Short but vigorous MUni ride

I fancied a MUni ride today for a change, and drove up to Black Rocks at Cromford in Derbyshire. Here, the High Peak trail (a former railway line converted to a linear leisure facility) passes on its way to join the Tissington Trail.

In the carpark, I make a few adjustments to the MUni, tightening a bolt here and a nut there. Then I decide the tyre is a bit soft. I pump it up, and find that the little threaded bit in the end of the Presta valve is bent. every time I try to put the dust cap back on, it pushes the end of the valve in and the air comes out. With care, and at the risk of breaking it off completely, I manage to straighten it.

Meanwhile, an elderly man is hovering nearby, clearly desperate to think of something intelligent to say. He fails, but he’s pleasant enough, and I take time to tell him a little about my planned ride. He shows no comprehension, but seems pleased that he’ll able to tell his friends later that he spoke to a unicyclist.

As I mount, he produces a camcorder. This is embarrassing, as the last person to ride my MUni was Rob Northcott, who is somewhat taller than I am - most people are - and I leap merrily into the saddle and find I can’t reach the bottom pedal!

I ride the short distance from the car park to the trail, then set off towards “My Own Personal Everest”. MOPE is in fact the Middeton Incline, a long 1:7 hill with an uneven surface. The best I’ve ever managed is to ride up it with three UPDs. That was on my old 24 with 150 mm cranks. On the 26 with 150s, I’ve never managed with fewer than about 10 UPDs.

The trail is a bit crowded with ramblers, and I have to appear surprised and amused by their standard-issue unicycle comments. They’re friendly enough.

Soon, I reach the foot of the incline, and start to slog up. I’m not the best hill climber in the world and it’s hard work. The ground is mainly compacted gritty mud on a base of railway ballast. The surface is more chewed up than I remember it, with ruts, hupms and some loose ballast. Although the average gradient is 1:7 (14%) each ridge or rut or projecting bit of rock can suddenly make it much steeper.

Every 10 metres or so, there is a stone kerb running diagonally across the incline to deflect surface water when it’s raining. The easiest answer is to ride around the ends of these, but at the ends, the trail surface is just that little bit trickier. When you’re riding at 80% or 90% of your ability, it doesn’t take much to provoke a mistake.

A couple of hundred metres up, I see two walkers in front of me, and an unrestrained dog. I have to pick my route carefully, timing it so that I don’t end up stalling on a particularly rough bit of trail, or falling against the walkers, or getting between them and the dog. Serious advice: never ride between a dog and its owner, if the dog is near enough to react.

And about 1/3 of the way up the incline, as I approach the first real landmark - a bridge that goes over the trail - I hit a patch of rough rocky ground and UPD. I swear loudly.

I’m now faced with a choice: plug on up the hill with nothing to achieve but fatigue, or ride back down and start again in the hope of doing better next time.

You’ve guessed it. And yes, I UPD again, only a few metres further on. I’m clearly nowhere near good enough to ride this slope in one, and nowhere near fit enough to try again, so I retreat.

On the way down, I pass a BMX owner, pushing his BMX up the hill. He grins a little sheepishly as I ride past him, and makes no comment.

Back to Black Rocks, and I follow a track that goes up and down but with nothing very steep. A young lad shouts out, “Are you downhilling on that thing?” in tones of mingled surprise and awe. I nod nonchalantly.

Its a while since I’ve ridden here, but I can remember some of the trails. The one I follow takes me up a fairly easy slope, then crests a small ridge. From here, there is a short descent, only a few metres of trail, with a very rocky uneven surface. It’s about at the limit of my ability, and I don’t think I’ve ever “cleaned it” before. As I come over the ridge and face this descent, I see a young couple walking up the rocky slope towards me, hand in hand.

Now, I’ve got fairly used to the idea of unicycling, so it’s difficult for me to be sure how it appears to the uninformed member of the public. If I had to guess, I would say that if I had never seen a unicycle before, and one came over the crest of a hill towards me, the rider wearing a full face helmet, and the ground being rocky and slippery, I would hastily jump to the conclusion that the rider might like me to get out of his way. Perhaps that’s just me, I dunno - I’m always keen to help.

However, these two lovebirds just separate ever so very slightly, one to each side of my route… and remain holding hands.

I can’t stop. If I try, I will certainly UPD quite dramatically. I make an executive decision: if they are daft enough to leave me an 18 inch gap, and hold hands across that gap, I’m daft enough to ride through it.

Like the waters of the Red Sea, their hands part miraculously, and I ride through, and down to the bottom of the slope, and up the next one, which is the best I have ever managed on this section of path.

The next uphill is unrideable, so I carry the uni up the steep path, then ride down the more rideable route. This is almost uneventful except for when I ride through a deep rut and my right pedal hits the ground. I’m no Kris Holm, but I can do a pretty mean impression of Eddie the Eagle.

Back to Black Rocks again, where I carry the uni up a longish steep slope, and rest at the top, watching the climbers. I used to do that too, but I was never very good at it - I’m scared of heights.

The descent from Black Rocks is down an uneven slope of scree and ballast, with many opportunities for impromptu ballistics, but I make it in one go, and feel quite smug.

My smile is wiped off my face as I ride through the carpark and see a group of mountain bikers, all dolled up in the proper kit. I’ve learned to expect a certain amount of respect from bicyclists, so I am taken aback when one of them, a boy of about 14, and much younger than the rest of the group, shouts a tirade of abuse at me, some of it couched in terms of coloquial gynaecology. What is most shocking is that no one else in the group of about a dozen older riders even tells him to shut up. It’s a sour end to an otherwise pleasant and challenging ride.

Re: Short but vigorous MUni ride

That incline is quite interesting to descend on a Coker - I guess that would make it a decline. Alan Chambers, Sam and I had a very enjoyable Coker ride of about 40 miles starting at the trail head near Ashbourne, up the Tissington to Parsley Hay, down the High Peak Trail towards Cromford culminating in the decline, then along some fairly quiet roads back to Ashbourne. I must slip some longer cranks on and try it in reverse. You may just have given me the idea for my next Peaks Coker ride - finishing the ride with the 17 mile downhill cruise of the Tissington Trail to Ashbourne to finish the ride would be an absolute joy.

:angry: Unfortunately respect can no longer be expected as a right, especially from the “youth of today” but has to be earned, not once, but once per observer. I am not talking about the unicyclists in particular, but about anyone - being different, being old, being young, being blonde/ginger/brunette, being a cyclist, being female/male … etc. I know nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but when I was a kid I was taught to respect all other people, creatures, the environment. I hope I have managed to instill some of the same values in my own children, but it is easy to despair at the type of attitudes and behaviour you report from Black Rocks, especially from a “fellow” trail-rider, albeit one over-encumbered with wheels and other hardware - but that maybe just my own prejudice coming out …


Re: Short but vigorous MUni ride

Er… sorry Mike. Very rude of me not to put the saddle back down after I rode it :o

Re: Re: Short but vigorous MUni ride

I rode my Coker from Middleton Top up the High Peak trail and down the Tissington as far as Ashbourne, then back up again. I made that a round trip of around 53 miles. That was on 125s, and the long steady climb up from Ashbourne nearly killed me.

I have also ridden down and up the very first incline, that leads up to Black Rocks from the canal at Cromford. That was on the 24, I think, and involved many many stops.

Today, after yesterday’s ride, my thighs are ruined. I feel like I’ve fenced for a day left handed and then a day right handed.

That climb is sneaky. It would be fine and dandy if it wasn’t for the waterbars.

I hopped over them till half way up cos it was taking less energy than riding round, but then I ran out of hop and went right over. Maybe some other day I’ll try it.

You can do a nice muni ride by heading up the high peak trail, north to Youlgreave, across to Chatsworth, down to Darley Dale, across the hills to Bonsall and then to Cromford. It’s a long way, but very varied. It’d possibly be doable as a coker ride, although you’d have to be pretty confident on the coker to ride some of the descents, particularly the one into Bonsall which is pretty technical.

It’s not as convenient for either of you compared to Derbyshire, but I can really recommend the area north of Gargrave in the Yorkshire Dales as a good place to point a coker at. Loads of bridleways and really long twisty descents, more interesting riding than the High Peak trail, but still I reckon cokerable.


ps. both of you should come to the Peaks Muni Trip, for more Peak District joy and more great hilly riding.
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Re: Short but vigorous MUni ride

If people only knew how tough it is to be a unicyclist.