Speedy Schlumpf on the test track

After spending a month trying to get to grips of how my Schlumpf 29er would react on a narrow path somewhere in Croydon, taking it out for a proper ride seems long overdue.

The car park at Boxhill & Westhumble train station is free… and full. I am resorted to set up in a row of parked cars about twenty yards from the end of the road leading onto the busy A24. The section I will be riding on is nicknamed “The Mickleham bends of death”, from boy-racer compatible straight dual carriageway just outside of Dorking to a speed-camera enforced bendy section by Leatherhead.

On each side of the road is a well separated walk/cycle path, I choose the left side of the road where it lasts the longest. A fine and safe method of test riding, with the drawback of the biggest audience of passing cars.

After locking the car I pick up the uni in preparation to push it along and as I do, briefly lift up my right foot and kick the golden button. As I turn left the cycle path splits in two, the left side signed “Cyclists dismount” and descending into a subway. I push the big black guni into position, hold on with all my might on the metal fence while levering myself up keeping the pedals in position. Then I push away, but lean forwards too far and step forwards off the uni.

The second pushoff attempt is successful at precisely 11:30. Flapping my arms round like poi and wobbling so slightly, I gradually pick up speed and begin to stablise. Holding the seat handle I go straight, but the wheel feels out of control as it seems to dart forwards and backwards at first. Within thirty seconds things feel in control, but the adrenalin is already starting to pump.

By now I’ve already well passed beside the other ramp accessing the subway, the track is not exactly that super-smooth but is perfectly bearable. I try and fight my instincts to slow down, slowing down works and is needed for a tractor muni, but I’m not riding a muni. The cushy Big Apple tyre means I clear the imperfections no problem, but more effort for fighting those careful instincts is needed when a tiny diversion into a muddy track is seen, evidence of 4x4s driving from the mud across the path to the road spreading a thin even layer of mud all over the path. Again, no problem.

The path and accompanying road very subtly bend to the left a little and the grass separation is populated by a small line of trees, here is where I accelerate and keep on. Surprisingly the traffic doesn’t appear to be taking any notice of me, the sight of cyclists being perfectly normal on this entire stretch, or perhaps 70mph is a bit too quick for wheel quantity differentiation. A subtle bend to the right and the tree line stops. The slight weariness of the tarmac is now gone, turning into something very super smooth, unlike the slight movement of the gears causing the “loose crank” feeling. I glance at the tiniest details of the tarmac rushing past below me and realise that, for the very first time, it feels like I’m riding a bicycle.

About a mile down the road is a bend to the right, still very subtle for me for not for the speeding traffic who will have their attention diverted from me to the LED road signs lighting up, warning them of the 50mph speed restriction and speed cameras ahead. On this bend a very thick tree covering separates the track from the road. I was looking forward to this privacy, but since no reaction has come from the traffic and I’ve not encountered anyone else on this path yet, I feel okay. The speed now feels pretty fast, but more importantly constant as by now the crank play doesn’t feel bothersome to me.

The tree covering disappears and as I get the chance to glance the traffic again a car horn sounds, seemingly to come from a red Fiesta. Was he honking because of me, or the speed camera? He’s gone in ten seconds. My strong sense of counting seconds means that I take a rough guess of doing one and a half pedal revs every seconds, that’s 90rpm. Not really surprising that since lift-off I haven’t let go of the saddle handle at all!

On the next subtle bend to the left I see a racing cyclist in the distance crossing over the busy carriageway. I don’t see him arrive on the path since the tree cover on the left combined with the left bend is blocking the sight. As I pass an access road going over a white railing bridge I see him ahead of me, he’s stopped and seems to be checking something to do with his bicycle while seated on it. I ponder on the fact that I could look utterly ridiculous to him, but then again he is the one who is somehow squeezed into a blue skin-tight lycra outfit. At least my ordinary looking polyester t-shirt and baggy MTB shorts won’t get everyone gawping if I ever stop and wander into a shop.

There are some puddles ahead. Again, muni instincts are hanging on and I have the tiniest thought of plotting a path around the puddles, even though there’s no need as there’ll be nothing but smooth tarmac underneath. The first puddle is on the right, and I stick to the left of the path since I get the feeling I’m about to see that cyclist again very shortly. The next puddle is on the left, I meander slightly to the middle to avoid it, cursing myself that I didn’t really need to do that.

Again I return to the left and then a middle aged voice enters my right ear; “That’s hard work”. I just say thanks to the man in blue as I notice that he makes me feel ten foot tall, me having a much higher saddle and keeping my back straight. He still leans over his handlebars as he rides his thin silver machine off in front, to my speedy self he isn’t going that fast. I try my best not to feel too nauseus as several seldom-talked-about build features are obvious below the shiny revealing blue.

Speeding around the edge of the middle of a puddle wide enough to cover the whole track, I soon forget about the bends as a very subtle incline starts to bring a very slight feeling of burning into my muscles. I do slow slightly, but still keep up at a very high speed and I don’t in the slightest way feel tired. After the gradient is the home straight, in the far distance a roundabout with a Texaco garage perched on the opposite corner, my turnaround point. I slow down slightly and get a little frightened when my wheel rolls over a crinkly set of small shingly stones. The uni shoots through without a hitch, but I still fling my arms out of being slightly scared.

Eventally the roundabout is just fifty yards ahead, and I’m already forcing the pedals at the backstroke to slow myself down in plenty of time. After 2.5 UPD free miles, I stop and glance at my watch. It’s just before 11:45.

end of part one

part two

Around the corner is a pole that once held a sign. I see if that’s a good remounting spot, but for once I’m not wearing my 661s and my leg gets prickled by plants. So back around I use the pole holding the roundabout sign on my left, even though I prefer to hold on things on the right side. Just like before, the initial push-off results in me stepping forwards off, needing a second attempt to get going. Less than a minute before setting off my tyre speeds through the loose stones and before I know it the pedalling gets easier as I sail down the decline. I try to see if I can spin the pedals faster, but my fear is stopping my feet from doing so.

Now returning to the first of the puddles, the big wide one. This time I speed through the middle adding the occasional drops of water to my legs. I avoid the second one but plough straight through the third one, I don’t know why that felt so good. Now the tree shield returns and I get a little distracted when a wasp dances around the finger of my glove. It flies away and I try to rebuild speed, but I UPD into a big running stride.

Oh no! I need to freemount. In high gear. At the moment changing gears on the move is out of the question since my shoes are too small and the current pedal pins are far too vicious to be able to adjust footing; when my foot lands in a certain position, my foot stays in that certain position. When I practised high-gear freemounting last night I was able to do it in about one in three attempts. The atmosphere of having to get back, along with being out in the open with a big audience will mean the chances of successfully doing it will be cut in half at least.

The first two attempts my foot lands in the wrong position. The third attempt, my foot does land correctly but is unable to get it moving thanks to the V-brake pads being misaligned during the UPD. I pull and release the brake to re-centre them and have another go. And another. The sixth attempt my foot lands in the correct position and I’m able to push it forwards, but my flinging arms make it wobble left. The next stroke I try to re-wobble it to the right, but too far. Wobble left. Wobble right. Then left. No speed. Then far too far right and my back foot leaves the pedal, down I come. By now the tree cover was starting to disappear, so I walk back to relative privacy and have another go. And another go.

Getting frustrated I almost reach for the silver button, but one last try. My foot lands in the correct position, the pedals begin to move and I concentratingly haul on that saddle handle. I’m going slow. Then I’m going straight. At long last after nine remount attempts I’m able to enter the comfort zone and gain speed towards the occasional tree line.

I see a sign on the other side of the road, saying there is a mile to the car park. Getting curious I check my watch and notice that the second-hand is about to stutter it’s way past zero, remembering there is indeed a much more accurate way of guessing rpms. When the second-hand passes zero I start to count everytime my left foot stamps down, glancing every now and then back at my watch. The second-hand completes one turn, and my legs about eighty turns. For the first time, my legs are burning slightly enough to signal that tiredness may be coming soon.

The super smoothness of the path ends and I’m over the small spread mud patch again. I catch sight of a wall on my right so again I gradually slow myself down and a few seconds later I step off. Slight mistake as it’s not separating the subway access ramp, that’s a few moments later. Since I’m so close to home I don’t bother remounting and instead I push past the wall, past the subway access ramps, round the right turn and I’m back at the car. I remove my gloves and helmet and notice that relaxing my hands seems to have become impossible, they are shaking slightly as I try to make sense of other hands pointing to numbers on my watch. The time is 12:05, so including about two minutes of eight failed remounts, a wild guess of a 5 mile return journey in 35 minutes, about 10mph?

Fortunately my hands are fully relaxed by the time I get home for my fingers to tap-dance around the keys in two applications. One to make this writeup, and other in a quick spreadsheet I made up to calculate speed mph from pedal rpms. Giving a virtual 45" wheel, if I stayed at 80rpm all the way I would have done 10.5mph. And if I did really peak at 90rpm, my peak speed would be 12mph.

So I’ll call it 11mph I think. Someday I’ll buy a GPS and do the speed and distance measuring thing properly.

If you can’t be bothered with gps, http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/ is great for this kind of measuring of rides.

You have to click “more options” to get UK places.

Assuming you turned round at the Leatherhead bypass, I make it 4.95 miles, so pretty much 5.

Also, if you need gear ratio calculations for the Schlumpf, http://users.tkk.fi/~jbiskups/BIKE/BikeRatio3.html does the job too. I think the wheel circumference for a big apple is around 2300, and put front gears as 17 rear gear as 17,11. You need to press enter after typing in each figure for it to update.


Fantastic write up. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The lycra comments were particularly illuminating.

Your machine sounds amazing.


Cool - looks like you’re getting your confidence back. Now to really give it some welly and see what it can do… don’t fall off though :astonished:

Rob (a lycra-wearing cyclist :o)

A little epilogue to this tale.

I was chatting to one of the handful of people at work who knows that I ride a unicycle. I said to him that my legs were still acheing after a rather tiring muni ride in North Wales.

He then said to me “Were you at Mickleham last week?”.

Turned out that he and his girlfriend were in one of the hundreds of cars that passed me; he has the honour of being the first non-uni friend I have to see me ride. He said that at the time he thought it was me but wasn’t sure. Apparently my silver helmet is a perfect disguise.

Another thing: if you enjoyed this tale, I’ve LaTeX’d all my other tales into a neat PDF package which you can get via the link below. If you’ve already seen it, it’s since been updated with this tale, along with a few speling corections here and there.