Sunday, 25 October 2009

Exhausting day, part 2 - Unicycling Makara Peak

Two epic cycle rides today: the first with two wheels and the second with one wheel. Here's part 2:

After a big lunch, I still had plenty of energy, so I took my 29-inch mountain unicycle and caught the bus up to Makara Peak mountain bike park. I've been up there once before on a mountain bike, and ridden to the summit, but this was the first time on a unicycle, and also my first 'real' offroad riding on a unicycle. I don't think riding around Waitangi Park (which I often do after work) really counts.

I went up the Koru track, had a look at the skills area and stopped to drink a lot of water and recover, then rode back down via the Lazy Fern track.

On a mountain bike this would be a pretty easy ride, since the average uphill gradient of Koru is quite gentle, it's easy to control your descent of Lazy Fern since you actually have brakes, and it's easy enough to balance when riding slowly down sloping switchbacks.

On a muni though, for a complete beginner at least, it's a real challenge! Many many falls and dismounts. Overall I guess I was pretty rubbish, but I had a lot of fun and got a bit better as I went on.

On the uphill part, my ability to retain balance and control at low speed over uneven uphill gradients and bumps is a bit of a work in progress, so instead I often end up relying on just standing up and powering through, trying to maintain enough speed and momentum to carry me over the bumps. This only works for short intervals, because it gets me seriously out of breath quite quickly. I gradually started to improve, focused on keeping more weight on the saddle, trying to maintain smooth wheel revolutions, and anticipating the changes in balance better, but I fell off a lot and had to stop and catch my breath frequently. After some weeks of hurtling home from work on the uni, up the steep hill of the Terrace (with shopping), my leg muscles can now mostly keep up with the demands, but my aerobic fitness doesn't yet.

On the downhill, I did better - still plenty of dismounts, but less frequently than on the uphill. The thing that repeatedly got me was the switchback turns, which are steep enough to make it hard to slow down on a muni, at least on a 29-inch wheel with 150mm cranks. (My unicycle doesn't have brakes, though they are certainly available. I have a long way to go in terms of balance and control before I could make practical use of them.) The trick then is to quickly plan the line you're going to take, and lean the right amount, riding round the corner smoothly while leg-braking as well as you can. This is going to take some more practice.

Something I did learn: it's worth paying for some leg armour, and I will be doing so shortly. I have several nice bruises, cuts and general pedal bites on my left shin from various falls and failed mounts - one of the downsides of grippy metal pedals. And that was through trousers. Nothing serious or painful, but it could easily have been worse.

One day I hope to be able to reach Makara Peak's summit on the uni, but besides improving fitness and balance, I will probably need to learn to hop / jump the unicycle too, since the trails to get there are a bit rougher.

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