself that I knew where I was. Suddenly, I saw my car, exactly where I’d left it! I’d come full circle. About 8 miles/an hour of riding and I was back where I’d started! D’oh!
I decided to repeat the early part of my route, and ended up back at the MTB/BMX area where the same kids were still riding, and had been joined by a few others. The first lot were able to be ‘real cool’ because they ‘knew’ me and they were boasting to their friends about how good I was!
This time I managed to nail the two ramps where I’d failed before. I’ve done them both before on a 26, but on the Coker, it was quite, er… exciting. Must’ve looked impressive.
After a quick lap of the rideable obstacles I stopped for water and chocolate,and I actually had a nice 10-15 minute chat with the kids, who were asking sensible questions, and taking a real interest.
One lad asked, “Does it rock forwards and backwards where it joins the wheel? Isn’t that difficult to balance?”
To illustrate, I held the wheel still, and moved the seat and forks forwards and backwards.
“Wouldn’t it be easier if it was fixed in position?” he asked.
To illustrate, I held the fork crown and tyre so that the forks were fixed in position, then pushed the pedal to turn the wheel.
“Oh yes!” To his credit, he had quickly realised the disbenefits of his proposed modification!
Then a man arrived on a posh mountain bike - all springs and discs and stuff. “Has anyone seen my computer? It must have flown off when I did a jump.”
Everyone did a bit of a search. The man was grateful, little realising that if one of the kids had found it, he would probably have charged a ransom - we were near Mansfield, after all.
Eventually, it became clear that the computer was permanently AWOL. The man explained to me glumly, “It must have come off when I did a jump.”
“I know how you feel,” I replied, “I lost my front wheel on a jump… and my handlebars. I’m having to get by with the bits I have left.”
The man laughed.
One of the kids commented, “That was a really crap joke!”
“Yes, but how many times do you think I’ve heard it?”
Point made, and laughter all round.
From there I rode on towards a place known locally as ‘The Desert’. As I came to a junction in the track, I saw a family party of bicyclists ahead of me. They saw me approaching and stopped and pulled to the side of the path. I heard the usual rustle of “Hey look,” and “Wow, look at that…” and couldn’t resist…
At this junction, there is an opportunity to ride up a short steep bank of earth, to still stand briefly and turn, then swoop down, ducking under a branch, up over a smaller bank, then drop down a steep slope back onto the path. I’ve done it before, I knew it could be done, I had an audience… I did it.
Cheers all round, then one of the bicyclists joked, “I could have done that with no wheels at all!” An original line! I was having a good day for comments.
I then went to The Desert, which is an area of colliery/quarry land, with (as its name suggests) lots of sand, and not much vegetation. There are a few tracks and obstacles, but when the sand isn’t damp and hard packed, it’s too difficult to Coker on. So instead, I clambered up onto an old railway embankment, and rode along the track bed. This is a weird section of track, because it undulates with a rise and fall of 2 - 3 feet, with crests varying from 2 - 6 feet apart. You can almost, but not quite, get a rhythm going. It’s certainly good practice - and again, I’m high on the skyline, feeling like a Western hero.
Down from there, and back into the forest, where I follow the signs to “Off Road Mountain Bike Trail. Danger - Rough Terrain - Experienced Cyclists Only.”
Well, wouldn’t you? And frankly, most of the course was easier than much of what I’d ridden already. This is our society: we have a massive area of forest, and we package it all into two Visitor Centres, and one “Off Road Mountain Bike Trail”. How many people take the shortest route through the forest, on the wide straight forestry roads, to ride a half mile or so of designated Off Road Mountain Bike Trail? How many go out for the day and never go further than the Visitor Centre? At least it keeps them out of my way!
I meet a man on the Trail, leading his young son who’s on his own bike. The man stops to chat, and again, has intelligent questions, a real interest, an understanding of the principles (fixed wheel, choice of wheel sizes, etc.) and he makes no inane comments! Have I died and gone to unicyclists’ heaven?
And a few minutes later, as I blast past a group of resting bicyclists, basking on the bank like a colony of seals, one looks up, smiles and says, “Blimey! Couldn’t you make it any lighter?” A ‘knowing’ cyclist’s take on the missing components gag - I’m impressed.
A blow by blow account of the whole ride would bore you all, but by the time I got back to the car, I’d ridden for 2 1/2 hours, with a couple of short stops, so I’d probably done 15 - 20 miles. In that time, my freemounting had improved almost back to my usual standard, my legs had freed up, and were spinning properly again, and I’d ridden one or two obstacles, and one particular hill, which had always beaten me before.
It wasn’t a ‘great’ ride, and I set no records, but really, this ride was what a Coker’s all about: the ability to cover distance, on varied terrain, at a decent speed, and in relative comfort. It looks good, it feels good, and usually, it gets a friendly response from people.
On the 26 or 24, I would have stayed in a smaller area, probably repeating several of the obstacles, until I got bored. The 28 wouldn’t have coped with the ground conditions (it has a narrow tyre). The better I get, the more versatile I find the Coker to be. Should you buy one? Yes!