In rock climbing, you sometimes struggle to get onto a really narrow and precarious foothold. You wonder whether you are strong enough or good enough to stay on it. You try the next move, and it’s difficult. You step back onto the really narrow and precarious foothold. You try again, then step back down. Then you manage a couple of moves, get stuck, and step back down to the first foothold and find that it is no longer really narrow and precarious. It’s like a dancefloor.
The dancefloor effect happened to me today. I did about 5 or 10 km on 90 mm cranks yesterday, and had one quite nasty fall and several UPDs. Although the uni was rideable, it felt slower than on the 102s, because I was leaving more margin for error. Certain obstacles and slopes were completely beyond me. So late last night, I put the 102s back on and… Wow! The uni was suddenly about as stable as an extra wide long wheelbase tricycle.
So, being more than a little tired of the abuse and cat calls from the kids on the skateboard ramps, I park further down the road than usual, mount and ride down the short section of grit path until I hit the grass of the field. There is a narrow slimy footpath across the field which I negotiate without problems, and then I’m on the Trent Valley Way, or, as we used to call it, “the riverbank”.
The next sections are familiar: tarmac footpath followed by a narrow tarmac road, with no obstacles apart from a crowd of people milling around outside the football ground, then the swoop down under Trent Bridge, and up onto the tarmac embankment.
There is a dragon boat regatta on the river, and flocks of dragon boaters are lounging on the grass and on the concrete steps. I like dragon boaters - my sister won gold in the world championships last year, and my brother used to coach the national junior team - but in any large group of people, there are idiots. The idiot in this group turns round and laughs derisively, pointing his finger. His reaction is at the same intellectual level as a barking dog - nothing to say, no thought processes, but making a noise to attract attention. My response is curt, brief and to the point. I hope his friends hear, and poke fun at him for a while.
The uni is easy to ride on the 102s, but I’m still wondering about this new 28 mm smooth tyre. It is sensitive to quite minor bumps and obstacles. However, it steers like a dream. (Do dreams steer well? Well, you know what I mean.) I reach the first big challenge: the suspension bridge. The approach is easy enough, and the access ramp is no problem, but the deck is slatted, and most of the boards have warped quite badly, so that they present a series of sudden little steps and ridges across my path. It’s a tad trickier than on the 35 mm tyre, but rideable.
Easy cruising now along the tarmac path, then the cycle track by the busy road, and soon I’m swooping under the underpass. No guard of honour this time, and no new graffiti to report. Steering around those tight corners is lots easier though. So far, I’m impressed with the tyre, and starting to feel that all of yesterday’s niggles were because of over-ambitiously short cranks.
A short section of tarmac, and then I’m at the sports field. I’m on for a “clean” ride to the marina (i.e. no UPDs) so I’m irritated with myself when in a moment of complacency, I speed up and having nothing in reserve when I hit a concealed wheeltrap. Annoyed, I then fluff the mount afterwards. Oh, the shame!
Some of the sting is taken out of the UPD when I am forced to dismount a few hundred metres later to let two bicyclists past. They are riding small-wheeled folding bicycles, holding the handlebars in deathgrips, and staring ahead with the tetanus grins of the inexperienced confronted with the unexpected. Far easier for me to give way to them!
It’s then an easy ride along the familar riverbank path to the marina. I decide not to stop, but to push on through into the nature reserve. I follow my usual route, and reach the difficult bridge. There are about six people on it. The first part of the approach is a tiny uneven concrete step, then there is the slatted deck of the bridge, which is about as steep as I can ride. The crowd turns and parts, and they watch my progress with amazement. I can feel them willing me to succeed, and when I crest the top of the hump back, there’s an enthusiastic “Well done!” from one of the men, who clearly believes he’s seen something marvellous. (And, to be fair, he has. I may not be able to jump off a picnic table - well, not on a unicycle, anyway - but I’m a pretty mean hump backed bridge crester.)
Now it’s an easy cruise through the nature reserve, until my way is blocked by a swan. The path is exactly a swan wide, and the swan isn’t going anywhere. As every skoolboy kno, a swan can break a man’s arms with its wings. There is not a single recorded incident of this in history, but every skoolboy kno it can happen. Hmmm. Time for the combat idle.
In kayaking, there is a thing called a roll, or an Eskimo roll. (Perhaps it’s an Innuit roll in these enlightened times.) You can practise the roll until you’re blue in the face (or go blue in the face much quicker by failing to roll) but you can’t say that you can roll until you capsize unexpectedly, with your paddle in the wrong position, in turbulent water. When you can roll back up, that’s a combat roll.
Likewise, in unicycling, you can idle as much as you want in ideal conditions on smooth tarmac, but it’s another thing to do it unplanned, on uneven ground in a narrow space, with a swan in the way. On a 28 with 102 mm cranks, I don’t think I’ve ever been in that position - not even if you take the swan out of the equation and substitute, oh, I don’t know, a chaffinch or something.
Well, the combat idle works, and I feel confident. The swan looks set for the afternoon. I clatter my wrist guards together. The swan spreads its wings. I venture an apologetic, “Shoo!” and the swan gets up and slowly waddles down into the water. I hear myself thanking it out loud!
A mile later, two horses block my path across a field. I’m highly suspicious of horses. I once read that a horse can break a swan’s wing with a single kick, or something, so I dismount and talk to the horses. They walk up to me, smell (in both senses of the word) and wander off.
From here, it’s single track along the river bank. It’s mainly packed dry mud, but there are some slimy bits. I’ve only once ridden this section “clean” and that was on the Coker with 150s. I UPD a couple of times in wheel traps. Here, the hard narrow tyre is a bit of a liability.
Then I’m on canal towpath, and it’s an easy cruise to the pub.
Which is closed.
But the other pub is open and I have a quiet pint. Time for my secret weapon: I change into a dry tee shirt. I’ve planned this ride like a military operation - the charge of the Light Brigade.
After the pub, there’s more grit path, with one UPD when I fail to look for, let alone spot, a deep rut in an otherwise smooth surface. I pass the golf course, where a witty and melodious golfer sings, “Rolling rolling rolling…”. Well, it’s novel. Annoying, but novel.
Then there’s the Worst Bridge of All: a tight left hand turn between railings about 3 feet (90 cm) apart, a steep concrete ramp that has me standing on the pedals and pulling on the seat, then a sharp angle onto the flat deck, then the steep descent with, wait for it, a choice between a 90 degree right turn between the railings (the preferred option) or going headlong over the railings into the Trent, some 10 metres below (the more newsworthy option). I am at the limit of my speed control on the descent, but I make it round the corner and down to the falt ground.
More canal towpath, then a short section of footpath beside the road, and I’m in The Warren, which is a maze of narrow country lanes. I ride through The Warren, keeping my head down as I pass the clay pigeon shoot, chuckling as I pass the model aircraft club next door to the clay pigeon shoot (only in England!) and soon I’m speeding up the ramp of the bridge over the main road, then taking it steady down the other side. A car approaches from the opposite direction. The driver makes no concessions, doesn’t slow down or pull in, and I hold my ground. As he passes in a cloud of dust, I shout merry abuse.
The Warren spits me out into the edge of the small town of Kegworth (famed for its air crash, but little else) and I ride with the traffic, experiencing no problems, even when I have to make a difficult right turn on the crown of a left hand bend.
I pass The Station Hotel and toy with the idea of stopping for refreshments, but I decide to plug on. Within 200 metres, I UPD for no good reason except that I’m tired. I take a few minutes to investigate an annoying knocking noise from the uni. As suspected, the bearing clamps have worked a little loose so I tighten them. Rested and refreshed, I ride on, past The Star Inn (where I usually stop on these long rides) and down the lane into the small and quaint village of West Leake. There is a Country Fair on (not, I am pleased to see, a “Fayre”) and I consider stopping, until one of the stall holders shouts out a “Half a bike” comment.
Instead, I ride as far as the gravel track that crosses the hill towards Gotham. So far, I have never successfully ridden the whole length of this track, even on the Coker. It is a cart track, which means two wheel ruts with an uneven ridge between. Each of the ruts is full of gravel and sometimes sand. The ridge is sometimes muddy, and in places chewed by horses’ hooves. The first time I rode this track, I must have UPDed 30 times and attempted to freemount 100 times. Now I’m on this pure road machine, with no bounce in the tyre, no grip, and with cranks like teaspoons.
Yahay! Move over Kris Holm - I make it all the way to the top without a single UPD, and I make it all the way down the steeper but smoother track without a single UPD. That is the single most challenging section of cross country riding I have ever done, and I’ve done it clean on possibly the least suitable unicycle in my fleet.
From the bottom of this track, it’s road all the way into Gotham. Gotham is famed for its “wise men”. The “wise men of Gotham” pretended to be mad and stupid to persuade the king’s tax collectors to stay away. One tale tells of the wise men pretending to fish in the pond for the moon because they could see its reflection. In another tale, they built a fence around a tree that had a cuckoo in it, saying that if the cuckoo couldn’t fly away, it would be spring forever.
Ther modern wise man of Gotham is less imaginative. He is a corpulent individual with a bibulous face, who shouts, “Oi, mate, you’ve lost your other two wheels.”
I remark that his comment has the merit of originality. He then starts to clap his hands above his head like Cheetah trying to warn Tarzan that Jane has fallen in the river, and he chants something along the lines of, “Oi oi urgh, grunt, wheel, oi urgh, oo oo wheel,” until I am out of earshot. Well, if I were the king’s tax collector, I’d certainly go and do my collecting somewhere else, I can tell you!
The next section of road is a real slog. 50-60 mph traffic (say 80 kph) and a long steady climb. I find myself setting small goals, ticking off the distance a hundred or so metres at a time, until finally I make it to Clifton, and pull into the forecourt of the petrol station. Time for some technical sports nutrition: a can of Pepsi Max and a king size Snickers. Time also to regret not having brought another dry shirt.
I have just ridden from Kegworth Station to Clifton, a distance of around 10 miles (16 km) including thast difficult track, all without a single dismount. Not bad at this stage in the ride, because I’ve covered nearly 30 miles (45 km).
I’ve done a similar route to this about 4 times before, and by now, I’m usually stopping every mile or so. However, I make it almost back to the car in one. It’s mainly easy riding on tarmac or grit paths, but the seat is starting to intrude into my thoughts. (Lady readers might suggest that that is because a man keeps his brains very close to his saddle.) I stop by the river and rest for a little while, then set off to do the last mile in one. Apart from nearly being sent flying by two kids riding 2 up on a 2 stroke trail bike, and 2 more kids on a motor trike (all highly illegal, but I wish I’d had the chance when I was a kid) I make it back to the car without incident.
As I am changing into my dry shirt, a man walks past, stops and says, “Do you know you’ve lost half your bike? Oh, er… I bet you’ve heard that before… er… yes, sorry. But is is really difficult not to, you know. I bet everyone says that, don’t they? Sorry…” Boy! He must have read a lot into my expression! I take pity on him, and we chat for a few minutes. he seems genuinely interested, but I bet he won’t be buying one. I don’t mind the daft comments as much as the rude or downright hostile ones.
A good ride. From memory, I think that route is about 33 miles/53 km, of which about ¾ is tarmac or good surfaces. It’s taken me about 4 ¼ hours, including stops. The skinny tyre gets the thumbs up, and the 102 mm cranks are now like a dancefloor, after my brief flirtation with the 90s.