Having spent the last couple of weeks tweaking the 700c, I thought I’d give it a bit of a test ride today. First time out with the new Prowheel 102 mm cranks in place of the old steel 102s.
A couple of years ago, I trained hard on the Coker for several weeks. I used to ride for a timed hour then check how far I’d travelled. On my first such time trial, I managed only 10.5 miles in the elapsed hour. This crept up until I expected to do 12 miles in an elapsed hour, hoped to do 12.5, and once managed 12.95. That’s on a Coker, steel rim, 150mm cranks, and pinned pedals.
So, how does the 700c compare?
Much has changed in two years. I’m two years older, a few pounds heavier - some of it leg muscle, some of it not - and I’m certainly a little less focussed on riding hard. Even my riding kit has changed, and my method of carrying water. The comparison won’t be exact.
I decide to drive to the Watersports centre. This has a rowing lake around 2500 metres long, with an almost perfectly level tarmac track around it. (I estimate that there is a climb of a metre or so from one end of the lake to the other. The water doesn’t slope though, otherwise the waterskiers would want to use it.)
I ride the short distance to my chosen start point on the lap. On the way, I receive some favourable comments from some fellow athletes - a couple of slightly overweight blokes doing sit ups (thinks: sits up?) on the grass under the tutelage of a slightly more overweight bloke.
I check that the computer is recording. I set it to zero. I check the stop watch. I wait for a couple of joggers to pass and get a reasonable distance ahead. Then I press the button and mount, adjust my position quickly, and set off at a brisk pace. Soon I catch up with the joggers. The female is very fit, and wearing Lycra shorts. This is a powerful disincentive for me to overtake, but I’m on a mission.
The light hard tyre is very twitchy to ride. I know that I could ride faster on a heavier fatter tyre because I would have to leave less margin for error, or expend less energy correcting the effects of minor bumps and dips in the tarmac. Where the Coker allows me to get into the zone, and just pedal like a pedally thing on National Pedalling Day, the 700c demands a part of my brain to be switched on to looking for the slightest repair to the tarmac, a loose pebble… The ride is demanding.
Also, the new cranks are just a little disappointing. They have a little more Q factor than the old straight ones. That is, the pedals are further out from the central plane of the wheel. I suspect that The effect is worse with short cranks because of the angle of leverage between the centre of the pedal and the centre of the wheel is greater. Either way, the uni feels a bit zig-zaggy compared to usual. It could just be the terrific speed, of course.
I find myself overtaking joggers. A few bicyclists overtake me. The track is just that bit too crowded, but I can hardly complain - we’re all there for our own sports.
The lap is something like 5 km. It depends on your exact route around the bottom end of the lake, where it is sometimes necessary to cut through the boat park, and sometimes necessary to run wide past the boathouses that are set back from the water. I manage the first lap in just a tad over 15 minutes. That’s getting on for 20 kph or 12 miles per hour.
On the second lap, I seem to be pedalling more smoothly, but my feet are tingling. Ever since I got these new Shimano BMX style shoes, I’ve noticed pins and needles in the balls of my feet if I ride hard for long periods. I scrunch my toes a bit to ease the blood flow and carry on. It feels like I have grit in my left shoe, and if I’m unlucky, it will give me a blister. This is a bad thing as it’s just on the bit that does the most work when I’m lunging at fencing. I can’t afford an injury there. I’m struggling enough fencing with this bad wrist as it is. I decide to downgrade the ride to a 30 minute time trial, which will be approximately two laps or ten kilometres.
As I reach the top quarter of the lake, there are lots of people. A young woman is jogging slowly whilst her two children, a boy of about eight and a girl of about five, are riding bicycles.
The girl is doing her best, earnestly pedalling along. The boy is bored, and keeps riding up onto the grass, and swooping down onto the tarmac. I am watching closely as I approach, hoping to work out his rhythm so that I can choose the best part of the track to avoid him without having to slow down.
The little boy. No, let’s give him a name, it’s so much nicer. I’ll make one up. We’ll call his mother, Mrs. Tard, and the boy, Little Baz.
OK, Little Baz swoops onto the tarmac at high speed without a care in the world and very nearly mows down a young woman who is jogging in the opposite direction. She has to stop, put her hands out and move her legs and lower body to one side. This is very nearly a nasty incident as Little Baz is doing about 15 mph.
Little Baz doesn’t apologise. In fact, he doesn’t even acknowledge that he has just ridden his bicycle at high speed into an adult.
As the jogger regains her composure, I catch her eye, and then cover my eyes theatrically with one hand, whilst adopting an expression of despair. She laughs.
As I carry on, Mrs Tard shouts to her wayward son, “Oooh, you nearly scared that lady to death!” The boy ignores his mother.
Meanwhile the little girl is in a world of her own, and I decide to take the safe route and ride up onto the grass to be sure of missing her.
As I disappear into the distance, I hear a few regulation comments from Little Baz about one wheeled bikes, then he appears at my left shoulder on his diddy little mountainbike, in top gear, pedalling furiously. To my shame, he overtakes me. OK, so I’m sure I could beat him over 20 miles, but his top speed’s a bit higher than mine.:o
The little sod carries on riding just close enough to be an irritant. I don’t want to fall off in his path or near to him, I don’t want to have to slacken off 23 minutes into a timed ride.
After a while, I make a mistake, and communicate with him. Sarcasm is usually wasted. I should know by now. I say, “Tell you what, for the next lap, we’ll swap and see who’s fastest then.” His response is a nonchalant, “Yeah!”
A few hundred metres later, he’s still there, but now he’s completely bored with the whole riding as fast as a unicyclist thing. So he cuts in front of me and starts zig zagging, just far enough away that I don’t hit him. This is typical challenging behaviour. Dogs do the same, trying to establish what the boundaries are - ow far can they push things.
I don’t react. So he slams his back brake on and does a broadside skid in front of me. Something had told me this was going to happen, and I have enough control to avoid what could have been a horrendous pile up.
OK, time to establish some boundaries.
I’ve been told I have good communication skills. I am on a very twitchy unicycle doing about 13 miles an hour, focussed on the task of riding as fast as possible, and I have only seconds to get my point across clearly and concisely. I like to think I rose to the challenge:
“IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN I WILL THROW YOU IN THE LAKE. NOW STOP IT!”
He stops it, and drops back and keeps out of my way.
So, how did I do on the communications, folks?
I now have a third of a lap to go, and I get my head down and go for it. As the stopwatch gets to 28 minutes, then 29, I am watching it, and planning for that final sprint. But it is not to be, as a group of joggers and a couple of bicyclists come onto the road from a side path. I weave and dodge, but as I’m about to stop, it seems silly to ask them to make way. I hit 30 minutes, press the button and do a high speed running dismount onto the grass, keeping hold of the uni.
30 minutes. 6.14 miles. 9.81 km. That means an average of 12.28 mph or 19.62 kph.
That compares favourably to the times on the Coker, although they were over a whole hour. Certainly, with training, 12 miles in an elapsed hour should be possible.
Is that good? Well, it sounds pretty pathetic compared to the times and distances people like John Foss have posted, but I think it’s reasonable. If I compete with anyone other than myself, then whether I win or lose depends as much on my choice of opponent as on my achievement. I won 7 fencing fights in a row yesterday but they didn’t mean as much as the 1 out of 4 I won on Friday.
One last incident in the ride. I remounted and cruised a warm down lap of the lake, then approached the car park. My intention is to enter the car park and turn sharp right towards my car which is about 20 metres away. A car is approaching from my right. I slow down and hold back. The car stops. I slow right down. The car waits. I start to idle. The driver waves me across in front of him. I don’t want to go across in front of him, and I have given him no reason to think that I do. I point, pointedly, to my right, then wave the car past. The driver grins and waves me across in front of him.
Men are not good at multitasking. I can do any two out of three:
Idle a 700c unicycle on 102 mm cranks when I’m tired; gesticulate wildly; get very annoyed. The situation calls for all three. This causes brain overload and I dismount and shout that it’s alright, I’ll bloody well walk, then make a point of squeezing down the narrow gap between his car and the edge of the road towards my own car. The driver is still grinning like a demented fool.