Slippin' and a-Slidin'

Two rides in less than a week! I feel like I’m on honeymoon.

Tonight’s ride was on the Bacon Slicer: custom 700c wheel with a slick 28 mm tyre, 144 mm cranks and a Miyata seat. It’s the pure distilled unicycling experience.

I decide to travel lightweight, with fingerless gloves instead of wrist guards, and a belt with a pocket for my mobile and a pouch carrying a pint plastic bottle of water. No tools, no Camelbak, no pump.

It is a chilly evening with a brisk wind which is blowing up river, breaking the steel grey surface into short sharp waves. I mount and set off across a short patch of tarmac, expecting to have to dismount shortly for a gate. Someone has left it open, and I ride through and onto a wide tarmac track.

To my left is an apron of rough grass about 20 - 30 metres wide, then a sudden drop to the river. The far bank is steep, undercut in places, and beyond that are willows, then gently rising hills. Most of the birds I can see are crows, some perched high on naked branches, some on posts, silently watching. Others fly in purposeful pairs, cawing harshly. A great crested grebe swims fussily into the waves, its twin crests raised like Mickey Mouse ears.

I see a swan flying down the centre of the river, neck stretched out, and wings moving with shallow beats as it uses “ground effect” to help it fly with minimal effort. It turns towards me, rising up and over the edge of the bank, and is momentarily surprised by the sudden headwind, rising suddenly like a child’s kite released into too strong a gust.

I pass a young chap who’s walking his dog on a long lead. He pulls it in and controls it as I ride past. He will play a bit part later.

Apart from a few simple speed bumps, the first obstacle is a cattle grid: a series of round bars of metal across my path. You only need to have come off a unicycle on a cattle grid once to regard them with considerable caution for the rest of your life. The slightest bad luck and you could have a buckled wheel or even a broken ankle.

Well, I go for it, rising out of the saddle, checking that I am at right angles to the bars, and hitting the grid with plenty of momentum so the wheel doesn’t have time to stop or turn sideways. There is a buzz and a rumble and I’m across.

The willow woods are approaching on my right, and at the first opportunity, I turn right down a narrow unmade path. The narrow, slick high pressure tyre hits the soft ground and cuts deep into the mud, like a small cheap thong worn by a large cheap girl. It quite puts me off my ride and suddenly my 28 incher is no longer upright.

Remounting, I take the track with more care. I’m doing fine until I hit a short but steep climb. The ground is slightly uneven, the tyre is unyielding, and again I UPD.

In answer to a question raised in another thread: with a 28" wheel, 114mm cranks, no “handle” (other than the plastic seat front), and with a skinny hard smooth tyre, I’m riding off road, and - with only one exception on this ride - the tyre is the limiting factor on every failure to get up or down a hill.

The section through the woods is short but fun, with a few very short climbs, a couple of hills to rush down, and no distractions from the simple pleasure of man and machine in perfect harmony.

There’s another UPD on a short uneven slope up to the gate, then I’m back on the river bank, turning right and keeping the river to my left. For the next half a mile or so, the track is the narrowest possible single track, trodden into short scrubby grass. The track is of course the bit that is most deeply eroded, and sometimes it’s easier to ride on the rough grass, even though this is across quite a steep slope, and the grass hides many pitfalls for the unwary.

Being unwary, I hit a pitfall - a proper UPD3, where both the unciycle and the rider hit the ground full length. As I extend my hands in front of me, I remember that I am wearing gloves, not wristguards, and I tuck and roll. I forget about the water biottle and as it takes my weight, the top burst off and about two thirds of a pint of water are squirted up my back.

I can tell when I’m enjoying a ride because the UPDs make me laugh instead of making me swear.:slight_smile:

I see a youth on a cheap mountainbike plodding towards me, seat too low, gear too high. Cheekily, I swerve further off the track, leaving him with the lower and smoother bit, and me, on one skinny wheel, on the higher rougher bit. He smiles and says it looks hard and he bets I’d like to swap rides.

Next: the difficult “choke stile” designed to allow pedestrians through, but not horses or motorbikes. It is wide enough at the bottom to push a bicycle through, but narrower at chest and head height. I ride through, breathing in, arms raised above my head. Why do we breathe in to make ourselves thinner? All it does is make your chest bigger!

I ride under the railway bridge, where there is a chequer plate deck which buzzes under my tyre, echoing faintly from the brick arch of the bridge. Then it’s the really difficult crazy-paved slope where once again the tyre is the limiting factor. I finish the climb on foot.

To my left is the river, to my right is a landfill site and industrial estate. A fishy smell hangs in the breeze - something to do with the pet food factory, at a guess. It’s not a nice place to be. Especially if you’re a fish.

I’m now riding the rolled grit path along the top of a floodbank. After a couple of hundred metres, I drop down suddenly towards the river, skidding and bouncing over wet tussocks of grass until I UPD shortly before my objective: a raised concrete jetty which was formerly used by the big river barges. It is now disused and the river level has fallen so that it would not be possible to get a barge in close enough.

I’m not a good climber, and, like many men who live alone, I have a bad wrist that can’t take much weight, but I manage to clamber up about three metres onto the top of the jetty, having hung the unicycle there by the front of the saddle first.

For reasons of tradition, and because I’m not good at heights, I force myself to ride and idle on top of the jetty for a while, the river about four metres below me. Kris Holm has nothing to fear from my video if ever I make one: I never get closer to the edge than about a metre and a half!

Leaping back down onto the grass in a knee-crunching manner, I walk back up to the top of the floodbank and head back towards the railway bridge. The crazy-paved slope is easy when going down.

Under the bridge on the chequer plate, then through the choke-stile and I’m faced with a choice: I can retrace my route along the river bank or turn left. I’m pretty sure I’ll turn left, and my decision is confirmed when I see the chap with the dog coming towards me, blocking my route along the river bank.

Left takes me up and over a small hill, then along a rough stony track, with a shallow muddy ford part way along. Then there’s a tricky “wiggle gate” where a fall could have me taking my eye out on tetanus-inducing rusty posts, then an easy climb up to the top of an embankment.

This is the embankment that encircles the two artificial lakes. Think of a big rough circular bank, bisected by a causeway. One half of the resulting enclosure is a lake and wildlife reserve; the other is mud flats, where car tyre tracks across the dried quicksand show that, in time-honoured fashion, the local youths have ignored (or perhaps been attracted by) the “Danger!” signs.

Ahead of me is our friend with the dog. Is there no escape?

Yes, because he takes a short cut down the embankment towards the fishing lakes.

I do about three quarters of a lap of the embankment, which brings me to a position overlooking the river.

The slope down is steep and rough, but I go for it, slowly, steadily, the slick tyre alternately slipping and gripping until I can control the unicycle no more and dismount before I risk an involuntary swim in the river. Out of all of today’s UPDs, this is the only one where I think the short cranks had as much influence as the tyre.

Tired, I UPD a couple of times in quick succession before mounting and riding with grim determination the half mile or so into the cold wind along the single track. I make the full distance without a further UPD, then pass the lock keeper’s cottage, and the woods, and I’m back at the cattle grid.

The cattle grid has a slightly steeper approach on this side, and I decide discretion is the better part of valour, taking the gate at the side.

From here, it’s a brisk ride into a stiffening bitter wind for about half a mile of tarmac track and I’m back at the car, fresh as a fiddle and as fit as a daisy.

Looks like I’m losing my touch. Only 41 readers and no replies.

And I was so proud of the gross simile.

It is a delightful read!

edit: What’s a UPD3?

Nice write-up!
I saw two metaphors but no similes.

UPD1 is when you dismount when you didn’t plan to (UnPlanned Dismount)

UPD2 is a UPD where the uni seat hits the floor but you stay on your feet.

UPD3 is where the uni seat hits the floor, and you end up horizontal too.

It’s an extension of the widely accepted expression “UPD” that I once suggested in a much earlier post. A bit of nonsense, really.

The narrow, slick high pressure tyre hits the soft ground and cuts deep into the mud, like a small cheap thong worn by a large cheap girl. It quite puts me off my ride and suddenly my 28 incher is no longer upright.

Interesting, I’m at the UPD2 stage mostly.

What’s with the metaphor/simile stuff? Is there something I’m missing? Inside joke or something? Ya mean it’s not really a nice little blurb about your latest ride?!
You being from England, or Britain ,or whatever, for some reason as I read the posting I pictured it all in B&W mimicking the scene from “A Hard Day’s Night” where Ringo takes off and strolls along the river to the tune of “This Boy”. I dunno why.

Just a small and rather gross simile along the way, as quoted above. The write up isn’t an elaborate metaphor for life or anything like that. You’re looking too deeply.

I grimaced at this simile. Shall I draw my mental picture? Let me get my brown crayon. :slight_smile:

Great write-up as always.

I’ve never smelt a stale fiddle, nor have I wrestled a daisy. Am I missing out on something?

Indeed a very nice narrative of a ride… We all experience rides in different ways and what makes it really interesting is how others see and how we sometimes can share the same feelings and or experiences.

I didn’t see this before now. Great write up, as usual.

(I’m always pleased when gates are left open and I can just ride through. There are just so many round here. I’m sure that’s why it takes so long to ride anywhere and ‘real’ cyclists don’t use the cycle paths)

great write up! im inspired to just get out and just ride, it sounds fun, and quite peacefull actually.