We all know that Unicycling is a challenge when you embark upon learning this balance skill. Mastering it takes perseverance and dedication of the mind and body… but mostly the mind. During my life I have never experienced as much joy and reward from something as Unicycling has given me. Actually I can think of one other, Juggling has given me the same pleasure.
Most riders who have been bitten by the Unicycling bug try do at least one long distance road race. It’s one of those ‘I have to do things’. I recommend the experience to all Unicyclists regardless of the discipline you pursue.
This year saw 4 Unicyclists participate in the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge in Joburg. As a community we ‘OddWheelers’ support a charity, not for the sake of supporting a charity because that’s the cycling ethical thing to do. We do it because this ‘charity’ is part of our community. We are literally friends with Shaun, Leigh and Nic Murphy. They are our family and family stick together.
So without further suspension I leave you to read the accounts of these 4 Unicyclists and their experience of the race… but first we need an introduction from our charity.
Over to you Mr Murphy…
Almost thirty years ago five middle aged Californians sang with wanderlust about Aruba and Jamaica. In fact Bermuda, Bahama as well as a pretty mama were made mention of in a classic tune that promised a sunlit journey to a beach paradise filled with sun kissed bodies and tropical beverages. It was the late eighties, Tom Cruise was slinging cocktails and the thought of living near the ocean was nothing but a daydream for a freckled faced Jozi boy donning a brush cut.
Thirty years on, “Kokomo” pours through our speakers while we blast down the N3 exploring the new province we call home. Sure, it may not be Key Largo but the sun is shining and the warm Indian Ocean invites all with open arms. A new adventure awaits team Murphy in Durban and so too our plucky autism NPO auSOMEtism. However, before the salted rim of a margarita glass kissed our lips our mantra of ”different, not less” needed to echo through the streets of Johannesburg once more…
The 2015 edition of the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge was a special one. Apart from being our main fundraising and awareness campaign for the calendar year, it was also our fifth consecutive race promising a fantastic turnout. We were not disappointed…our initial team of three had swollen to 88 riders. In our bid to show that doing something differently can still award the same results, we had four members of the unicycle community join team auSOMEtism, a tridem (three seater bicycle), a tandem, and a couple of tall bikes joining the party. Let’s not forget Johnny Two Loops that upped the different factor by riding the challenge twice. What a party it was!
A persistent knee injury kept me off the unicycle this year, but drawing inspiration from another madman and his mighty Cogzilla I attempted the race on a tall bike which I lovingly dubbed the Bigbird. The tall bike came with her own set of challenges. Bigbird is a far cry from the aerodynamic carbon steeds that you might find cycling Le Tour. No sir, she is more likened to riding a large pocket of potatoes who enjoys popping wheelies on any sort of incline (which there are no shortage of in the mean streets of Johannesburg). That being said, she was a surprising pleasure to ride. I was treated to the most spectacular views, fantastic camaraderie from fellow cyclists and the wonderful ability to freewheel, which is a luxury not enjoyed by the unicycle crew.
Johannesburg offered up hot and windy conditions making cycling tough for all the competitors. We all needed to dig a little deeper, to look for something extra, to grin and bear it. I couldn’t help but think of the kiddos and adults on the autism spectrum who are asked to fit into our society’s norms. Different abilities, lack of verbal communication and sensory overloads are majority of the time expected to be swept under the rug to appease the masses. Here at auSOMEtism we don’t like to sweep things under the rug. We tackle challenges head on and let our different abilities shine through it all. If I can take one thing from riding Bigbird in the cycle challenge it was the overwhelming positivity I experienced from my fellow riders. Imagine a world where all our differences where given the same positive attention.
The Bigbird and I achieved our goal of completing the cycle challenge and hopefully more than that we helped show in some small way that not everything needs to fit into little boxes, it’s OK to colour outside the lines, that being different doesn’t make you any less.
Almost thirty years ago five middle aged Californians sang about getting there fast and taking it slow…we are happy to just enjoy the ride.
…then Gray touched us with this…
My good friend Alister Buhler pestered me for over a year to get into unicycling, eventually giving me a 24” muni on condition that I learned how to ride it. And so it was that on the 1st of January 2014 that I committed myself to learning the art. After 2 months I remember riding my first 100m and my thighs going into such lactic spasm that I couldn’t imagine anyone taking on 10km, let alone the likes of the Argus (can we still say that?) or the 94.7.
A couple of months back a friend was selling his 36er and I took pity and gave it a nice home. When Al heard this he dared me to ride the 94.7, and I rose to the bait. The voices in my head are still arguing which one was responsible for that decision!
They say that time waits for no man, and 15 November rushed up on me, so with a total of 275km ridden on the 36er, 200 of which were in the last month, and still not able to free mount properly I set forth to conquer the infamous 94.7.
Seasoned veterans David Eave and Wayne Lotter met me at the starting line before sunrise. Zakk also rode but left in a later bunch.
I was no match for the other two as they quickly disappeared up the road – and up it was. I didn’t realise Joburg is quite so hilly. I settled down into a steady rhythm of 4 min/km while pacing and bracing myself for 6 and a half hours in the saddle.
I had a bit of a wobbly between 25 and 30km when I just couldn’t get comfortable on the saddle but we soon got off the freeway and into the suburbs and the crowds were amazing. The cheers and chirps buoyed the spirits and I rode on.
At 60km I was still on for a decent sub 7 … then the wind hit me. Oh boy, did I suffer?! My inexperience on a single wheel got shown up big time. The hot, gusting, blustering, swirling wind meant that most of my energy went into staying upright rather than going forward. With about 30km to go the course emerges from the suburbs and heads out into the open grasslands where there is no hiding from the wrath of the wind. For 20km we rode into the teeth of the wind, then we turned at right angles and it became a crosswind. Well someone up front must have said something to piss the wind off because by the time I was there it was no longer just cross, it was bloody furious!
My skill levels were just not enough to keep the big 36er straight on the narrow road and I was becoming a hazard to other cyclists so I had to walk for quite some distance. It was a soul destroying, lonely walk on the dusty side of the road. I was exposed like a raw nerve. No shelter, no companion, no support and no alternative but to carry on walking!
And then I remembered why I was doing this … for auSOMEtism. I got to do some serious thinking and I was reminded that autistic people face overwhelming challenges every day and my little puddle of self-pity evaporated into insignificance.
With renewed determination I mounted at the next handy signpost and battled on in the cross wind on the gravel roadside until the route aligned itself with the wind again and I was able to safely navigate the tar once more. I finally rolled over the finish line a couple of seconds under 8 hours, broken and humbled but with an incredible sense of achievement and gratitude for the amazing generosity and support from so many people.
…David seriously re-evaluated why he rides a unicycle after this race. You’ll be happy to know that he has just invested in a KH36 2015 model because he is a UNICYCLIST…
Something went horribly wrong.
All started well, at Northcliff Cycles on Beyers Naude at least. As I was inflating the tyre to pressure with their pump I received a call from Vince Gibbons Productions. “You are on SABC2 right now!” Northcliff Cycles changed channels and there I was unicycling all over their wall. A unicycle with a backdrop of many bicycles.
So, customers and staff took a break and we all watched a unicycle segment on SABC TV. I was pleased that AuSOMEtism got several minutes of exposure on the day before the #947cc_2015. After the segment I naturally promoted unicycling (no stock in the shop), explaining the challenges and the joys, however, I failed to win any converts even with an offer of a free unicycling clinic. Armed with the fresh images of myself on TV I prepared myself for fame and glory. As a limited number of people (none) asked for a “selfie opportunity” I realised that the public are naturally shy and did not want to compromise my final pre-race preparation. I am sure that you all realise how emotionally draining all this media exposure is. Can ruin a perfectly prepared training programme.
Race-day was an early 03h00 rise with breakfast and dressing done by 03h40. Packed the uni in the car after another check that all the bits are packed. How many times do you have to make sure that your helmet and race timing chip are packed? As with last year a TV crew was to make a documentary and would meet me at Riversands at 04h50 at circle 4.
Departed on time at just before 04h00. Malibongwe is bust all the time so finding Riversands should not present a problem. As with the Argus just follow the car with the bicycles that is in front of you. No cars with bicycles could I spot. Plan B: Drive down Malibongwe (long way), right into Witkoppen (busy intersection – you cannot miss the turn) and then left into William Nicol and then find the yellow parking area. All in the dark with no GPS! Relief finally spotted a GP number plate with a bicycle on Witkoppen, only for the car to drive through a red light. Not me, even at 04h15 in the morning. Made the start, gave an interview and finally met up with Gray and Wayne.
Good start and climb up Summit into a headwind. Excellent pace past Kyalami onto Woodmead and finally off the M1 South with the challenging Joe Slovo climb.
Then something went horribly wrong. On the raised road section of Joe Slovo I hit a major pothole (the road surface virtually the entire route is shocking!) and used reflex effort to avoid an unplanned dismount, just to lose the use of my right quadricep. Walked out the pain and mounted again, however, had to nurse the leg the rest of the way.
Remained focussed up the long Homestead climb and managed both Witkoppen and Malibongwe climbs into a fresh hot headwind. The Malibongwe climb experience parallels Blue Down on Argus day with many children wanting chocolates.
The turn onto the R114 (past the Lion Park) at the top of the Malibongwe climb demanded my last reserves. This is a 3km gauntlet of poor surface, spoilt veld with fire, litter, poverty and a strong crosswind. I managed to stay mounted all the way to Cedar as I realised that a re-mount may not be possible with the crosswind and bicycle volume.
The Cedar climb was the last test, however, I was unable to unicycle up Riversands Boulevard to the finish. I sat on the pavement in brutal heat and wind unable to complete the last 2km. Finally a cyclist insisted that I walk with him to the final circle.
The last 1.7km I managed in 24 minutes 30 seconds.
The finish line provided no respite from the heat and wind. Dust was the beverage of the day and shade non-existent. The AuSOMEtism courtesy tent provided the only relief. Shaun – thanks for the life saver you organised and thanks to Cell C for recognising us.
947cc_2016 – I will rethink the need to accept the challenge of the Nelson Mandela bridge approach and the “Malibongwe Zone”.
…from Wayne our little Iron-Man…
We started early together with the hand cycles. I was a bit worried about the weather as the previous few days were scorchers with Gauteng being hit by a major heatwave! The Unicycles united at the startline and David Eave shared some wisdom about the Tim Noakes diet. The usual startline chatter about preparation training and muti you were going to use for the day made sure the time flew by. Next moment the gun went off and it was GO TIME!!
It was a lonely ride from the start as the Uni’s split up, each with their own game plan. My plan… just to finish the race without having to use my face as a brake. The first half of the race went better than expected and one water table after the other passed by. One of the scariest moments in the race came as the leading women peleton came swooshing past me at a pace equal to that of a super space rocket! I managed to keep my bib streak free, but it was a close call.
The second half of the race came with a combination of three challenges! These being hills, wind and road camber! A combination of 4 challenges, these being hills, heat, wind and road camber. I made peace with the hills beforehand and decided no to waste too much energy on trying to ride all of them. Walking gave the legs a much-needed rest. Hydration was a key point in surviving the heat! The wind and road camber on narrow roads made for more walking than was expected. My body hasn’t been in such a funny position in a long time as I tried to stay on top of the wheel. In many cases it was a futile fight against the conditions and that forced me to walk.
This years race saw surprisingly few WYOW (where’s the other wheel?) chirps or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it and not registered all of them.
From the 72km mark it was a mental fight. Pushing upwards and onwards, hill after hill after Steyn City hill! The finish line couldn’t have come sooner! I crossed the line and once again survived another 94.7 on 1 Wheel! I collected my medal and was immediately asked for an interview… Out of breath, tired and exhausted.
The highlite of the race was the auSOMEtism tent welcoming us with smiles and a cold one! It’s soooo gratifying to see the charity growing from strength to strength each year! Knowing that you make a difference by doing something as simple as riding 1 wheel for 94.7km.
…from Zakk, doesn’t he look happy…
Just over a year of unicycle experience in total, on a 24” Starter, and an amazing opportunity arises – a used 36” Nimbus Nightrider is for sale (and at a price I could afford). So a month before the 94.7 Momentum Cycle Challenge, I got onto a 36” wheel for the first time, with my first try being successful. I loved it, and decided this big wheel is going home with me.
At this point I was informed that I may ride the 94.7, since there is an entry for the unicycle that I now own. At first it was an impossible challenge – I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish, but decided to still ride since it is for a good cause (auSOMEtism). I decided I’m going to try, and so the training began. I spoke to Alister Buhler who has done the challenge on a unicycle, and he gave me great tips.
Subconsciously the idea of finishing the cycle challenge grew day by day, and by race day I only had one mindset: If I can have my body sustain for 7-9 hours, there is no reason not to finish.
I trained for three weeks, and my last ride before the 94.7 was my first with another unicyclist. Wayne Lötter and I did 40km (my furthest trip yet), followed by a week of rest.
It’s race day! My first 94.7 Cycle Challenge. On my way to the early start (5:35 AM) my left crank feels loose and I try to find mechanics, only to find out they haven’t arrived yet. In a parking lot I find someone with a 14mm socket in thier car that I can quickly use. Now I’m ready and I rush back, only starting at 5:49 AM, which is not with my group but it is still as early as possible. The first part is lonely out on the road – every few minutes a new group that still feels fresh passes. Only 1km from the first water point my crank is loose again! Not what I need today, but luckily there’s a mechanic and I jump into his toolbox, tighten my crank to death, and the race goes on.
Riding is now much better since there are people alongside the road and on bridges, and the support is amazing (and I liked the idea of taking a huge tour on a unicycle through Johannesburg). Sloped road’s and heavy winds forced me to keep balance at an angle that is quite tough riding.
Mandela’s Bridge arrives and at 44km my crank is loose again. No mechanic at the water point, no tools. I scramble around, even asking City Water for tools, end up wasting about an hour and I decide there is no solution. They’ve called mechanics many times, yet no sweep vehicles. I thought it might be the end of my race.
I decide to continue, actually with no hope, and then I see an elderly couple in the opposite lane on Jan Smuts. I ask if they live nearby (luckily they did), and I end up meeting their gardener, who brought me a 14mm socket, on the next corner to tighten my crank to my absolute max. My fate has changed and I am back in the race. The long downhills are challenging – I have to hold at 14-18km/h while everyone else is freeing past me with great speed.
Long downhills, followed by uphills of the same length, was not appealing and this is where I needed motivation. Passing a few bicycles on uphills got me motivated, along with all the spectators cheering as I pass and encouraging me. Only 25km left, I feel close but my body doesn’t. I keep on telling myself I have done most of this, what’s left is not that far, but it was definitely the longest 25km I’ve experienced. With lots of walking towards the end I finally finish a few minutes before 2 pm, absolutely unreal!
David Eave: KH36, KH T-Bar, KH Moment 125mm cranks, Magura Hydraulic Rim Brake
Wayne Lotter: QX-Series 36, KH T-Bar, Disc Brake
Gray’s Bratveedt: QX-Series 36, KH Moment 125mm cranks, Disc Brake.
Zakk Coetzee: Nimbus Nightrider 36, Touring Bar, Magura Hydraulic Rim Brake
Shaun Murphy: Birdbird – custom built tall bike by Whippet Cycling.
David Eave: 06:16:13
Wayne Lotter: 06:49:44
Gray Bratveedt: 07:59:34
Zakk Coetzee: Just over 8hrs. Due to bad technology, Zakk’s racechip did not record his time.
Shaun Murphy: Unknown