Two lads apparently without sin (tough quiz)

A week or two ago, my unicycle exploded. There I was, pootling along when Kapowee! The side wall of the rim unpeeled like the skin of an overripe banana, and the inner tube bulged out like an England fan’s beer gut.

A few quick emails later, and the wheel was tranported to BUC where Roger rebuilt it and within a day or two more it was back, as good as new (or, hopefully, better!).

And could I remember how the various spacers went on? There are three pieces for each side of the wheel, one of which is shaped so it can go on two different ways. I make that twelve possible combinations, assuming the two sides of the wheel are mirror images.

I try the ones which seem obvious, but each time I refix the crank and tighten the bolt, something binds and the wheel stops spinning. An email and a frantic call to Roger later, and I soon have it sorted. I’m sure it’s a combination I tried before, but now it works.

So today is a bad day at work, and when I get home, I’m walking from my motorbike when I drop my expensive BMW System 5 helmet in the carpark and ruin it. I need a unicycle ride. I have unspent adrenaline that must be burned off.

I park in the carpark opposite the Ferry Inn at Stoke Bardolph. South Africa have set a total of 149, and Australia are unlikely to be overly concerned.

The reek of the nearby sewage treatment works hangs sickly in the air. But all is not bad: swallows swoop low over the river, feeding on the wing. A pair of mallards flies noisily past. The sky is clear, and it is a nice evening for a ride.

I decide to take a fairly direct route to the “new territory” I discovered a week or so ago. I ride along straight smooth tarmac with the river to my left. The uni is “wandering” a bit. Is the tyre too soft, or is it that I need to “dial in” my legs, after a couple of tough rides on the Holy Roller with its harder tyre and shorter cranks? The KH24 does a lot of things well, but fast cruising on smooth hardtop is not one of them.

The river is silver blue, between banks of fresh green spring grass. On the opposite side, the top edge of the floodbank is silhouetted against bright yellow rape flowers. Two joggers, one in red, one in white, complete the picture. It is all straight lines and splashes of bright colour, like a trendy poster. On the river, great crested grebes mingle with moorhens and coots, while swans cruise sevenely in the distance. A pair of Canada geese fly low over the water, almost central between the river banks, honking like submarines that are about to dive.

I reach the cattle grid and decide to go for it. I always used to ride over the cattle grid until I had a nasty fall and nearly snapped an ankle. Since then, I’ve always dismounted. Today, I ride across, slightly nervous, but with no problems, and the seat buzzes. It reminds me of the two nuns on the tande: “I’ve never come this way before…” “Neither have I. Lovely cobbled streets.”

The uni is still wandering. I remember that Roger remarked that he had not been able to get the wheel perfectly true. He warned me of a barely perceptible wobble in the rim. Without thinking, I look down to see if I can barely perceive it, and I completely fail to perceive the speed hump… it is one of my sillier UPDs. (Note to Roger: the wobble is imperceptible, thanks.)

And then I get bored with doing the sensible thing and divert into the woods for a short blast along a gravel and mud track. Already, the nettles are growing. Only a week or two ago, they were no threat, but now they hang around menacingly. In no time at all, they will be fearless, stepping out in front of unsuspecting cyclists, attacking them without provocation. There will be irate letters in the Daily Express: Blair’s Hoodie Nettle Menace Must Be Stopped. Right now, I feel confident enough to outstare them. There is a moment of concern when I have to divert from the path to pass a fallen tree, but I survive - an unstung hero.

I hear the chainsaw rasp of a two stroke motorbike, and am alert to the possibility that I will be flattened by a 12 year old on a stolen bike. Then I realise it is the motorbike rasp of a two stroke chainsaw! Several trees came down in the storm in January, and someone is finally removing them. He smiles as I pass. “That looks hard work!” he says. So does cutting up logs, I think.

The next section is single track, baked hard mud, with the river close on the left. I have ridden this way a hundred times before, and I cruise it easily. I reach the steep slope up to the top of the bank around the two artificial lakes. A week or two ago, I climbed this on the uni for the first time, and it was a major achievement. Today, knowing it can be done, I ride up easily. It is almsot a non event, with the only difficult bit being a few niggly bumps right at the top.

I now have the first of the artificial lakes to my right. There are water birds everywhere. Two small islands a few metres out from the shore are overgrown with small willow trees, and in the fork of the largest tree a swan is building its nest. A Canada goose comes in to land, noisy during the approach, then falling silent for a moment as it positions its feet ready to waterski to a halt.

The second lake has a large explanse of exposed mud next to it. Signs warn that it is dangerous - I have remarked on it before. In this sanitised nanny state, it is a rare opportunity to do something dangerous, so I go for it. I UPD on a block of stone concealed by the long grass, then I remount and ride out onto the mud. The surface is grey and pale, and laced with cracks. I remember from O level geography that the technical term for these cracks in the mud is “mud cracking”. The surface is dry enough and hard enough that riding on it is perfectly safe, and I cut right across to the far side of the lake and dismount to climb over the barbed wire back to the path.

A quick descent of a steep mud slope, and a wiggle along a narrow path overhung with trees bring me to the entrance to “the new territory”. I have to dismount for a pinch stile then I ride under the brick arch beneath the railway, and as far as I can get before I am stopped by the low branch of a tree. From here it is a short walk through deeply rutted soft mud until I can remount, and I am on the area where mountain bikers, BMXers and motorcyclists play.

The area is not pretty. The track itself is mainly dark grey cinders. The land to each side is untidily overgrown. A wrecked car sits forlornly on its roof. Once, long ago, that car was new, and picking it up from the dealer was the biggest thing that happened to the owner that week - possibly that year. Now it is trashed, upside down, abandoned, destroyed. It certainly hasn’t been properly disposed of in accordance with the relevant environmental legislation!

I spend twenty minutes or so slogging around the course. It is a series of swoopy descents and stiff little climbs, with banked corners and some jumps. I manage to ride more or less all of it, although some bits take several attempts. This is somewhere around the limit of my technical ability, and I wish someone was watching because most of what I’m doing would seem impossible to a non unicyclist.

When I saw the pictures of the trials at BUC (posted in this forum) I realised how mediocre my riding is. Now, alone, and with time to cast my mind back to a time when even freemounting was a challenge, and the easiest sections of today’s ride were the toughest MUni I had attempted, I indulge myself in the luxury of realising that I am doing something that most people in the world couldn’t even imagine attempting. We can’t all be Kris Holm, but that doesn’t make us no hopers.

Moving on from these obstacles, I decide to explore further, climbing a set of stairs (carrying the unicycle, not hopping - I’m 44 you know) I find a wide cinder track that leads me to the railway signal box. This is occupied and I am probably trespassing, so I keep out of sight. Along the side of the track there are piles of railway sleepers, abandoned rails, blocks of concrete and pallets - a perfect (if somewhat illegal) trials course for those who are that way inclined. I am not, but for the first time ever, I half wish I could do a bit of that sort of thing.

There is an old railway signal, with an iron ladder up to a platform at the top. I guess it’s 5 or 6 metres high. Under ancient law, all towers and ladders must be climbed when the opportunity presents, so I do so. When I reach the top, the metal platform is poorly secured, the handrail is rusted through, and a wooden cross piece is so rotten it nearly crumbles to my touch, so I content myself with reaching the top of the ladder. The platform can wait for someone lighter and dafter.

A bit more exploring only shows me more flattish cinder tracks and the back of an industrial estate. No fun there, so I retrace my steps back under the brick arch and I am soon back near the river. Once more, I surge up the bank - a climb I did for the first time a couple of weeks ago is now routine - and I ride along until I find the descent that defeated me last time I came this way. It is a convex slope, which means it gets steeper on the way down. At the bottom is a narrow path, then a steep and sudden drop into the river.

Last time, tired, I lost my nerve and dismounted. This time, virtually stopping the unicycle with every pedal stroke, I make it almost too easily. This KH24 makes me feel a fraud. I know I’m not that good, but the uni has just got me up and down slopes that most people would find a challenge on a half-decent mountainbike.

So, back along the single track by the river, a few unnecessary UPDs showing how fatigued I am, and then a quick swoop through the woods, taking a different, narrower route, and getting scratched by brambles on the way.

Minutes later, I am buzzing easily over the cattle grid, then riding the footpath on the edge of the river bank. Two youths are on the far side. They throw stones in my general direction, and shout abuse. There are two of them and one of me, so theirs is the “normal” behaviour. Frightening thought!

And soon, after an hour and a half, or maybe more, I am back at the car, tired but more relaxed than when I set off. Australia have lost a couple of early wickets, but seem set to overtake South Africa’s 149 very easily.

Just one deliberate mistake in there, and I think it’s a tough one. Uusal rules.

Splendid writing, Mike. I would read your stuff even without the quiz. But the quiz is a nice gimmick.

I have sent in my guess at the mistake.

So much for my elaborate bluff. The “tough” quiz is proving quite easy. Three answers so far, all correct.

I’ve got no idea!
But it’s a good write up all the same!

Seven answers so far, and all correct. I must try harder.:slight_smile:

Thanks for the write-up, Mike. As usual, it was a pleasure to read. I love that you’re able to write such a fresh piece on a route it seems you’ve taken many times (besides the new parts you mentioned). In fact, I like recognizing parts of your rides from previous readings.

Also, sorry to hear about your motorcycle helmet. Just one drop to the pavement and it’s rendered unsafe? That’s not the same for bike helmets, is it?

Yes and no. All helmets are designed to disperse the force of an impact, rather than transmitting it directly to the head. Some do that by deforming (for example, a flexible polythene canoeing helmet), and others by compressing (the polystyrene shell of a conventional cycle helmet). Any significant impact may cause invisible damage that weakens a helmet.

A motorcycle helmet has a hard shiny outer shell that should also slide rather than stopping your head suddenly and breaking your neck.

My helmet landed on uneven concrete, all the force was concentrated on one point on the shell, and the outer surface was cracked. It may be perfectly safe, but you cannot tell. An impact from the wrong direction could be dispersed unevenly because of a fault caused by the minor damage, resulting in a failure elsewhere in the helmet.

A motorcycle helmet is much heavier than a bicycle helmet. A fall from a given height will result in more energy having to be dispersed than if a lighter helmet fell the same distance. Yes, the lighter helmet will have a thinner outer shell, but the cube square law (more or less) comes into play. It’s the same thing that lets a flea jump several times its own height without snapping its legs, yet a man can’t land from twice his own height without a real risk of injury.

Also, my motorcycle helmet may need to pretect me from the effects of an accident at, shall we say, 70 mph, and possibly a glancing blow with a vehicle coming in the opposite direction at a similar speed. Usually on a unicycle ride, I only reach speeds like that very briefly, if at all.:wink:

This is the case for all helmets except multi-impact DJ type bike helmets. Helmets essentially work by letting themselves be destroyed in an impact to absorb energy. Coming from the motorsport side of things it’s standard practise to junk a helmet if it’d dropped or whacked, regardless of cost.

Thanks for the insight on the helmets (complete with flea illustration). I definitely agree with the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach.

Mike, you had me cracking up with that comment about reaching speeds like that “very briefly, if at all”.

The responses have started to dry up, so here’s the answer:

  • Two small islands a few metres out from the shore are overgrown with small willow trees, and [B]in the fork of the largest tree a swan is building its nest[/B].

Swans are very large birds with webbed feet, and nest building in trees would present them with interesting challenges. A swan’s nest is a raft or mound of reeds at the edge of the water.

Correct answers were received from the following people in this order:

  • Kington99
  • Jethro
  • Mark Williamson
  • Ian.Stockwell
  • Naomi
  • Rob.Northcott
  • Domesticated Ape
  • Cathwood [/LIST]

    Thanks to all those who entered.:slight_smile: