It’s been a busy winter, and I’ve only ridden twice since Christmas. Now the evenings are suddenly lighter, and it’s a bit warmer…
So, which unicycle to take for the first evening ride of the season? All day, I knew it would be the 28. That’s a 700c x 32 road tyre running at quite high pressure, 110 mm cranks: the most elegant ride in my stable.
The uni fits easily in the massive boot (US = “trunk”) of the new car, and soon I’m on my way. Should I start at my usual place? Can I freemount the skittish 28 in front of a dozen jeering children after such a long time? I chicken out and park at the next access point to the field. It’s much more private here…
Until I’m putting on my helmet and wristbands and I see Axeman!
Axeman is one of Nottingham’s great characters, but I’ve never seen him on this side of town. He’s about 7 feet tall and well over 20 stone (US = 280 Pounds), and I guess he has issues. His head is stuck in the 1970s, and he has long ginger hair, a headband, a straggly beard, jeans that smell of urine, and a cut off denim covered with heavy metal patches and badges. He’s so overweight he walks with a stick. Although I’ve never known him to be violent, he’s an intimidating sight… but when he speaks, it’s with a childlike squeak, two octaves higher than you’d expect.
And Axeman has seen me putting on a helmet, and he finds it highly amusing. “Woooo woooo, bike helmet, wooo…” If he sees the unicycle, I’m doomed! What if he asks for a ride? Discreetly, I put the unicycle on the blind side of the car, and ferret about in the boot as if I’m busy. Axeman loses interest, pauses to pee against the wall, then wanders on his way - like a basking shark wallowing along, huge, unstoppable but mostly harmless…
Once he’s gone, I carry the uni down the steps and freemount first time - rather wobblily, if that’s a word, but first time. Is riding easy or hard? I never feel like I’m about to fall off, but the concentration factor is high!
Soon I’m on the river bank, cruising along more smoothly, enjoying the fresh air and honest exercise after a tense day at work. A small skein of geese flies past. The boats rock at their moorings at the marina opposite. It’s peaceful.
Then I pass the football stadium and approach the kayak club and the rowing clubs. A woman carrying a kayak nearly impales me as she carries it towards the river. The rowers, who are adjusting footrests and rowlocks pause and exchange quips about my unusual number of wheels. An old man walking a dog tries a new line: “What happens if you get a puncture?” I laugh good naturedly. You won’t read that often from me…
I swoop under the arch of Trent Bridge, and pop out the other side to see a rock climber practising his skills on the rough hewn sandstone of the bridge. I don’t tell him there’s an easier way up round the back; he doesn’t tell me I’ve lost a wheel - it seems a fair arrangement. Then I cruise along the top step of the embankment, now fully confident of the uni again.
Soon, I make the tight turns and nip between the bollards onto the access ramp to the suspension bridge. This is the first climb of the ride. It’s not steep, but it’s tricky and I’m out of practice - and don’t forget, I’m only on 110s. I make it up the ramp, and onto the slatted deck of the bridge. It’s more uneven than I remember it, and I’m disturbed to find it’s blurring my vision. I’m 42, you know… can’t be long before I need specs.
The ride down the other side of the bridge is tricky, but I make it, then drop down across the sloping apron of grass to the river bank. Here there are swans, Canada geese, coots and various breeds of duck. The only people on this path are joggers, and they’re generally friendly. A child on the parallel path shouts, “How do you ride that?” I reply, “Carefully.”
Riding back up the wet grass is a bit of a challenge, but soon I’m ready to cross the pedestrianised toll bridge, then it’s up onto the top of the flood bank to ride along the muddy rutted crest. As I drop down the short but steep path and through the narrow gate at the ned, a youth shouts out to his girlfriend, “Look, he’s not going to ride down there… look, no way… no way!”
Then I pass a group of teenagers. A girl shouts out to one of her friends, “Have you seen that paedophile?” Then she makes eye contact with me, grins and says, “Oh, I don’t mean you.” How do you reply to that? I just smile and say, “Thank you!”
On the next stretch of tarmac path I overtake a surprised jogger, then I squeeze through the narrow path where a sign says, “Cyclists give way to pedestrians”.
What a lousy sign! Punctuated like that, it is a statement that is seldom true.
It should be, "Cyclists, give way to pedestrians, " or, better still, “Cyclists, please give way to pedestrians,” or “must” or “should”. Call me a pedant, by all means, but one day a pedestrian will be mown down by a cyclist and sue the council for wrongly advising him that cyclists give way to pedestrians on that section of path.
Back over the suspension bridge, then along the embankment, under Trent Bridge, and up the ramp so I can cross the bridge on the pavement next to three lanes of late rush hour traffic. From here, it’s a cautious descent of a narrow and uneven pavement to the riverbank again, and an easy ride back to the car.
How far? How fast? The battery on the computer’s dead, and who cares anyway? It was about 5 miles (8 km), maybe a bit more, with only one mount, and no UPDs. And it was just nice to be riding again.
So answer me this: why spend so long learning to freemount, if you only do it once per ride?