It would have been pretty silly to set off on a 18,000 mile round the world unicycle ride without testing a few things first. Things like (A.) My custom made unicycle luggage system, (B.) My equipment (tent, stove, sleeping bag etc.) and (C.) Myself! – how will I hold up?
The only real way to test everything was actually go on a ride. Thus the ‘Uni Uni Tour’ was conceived. The plan was to start from home and via friends universities work my way up to Lancaster. I figured that a journey of 350miles, in the UK, in February, should at least prepare me a little for my world ride and inform me of what I need to alter.
Leaving for this ride didn’t go as smoothly as I had wanted. The idea was that it would be much better to be rushed for the practice ride than for the real thing. So instead of putting off the Uni Uni tour, it would be better to just leave as soon as I thought I had everything in place. So with this in mind it was only the day before that I could actually pack and load up the unicycle, because for the past week I had been working hard with my Granddad to build and connect the pannier bag attachments.
This night before was definitely a frantic one, with packing and repacking, adding items and discarding others, but by 1am I was pretty confident that I had the unicycle loaded with everything I needed to successfully take me around the world. Or at least, for now, take me up to Lancaster!
When morning came I wheeled my now monstrous 26kg one-wheeled contraption to the centre of our lane excited to start my first fully-loaded tour. I positioned my right foot on the right pedal (like I’ve done a thousand times before) and then pushed off with my left, also like I’ve done a thousand times before, only this time it didn’t work. I couldn’t seem to get on. No worries, I’ll just try again (even unloaded it sometimes took me couple of attempts to get going). I pushed off even harder, desperate to shift the weight over top, but it just wasn’t happening. Ok, so maybe I was just going to need more practise…An hour later and I was still on our lane completely exhausted and frustrated. The chances of riding 50miles that day was starting to dwindle.
I decided that instead of trying to freemount the uni, I would just climb onto it next to a fencepost, position myself on-top and push off from there. Nope! I couldn’t seem to make that work either. When trying to ride I would just wiggle back and forth until I was forced off! Even if this had worked, what would I have done when I stepped off 5-10miles down the road for a rest? It’s just not practical to cycle all the way to lancaster without touching the ground! Or finding fenceposts, lampposts or kind peoples shoulders every time I wanted to get on! Defeated I wheeled the monster back inside to reassess.
I spent the next day discarding all but everything that was absolutely crucial. I now wasn’t packing for my world trip, but just for the practise ride. So after food, clothes, solar panel, 1litre of water and a bunch of what would seem like ridiculously small items (my toothbrush lost its handle and my silk sleeping bag liner lost the bag it came in) were dumped I had the weight of the unicycle and luggage down to a trim 21kg.
Next morning and take 2, SUCCESS! I could mount! It wasn’t pretty, but that didn’t matter. I could get on!
The actual ride went very well. Here is the video and some photos from the tour:
What I learned from my practice ride:
1. Unicycle touring is tough! Especially near the end of the day when trying to mount and every failed attempt just sucks your energy making the next attempt even less probable!
2. The set-up needed changing. The struts holding up the mudguard started to bend so needed re-inforcing, the bags were revealing weaknesses and needed re-stitiching and probably the biggest issue was near the end with the spokes coming loose every 5 miles or so.
3. You can’t beat unicycle touring as a way to interact and talk to people. On one occasion this even led to being taken in for the night by a friendly couple just outside of the Peak District (thank you Jack and Judith).
4. A world ride on a unicycle IS possible. It will be hard (of course), but achievable so long as I take it slow and deal with problems as they arise.
Under a month to go until I set off for real! Can’t wait!