Ride the Lobster Team Practice

I am lucky. I’ve known and ridden with my Ride The Lobster team-mates for 10 or more years and they all live with or near me. Although it’s harder for teams that live far apart, I really recommend getting together at least once before departure for Nova Scotia in June to practice racing together. My team has had two practices so far and we learned quite a bit.


First, we had a day of “Transition Practice”. We picked a section of road about 16km long and rode it out and back, doing transitions almost as frequently as possible. This worked out to be about every 1.5-2km, and we did about twenty transitions in about 1:40, not pushing as hard as in the race. We used a camera case that’s about the same size and shape as the real GPS baton will be in the race:

We tried riding with and without Camelbaks. We preferred riding without a Camelbak and simply stuffing the baton in our jersey pockets while riding. The baton case has a Velcro strap that can be easily stuck to the Camelbak strap and rides nicely out of the way, but keeping it in the jersey pocket is the easiest.

The ideal transition is where the incoming rider maintains full speed and the outgoing rider is just hitting full speed when the actual hand-off occurs. In a 200km stage, each team is likely do to 20-40 hand-offs, so losing even 10 seconds per hand-off will translate to minutes off your time for that stage. But you want to take care as crashing due to riding too fast, or having two riders maintain full speed for a long time are not good. We tried for as efficient as possible transfers, although I don’t think we ever did a “perfect” one.

The most important thing we learned doing this practice is that communication is key. We tried several methods, but having the incoming rider announce his distance in a loud voice (40 feet…20 feet…GO GO…5 feet…Here it is!), then decisively putting the baton in the outstretched hand of the outgoing rider seemed to work best. This way it isn’t necessary for the rider in front to look backwards during the hand-off. We worked out in advance that the incoming rider would approach on the right side, passing the baton with the left hand to the right hand.


Late in December 2007, we organized a local “Ride The Lobster Team Practice Day”. Four teams participated. We picked a route that was one-way and had some hills but nothing too steep, similar to Nova Scotia. Since the days are short in December, we chose a route a bit over 120km instead of 190-200km as in the race. The weather cooperated; it was drizzly and cool (about 8C at the start, warming to 12C midday). I imagine the weather in the race could be similar.

We met in San Francisco at 8:15am and the first riders started out soon after. Each team had its own vehicle and planned their transitions independently, just as in the race. As in the race, no transitions were done in the first 10km, although later on, some legs were as short as 2km for some riders. We raced with no breaks or check points, with each team responsible for navigation and food.

Here is the route we followed: http://tinyurl.com/387tmo

We also used this website to map our route and obtain an elevation profile:

Each team had to decide how far each rider would ride and in what order. This was based on each rider’s strengths and weaknesses as well as equipment. Team Totally Doable was using a normal 36” cycle plus a geared up (54” equivalent) cycle. The geared up cycle wasn’t shift-able though and was very tough to ride up hills. So they did more transitions than the other teams, swapping out equipment as well as riders. They were lucky in that all three of their riders could ride the geared up cycle without adjustments, although their shortest team member complained of hip pain afterwards from reaching for the pedals.

For my team, it seemed that doing legs of 5-9km worked best. While it’s hard to keep up “race pace” for a long time, especially while climbing, short legs mean short breaks for the other two riders. Probably the best thing to do is start out with some slightly longer legs and go progressively shorter as the day wears on and the riders wear out.

In the end, we surprised ourselves with how fast we covered the 123km. Team Totally Doable took first place in about 6:10 using their geared up speed machine—their average speed for the course, including stops, falls (two), and transitions, came out right at 20km/hr. My team, Yellow Line Fever, finished 5 minutes later. Team Venus (all woman racers, two members from California, two from Minnesota) finished soon after. Team Yam Power! was missing one of their racers and finished later while we were having dinner – but Jim Sowers managed to ride far enough to make this day his first qualifying ride, and successfully completed his qualification the next day.

So what is the fastest unicycle? Geared or non-geared? Ever since the Laos Unitour in 2006, I have been a believer that given a skilled rider, an effective wheel size of over 36” on the flat or downhill will beat a standard 36” cycle. That appears to be especially true with a geared up 36” cycle. But the course is not all downhill and flat, and it is very, very long. Whatever you ride, make sure you’re completely comfortable on it. There are many factors involved and there is no one “best” unicycle for this race. It depends on the rider.

When you sit down and think about actually racing 200km in a day, day after day, it sounds pretty hard. After these practice sessions, I know it’s not only doable, but will be really fun. With only four teams, it was surprisingly exciting and fun. Just imagine what it will be like with over 20 teams, and racers from all over the world! I can’t wait - see you in Nova Scotia!

More Photos

Transition practice 12/2/2007: http://nhoover.smugmug.com/gallery/3929534

Racing practice 12/29/2007: http://nhoover.smugmug.com/gallery/4147057

Racing practice 12/29/2007: http://www.flickr.com/gp/83189681@N00/q0CXAJ (Tom Holub)

Nova Scotia visit, course preview 9/2007: http://nhoover.smugmug.com/gallery/3495421

I have a couple of qs about transitions - when you transition, is it allowed for the new rider to start in front, and let the current rider catch up with them, or do you have to do it from behind?

Just because having ridden with Sam, Roger etc., if there’s a pack riding, it’d be hard to catch up to them at a transition without being able to draft, even when you’re fresh, I have a feeling this method of transitioning might give an advantage once there’s enough teams for drafting & race tactics to come into play?


oh yeah, my other question (doh!) are there going to be any rules about transitioning when people are riding in a pack, ie. does the current rider have to drop off the pack, or can the transitioning rider come into the pack, transition there and the outgoing rider drops off the back?


I think it’s OK to transition either from the front or the back. Especially when we were transitioning from the non-geared to the geared 36", it worked best to have the rider on the road get ahead, and have the geared rider get up to speed and catch him. Starting off on that monster is usually pretty wobbly.

The pack transition issue didn’t come up; it will be interesting during the real race. I expect, however it’s done, there will be some crashes in busy transitions.

About the ride in general: I am really not much of a big wheel rider. I pretty much view big wheel riding on roads as being very similar to jogging; an undifferentiated slog for as long as you’re willing to put up with it. This race, on the other hand, seemed fast and dynamic all day long. We had to transition based on terrain; we pretty much wanted the geared uni for all flat and downhill sections, and the ungeared for all uphill. Highway 1 rolls up and down for the entire length of the coast, so we were constantly scanning for transition points in the car, and as Nathan said, we did more transitions than the other teams. Along with the competition, the transitions made it much more dynamic and urgent than typical big wheel rides; it was a lot of fun! We also were riding harder than we would have if we were doing 30+ miles solo; it was more like doing intervals than jogging.

It was interesting to see the energy levels change; as the day went on, the two riders in the car would discuss who was going to take the next leg, and how long a leg we thought we were up for. We didn’t stick with a 1-2-3 rotation the whole time; there were a few times when one of us felt stronger even though he’d just done a segment, so it went 1-2-1-3. And there were a few times where the support car had pulled off for a transition, but the rider on the road waved it off because he was riding strongly.

Another thing that became obvious is that many, or possibly even most teams are going to have to deal with injuries. This wasn’t even a full day and our team had two falls (both on the geared uni, uphill). Neither caused a significant enough injury that the rider couldn’t ride, but both Chris and I banged our knees, which could have been a lot worse. At RTL people will be pushing their own envelope and riding in packs, and I expect there will be a significant number of bad falls. If one of your teammates were to go down, suddenly you’d each be riding 100km days at race pace. It’ll be intense.

I’m looking forward to our next test race, in Moab just before MMF. I would recommend that everyone do some training in race conditions; it’s eye-opening!

This is going to be SO. FUN. So unbelievably fun! Wait is something I cannot do!

The new rider always starts in front. He’s waiting, riding below full speed, and the old rider is still going full speed - they meet, briefly, exchange the baton, and the old rider slows while the new rider continues. In the picture, I’m the new rider and Beau is the old rider. He’s at full speed and I’m just accelerating up. You can use either side, either hand, whatever you like to actually exchange the baton.

It will be tricky if there is a pace-line of many riders and one of them is doing a transition. We didn’t try that scenario. I imagine it wouldn’t be so hard if the old rider is at the back of the pack and the new rider takes his place (letting the other riders pass him just before receiving the baton). He might end up losing a few feet but he would be fresher and able to sprint for a bit to catch up.

I don’t envision any special rules here (other than the rule that the support vehicles MUST have all 4 wheels off the road and can only pull over in a safe spot. It is up to each team to figure out how to get their new riders into the race, with the baton. It is certainly allowed for multiple teams to exchange at the same place.

It’s a given that your team’s transition cannot intentionally cause another team to slow down or crash.

If you go out with your team, or even with just one other person, and try this out, you’ll have it down before the race. I really recommend doing this before getting to Nova Scotia - if for nothing else, just peace of mind.


Most of the UK riders taking part in RTL met up last weekend for some additional training. There are four UK teams at present and the riders are spread out across the country, so it’s quite difficult to get everyone together for training rides, but it was certainly worth the effort. Most of the Saturday was spent riding in sub-zero temperatures, off-road and in total darkness - not to mention the distance and height gain!! :roll_eyes: Prefect training for RTL in the Winter I say!:smiley: Can’t wait to do it again, as it was great fun.

On the second day we also worked on our transitions, but we thought we’d put an English slant on things! We found that by handing over more at the side, than behind, we were less likely to drop things, as both riders could clearly see what was happening. The incoming rider announced their arrival with “would you like a cup of tea?” The outgoing rider would then start to increase their speed. The incoming rider announced “3 lumps…, 2 lumps…, 1 lump…” and by the time he was saying “here’s your cup of tea” the outgoing rider was matching the incoming riders speed for the handover.

We worked on this transition up to 17mph (27kph) and didn’t have any problems. Both riders were at this transition speed for only a second or so.

Don’t know how we’re going to go on with something sensible to hand over though :wink:


Tea Change 3.JPG

Does the transition have to be a moving transition? I understand that it is a race and you will lose ground if you stop, get off pass the GPS, then the new rider leaves; but if your there just for fun, losing ground wouldnt be a huge factor.

I turst you’ll be using T7s in the real thing? :thinking:

You really should think about this race as a series of sprints, rather than a big long slog. Teams will be doing different distances for their ride segments, but I would be surprised if anyone were doing segments longer than 30 minutes at a time–and if you are doing 30 minute segments, that means you get a 1 hour break in between your segments. The benefit of the T7 in that context is pretty marginal.

I wondered why you weren’t handing over crumpets too, but I realised that you’ll all be equipped with the new toast racks by the race.

Nobody on our team will be using a T7. Why?


Because you use Wallis Deathgrips?

Speaking of transitions, I don’t think they’re a major issue for teams. As long as you can figure out how to move out of the way it shouldn’t be pose too much of a problem unless your team is transition happy.

I wonder if there will be some sort of transition etiquette? Like not attacking when a team pulls over for transition?

If I had a team that could train close together, I’d be working on bunch riding and drafting, and figuring out strengths and weaknesses amongst the team members.


Just because for me it feels much more comfortable to cover any distance when you have something to lean on/hold onto.

Looks like you guys are doing the work it takes to do this right. I wish I could join in on the fun … and am hoping that there will be a “next time”.


This past weekend three RTL teams met in Keene Valley NY for a practice day in the Adirondack Mountains. We were met with gorgeous sunny days, wide smooth roads with little (but courteous) traffic, big hills, and a lobster dinner.

Riders just before the start.

Vince on the way back down…yes, he had to go up that too.

Not everyone could make it so we had 2 teams of 2 riders, and one team of 3. The teams of 2 had to have the non-riding rider drive himself to the next switch point, but this worked fine. We learned a lot about what’s in store for us at RTL, and also had a lot of fun. We also all rode faster than we thought we would…which is fun. Given our smaller teams and hilly course we rode a slightly short-course of 65miles.

The teams represented were
Team Balance (in full)
Team American Mojo (minus Bill)
Team Personal Roller Coaster (minus Steve)

Photos of the day are up here


and some thrilling video here

Elevation profile of our out-back ride here





Great video…thanks for sharing. Looked like you guys were tearing it up pretty good. I loved watching the geared uni coming down that hill near the end…hauling a$$ but pedaling at a slower cadence than the 36-ers.

See you guys at the starting line. :slight_smile:

Nice job! Loved the video! See you all in Nova Scotia!!!