Riding in Braile

Keen to test the new Fule face helmet, I took the 28 down to the riverbank tonight.

Hmmm. So how do I fit my head torch to a full face helmet with a peak? I try dangling the head torch round my neck, holding it in my hand, strapping it to my wrist… and then decide to ride in Braile. The uni has front and rear LEDS to be seen with, so I’ll rely on incidental light to see by.

It’s a cold blustery night. Britain has been beset by faintly disappointing storms over the last few days. It’s been unpleasant without being exciting. I find myself riding down river and down wind, and it is almost silent. The Fule face helmet covers my ears; the tyre is hard; the trail is smooth… all I can hear is the gentle slopping of the water in my Camelbak. Occasionally, a shout drifts across from a sports field in the distance. The odd duck splashes or quacks - sometimes both.

I reach the sailing club. The light from the front LED throws a faint dancing light on the trail, and I can barely make out the familiar shapes of the low concrete ridges. I ride over them carefully and soon I’m on the short and gravelly footpath that cuts through to the road. Frankly, I can see very little. I rely on the feel of the uni - I have my hand lightly on the seat handle, and I’m standing on the pedals, proceeding slowly. So far so… bad. I UPD gently.

Never one to waste the opportunities that life throws in my path, I decide to shed weight and excess body heat by having a pee. Then it’s the challenge of remounting a 28 with 110s and pinned pedals, in the dark, on a narrow gravelly track, with an LED on the frame that dazzles me if I look down to check the position of the pedal. No problem!

Out onto the road, I avoid the surprised motorists, and ride to the Water Sports Centre, where I take the ziggy zaggy stony track up the hill and down onto the tarmac circuit of the big lake. Riding this ziggy zaggy track used to be the height of my ambition on the 26/150. Now I’m taking it in my stride on a 700c road tyre and 110mm cranks in the dark. I’ll be getting fan mail from Kris Holm at this rate… ;0)

Three quarters of the way round the big lake, I’m battling head down into a blustery cold wind when for no adequately explored reason I UPD. There go my vague notions of doing 20 km without a UPD. I remount and continue.

Back near the canoe slalom course, I see a man standing on the bridge transfixed. My gaze is drawn to a heron on top of the floodbank, almost exactly at my eye level. The heron is illuminated by the soft amber glow of the floodlights and safety lights of the slalom course.

As I approach, the heron turns to face me (I am now riding down wind) and it spreads its wings and stretches its neck, looking like a phoenix rising, the undersides of its wings glowing gold in the reflected light. Silently, it rises vertically into the darkness. I slow down without even thinking about the uni, and watch the heron ghost out over the lake, turn and glide back in. I’ve seen hundreds, but this special image was worth the whole ride.

I complete another lap of the lake, so I know I’ve done at least 5 km, and probably nearer 6, without a UPD. Then I cut across to the river bank, and find myself stranded in deepish sand and gravel which has been raked or harrowed into narrow ridges and furrows. The UPD, when it comes, is not entirely unexpected.

Then I ride up the river bank, past the rugby club, where a few keen souls are still training for their bizarre minority sport. Next is the sailing club, with its soggy apron of tyre-rutted grass, where the variable resistance and lack of illumination conspire to trip me for the fourth time in the ride.

The last mile or so is easy, although by now I’m starting to feel tired - the ride follows an hour long fencing lesson, and I haven’t eaten for about 7 hours. It starts to rain, but not heavily. I feel vaguely hardy and tough for unicycling in the dark AND the rain. It sort of justifies the rather OTT looking helmet.

Back at the car, I discover my computer hasn’t been recording the whole ride. Bizarrely, it shows me having covered 1.95 miles in 26 minutes at a maximum speed of 10mph.