Trying to keep my hand in

I have a dirty confession to make: I haven’t actually ridden a unicycle very much for ages. What with doing the last 24 hour race on two wheels and various trips away riding two wheeled contraptions the unicycles had been left gathering dust.

That lasted until last weekend, when prompted by the bank holiday and an assertion by “Into The Blue” that Wales doesn’t have its fair share of impressive countryside I suddenly had an urge to go ride the muni around some proper big scenery.

After a quick fettle to silence a creak evident on the last muni ride it was off to the Black Mountains just over the Welsh border. There aren’t many trails around the area, but this is more than made up by the sheer scale of those that do exist; the desolate ridges feel a very long way from civilisation but provide a few of the most technical and lengthy descents I know.

The trail started with a gentle grassy slope upwards, but the looming face of the nearest hill meant that the trail soon became unrideable as it headed steeply upwards, gaining 300 metres of height in just under a kilometre. The trail is fairly wide but formed of loose rocks strewn over large rocky steps for most of the way, and difficult enough to walk up even without lugging a muni along. On reaching the top I was tempted to turn around and try it as a descent, but while it looked utterly exhilarating I would be kidding myself if I thought I could reach the bottom without smashing myself to pieces on the rock.

Here the trail levelled out slightly, heading along a grassy ridge towards the highest point in the area. The sun-baked, peaty ground makes a hollow rumbling as I spin upwards, punctuated by the occasional thud as the large tyre rolls over rocks embedded in the ground. The view up here is incredible; either side of the trail the grassy slopes are very gentle, but half way towards the horizon they fall away suddenly to reveal the much lower valley floor in the distance.

The summit is marked by a large rock in a clearing amongst the heather, where my path turned to descend an adjoining ridge. The trail sees few people but a lot of water as the peat bogs drain; a vast network of dry gullies cut into the heather-topped peat makes for an excellent mile of high-speed swoop-tastic riding. In my peripheral vision I just can see the heads of a group of walkers in a parallel gully sticking up above the heather, watching what they presumably think is another bike zooming along.

The peat walls either side drop lower as the ridge reaches a rocky outcrop at the end of the gentle part of the descent. The trail gets rockier and drops down to a slightly lower shoulder of the ridge where another track crosses the hill. This is the start of the descent I came here for; a quick dose of jelly babies and I’m rolling towards the rocky notch in the hillside, wondering what the next mile is going to be like given that I’ve only cleared it on a bike - with all the advantages of two wheels, brakes and suspension - once out of three attempts…

The trail starts as a set of parallel sheep tracks but soon merges into a rocky chute winding around a protruding bit of hill. To start with the wide tyre soaks up the smaller rocks making progress quite fast; soon, however, the rocks get larger until each one forms a large step that needs to be ridden over while trying to scan the path ahead for the best line…

The next fifteen minutes passes in a blur of bouncing down the trail, fast enough so the wheel flies over smaller rocks while desperately trying to keep control for the way ahead. Going through my head is the nagging thought that I really should invest in some more leg armour since my aged 661s passed away last year, as a proper fall here could be serious; fortunately the three UPDs I have while dramatic are fairly trivial, although all of them happen within sight of walkers going up the trail! Each time I had to turn to retrieve the muni I could see eyes on me from people further up the trail, each presumably thinking “…nutcase…” as I remount and continue to lurch down the hill.

The gradient eases near the bottom as the trail passes through a gate and along a deeply rutted and rocky farm track. The middle is too rocky to ride straight along, but the earthen banks each side make the track into a fun half-pipe a quarter of a mile long which makes progress possible by alternating from side to side, just maintaining the momentum to clear the rocky section in the middle.

From here it’s one last climb up a relatively smooth farm track and a spin along sheep tracks around the base of the hill back to the start of the first descent. Spinning down the grassy track back to the car I pass a group of mountain bikers going the other way; they are heading up the same way I did, which means carrying bikes on shoulders for almost forty minutes up to the top. They might have it easier on the way back down, but the muni certainly makes that climb an awful lot less painful!

The GPS says roughly ten miles across and nine hundred metres up; at the time it didn’t feel all that bad, and had there been any shorter loops that didn’t involve trekking up to the top again I might have continued. Three days later, however, I can barely walk! If anyone needs any more proof that unicycling uses different muscles from biking they just have to watch me limping around all day with my thigh muscles on fire. I guess this is payback for ignoring the unicycles for so long…



I consider myself suitably chastised.
:o :smiley:
(good write-up too)

With no trees!
Did y’all cut them down centuries ago? It ain’t proper muni unless you ride amongst the trees.

Be fair. Some people don’t even have hills! And I’m quick to mention that you don’t need mountains to enjoy good MUni. But it helps.

Iceland has virtually no trees because they were all cut down years ago, leaving not enough around to replenish themselves. Plus the environment barely sustained them, so they never came back.

There are trees further down, but up on the high ground practically nothing grows except for grass and heather. In summer it’s very nice, especially when the heather turns the ground into a blaze of purple, but in winter it’s a very hostile environment.


Nice. I haven’t been to the Black Mountains for ages… used to spend loads of time cycling there (strictly road though) when I lived in Bristol but I’ve never done any off-roading in that area. That slope in the picture looks pretty cool - with the usual barbed wire fence to rip you to shreds if you dare to fall that way. Is that the one you rode/bounced down, or the one you had to walk up?

My off-road cycling has gone the opposite way from yours - I haven’t ridden my mountain bike for so long I’ve decided to put smooth tyres, rack and mudguards on it from my stash of bike bits and turn it into a winter commuting bike to save my nice bike from the worst of the salt. I was even thinking of selling it and buying a Coker, but it’s not worth enough to bother :confused:


Don’t pick on Iceland! Iceland has to be one of the best places for MUni…trees or no trees. Who needs mountains anyway, they have lot’s of volcanoes to unicycle down. It will probably top my list of future Unitours after Mongolia in 2008.