Racing against Lance Armstrong on a Uni over 109km

Sunday I participated in the Argus Cycle Tour in Cape Town, an event over 109km starting in Cape Town, South Africa. The event has 35000 participants every year, and with cruel hills and 50km/h wind (last year up to 145km wind) it can be a grueling race.

I shared the field with Lance Armstrong, but since they gave him a head start of almost an hour, I had no chance of catching him on my Uni.

Here is a write-up I did for our local website

This year, the field consisted with a record breaking 6 unicyclists.

That is a rounded off 0.017% of all entrants for this 35,000 entry event. Up from an average of 0.00% over the last 20 years. At this rate, Unicycling will be up to double figures before the turn of the century.

While the cyclists had cycling celebrities such as Lance Armstrong, we had unicycle super celebrities such as Fred Hatman (durbs to cape on uni for lanmine victims), Christo Coetzer (Mauritius uni circumnavigator) and Johnny Cronje (Dual title uni national champion 2009 and WOFT on forum).

Alan Read (South Africa’s most well known and most successful unicycle entrepreneur), Ethan and Myself were the other unicycle entrants.

Johnny (and Alan?) managed to get Unicycling recognized as a unique catagory with early seeding, so all unicycles started the race together, grouped with handcycles, tandems and other unique contraptions. Without this early start, it would be almost impossible to finish the race within the cut-off time, given the fact that you have no unnecessary luxuries such as gearing and free wheeling.

All but me started the race on short 125mm cranks. I had the proverbial ace up my sleeve - the dutchman version of a geared uni: I had a 17mm spanner in my backpack and dual cranks, which was supposed to give me the competitive edge over my more athletic and better trained competitors.

The vibe at the start was fantastic, with loud Sunday music, marshals specially dressed in colorful bibs, clowns on stilts and everything. At least 6 participants on the day had a real appreciation for skills such as stilt walking in stormy wind.

Shortly after take off around 07:00, I saw 4 friends on unicycles wobbling away from me in the distance, never to be seen again.

Every few minutes I would hear a whooshing sound as the talented riders zipped past me.

This reminded me of the late science fiction writer, Douglas Adams’s quote: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

For this race, I had the luxury of not having any deadline though: I was in it for the mere fun of it without any pressure! I was still nursing a foot ligament injury (trying to mount a 6’’ giraffe unicycle) that kept me from riding more than 15km for 8 or so weeks, so realistically I was hoping to better my record of the previous year, by actually managing to get out of Cape Town before bailing.

Last year the wind was much worse, and wind and unicycles don’t go together. They say tall trees catch the most wind. In a literal sense it means that sitting up straight on a 36’’ wheel - you have to in order to keep your balance - you are a sitting target for a vengeful southeastern that apparently converted to some religious ideology that is aggressively opposed to sport on Sundays, somewhere after April 2008.

The support from both the roadside crowd, as well as from the whooshing bicyclists were fantastic and great motivation to keep going on an activity that seemed to make so much more sense the day before.

Three times I changed gears, which is slightly more elaborate than on a normal bicycle (flipping a finger). The procedure goes like this:

  1. Try to bail off the uni in a semi-controlled fashion without taking any cyclists out.
  2. Answer a bystander by telling him where my other wheel is.
  3. Try to unzip backpack to fish out my spanner.
  4. Realize that it will go easier without gloves.
  5. Take off gloves.
  6. Loosen left pedal with spanner and reattach it to the other hole on crank.
  7. Tell bystander my “bike” is not broken, I’m changing gears.
  8. Consider telling same bystander it is not a bike.
  9. Decide not to discuss the etymology of the word “bike” and just let it go.
  10. Tell new bystander that I have not lost a wheel.
  11. Try to think of a witty and flirtatious reply to hot looking girl walking by (who would never not notice me in the real world), who asks me where my other wheel is.
  12. Try too loosen right pedal, which is stuck.
  13. Realize I’m forcing it in the wrong direction.
  14. Try to loosen it by turning it in the right direction, only to find it now is really stuck.
  15. Eventually manage to loosen it after using leg mussle on it.
  16. Tighten pedal in other crank hole.
  17. Re adjust seat (saddle must be higher for short cranks)
  18. Push unicycle to next downhillish area where I can freemount.
  19. Along the way, explain a few times where my other wheel is.
  20. Jump on uni and fall off.
  21. Try not to look too sheepish while being the centre of attaction for at least 10 bystanders.
  22. Try again, manage to stay up, and wobble off.
  23. Manage to get a proper reply to Question no 11.

Every kilometre ended up an adventure on its own. The bicyclists proved themselves to be a friendly crowd without a single negative remark in the hundreds of comments I heard.

Most of all, bicyclists are also perceptive and inquisitive for:

  1. Figuring I must have more than one unicycle since no one can start on a 36’'er (I’ve got 6);
  2. Being interested where my other one is.

Wobbling into Kalkbay, I started cramping on the uphills

Cramping on a uni is a bitch: if a runner cramps, he can stop pedaling immediately. On a uni, you have two equally unattractive options: Either jump off, or keep on pedaling until you have slowed down sufficiently to dismount safely.

At Simons Town, the organizers set up nice party amongst restaurants, most of which selling beer. I drove through Simon’s Town and carried on until I reached 42.2 km - a descent distance and milestone in any ex marathon athlete’s book.

At this point in the race, and prior to facing the real serious wind which was predicted for the next few Km’s, I decided it is time for lunch.

I turned around, had a russian and chips at a local restaurant, absorbed the vibe of the race with riders sweating it out, some dressed as my childhood super heroes, and eventually catching the free bus back to Cape Town. This bus is a luxury few cyclists ever get to experience, and and the few who do, never tells.

All in all, despite not finishing, it was one of the funnest sundays ever.

Not many have acquired the bragging rights of racing against 7 times Tour de France Champion Lance Armstrong on a uni.

Only negative on the day, and there must be at least 200 cyclists out there that will be in agreement, is the way they stacked the bicycles of the bailers on a steel flatbed truck without any protective blankets, layer on top of layer, without having any respect for the fragility of a jockey, carbon frame or cycle parts. Luckily my uni is indestructible, so my KH36 suffered no damage.

I did not carry a watch, and my cycle odometer did not function properly, so I don’t know how fast I went or how far I wobbled. (You can add at least 8% to the distance as you can’t go in a perfect straight line)

Congrats to Jonhny, Alan and Ethan who finished on Uni’s, all of whom I believe broke the 20-odd year old Argus on a Unicycle time record.

I don’t know if our unicycle celebrities finished.

Nice write-up, I especially liked your 21 steps of changing pedal holes.

the whole story reminded me of the time I did the MS bike tour at Waskesiu on my 36. :slight_smile:

Thanks. Tell about your race.
I love your sig - both quotes. I’ll shamelessly requote you without giving you any credit.:slight_smile:

Mine was not a race but a fund raising ride I wrote up a ride report which got even less response than this thread. Re-reading what I wrote I can’t believe that I failed to include the part about being neck and neck with an old lady on a road bike for a good chunk of the time between the check stop where I was waiting for the other unicyclist and the finish. She ended up smoking me on the last couple km once it turned flat after a downhill.

Earlier today I was going to comment on how awesome the experience sounded, but I got distracted by reading your website you linked to! Then I went out for a ride with the family. What can I say, your post inspired me!

Maybe that’s what happened to everyone with your thread, too, Eric…:wink:

Thanks for positive feedback.
I had fun doing the write-up.

Flurpy, the accuracy of your writeup had me in stiches!

I don’t have a photo of all of us at the start, so this one of Al, Ethan and myself will have to suffice for the moment…

WOFT, please post some pics of you guys actually riding once it is available.

On few uphills, I pushed my uni until I got a mountingable downhill (I can’t mount uphill) with crowds of people cheering me to get on and show them.

My standard comment after I gave up explaining the physics about gear ratios and the difficulty of getting going on an uphill, ended up being that “I can’t really ride this thing, I just push it along for attention” which most believed and got a few laughs.

I put a few of them in the “latest ride” thread. when the official photos become available, we can swop them out. these were 2 were snapped by my dad, and someone that I have never met!

Awesome shots WOFT :slight_smile: Again… well done on finishing the race… really… well done :smiley: