February 2011 Archives

Before the storm

Before the storm.jpg

A big snow storm was headed this way and scheduled to start around 11am. I headed out at 10:30 for a ride around the cemetery. After the earlier thaw I expected the roads to be bare, and for the most part they were. Early in my ride I noticed the same issue with cornering that I highlighted in the last entry, but more on that in a moment.

There are several stop signs between my place and the cemetery. One of my practical goals for learning how to rock is to be able to wait in place at stop signs and other sketch intersections while I take a good look for traffic. I didn't try this on the trip out this morning. Instead I did slow approaches which gave me a reasonable amount of time to look up and down the street. Hopefully later this summer I'll be able to actually stop and look carefully so I don't get clocked by something I don't notice at first glance, like a bicycle for instance. By the time I was half way to the cemetery the snow started falling, and the wind was out of the north east - a sign of a potentially tough storm. I had a good time in the cemetery, particularly tackling the steeper bits. I'm trying to even out my cadence, and today the tune in my head was a new jig I learned yesterday called Statia Donnelly. It kept me reasonably consistent, although I had to slow it down and really emphasize the beats on some of the steeper bits.

My return trip on 4th street past the coffee shop drew some thumbs up from folks in cars maybe wondering why anyone would be out on a unicycle in the snow. On the way home I noticed that the corners weren't giving me the trouble that they do on dry pavement. Maybe the coating of snow that had sifted down since I started my ride was providing the contact patch between tire and road just enough squish and squirm that I wasn't rolling over on the shoulder of the tire. It felt just fine, and even quite secure on sharp corners.

In front of the house I tried to simulate stopping at a stop sign. I had to stop anyway because I have a skating rink of ice where my driveway meets the road and there was no way I was riding across that slick surface. I was able to do one rock back and forth, and then had to do reasonably controlled dismount off the back. On the one hand I could tell the wheel had more mass that the 24" when I tried to rock, but on the other hand it wasn't as heavy as I thought it would be. I think there is potential for stopping at stop signs. Sounds like a reasonable goal for early summer anyway.

Its the tire's fault


Blue skies and a 45 degree day meant thawed ice, clear roads and a chance to ride my usual route around the campus and fair grounds for the first time since late fall. How nice it was to stop rocking in one place and bust out down the road! Right away, though, I noticed an issue with dry pavement and the WTB Stout tire that I mounted back when the snow started.

The tire has deep lugs that should be great for trails, dirt and mud, and based on this winter season I know it works well in snow, but it gives me fits on dry pavement when I'm making 90 degree turns at intersections. Now, for sure, part of the problem is that I haven't been out riding on the road much in the past two months, but still I think there is something going on with the tire.

Here's what I think is happening: The surface of the tire where the road an the lugs meet is flatter in cross section than the surface of the underlying tire. Another way to say it is that the tire carcass has a smaller radius than the radius defined by the surface of the lugs. This is fine when riding in a straight line or making very gradual turns, and it probably maximizes the bite of the lugs into soft surfaces. However, this geometry becomes a problem when making sharper turns like a right turn at an intersection where you need to stay close to the curb. The unicycle angle gets fairly acute, and the contact patch of the tire rolls up onto those outside lugs. If you lean into the turn too far you start to fall off those lugs as if falling off of a shelf, and the unicycle turns too sharply and off you go. So in a nutshell, it is fine on the straights and weaves, but unpredictable as your turns become increasingly sharp.

This symptom cropped up in the most public place possible during my Thursday ride. Riding back from the state fair grounds onto campus brought me past a popular bus stop for students making the trek from the St. Paul campus to the East or West Bank campus. It was just after noon, so the bus stop was packed, and those who had nothing else to stare at had plenty of time to watch the old guy on the unicycle ride up the hill, up to an intersection, make the right turn, and of course, flub the turn. I walked the unicycle up the sidewalk a ways, hopped back on and finished the ride just fine, making sure that at subsequent intersections I took a wide line and stayed off the shoulders of the tire.

That's my excuse anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

Measuring success


I've been stuck in a rut trying to increase the number of idles I can do without reaching for support. While my average is increasing slightly, my maximum isn't. I felt discouraged.

My approach today, which was so satisfying I just had to write about it, was to change my metric. Instead of measuring the number of idles, I made up a new drill which allowed me to feel successful. The new drill was simply to pedal a half revolution forward, rock twice, and pedal backwards a half revolution to my original start position. That's it. Just forward, two rocks and then back. What I liked was that after a bit of practice I could do it. And sometimes I could stay for three rocks, or four.

So my point is that if you are getting discouraged because you aren't improving, then examine how you are measuring success. Maybe a lateral change to a different measure, not necessarily easier, but different, can uncover smaller increments of improvement. I'm looking forward to working on that skill again tomorrow, so that itself is a measure of success.

Is riding snow like riding sand?

| 1 Comment

super bowl ride.jpg
Super Bowl Sunday. I posted an assignment and quiz for my class, helped take down the Christmas garland outside the house, applied the second coat of stain to a woodworking project and the only thing left to do before sitting down to the game was to pay the monthly bills. That's no fun, so I put the bills aside and hopped on the unicycle for a ride around the lake.

A heat wave hit the state yesterday and it was in the low 30s when I set out. Some slush, some greasy snow, some bare but wet pavement. The pic to the left is the path around the lake showing the monochrome landscape and the strip of asphalt I tried to stay within. To either side the snow was choppy from foot traffic, and a bit greasy, which I found a challenge to ride. Way off in the distance of the path is a little old lady walking her terrier. She turned and we had a pleasant conversation as I rode by, but about 10 yards beyond her and her dog I tried plowing through a deep snow patch, pitched forward off the uni and tucked into a little roll to absorb the fall. She was aghast and sure I had killed myself, although the terrier thought it was just great and wanted to try too. They both came running up and soon I was wrapped in dog leash and couldn't get away. Untangled, I thanked her for her concern, mounted and pedaled away.

Some of the sidewalks were completely covered with that loose snow, 1-2" deep, on which the wheel would skid out if given half a chance. I walked some of these covered sidewalks, but on the way back tried to do more riding on the stuff. I figured it might be a bit like trying to ride on the sandy or muddy parts of trails, so why not figure it out. I noticed three things. First, it took some additional pedal pressure to keep going since I had to move the big wheel through rather than over the snow. Second, if I could keep the wheel weave to a minimum I tended to slide out less, and third, I had to keep my center of gravity a bit further back and more over the wheel, with little or no lean out front. That meant I was slower, but steadier.

The second discovery above, keeping the wheel weave to a minimum, was fun to work on. The mental image I tried to keep was to spin the wheel, use my ankles and keep the pressure as even as possible around the rotation of the pedal. Instead of a big power downstroke I had to try to ease off the power and carry the pedal down and through the bottom of the arch a bit. The reduced the weave, and I had a bit more success plowing through the snow.

Now that I'm back home though I really do need to pay those bills.


The temperature was below zero yesterday morning, which meant insulated overalls, down vest and a quick walk in from the parking lot to the office. Once in the lab making coffee I realized I had forgotten the produce I had picked up at the grocery store on the way in. I would be using the produce that evening in class to demonstrate the parts of plants that we eat. Well, I really didn't want to go back out, but the veggies would freeze, and when I spied the unicycle in the corner I made the irrational decision to take the unicycle back to the parking lot so I could get some riding in and maybe enjoy the cold a bit. I know it sounds lame to not want to dash out to the parking lot, but on this campus anyway parking is really scarce and my lot is at least a half mile away.

The trip there was easy peasy. Only my face was cold. The snow had been plowed on the sidewalks so really it wasn't that tough a ride. I picked the three bags out of the trunk, two in one hand, one in the other, and rode back. It took about 10 yards to feel the balance, but after that I was ok. My arms got a bit tired from swinging the bags.

While trudging up the 4 flights of stairs to my office I congratulated myself on using the uni to get the produce. Once in my office I realized I didn't have my laptop, although I had put it in the car when I left home. Shoot, shoot, shoot. I had left that in the car too. So now another trip to the parking lot in sub-zero. I trudged back downstairs to the lab, picked up the uni and once again was out the door.

Sure enough there was the laptop on the front seat, so I looped the strap around my shoulder and this time made an even more irrational decision to ride back to the front door of the office so I could get to my office quickly, rather than the back way to the lab. Once again, no problem on the sidewalks...that is until I got to the front of the building.

Have you ever had that experience of trying to dismount but for some reason your balance stays perfectly on top of the uni even though you don't want it to? I tried to dismount very nicely on the sidewalk leading to the front door and whoa, I didn't come off, but instead stayed briefly on top of the seat although my feet were off the pedals. I then flew forward and face-planted myself spread eagle into the sidewalk while my uni kicked back about 15 feet. I lay there briefly taking mental inventory of all my parts, and by the time I was on my feet a grad student rushed out the door to see if the old guy was dead or alive.

Alive, only thing hurt was his pride. And a skinned knee.

I think I'll just idle in the lab the rest of the winter.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2011 is the previous archive.

April 2011 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.