Cycling nearly a century on a unicycle is not an easy task. It demands a lot of saddle time and dedication to the skill set. The 94.7 Cycle Challenge was quite the beast this year for our 6 riders.
Let’s start with David Eave’s detailed route description, Capetonian not familiar with Joburg race style.
Google Earth. Google Earth is not the way to prepare for a race. Following the route with the CC947 official route map and Google Earth is no better.
New start, new route and new finish the CC947 people say – so the playing field is even – no one knows what to expect, but for a Capetonian Malibongwe, Jan Smuts, Witkoppen and Cedar Drive mean little. After all we all know Smitswinkel, Chapmans and Suikerbossie. And we know where the hills are without Google Earth.
After the drive from Cape Town I collected my race pack from Shaun Ausomtism and perform the now age old ritual – number on top, sticker on unicycle and every item laid out in order of dressing. Tyre pressure correct, energy drink cold, hydration pack full and sunblock ready.
Then a final Google Earth review of the route. Checked all the climbs marked the refreshment stations, stretch the legs: ready to go. Then the thunder, lightning and hail. Packed the rain coat.
Early dinner and in bed at 9pm. Early morning as the unicycle start time is 05h35. That is up at 3am for prep and food and leave at 03h45 to get to start at 04h20. Know the way to the start, this is not Cape Town! Can you believe it, missed the turn at the Lion Park (remember it is dark) and ended on a dirt road somewhere beyond Diepsloot and the N14. Finally found the Riversands Industrial Park by following thousands of car tail lights. Just parked and made the start with 20min to spare. Not quite like the Cape Town Cycle Tour holding pens and thus I made the start. Met up with the other 5 unicyclists and had the mandatory TV interview. Nerves settled and race time.
Climb from the start in a cold light head wind for about 7km before rolling hills and a viscous climb. Called Summit for a reason. I went through a bad patch here as I was cold and felt very alone as every 5 minutes a group would pass me and then nothing. Eventually this became Woodmead and the M1 highway and I was lost. At one stage on the M1 I was the only cycle on the road! Crazy, the entire highway into Joburg centre all for a single unicycle. The loneliness of a long distance unicyclist.
Then my stomach started to object to foreign food, water, almost missed start and whatever a stomach wants to object to. Had to stop at the next water point for 10 minutes to sort out my stomach. Cold then and I faced my first proper climb – Houghton I think. Hello, what is this nasty surprise I said to myself. At least in true unicycle fashion I was passing cyclists on the climb and felt that my stomach would not let me down.
As important as the historical heritage Joburg downtown is, what with the Mahatma Ghandi square and the Nelson Mandela Bridge, the poverty and community decay I was not inspired to feel that the CC947 contributed to upliftment. I was happy to be over the bridge as it meant that I could say to myself I am on my way home.
Talking down, Jan Smuts is a downhill that is a week long! I still do not know where it is as I had to select a route down under heavy breaking as the road surface is appalling. The toll in my buttocks was severe and it was with delight that I completed that chapter of the CC947.
Then you see it – the Witkoppen climb. You see it from far away, thousands of tiny ants crawling up the climb. You see, you prepare and you climb. The recognition you receive from the many cyclists you pass makes you believe that it is worth it. The banner half way up says “net drie bulte”. What 3 more climbs after Witkoppen. Know your route I reminded myself. Survival mode, about 14km to go, thus I imagined that I am at the top of Suikerbossie and the road is down. I discover that Cedar Drive is not Maiden’s Cove. Cedar is brutal on the back of a hot morning of climbs and steep downs.
Cedar behind me. What does that red section at the end mean on the CC947 route map? I know it means a climb, but is it a Witkoppen or Cedar gradient, surely not a Houghton? Questions are asked of your legs and by now I have no humour for “Where is your other wheel” comments. The landscaping of Steyn City, the smooth roads and flourishing trees add no value to my world as I manage a just above stall speed to the treeless, grassless construction site finish.
The 2014 Cycle Challenge has earned the right to be called a cycle challenge.
- KH36, KH Forged adjustable seatpost, Nimbus Nightrider 36″ tyre
- Time: 05:53:21
- Time: 07:10:45
- Time: 07:23:13
Although I’ve been unicycling for over 10 years I had never been into long distance or road unicycling. I had bought my first basic 36″ uni at the beginning of the year and the extra speed was quite a rush, but still never really considered doing something quite like this. If I was ever confronted by the idea I would always maintain… I unicycle for pleasure not for pain. Well that was until I met Shaun Murphy with all his drive and positivity. I had heard his story of his son Nic and had seen his request for unicyclists to join him and his charity auSOMEtism in riding the next 94.7 cycle challenge. It was while watching his family video when I decided there and then I had to join him and give it a go to support his cause and so glad I did.
The 2014 cycle challenge was exactly that a challenge, both mentally and physically, in the days leading up to the race with thunderstorms predicted, I started reviewing the route profile and nerves really started to kick in. Come race day the weather was great and we had an early start, but we still had a rather long, tough and hilly ride ahead of us. In spite of all the training put in I started to cramp before half way, then started to wondered how I was ever supposed to survive the rest of the day, but I was determined to get to the finish line.
Besides the pain it was a really fun ride, filled with positive comments and was able to laught off the many ‘where is the reast of your bike’ or ‘you missing a wheel’ that we have all heard so many time. The encouragement, cheers and respect from both spectators and cyclists all along the way and from family and friends for the next few days, was much more than I ever expected. By the time I got to the last waterpoint I was cramped so bad that I had to take advantage of the chiropractic students to massage my legs back into action. Who cares if I had to walk some of the bigger long hills near the end? Not the spectators or cyclists because even while walking the positive comment continued. I enjoyed it so much that I will be doing the Cape Town Cycle Tour next year.
If you have ever thought about doing a challenge like this, put in some training and do it, the feeling of accomplishment is so worth it.
- Setup: Custom build, KH36 raw frame, KH forged adjustable seatpost, KH Touring Bar, Nimbus D-Brake mount, Shimano BL-M355 disc brake, QU-AX 48 hole hub and rim, KH Spirit Cranks 127/150mm
- Time: 07:55:15
It’s a Thursday evening in the Murphy household. Nicholas and I have just arrived home, the thick Jozi traffic fading from memory. A feint promise of something delicious washes over my nostrils, when I hear Nicholas excitedly shout “HELLO MOMMY!” The sound of his school bag still echoes through the kitchen as he runs down the passage into his room, his own personal sanctuary. I hear him foraging and mumbling to himself as he searches for a toy or part thereof that will in the not too distant future feature in his next creation. Possibly, a killer whale with dragon wings sporting a chassis from a long abandoned toy tractor. Who knows, but it’s sure to be something special.
Leigh and I exchange a kiss, our daily fortunes and a chuckle while the sound of the microwave and running bath water fiercely compete with one another. All is well…almost. I look over Nic’s homework book and discover that tomorrow is Friday. Friday is speech day. Once again, we seem to have dropped the proverbial ‘speech’ ball as we have yet to begin any type of preparations. Armed with memories of goldfish, both Leigh and I have become “those parents’. Thankfully we are no strangers to pressure situations and have become masters of the lastminute.com fraternity. When Nicholas resurfaces from his bedroom the poor boy is met with a steaming hot plate of dinner, a barrage of information and a handful of visual markers delivered to him by a couple of wild eyed parents.
Amazingly, Nic drinks in all the madness and calmly delivers a speech to his peers every Friday morning. The corners of my mouth always turn up into a smile when I picture him rattling off various points to his classmates. Children with autism are generally not known for their communication skills, so as parents our collective chest swells with pride after each completed assignment. Shrouded in the correct learning environment Nicholas is growing in confidence, mastering new concepts every day. I want that learning environment to accompany Nicholas throughout the rest of his schooling career. This notion, this emotional connection to our beautiful boy was the catalyst for auSOMEtism to make some noise, to hopefully make people aware of the need for this learning environment for our children. This notion is what led me to the start line of a 95km journey. On a unicycle. Again.
auSOMEtism, our little foundation for autism awareness began its foray into the cycle challenge four years ago with 3 cyclists riding the event. This year, through the love and support of our family and friends both new and old we had 80 riders participating. This included another five unicycle entrants alongside me. I am still in awe of every single person that signed up to ride or came out to support team auSOMEtism! We are incredibly blessed to have this support structure around us. Hopefully all the energy, awareness and funds raised by all of these beautiful people will see us assisting with the opening and running of a fully equipped teenage, learning facility for kids on the spectrum.
Arriving at the new cycle challenge venue under the cover of darkness didn’t do much to quell my nerves. Try as I might I could not stop thinking about last year’s disappointment. In 2013 I attempted my first Momentum 94.7 cycle challenge on a unicycle. At the end of a long, hot day in the saddle the hilly roads of Johannesburg had taken their toll and I waved the white flag at the 70km mark. To use the word disappointment would be an incredible understatement. I was miserable and promised myself that in 2014 things would be different. However, standing in the starting pen sharing a little banter with the boys, my stomach seemed to be hosting a festival of butterflies….and then just like that it was our turn. We were off.
In true Murphy tradition I abandoned my initial race plan of pacing myself the moment we rolled off the starting line. Instead of the planned easy cruise for the first half of the race, my nervous energy took over and I went hammer and tongs for 30km or so….my fellow unicyclist all but gone, until I thought I had done it again. I had blown myself out a third of the way into this thing. I could feel last year’s entire race hoodoo creeping back. Something needed to change quickly if I wanted a medal at the end of this, and something did… a couple of things actually. I pulled over at the next hydration station feeling somewhat defeated. Handing me an icy cold drink, the assistant at the aid station changed my race fortunes without even realising it. She asked me why on earth I was riding a unicycle. The penny dropped, as much as I have come to enjoy riding my unicycle I did begin riding to prove a point. One of our mantras at auSOMEtism is “we are different, not less” Nicholas and his classmates on the spectrum do things differently to neuro- typical kids, they learn differently and interact differently. It’s beautiful and does not make them any less. I want people to realise that doing something differently shouldn’t count as a negative. It should be embraced; hopefully riding one wheel instead of two can help start that conversation…
The other thing that changed my demeanour? A banana. Always carry a banana. It’s a life saver and comes in its very own packaging.
The rest of the race happened in a bit of a blur, supporters cheered as I rolled past, two wheelers offered their good wishes. Seeing my family with 20kms to go was the final energy boost I needed. Leigh and Nic hugged and kissed me…it’s was awesome. Those last few kilometres were shared with a friend and fellow unicyclist. We rode what we could and walked the last few new route climbs obviously designed by someone with a dark sense of humour. Then just like that…it was over. We had finished. We had medals…and smiles, we had really big smiles. To all of you that helped along the way, thank you. You are all auSOMEtism!
- Setup: Nimbus 36″ frame, Koxx One came saddle, Old Man Industries touring bar, Magura HS33 hydraulic brake, 125mm cranks, Oddessy Cielenski Trailmix pedals
- Time: 07:55:16
After retiring from triathlons and running in 2013, due to hip dysplasia, I needed a new challenge and decided to do the 94.7 on a unicycle.
In keeping with the charitable spirit of the unicycling community, I chose to ride to raise funds for a charity, the Vita Nova Centre. Vita Nova is a home for patients with cerebral palsy, HIV/AIDS and mental illness.
After achieving a perfect mount at the start, I only managed 100 metres before bailing in front of a group of spectators on the first climb. I subsequently faulted on my next three attempts to mount. On the 3rd attempt, my uni went bouncing along the road and I nearly face planted. Fortunately, I managed to maintain my composure and continued on my way alone, as I saw my unicycling mates ride into the distance.
I suffered for the first 30km as I was feeling hypoglycaemic and couldn’t even manage to ride for long on the flat sections. At the 20km mark I was seriously contemplating withdrawing from the race, but decided instead to walk, if need be, until forced to retire by race officials. Fortunately after consuming a few sandwiches and energy gels on the M1, I recovered enough to continue riding.
I had innumerable people (each believing they had a unique sense of humour) ask me if I had lost a wheel but even more people cheered me on and encouraged me throughout the day…. even on the numerous occasions when I pushed my uni.
At one watering point, oblivious to onlookers, my uni mount was rewarded by an eruption of cheering, clapping and whistling. This supported an observation made by Shaun Murphy after the race – that the cyclists and spectators loved us uni cyclists.
I had loads of fun riding with the slower cyclists and my comments to them, such as, “Can you guys in front please pick up the pace” and “Fun riders keep left”, were well received.
I managed to soldier on and finish the 94.7 in over 10hrs and achieve two new records, firstly, to finish the 94.7 on a unicycle and secondly, to come stone last – not only in my start group, but also in my age group and most importantly, in the overall time classification.
I am pleased that I finished, as It was an amazing experience. I encourage all uni cyclists to take on this challenge as it is a great opportunity to promote the sport. The interactions between and support received from cyclists and spectators alike is overwhelming.
Of all the endurance events which I have completed in the past, this has to be the most physically and mentally challenging event I have ever undertaken…… but I loved it.
- Setup: KH 36, KH Moment 125/150mm cranks (used 150 setting), Magura HS-33 Brake, KH T-bar with spooner, KH Fusion Slim saddle, Garmin Edge 810
- time: 10:09:44