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Bristol to Bath on a Unicycle (22/10/06)

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Around the beginning of September, my friend Richard posted to the Bristol Jugglers and UK Unicyclists mailing lists to say that he had heard about a planned charity ride from Bristol to Bath along the Bristol-Bath cyclepath. I enjoy riding with a group of unicyclists, so I wasn’t about to pass up a ride taking place on my doorstep.

It seemed that most riders would be on 20” wheels. I’ve done it before on a 20” and didn’t fancy doing so again. It wouldn’t be practical to ride the Coker (36”) if others were using 20”, so it had to be the 26”. I fitted a Big Apple tyre and I was ready to go.

For the few days before the ride, the weather forecast didn’t look good. At one point, the forecast showed 14.8mm of rain during a 3 hour period, with an average wind speed of 27mph and 60mph gusts, but too warm really to unicycle in a Gore-Tex. In the event there was very little wind and, though it did rain for most of the second half of the ride, it wasn’t torrential. With my Gore-Tex, long-zip base layer, Bikesters and a generally slow pace, I was able to control my temperature reasonably well and not get too wet.

The ride was due to start at 10:00. Catherine (my wife) delivered Richard and me to the start at about 09:40, then waited with the kids to see us off.

22 unicyclists had said that they would be riding. I think 20 of us were at the start, along with one cheat on 8 wheels and a few 2-wheeled support vehicles. Another unicyclist joined us later, having not quite made it to the start on time. After posing for press photographs, we were off more or less on time.

I expected (correctly) to be one of the faster riders. My plan was to race ahead, stop and take photographs, then get back on once everyone else had gone past. Repeatedly. It worked, but it was quite challenging getting from the back to the front. My only UPD came about 1.5 miles in, when I took my slick tyre onto the wet grass verge in a failed overtaking attempt. I also caused Georgina to UPD when I made her jump by passing a bit close – sorry George. It was also around this time that we had the only serious mechanical failure of the ride, when one of the two-wheeled support vehicles shed a crank. It seems that a new bottom bracket and crank will be required.

At Fishponds (2.5 miles) we stopped for the first rest of the ride. I then stood in the bushes by the Fish on Its Nose (a local landmark) to snap the riders going past.

The first 3 miles or so of this ride are uphill. It levels off shortly before Staple Hill tunnel, after which it’s mostly flat.

The second rest came at Mangotsfield Station, 4.5 miles. I was the first to ride onto the station platform, so that I could take photos of the others arriving. Then I was among the first to leave, so that I could take photos of the others leaving.

As I rode out of Mangotsfield Station, I noticed a regular click that sounded like a stone in my tyre. I couldn’t find a stone, so I checked whether anything was fouling the spokes (the computer sensor being a prime candidate). Nothing. So I took the photos, then checked again when everyone else had gone past. The rider of one of the two-wheeled support vehicles stayed back with me to help hunt the click. It was only when I asked whether something was loose on my Camelbak that he noticed I’d forgotten to do up the waist strap. The buckle was repeatedly striking my mudguard, with a clicking sound. Doh!

After this lengthy delay, I managed to catch and pass the others in time to catch most of them going over the second cattle grid on the approach to Warmley. Shortly after this the ride started to break up, when the lead riders carried on past Warmley Station, but several others decided to stop at the café. I considered stopping for food myself, but overheard someone mentioning a planned food stop at Bitton Station, so after a short break I carried on.

We regrouped at Bitton Station (I arrived at about 12:40), where I ate a bacon and egg bap while waiting for those who had stopped at Warmley to catch up. While we were waiting it started raining – not heavy, mostly drizzle, but not particularly pleasant – and it didn’t stop until shortly before we reached Bath.

Towards the end of the Avon Valley Railway I again raced ahead, having decided the previous night that the last bridge before Saltford would be a good place to shelter from the rain and take photos. Those were my last photos of the day.

From Saltford I rode with the back markers for a while, hopping forward from one to the next and checking how they were doing. Richard in particular was struggling, having suffered with a painful knee for most of the ride. He ended up walking a lot of the way.

As we approached Bath I decided that I didn’t want to be among the last to arrive, so I raced off again – this time slightly hampered by a twinge that started in my right knee during the last mile. About 200 yards from the end of the cyclepath I reached the front group, who were waiting for everyone to finish together. I stretched, had a snack, then waited half an hour while the last riders caught up with us. Then we rode on to the waiting relatives and press photographers, about 4 hours and 20 minutes after setting off from Bristol.

From the Bath end of the cyclepath, it’s about another 300 yards to The Dolphin. After posing for photos, 3 riders headed back for Bristol (which my knee wouldn’t have allowed), a few headed home, and the rest of us headed for the pub. My computer showed a total distance of 13.57 miles from St Philips to the pub.

Before entering the pub I phoned Catherine, asking her to pick us up when she was ready but not to hurry. Then I went in for a pint.

Thanks to Rich and Ross for organising the ride, and many thanks to all who sponsored us At the time of writing (a few hours after the ride) the ride website shows that we have managed to raise £2127.59 for the MS Society.

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