Narrative of 'George Peck Rough Terrain Unicycling’:
Although the narrative below may contain a typo or two, the intent was document this timeless video. Be well, “wear your pads and enjoy”.
Narrative of 'George Peck Rough Terrain Unicycling’: (1 of 2 posts)
This is a film about rough terrain unicycling. Hello, I’m George Peck and I’m going to show you the few basic skills and equipment you’ll need for rough terrain unicycling. And then, it’s out on the road, so to speak, for a few rides close by. Why, you may ask, would anyone be interested in learning rough terrain unicycling and what is rough terrain unicycling? A rough terrain, I mean any whole surface that isn’t smooth, level and wide. So, rough terrain would be anything that isn’t. That could mean steps, boxes, railroad tracks, rocks, curbs, slabs of tilted cement, mountains, snow and ice, dry creek and river beds. Just about anything that’s not a gym floor probably qualifies as rough terrain.
I got into unicycling six years ago because I read that it’s good cross training for short board windsurfing. I also knew that Stein Eriksen, a great down hill skier and now coach, advocated unicycling as a cross training activity for his skiers. Pretty soon, I was having more fun cycling than I was windsurfing. Mainly because I could cycle nearly every day and when, I have the time. Not when the wind happens to be blowing.
My experience with windsurfing has been that if I leave it for a year or so and cycle in the interim, I don’t gain any windsurfing skills but I don’t lose any either. The constant challenge of cycling keeps me in shape, and keeps my learning edge fresh.
In the fifty years I’ve been on this planet, I’ve done to varying degrees downhill skiing, cross country skiing, white water kayaking, ocean kayaking, mountain biking, mountain climbing, and short board windsurfing. Certainly, rough terrain unicycling doesn’t have the glamour or the speed of some of these sports. But it also doesn’t have some of the other things that they have. Like, high entry costs, the risk of injury, the logistics hassles, or the confluence of rare meteorological phenomena.
You can cycle inside or outside, from your car or house. You can cycle winter or summer, rain or snow, mountains or beach, forest or city. You can unicycle virtually anywhere you have floatation, traction and room to maneuver. Equipment cost are relatively low. An entry level cycle will cost less than a hundred and fifty dollars. Protective gear, about another fifty dollars. This will get you started. Eventually, you’ll want to beaf up the stock cycle; but, more on that later. Maintenance is minimal. There are no chains, gears, cables, sails, lines, or car racks to deal with. Just throw the cycle behind the seat and off you go. If you are flying, break the cycle down and put it in a box. I never leave town without it, literally. No matter where I’m going, flying or driving, I take the cycle with me and I always cycle where ever I go. It’s a go anywhere do anything machine.
So, why unicycle? Because, it’s fun. Provides an endless variety of challenge. It’s adaptable to virtual almost any terrain, season or weather. It’s a good workout. It’s good cross training for other balance sports and it’s relatively entry free.
Overall, I would say rough terrain unicycling is a cross between mountain climbing and bronc riding. There are short intense moves of inches that may take days and days to work out and there are a hundred yards of beach cobble that will turn you every which way but loose. So let’s turn, now, to the basic skills and equipment that you will need to get started to enjoy and explore rough terrain unicycling.
Basic rough terrain skills are riding standing up, hopping, rolling over obstacles, jumping and wheel walking. In rough terrain, you will ride standing up over the saddle most of the time. Ride with one or no hands on the saddle. With a hand on the saddle, pulling up and legs cranking down, tremendous torque can be exerted at the wheel. This technique can be used to negotiate hills, both up and down.
Hopping is a very useful technique and one used frequently in getting over terrain without rolling. Your butt is over the saddle. Hold the saddle with the hand or just with the legs. A 12 inch hop is max for me in the seat height I prefer. 10 inches is about max for me for hands off hopping. Oops. Well, some days are like that. Hands off hopping is very useful because you can ad lib a hop in there so quickly, you’ll be making save after save with this technique once it’s yours.
Rolling over objects is the most eloquent way to get over small things. And the most noble way to roll is hands off the saddle. But, you can roll standing up or sitting down, hands on or hands off.
Jumping is a powerful technique that will open up lots of new territory. The rider is off the saddle and can compress right to the wheel going up or coming down. I’m up to 27 inches right now and will probably peak at 30 inches. A good jumper should be able to clear 50 to 60 inches.
Wheel walking is a good technique and exercise for soft or steep terrain. This is because wheel walking provides a lower affected gear ratio than pedaling. And it makes the going more interesting when it’s too easy to pedal.
Related and useful skills are squats, squat riding, one foot riding and balancing in place. Squats are just deep knee bends on the cycle. Put your butt right down on the wheel and it’s good training and limbering up for jumping. Squat riding is a real quad burner. Put a couple of hundred feet in at the beginning of a ride to get the blood moving.
One foot riding sensitizes the rider to the dead spot in the crank throw. At the pedal vertical position, there is very little torque available. A rider must learn to scooch through this position with depth weight shifts. One foot ride whenever possible and learn both sides.
Balancing in place is very useful technique in rock and crud when you need a second or so to collect your balance, select a route and go for it. Also, ‘needed here’ for jumping since you need to carefully appraise matters before launching those tender body parts at rocks and logs and such.
Protective equipment is vital to fun and injury free riding. Gloves with palm pads are required. Always, always, always. Make the palm pad either as just a square palm insert or for the whole hand. To make an insert, lay the glove over three-eighths foam pad, draw the outline and cut it out. Wrap it with athletic tape to make it stay in and feel better. If you are worried about finger tip protection, insert finger split tips available at some drug stores. Elbow pads are required for rock and ice. Knee pads are mandatory for jumping. These pads are not truly adequate, but are the best at what is available. A back pad is always nice. These are a windsurf mast protector, but any will do. A starter pad can be as simple as newspaper rolled up and taped or stuffed into a nylon bag. For big rock, I use a mast pad beefed up with a kitty litter pan bottom and another layer of foam.
Shoes should be light, flexible, ankle high and with some armoring in the toe. They must have a heal. These hi-techs are just about right. Notice the wear on the ankle cuff, but for the shoe this would be coming out of my ankle.
Choose a platform pedal as wide as possible. Since you will be standing on the pedals most of the time, a broad pedal provides more comfort and control. Bear traps are too fragile and too hard on shoes. They’ll wear out a shoe in 60 to 100 hours by cutting through at the arch. Use them only when necessary. These Shimano or graphex platforms don’t clean as well in snow and mud, but are good overall, last well and don’t wear out shoes as quickly.
These seats are all covered with nylon backed vinyl. This a material commonly used in boat canopies. It is extremely tough and even though you can’t get it on the saddle shape without wrinkles, the wrinkles don’t seem to matter. If you have a tender rear end, try a saddle with Spenco padding sewn in. It’s more comfortable, but the resulting seat is much heavier.
Tires take beating so put on a good knobby. Keep inflation pressures at about 60 pounds. Never let it get below 40. Lower pressures increase the risk of pinching the tube against the rim when there’s a forceable contact with an edge. This will give you two nice little simultaneous holes in the tube and a walk home.
Rough terrain cycles come in two flavors - 24 inch and 26 inch wheels. The 24 inch wheel with 5 and an half inch cranks is standard. This is a fine jumping bike and a good all-round for rolling and hopping. The smaller wheel makes it easier to maneuver in big rock. The 26 inch wheel with 6 and an half inch cranks is a better rolling bike. The longer cranks give 20% more torque and the bigger wheel gives slightly more floatation. And because of the alloyed cranks, this bike is actually lighter than the 24 inch cycle. The 26 is a rolling beauty. This would be my cycle of choice for doing forest and mountain trails where rolling is the primary activity. And the factory studded tire is available for ice and snow work.
Overall, however, the 24 inch wheel is the most versatile. This is the bike that goes with me everywhere. Well, so much for basics. Let’s get going.
Cycles are great for exercising the dog and a toss or two is a good limber up. This road doesn’t look steep, but it has a 25% plus gradient. I’ve ridden logging roads, mine hull roads, and fire break cat trails in Alaska, Washington, California, Oregon and New Zealand and this is about as sustained steep road as a road usually gets. Much less steep is this ramp at about 16%. But, look how easy the cycle handles this grade. I mean, we’re not even touching the saddle, here. My experience with hills has brought me to the firm conclusion that the unicycle is a premier vehicle for going up steep hills. The reason is that the effective gear ratio for wheel is as low as you will find that you will find on any mountain bike. Plus, the riders weight and hand hold over the driven wheel provide for better traction and more torque. However, a mountain bike can free wheel to the pedal level position for maximum torque. Where as, a unicycle must roll through the dead spot of pedals vertical and to get back to the pedal level position. Despite this handicap, the unicycle is still more capable of going up steep terrain. Eventually, the gradient, here, becomes too steep for either a mountain bike or a unicycle to roll. Plan B is hopping. Take my word for it. Hopping is a lot easier on a unicycle than a bicycle.
Curbs are great for learning to roll over obstacles.
I love curbs. You can’t spend enough time on curbs.
The basic idea is to launch off the rear pedal and land on the forward pedal. This unweights the cycle allowing it to lift, plus your weight coming forward and down adds some real authority to the torque curve.
Stairs are not particularly friendly terrain, but they are everywhere so you might as well learn to deal with them. Wear all pads on stairs. Stairs can be dropped step by step or rolled as a whole bumpy incline.
The object of rough terrain cycling, as I understand it, is to take on the biggest obstacle around that you can handle. This picnic table is in the way so let’s give it a go. It takes me two jumps to reach the top. A good jumper can easily make it in one.
The other object of rough terrain cycling is to make it as interesting as possible. This berm is too easy to pedal, but it’s a reasonable challenge to wheel walk.
Now, let’s begin a forest trail. The terrain here will be typical of forest trails anywhere. Lots of roots, steep sections and a few bridges and streams.
Hills should be taken standing up without holding the saddle. You can get tremendous torque by getting as far forward as possible. Watch out, because this puts you as risk for a dismount out the front. The closer you get to the edge of the balance envelop the quicker you’ll go through it. But you have to be at the edge to optimize performance; so go slow, get back momentarily for obstacles and scooch over them with your hips. All of which is a good trick while leaning way forward. It’s a skill that will take time and sensitivity to develop.
This hill has a stop root at the top that can either be rolled or hopped. It’s more eloquent to roll the root, but my pedal position didn’t work out on this trip and I’m too lazy to ratchet to the best pedal position; so, I’ll just hop it, today.
When a hill is too steep for hands off rolling, it’s time to grab the saddle and start reefing. You can get so much torque reefing, it’s easy to break a wheel loose. Use the torque carefully bearing in mind of the traction available. Again, stay as far forward as you dare, be flexible, ready to back off to start a bump and thrust forward to finish it. Someday, I may get good enough to roll this section hands off.