Whiteface Uphill race report

Please try it and report your findings.

Will do. I’m gonna use the 24" in the Aug 6, Mt. Equinox, VT hillclimb.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Whiteface Uphill race report

I don’t believe that an equal unicyclist can beat an equal bicyclist up a road climb. If a unicyclist beats a bike up a road climb it is because the unicyclist is much more fit and/or much more motivated than the bicyclist.

Bikes have an advantage in terms of less energy wasted on balance. Bicyclists also get to clip in their pedals. That makes a big difference since they can pull up on the pedals and can power their way through the dead spot (when pedals are vertical).

Someone on a unicycle may get motivated and crazy enough to race up a climb while clipped in to the pedals. It should offer an advantage for climbing. I don’t know if that advantage will be able to make the unicycle more efficient than the bike or not.

I believe that if an expert unicyclist also happened to be an expert bicyclist that they would be faster climbing with the bike than the unicycle. I don’t see how a bike is going to be slower than a unicycle.

I no longer ride my road bike so I can’t offer myself as a test subject for a road climb. I have tested myself on a nontechnical off-road dirt climb comparing my 24x3 muni and my MTB. It’s a climb that gains 340 feet. It takes me about 7 minutes to climb on the muni and about 6 minutes to climb on the MTB. I’m not as tired after the MTB and could actually push myself harder and go faster so the MTB could/should be even less. I’m a novice on the MTB and not very comfortable on that bike. If I was to ride the MTB as much as my muni I would no doubt be able to do that climb on the MTB in under 5 minutes (I’ve met MTBers who climb that hill in under 5 minutes, one guy can even do it big ring the whole way).

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I’ve ridden my “personal Everest” on the MTB; it was dead boring. You just sit there for ages watching the world go by while spinning the pedals round.

I have never been able to do it on a unicycle. I’ve got a lot further on the 24" muni than the 29er, though. You simply can’t spin while sitting because it’s just too steep, and the slow cadence of the 29er means I grind to a halt about half way up. Spinning is easier on the 24", there’s not so much distance to get up between each stroke, so if (when!) I make it I’m sure it’ll be with this.

There is a point where unicycles are faster than bikes up hills, but I don’t think it’s the really steep stuff; it’s on fairly shallow inclines where the gradient makes very little difference to the speed of a unicycle but makes the added weight of the bike felt.


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I rode the Mount Diablo Challenge with SPD clips last year. They provide some advantage, but it’s not as dramatic as you might think. The main thing they do is keep you from having to use energy keeping your foot on the pedal; “pulling up” as a reason to be clipped in is a myth.

There is no way that a unicycle will ever outperform a bicycle on a hill climb, given equal riders. Anyone should be able to verify this for themselves by riding a unicycle and a bike up the same hill.

Great job Steve! I’m sorry I didn’t make it.
Hope to see you at our next Long Island Muni ride.


Did you take a shortcut?


Steve, I just got around to cleaning out my email inbasket and read your race report. This was mostly because a friend at work brought in a hard copy of your write-up (slightly abridged) from the Adirondack Sports & Fitness newspaper. What a story. I must be in an emotional period because I’m usually not this mushy, but I teared up upon reading it. I wish I had your drive.


Several of the women in my wife Rose’s book club got all gushy, too. 8-]

Good Job Steve,
THis summer I’m going to ride my muni Down Whiteface Should be a little bit easer.
are you going to do it next year bcaust if you are i’l be there. :sunglasses:

Steveyo, you are a star.

I was in a local a diner here in Poughkeepsie NY a few weeks ago, wearing my highly fashionable ‘UNICYCLIST.com’ t-shirt (by Gilby) when a stranger walked up and exclaimed how a guy on a uni had raced up Whiteface! We talked briefly about the mountain uni’ing.

Now I have the rest of the story. Thanks for the great write up about your victory. Nice rolling.

Yes - I plan on doing it again next year.

Re: Steveyo, you are a star.

Well - victory is not exactly right, but thanks!

I have a house in wilmington so i’ll be there. :sunglasses:

Unicycling Whiteface Mountain
by Steve Relles

I’ve always been extremely active, mostly with off-beat or endurance sports. In July 2004 at age 41, I bought a unicycle. Mid-life crisis? I taught myself to ride and with practice I learned to free-mount (mount with no support) and ride longer distances for exercise.

After getting permission from the race director to enter a one-wheeler, I signed up for the Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race, an 8-mile race gaining 3,522 vertical feet, which took place on June 11, 2005. My wife Rose and brother-in-law Andrew subsequently decided to run the Whiteface Uphill Footrace on the same day, so both families plus my folks visiting from Florida stayed in a rental chalet and made it a family weekend.

Race day was humid and nearly 90 degrees at the 5:30 pm start time. I was in the first of four waves, but at the start signal, I bungled my first free-mount. The crowd gasped and murmured, but my second mount succeeded and they cheered as I set off to try to become the first person to unicycle up Whiteface Mountain.

The first three miles are an eight to nine percent continuous grade and we rode facing into the sweltering sun. Occasionally I passed cooler, mist-laden air pouring off a roadside waterfall, but it was a tease, only to be replaced by the crushing heat again. Within a dishearteningly few minutes my thighs started burning from the hot, relentless climb and I had the sinking feeling that there was no way I would be able to reach the three-mile marker, let alone all eight miles to the peak 3,500 feet above.

My searing quads forced me to slacken my pace. For unicyclists, this means pedaling more slowly, which requires better balance. At 1.5 miles into the race I had my first of many unplanned dismounts, and decided to rest for a minute. Mounting facing uphill is difficult, so after my thigh pain diminished, I remounted facing across the road and turned upward to face my demons.

At about 2.5 miles we passed Santa’s Workshop. In my exercise-induced fever, the theme park silently shrieked at me of my own folly, but after a couple more leg-pain stops I wobbled to the three-mile point, a tollgate at the beginning of Whiteface Mountain Veteran’s Memorial Highway. In my world of pain I doubted I could finish the race, but I’d done a good chunk. That knowledge and the spectators’ looks of disbelief and cheering, urged me onward. Pedaling through the tollgate, I decided to shoot for four miles.

Pleasantly, the sun went behind a thunderhead and suddenly the heat became more bearable. Also, the road’s slope eased off to a six to seven percent grade. I couldn’t rest, but I found I could pedal with a bit less pain. I got into a rhythm for the first time in the race, and I felt a glimmer of hope that I might actually climb this mountain.

No cars were allowed on the road during the race, but my dad and brother-in-law were parked around mile four thinking I was out of water. I’m a dad so I know the worst thing is to see your child in pain. As I reached the car my dad saw I was hurting, and he gently said “You can stop if you want, you already did something nobody’s ever done.” I could throw the uni in the trunk and stop the insanity. I leaned on the car, debating Dad’s advice, my pain and my desire to finish what I had started. After drinking more water, I resumed my ascent in an attempt to be a worthy representative of unicyclists.

As the road skirts Mount Esther, Whiteface’s lower neighbor, it steepens to a 10-percent grade, but the sky darkened and a cool breeze gave me the crazy notion that I could finish. A beautiful view to the northwest and also some thunder provided a distraction from my screaming quads.

The banked turns where the road tipped steeply sideways were brutal. A unicycle doesn’t track straight on a side-hill like a bicycle; instead it pulls hard to the lower side of curve. To ride effectively I had to lean awkwardly uphill, which scorched my uphill thigh until the road banked the other way so the agony could swap to the other leg. I came off the uni on several of these banked curves.

Around mile five, riding near a couple of bicyclists, Loretta and Tom Verma of Stamford, Conn., we could look up at the final switchbacks and the peak that was still over a thousand feet vertically above us. From that angle it looked impossibly high, but I started turning over in my mind how awesome it would be to finish. Now some of the cyclists who had finished were starting to descend. As they rocketed by, seeing the “unicycle guy” still climbing, they let out huge roars of encouragement such as “You’re awesome dude!” and “Almost there!” They helped me more than any energy bar.

To my delight, the switchbacks were less steep — a six-percent grade — so I kept pace with my companions. With thunder all around and lightening to the left and below us, I rationalized I was least conductive with my rubber tire touching the ground.

The last turn was particularly exposed on the summit ridge, so trying to stay low I rode along the bottom of the steeply-tilted edge of the banked turn. The pedal while leaning approach forced more dismounts and remounts so Loretta and Tom finally dropped me.

At last I rounded the final bend and rode up the home stretch. There was a long line of cars packed with cyclists waiting to drive down after the race, and when they saw me they went nuts! Car horns started blaring and scores of these hardcore athletes were hanging out the windows shouting “You’re the winner!” and “You’re huge!”

My eyes teared-up, the pain in my legs evaporated and my excellent unicycle floated serenely up into the summit parking lot. More people saw me and the racket increased considerably. Then suddenly through my tear-blurred, endorphin-addled haze, I saw bright red lights right in front of me.

The lights confused me for an instant, and then I realized they were numbers and they were ticking and it was a big clock, and it was the clock… Then this must be the finish line, the end — and I DID IT!

The race is timed for only two hours and my original aim was simply to put a unicycle time to beat in the record books, but that was before I had any idea how hard this ride would be. My goal, after the first couple miles, was to make it to Santa’s Workshop, then to the three-mile point, and so on.

At the end, I focused on the clock and it said 1:59:10, 1:59:11… So I leaned forward and cranked through the last few feet for a finishing time of 1:59:14. I jumped down, lifted my unicycle over my head and let out a whoop that might have been heard back in Albany, except for the honks and cheers drowning me out.

My family’s reception at the chalet was almost as loud as the one at the summit. After kissing the kids goodnight, we headed to the bike race party. The prizes were doled out but, unfortunately, there were none for the unicycle class. That is until my wife politely bellowed “What about the unicycle category?” I then got my last good crowd cheer of this most amazing day.

And now I have a time to shoot for next year!

Great job :sunglasses:

More on whiteface this year!

Hey Steveyo! I’m looking forward to meeting you at the base of Whiteface on June 16th. Two of us from Vermont are coming and a friend from Maine, so you won’t be alone on your solitary wheel this year!

I’m psyched to do this. I’ve been riding all the hills I can find on my 28, but there’s nothing here with enough distance & grade to really give me a feel for what the 8.5 mile climb will be like. Maybe it’s best not to know!

Hey Bill! Yeah, Mark told me you two were coming. I heard Max from ME and also Eric from RI, I think. So there should be 5 of us! That’s huge! I’m expecting my record to fall, but hopefully to me.:wink:

Whiteface is a gorgeous ride in the heart of the lush Adirondacks, but the climb is rather continuous and, like banging your head on the wall, feels good when it’s over.:smiley: