With gritted teeth...

Perhaps it wasn’t wise to go for a ride at all - I woke with a stiff back - but it was August Bank Holiday, and it would have been a pity to waste the day.

On a whim, I took the 24. Most of my recent rides have been on the 28 or Coker, with one brief but glorious burst of MUni last Monday on the 26.

The 24 has 102mm cranks, giving it a ratio of 33%, the same as the Coker. So the famous Constant Footspeed Hypothesis suggests that the two unicycles will have similar top speeds and cruising speeds. Yeah, right… well maybe top speed, on a good day. We’ll see.

My route was from Trent Lock at Sawley up to the canal basin at Langley Mill. Years ago, our Morris team danced at the official opening of the basin - that’s more impressive than it sounds: the ‘basin’ isn’t something in which you wash your hands, it’s a big pool for the mooring of canal boats. Interesting tidbit for those who care: Langley Mill is next to Eastwood, home of D H Lawrence.

The ride was a bit samey: about 12 miles of semi-smooth but soundly made towpath in a fairly straight line, with on a a few very short inclines past the locks. The nearest things to obstacles were the bridges. This is a ‘narrow’ canal, and the bridges were made the minimum size possible, about 7 foot 6 inches (2.28 metres), for a narrowboat to pass through. The towpath usually offers two options: ducking under the bridge and riding a narrow and sometimes cobbled path next to an unfenced drop into the water, or a short climb up to the end of the bridge, and a drop back down to rejoin the towpath immediately after. After a while, it wears thin.

The scenery is a mixture of industrial (the backs of big red brick warehouses and factory units), residential (mainly scruffy back gardens to the edge of the canal), and rural. It’s pleasant enough, and I see a few novelties: a huge bed of rushes with the heads towering above mine to a height of about 10 feet (3 metres), a water rat that runs alongside me for a second or two, a tiny frog crawling (not hopping) across the path which I avoid at the last minute. But mainly, it’s huge numbers of fishermen, families on bicycles, and pedestrians - too many for the ride to be relaxing.

One new comment: “Owt to save tyres.”

(Non natives: ‘owt’ = ‘anything’. Locally pronounced ‘ote’, as opposed to ‘note’ which means ‘nothing’. Compare with ‘aught’ and ‘naught’. ‘Nowt’ to rhyme with ‘out’ is Lancastrian.)

The basin is 12 miles from the start, so when I get there, I’ve committed myself to a 24 mile total distance - that’s 24 on a 24. I think I’ve done it before, but now I know (or hope I know) that I will soon have one confirmed 24/24 ride in my unicycling CV. (24 miles is 38.6 km.)

But at 18 miles, disaster strikes! My legs are tiring from the frantic cadence of the 102mm cranks, my backside is starting to feel the seat rather too much, and my back is still aching from this morning. So I stop for a few minutes, sit own on the canal bank… and then can’t stand up because my back has gone into spasm! 6 miles from the car, 20 miles from home, 20 miles from my nearest family member - if they’ve not gone out - and I’m crippled!

I manage to stagger to a bench and lie flat on that. I convince myself that drinking fluids will help, and virtually drain my Camelbak. I convince myself that calories will help, and consume my last Snickers bar. I stand up, bent over at 30 degress, and try a few steps, pushing the unicycle. No way can I push it 6 miles like this.

In desperation, I do an assisted mount against a post (oh, the shame!) and struggle to straighten my back. I ride with gritted teeth at a steady speed, trying to support my back by leaning on the front of the Viscount seat with the heel of my hand.

Every bridge now becomes a significant obstacle, and a tactical challenge. Riding isn’t too bad, but dismounting and mounting could make things worse - if I can remount at all. The ‘fairly smooth’ towpath is now an uneven and unpleasant minefield. Irritating comments from anglers now draw a curt response.

As the 6 miles tick away, I loosen up a little, and freemounting becomes possible with care. I make it back to the car and struggle to get the uni into the back. I drive home cautiously for a hot bath and a rest. I’m mobile, but I need to go up stairs on all fours. Looks like tomorrow’s fencing lesson might have to be cancelled.

But the good news? 24.27 miles on a 24 (39 km.)
Riding time 3:12.21 (total time nearer 4 hours)
Average riding speed 7.57mph (12.18 kmh)
24 inch wheel, 102mm cranks.
Even allowing for the back problem, the ratio alone does not make the uni the same as a Coker for speed.
Max. recorded speed: 12mph (19.3 kmh)

Another great write-up, and still an amazing ride both for distance and average speed on a 24"…

And yes, you can do all the math you want about crank ratio and foot speed but…

on a direct drive vehicle, the only way to really gear it up is a bigger wheel…more distance travelled per rev. (Blue Shift excepted, that is, of course)!


Hmm. I’m not sure that that is technically correct: does a bigger wheel gear up anything? Anyway, if you mean that the famous Constant Foot Speed Hypothesis is worthless you should try various crank sizes. The CFSH may have its weak points leading to such correction issues as a ‘fear factor’ but it surely has a right to live!

Klaas Bil - fan of the numerical approach

Well, thank you both for your concern (this typed with a pen held in my teeth as I lie on my bed of pain…)

I went into work today but had to give up and come home. I’m still walking like Quasimodo.

The Constant Footspeed Hypothesis is, of course, a tongue in cheek expression.

The idea is that (if you accept the hypothesis) your feet travel at a given speed, whatever the size of the cranks. Therefore, if the cranks are twice as long, it takes your feet twice the time to do one complete revolution - or vice versa.

“Gearing” comes from the ratio between the length of the crank and the radius of the wheel. This is because the circumference of the circle your feet make is 2 x PI x R (where R = Radius = the length of the crank) and the circumference of the wheel is also 2 X Pi x R (Where R = the radius of the wheel).

So, the theory goes, if you have a 20 inch unicycle with 5 inch cranks, or a 24 inch unicycle with 6 inch cranks, the ratios are the same. (5 = half the radius of the 20 inch wheel; 6 = half the radius of the 24 inch wheel.) For every yard/metre/cubit/pasang that your foot moves, the wheel will move 2 yards/metres/cubits/pasangs.

(Anyone else sad enough to know about pasangs? :0) )

So applying this hyposthesis to the Coker (36 with 6 inch cranks) and the 24 with 4 inch cranks, we see that the ratios are identical. Does this mean that the unicycles have identical speeds? The question is too simple.

We have to consider:
Maximum speed in a straight line on the flat
Average speed over a long journey on the flat
Average speed on a varied journey with obstacles
Comfortable cruising speed

It would be surprising to find that a 36/6 and a 24/4 would be identical in all categories.

We can consider the matter easily by reductio ad absurdam (not quite the normal use of the expression, I admit) and consider a 6 inch diameter wheel with 1 inch cranks, and a 6 foot diameter wheel with 12 inch cranks. Would either of these perform the same as the Coker? The ratios are the same, but we don’t need practical experiments to convince us that given a choice of a 6/1, 36/6 and a 72/12 (all wheel diameter/crank length in inches) only one would be a sensible coice for speed or distance.

Similarly, the standard out of the box 20 has 5 inch cranks, the standard out of the box 24 has 6 inch cranks. Would we expect similar performance from them? To an extent, yes. But what about a 4 inch wheel with 1 inch cranks, or a 40 inch wheel with 10 inch cranks? Clearly not.

The Constant Footspeed Hypothesis is a useful guide when comparing the perfomance of mid-range wheel sizes and crank sizes. The reason it isn’t completely accurate is that it excludes the most important part of the unicycle: the rider.

The rider varies with:
Leg length
Ratio of lower leg length to upper leg length

Also, some riders are better able to apply lots of force slowly, whereas others are better able to supply a small amount of force quickly. You get sprinters, middle distance runners and Marathon runners. It’s the same with unicycling.

Anyway, by riding a long distance (24 miles) on a 24 with 102s, i have been able to make a direct comparison with my experiences on a 28 with 110s and a Coker with 150s. According tot he hypothesis, the 28 should be fastest (it isn’t) and the Coker and 24 should be identical (they aren’t).

The answer seems to be, big wheels are generally faster than small wheels, given broadly similar ratios. The ‘gearing’ of crank to wheel is about the same, but the ‘gearing’ of thigh to wheel is different.

no, but there isn’t a form of wildlife i cant find with my trusty old google machine


Not the meaning of ‘Pasang’ that I had in mind. :0)

Off topic at first:

If memory serves, the Pasang was a unit of measurement in the fictional world or Gor, the setting for a huge number of blood ‘n’ guts and sword ‘n’ sworcery type fantasy books which were popular in the 1970s or thereabouts. They had titles like, “Outlaws of Gor”, “Swords of Gor”, “Dragon Riders of Gor” and so on. These may not be actual titles, but I’m sure you get the idea. As a spotty teenager, I read many of them, along with Brak the Barbarian (the poor man’s Conan!), and Neq the Sword, Var the Stck, Sos the Rope, and (most embarassingly) rather too many of Ann(e) McCaffery’s Dragonblurb novels.

The Pasang was a unit of measurement for distances we would measure in miles or kilometres (as opposed to inches, yards, parsecs, centimetres etc.)

My original reference to Pasangs was spontaneous. I knew the books were about Gor. To research this particular post, however, I have checked Google for ‘Gor’ and I found that the writer’s name was John Norman. Furthermore, there seem to be several websites devoted to “Gorean philosophy,” and the like, which suggests to me a ‘fandom’ similar to that attached to Star Trek, Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 and so on.

Back on topic: I believe John Norman has still to write the two future classics of the genre: Unicyclists of Gor, and Giraffe Riders of Gor. Any plot suggestions? ;0)

As for the sympathy! If I’d cut my leg and posted a picture… but oh no, I have to ride 6 miles, crippled with pain and nothing to photograph. Miserable lot.

You could take a picture of you walking like Quasimodo…
I hope you start to feel better, because if not, that would… really… suck.

Yes, please accept my sincere apologies…i got so caught up in your beautiful prose, then started thinking about the wheel size/crank length thing, and forgot all about your pain! :frowning:

So…i offer my belated sympathy, and hope that you recover fully and quickly so that we can once again read of your journeys! :slight_smile:


Concern? Hm yeah, Mikefule I hope you feel better soon! But I know that even the worst backpains go away. Been there done that. Pain or no pain, I have to go through a set of neat exercises every couple of days to keep it at bay.

Talking about concern, I was concerned though about the “attack” on the elegant CFSH, launched by yourself maybe a year ago. It didn’t come across at the time as a tongue-in-cheek thing and I still regard it as a valid first approximation albeit within a limited range. Hell, since the CFSH was brought into daylight, I have timed myself more than a hundred times on a variety of wheel and crank sizes out of sheer intriguedness with the concept. Yes I will report some day.

I didn’t know about Pasangs, not even about cubits I must admit. And a yard? Well I’ve heard about that but there seems to be no standard yard; just think of the Scotland yard and the back yard. So I will use the S.I. system exclusively :slight_smile: .

Klaas Bil

In the USA, a yard is defined as three feet – exactly 0.9144 meters.

u say pasang, i say piesang…
(an attempted take-off of the tomeito/tomahto joke that requires u to know that ‘piesang’ is the afrikaans word for banana in order to realise that it’s a) not funny, and
b) thoroughly irrelevant)


i’ve never heard of any of this but your mention of pasangs lead to a fascinating afternoon’s study of gorean philosophy
this is one of the main reasons i’m truly glad that i picked up unicycling
i’m rather judgemental by nature despite the howls of disbelief from the back of the audience
and in a previous (pre-uni) incarnation, would probably have looked at the followers of gor and muttered something about ‘get a life’
finding personal enjoyment atop one wheel seems to have tempered my mutterings with a realisation that the high ground i’m attempting to take in my judgement of the free time pursuits of others is rather skinny

now i have to wonder if trekkies look at this group as being ‘weird’

:smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

Re: With gritted teeth…

Great write up Mike. Until you wrote this, I would never have thought of riding up that towpath, probably because I find the landscape aound LE/Ilkeston so ugly.

Glad yer gorom’ OK, yoth.*


*Local slang meaing "Glad to hear that you made it home alright, old chap.


I have read recently that physiologists that studied cycling came
to the conclusion that , contrary to cyclist’s popular belief, the optimum pace
for pedaling is much slower than previously thought.
A cyclist should try to keep around 70 strokes/minutes
and thus will be able to go with optimum economy.

are we unicyclists burning our heart out?
unless I am mistaken this would approximately mean
6.5 Km/h on a 20" or 12+ km/h on a Coker
(btw I do not even go that fast and am out of breath !)


Re: rythm?

This may be true but I’m not sure it contrasts with cyclist’s popular belief. It would be strange if it turned out that all cyclists have done it ‘wrong’ until today. Cyclists, especially when they are racing, are interested more in high speed than in optimum economy. My car is also more economic at low engine RPMs but then it’s not that fast.

Klaas Bil

Re: rythm?

That’s interesting, the last scientific report I read about the efficiency in cycling said 60 PPM. Of course their idea of efficiency was the maximum co2 production=maximum efficiency. However, that will burn you out for DAYS after, as that uses your reserves to create maximum short term power. If you want to last longer (more than an hour) and therefore go farther (AND be able to do anything the next day) somewhere around 80-100 is what is what I’ve heard in cycling circles.

It all depends on what you’r trying to achieve, extremly short high speeds, or looong trips.

I’d be interested in the source you found.

Or in long distance when doing the tour thing.

And if you’re doing Tour de France, you need high speed and endurance.

Re: Re: rythm?

in fact I’ve read that in a “pop” review about science I found in my father’s home
I do not remind wether it was “science et vie” or “science et avenir”
(- french reviews- may or june or july 2003 issue)
there was a diagram showing that for long efforts going after 80/100
strokes was a bad idea (though popular)
it was stated that the brain wants higher rates and that’s why
generation of cyclists got it wrong!

I’ll try later to find similar resources on the net


Re: With gritted teeth…

wobbling bear <wobbling.bear.sttlv@timelimit.unicyclist.com> wrote:

>I have read recently that physiologists that studied cycling came
>to the conclusion that , contrary to cyclist’s popular belief, the
>optimum pace for pedaling is much slower than previously thought.
>A cyclist should try to keep around 70 strokes/minutes
>and thus will be able to go with optimum economy.

I would presume that the crank length was about 170mm (close to the
average crank length for bicyclists). As crank length is shortened, the
optimal cadence will almost certainly increase, though perhaps not
linearly (would the optimal cadence double when crank length is halved?)

>are we unicyclists burning our heart out?
>unless I am mistaken this would approximately mean
>6.5 Km/h on a 20" or 12+ km/h on a Coker
>(btw I do not even go that fast and am out of breath !)

Yes, unicycists’ higher cadence does indeed place greater demands on
their hearts and lungs, but isn’t that part of the fun?


Ken Fuchs <kfuchs@winternet.com>

Re: With gritted teeth…

Klaas Bil wrote:
> Concern? Hm yeah, Mikefule I hope you feel better soon! But I know
> that even the worst backpains go away. Been there done that. Pain or
> no pain, I have to go through a set of neat exercises every couple of
> days to keep it at bay.

Me too.

You have my sympathy Mikefule. I remember very well waking up unable to
move, then not being allowed to ride a unicycle or even to juggle for
the next few weeks while I gradually regained my movement.

If you’re not aware of it, I strongly recommend getting a copy of “Treat
Your Own Back” by Robin McKenzie, ISBN 0-9597746-6-1. It was
recommended to me by my physiotherapist after I slipped a disk in 1995.
It’s quite expensive for a very thin volume, but I’m sure it’s saved me
a lot of pain.

8 years later I still religiously perform a set of back stretching
exercises every morning or evening. If I skip them then I get quite
stiff within a couple of days.

Danny Colyer (remove safety to reply) ( http://www.juggler.net/danny )
Recumbent cycle page: http://www.speedy5.freeserve.co.uk/recumbents/
“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” - Thomas Paine

Re: Re: With gritted teeth…

Is it a small enough set that you could post what the exercises are?

I’m sure a few people here would appreciate some effective back protection exercises.

Re: With gritted teeth…

“Mikefule” <Mikefule.sqfly@timelimit.unicyclist.com> wrote in message

a water rat that runs alongside
> me for a second or two, a tiny frog crawling (not hopping) across the
> path which I avoid at the last minute. > >

I give up on the pasangs, but your lust for knowledge is such that I feel
the need to suggest that your crawling froglet might have been a toadlet?
My congratulations on both seeing and avoiding it.
Certainly the froglets departing from my pond over the last few weeks seem
most reluctant to crawl and prefer hopping from the moment the metamorphosis
is completed. Mind: last Friday night , after the odd little drink, I could
have sworn they were all on Munis.


There are 11 sorts of people in this world; those who can count in binary,
and those who can’t…