On Wrong Wheel

Recently, I’ve had three very different rides, and two very negative experiences. The one positive experience was yesterday’s MUni ride in Sherwood Forest, on the 26 with 150mm cranks, a Gazz 2.3 tyre, and a handle. I rode myself into the ground, got mudded up to the eyeballs, and woke up this morning still on a high about it.

But the negative experiences? Why write up negative experiences? There might be something to learn.

Last Tuesday evening, I took the Coker into Sherwood Forest. The Coker has 150mm cranks and no handle. On mixed cross country and tarmac, I’m good for 20 miles in a couple of hours or so, and I like to think of myself as a reasonable rider. I’ve ridden it in the forest before, but not for a long time.

So what went wrong? Well, first of all, I wasn’t really “up for it” as my legs were tired, but that’s no excuse. It took me three goes to freemount it, which is unheard of these days, but I put it down to the fact that my last couple of rides were on the MUni.

But then into the forest… my natural inclination takes me down the narrow single tracks among the trees, and I’m sitting that bit higher up, and having to duck to avoid the low branches. That slows me down, and I find myself picking my way from hazard to hazard, never letting the wheel gain any momentum.

Then there are the uneven muddy patches, where the rolling resistance can vary unpredictably. A Coker is great for smoothing out the bumps, but only if the bumps are fairly predictable. As soon as you start to hide “wheel traps” under mud, water of leaf mulch, and you add a few tight twists and turns, and some low branches, the big wheel becomes a liability. Yes, it’s challenging, but it’s not what it’s really for. The Coker isn’t easy to accelerate, and constantly trying to speed up and slow down for each obstacle is twice as much work as plodding along at a steady speed on the MUni.

I ended up very tired and demoralised, and returned to the car after only 5 miles or so. If I’d stayed on the wider tracks, or been less ambitious in my choice of obstacle, I’d have been OK, but the problem was I had an open country and distance unicycle and was trying to force it into a MUni environment.

Then today, after my “awesome” MUni ride of yesterday, I decided to try something different, and took the 20 out for a spin. The 20 has 110 mm cranks and a freestyle tyre.

“Spin” is the operative word. The 20 takes ages to get anywhere. It is soooo slow. On rough ground, it’s hard work because the tiny wheel has only a small “rollover factor”. On smooth ground, it’s hard work because there is virtually no resistance to the pedalling action, and you keep spinning out and having to regain balance. In fact the best bit of the ride was sprinting up a smooth tarmac hill, where I had something to push against.

I once did 20 miles in a day on a 20 (the same one, actually, but with 125 mm cranks) but that was as part of an all day event, stopping at various pubs, and being cheered on by friends. Today, I did about 5 miles, if that, and by the end, I was tempted to get off and walk. And this was on old familiar routes that I ride several times a year on the 28 or the Coker.

So the lesson? It’s pretty obvious, but sometimes you have to try these things anyway: choose the right wheel for the right job. I would have enjoyed the forest single track on the MUni; I would have enjoyed today’s ride on the 28 or Coker.

And, annoyingly, after spending many hours learning to ride one footed on the 20 I seem to have forgotten how because I haven’t done it for so long.