Baba

"Crossposting to LJ"

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/personal/2017/08/18/Crossposting_to_LJ, and cross-posted here. Please leave your comments on the original post.


I joined lj in January of 2007, after what's now refered to in our circles as the great LJ exodus; many had left, but many were still around. Even back then, it seemed clunkier than blogger, but the community was certainly more thriving. Over the years, I've blogged on and off, and had even been thinking about moving to my own server and domain for a while, but that hadn't quite taken off, until recently. I started blogging at pchengi.com earlier this month, and was looking for means to migrate my lj posts there, and setup an automated crossposting system. I came across ljcharm ljcharm, which I used, for both backing up my posts, and setting up a cross-posting system. I will no longer write posts here directly, but my posts will continue to get crossposted here. I'd like to have your comments directly on my new blog, but if you feel more comfortable writing here, that'll be fine too. Thanks for all the love and affection you've shown me, and I hope to continue to enjoy that in the days and years to come.


-Prashanth

Baba

Learning to hop on a unicycle

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/bicycling/2021/04/04/Learning_to_hop_on_a_unicycle, and cross-posted here.


My unicycling goals


While I'm primarily interested in being able to ride longer endurance-style rides on a unicycle, there are some 'tricks' that interest me enough to want to learn them, and hoping is perhaps right up there on that list.


Why hopping?


Hopping is a skill that's useful in many different scenarios; it can, like idling, be used to loiter within a small fixed area, and therefore useful to wait out a traffic light, or a crossing vehicular or human traffic. Another super-neat application for hopping is being able to execute a bunny-hop, in order to transition from a road onto a pavement, by hopping up a kerb, without having to dismount, get up onto the pavement and remount.


The how


The mechanics of a hop on a unicycle is quite similar to that of a bunny-hop on a bicycle; one executes a jump by pushing down onto the pedals and grabs the unicycle and carries it as one rises. Multiple hops can be strung together by timing the jumps just right; if the jump is too slow, there is no advantage one gets from the previous jump, but if timed correctly, the strength of the jump can be amplified by taking advantage of the rebound from the wheel hitting the deck. If one wants to string many hops together, one should try to cluster the impact point of the wheel in a tight grouping while ensuring one continues to sit straight. Leaning forwards or backwards can result in losing control.


Current progress


2021-04-05: I'm currently only able to jump a small number of times before I get out of alignment or lose control, forcing me to either start rolling again, or to dismount. The longest sequence I've been able to manage is six times, thus far, and I find it hard to train for longer than an hour at a time, so it'll perhaps be a few sessions before I can start to note progress.

Baba

Unicycling: Adding the miles

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/bicycling/2021/03/31/Adding_the_miles, and cross-posted here.


In 2020, I unicycled 468 kilometers. In 2021 thus far, I've covered 457 kilometers, logging 263 of them this month. The 29-er has clearly been my unicycle of choice, logging 246 of the 263 kilometers I've unicycled this month. Since I started riding outdoors in 2020, this month has been the fourth time I've unicycled 100 kilometers or more, and the first time I've ridden 250+ kilometers in a month. I'd hoped to use the last day of the month to get in some more miles, but the incessant rain put paid to that. Per Strava, I've also recorded rides on 23 of the 31 days in March, averaging 11 kilometers per outing, which too is nice. I hope to continue to consistently log in more miles and I'm looking forward to riding more on the 36-er too.


In April, I hope to be able to ride my first 50 kilometer unicycle ride; I've done one four hour outing in some rather challenging conditions wind-wise, and look to take advantage of my increasing confidence and gradually increasing average speed to try and nail a 50km ride in six hours or lesser, including all stops. Reaching that milestone will be a huge confidence boost, and will allow me to train harder and revisit my goals.

Baba

Book review: Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/general/2021/03/19/Book_review_Stephen_Kings_Mr, and cross-posted here.


After I finished King's latest book 'Later', I was tempted to start reading something longer by King, and so started reading Mr. Mercedes. The book is very unlike the typical SK fare, with absolutely no paranormal overtones, but is instead a crime-fiction, and a decent one at that, for the most part. The protagonist(s) are recurring characters in a three book series which is supposed to culminate into a crime-fiction meets typical Stephen King supernatural horror.


Mr. Mercedes starts with a slow and plodding description of a job fair which attracts the most desperate of job seekers, a description which reminded me the opening chapter in King's 'The Institute'. Just as we begin to take in the possibility of a relationship budding between young Augie Odenkirk and the equally young single mother of an infant, Janice Cray, both of them along with six other luckless souls get wiped out in an instant, pulverized by a Mercedes SL 500, deliberately driven into the crowd by a deranged deviant. The next chapter shows a now retired Inspector Bill Hodges, ruing the fact that he wasn't able to crack the Mercedes Murderer case, and Bill is not having an easy time getting used to his retired life. He is forced to lose his self-induced state of torpor, and quickly, when he receives a taunting letter from the perpetrator of the Mercedes Murders himself, and the pace of the storytelling gets an adrenaline shot. The rest of the book is about the battle of wits between Hodges and our Mr. Mercedes, a real cat and mouse struggle. While there are bits and pieces in the story that don't mesh very well, the book is still enjoyable. While this book for me was far from a top King book, I liked it enough to start reading the next in the series, 'Finders Keepers'. Who knows, the series might well grow on me!

Baba

Routes for unicycling around Linköping

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/bicycling/2021/03/14/New_routes_for_unicycling, and cross-posted here.


In this post, I thought I'd write about routes around Linköping, which are suitable for unicycling. I try consciously to avoid traffic (both vehicular and human!), so I can enjoy my rides in peace, and I pick routes with a strong bias towards asphalt, as I lack experience of off-road riding. In the future perhaps, as I gain more experience, I'll expand upon this post with non-asphalt options. Another point of consideration for me while designing routes is that I don't generally design one-way routes, so this means that the distance will have to include both the onward and return legs. Since my current average speed is quite low, the time-cues for rides would perhaps be only relevant to myself so I'll mention both time and distance for the routes.


Sub 1-hour ride/5-7 km



  • A ride that starts on Södra Oskarsgatan near the Post Office (behind Linköpings rececentrum) and goes along Tornbyvägen. It's a combination of flat and some gentle downhill till we get to Engströms bil, at which point there's a nice but brief climb. The route has a few traffic lights which need dismounting, and a handy skill to acquire is to grab the traffic light pole or idle/hop when stopped for the light to turn. While the lights are a slight irritant, this route is very lightly trafficked, and that's a strong plus point.




  • An alternate route for a hour's worth of riding is to ride along the river StÃ¥ngÃ¥n upto Tannerfors canal locks and to ride back, but this route is very popular amongst runners, bicyclists, and even walkers with dogs, so it can be a bit challenging/irritating at times.


90 minute ride/11-13 km



  • It was last year when I started riding along Ekängenvägen and there are a bunch of options with it. One of the simplest 90 minute rides is an out-and-back ride along Ekängenvägen, with the U-turn being executed at the Stensättervägen bus stop netting 12 km. An alternative which is roughly the same distance is to take a right turn off towards Östra Härg and riding into Gränsliden, and then back home. A small variation of this latter route also involves a little bit of riding on a gravel track, but that would be conditional to good weather, at least till I get more comfortable riding off-tarmac. Here's the link to the route with the gravel patch




  • Another interesting option for a 90 minute ride is to ride along Bergsvägen and ride around Skäggetorp, climbing up Glyttingevägen and riding through Ryd-forest. The Glyttingevägen climb is a nice way to pratice steady climbs. Done in the reverse, I can use this to practice brake usage, as it' a steady descent with great visibility all around.



2-hour ride/16-18 km


An out-and-back ride to Ekängen is a nice way to get in a 16 km ride on an excellent bike path, with very few intersections/stops. This is a great ride to help fix posture issues and also to practice longer stints in the saddle.


Another nice ride that nets 18 km is a ride to Haga kryka, via Rydskogen and Tift södergård, and returning along Bergsvägen.



3-hr ride /24-27 km


In the 24-27 km range, there are a number of options, with two along Ekängenvägen; the first option is to ride past Ekängen and looping back by Rystadskyrka, crossing E4 via the underpass, passing by the Saab Draken plane.



The other option is almost the same, except for turning off onto Hästhagen, and is about one kilometer shorter.



Another route that nets around 26 km is a ride along Bergsvägen, crossing Kagakyrka and heading westward till Ledberg before turning south towards Malmslätt, before returning downtown via Rydskogen.



4-hour ride/28-34 km

Baba

First 30k ride on a unicycle

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/bicycling/2021/02/27/First_30k_ride_on_a_unicycle, and cross-posted here.


I like to setup routes of different lengths so I can simply set off and ride them when I like/can, without having to waste time planning the route on the day of the ride. I'd setup a 30 km ride on komoot last year, and had even ridden it with my wife, on a bicycle, but the intention had always been to do the ride on a unicycle, but I'd not believed that I was ready, after earlier attempts to do 20 km rides had left me totally drained.


When I'd done the 20 km rides, it had been on the 36-er, and the longer the time I'd spent in the saddle, the harder I found to land my freemounts, and that would be both frustrating and time-consuming. I wanted to see if the fact that I can nail my mounts with great ease on my 29-er could be used to try and ride farther, and so I decided yesterday, to set off on my first ever 30+ km unicycle ride.


The weather forecast showed 10 m/s winds with gusts at 15 m/s, but I thought I could manage it (haha!), and didn't allow it to deter me. Once I'd set out though, it wasn't long before I left the city streets and got onto bergsvägen, with large open expanses, and that's where the wind started really making its presence felt. I was listenening to an audiobook, but I had to switch it off as it was totally drowned out in the whine of the wind. The route I'd selected was a nice enough road, but the winds made it very hard for me to stick to a good line, and the fact that it was not a dedicated bike lane meant that I often had cars and the odd truck rolling past, and that made me nervous on many occasions. Since I always ride with a rearview mirror, I kept an eye on it so I didn't get surprised. When the wind was particularly bad and there was a car approaching me from behand, I dismounted carefully and waited for the car/cars to pass before mounting again, and this was at times frustrating.


Another challenge was the gravel; in Sweden, the municipality adds huge amounts of gravel to the roads when there's snow, to prevent the roads from icing over, and this gravel is almost never cleared till well into Spring, and during winter, there are often several rounds of gravel sprinkling, so there was a huge amount of gravel when I road yesterday. I'm now enjoying learning to ride on different kinds of surfaces, and the more I learn, the more confident I get. I was initially pretty nervous to be riding on gravel, thinking that I might skid off on it, or have issues when dismounting, but during the entire 31 km ride, I didn't suffer a single skid or issue directly due to the gravel, but I rode cautiously on it.


If the winds and gravel were not challenges enough, the third challenge was camber; there were many places where the sides of the roads had large camber angles and I didn't want to ride in the center of the road, though it is something I could have done while keeping an eye on the rearview mirror. As I tired, the winds and the camber seemed to be more challenging than they really were, in many places, but I kept going. In good patches, my speed was between 10 and 12 km/h, but for the most part, it was much lower.


Prior to the ride, I'd calculated that I'd need at least 4 hours for the 30 km distance, and had given myself a buffer of an extra hour, and as it turned out, I needed almost all of the buffer, taking 4 hours and 45 minutes in all, for the ride. During the ride, I stopped once to eat the peanut butter and hazelnut spread sandwiches my wife had put together for me, and per my stopanalyzer tool, I'd made a grand total of 63 dismounts, during the 31 km ride. Since I almost always mounted successfully with the first mount attempt itself, I didn't lose much time waiting to mount, but all that dismounting and mounting will indeed have a telling effect on my average speed which was a meager 7.5 km/h. I hope to be able to reduce the dismounts in the future, and ride on with greater confidence. I'm hoping to repeat this ride on my 36-er sometime soon. I must also see if I can come up with better routes where I can use more of bike paths, so traffic won't be a concern.

Baba

Using a handlebar to stabilize a unicycle

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/bicycling/2021/02/24/Using_a_handlebar_to_stabilize_a_unicycle, and cross-posted here.


A bicylist learns to ride a bicycle using the handlebars, and can after getting reasonably proficient, start to ride it without using the handlebars. For a unicyclist, it is exactly the opposite.


When learning to unicycle, one often flails around the arms in a bid to somehow hold onto the thin band that is the balance point. As one gets better, the crazy waving needs to go away, and learning to ride with a handlebar is a great way to ensure that the upper body stays straighter and that the wheel also tracks strighter. However, doing so needs practice.


When I first installed the T-bar on my 36-er last year, I was initially shocked to see how much the bar swung from side to side, even when I thought I was tracking relatively straight, but within two days of riding with a bar, and even without actually holding the bar, the extra movement got reduced, so I guess just having a handlebar in the visible region in front of the saddle gives a great reference point to let us know how we are tracking.


Initially, the handlebar seemed to behave like an instant-UPD button; just merely touching it meant I got ejected from the saddle, but I was able to quickly get used to touching it while on the move, and briefly being able to rest my fingers on it, before getting it out of the way. With the onset of winter, I'd stopped using the 36-er, and with it ended my practicing with bars, until this year.


When I decided to buy a 29-er with disc brakes, it was because the 29-er provides a wheel which is big enough to allow rolling faster than smaller wheels while being vastly easier to mount and hence far better suited for trips around town. The 29-er, a URC Roadrunner disc 29, was ordered with a handle-saddle. The handle-saddle feels quite a bit different when compared with a T-bar, which has much more of a bicycle handle feel, but once I started practicing, I was able to quickly get more confident.


I've now started practicing with the 36-er again, and found that the progress I'd made with practicing with the handle-saddle on the 29-er had helped me with riding the 36-er with the T-bar too. On today's ride, I was able to consistently and regularly support myself with the T-bar, and was even able to ride a couple of climbs while holding the T-bar steadily with one hand.


The idea now is to continue to practice riding with the T-bar/handle-saddle, till I'm totally comfortable riding with them. When I now hold the bar, my free arm kind of ends up getting behind me in a way which causes a bit of upper body twisting, but that too is something I hope to be able to correct soon. Riding with both arms on the handle would make it possible to have the best possible upper-body position without unnecessary twisting, but that's still a little way away.

Baba

Learning to unicycle on different surface types

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/bicycling/2021/02/23/Learning_to_unicycle_on_different_surface_types, and cross-posted here.


When I started riding outdoors in 2019, I could barely ride a couple of laps around the basketball field before my calf muscles screamed murder. Since then, I've not only been able to steadily increase the distances, but I've also learned to ride on different types of surfaces. I've now ridden on asphalt, firm soil, sand, snow, gravel-covered asphalt, and cobblestone. The ability to ride on different kinds of surfaces gives one more confidence, and the ability to change from one surface to the other without having to dismount and remount is a great advantage, particularly if one wishes to commute on a unicycle.


On most evenings, I accompany my wife on her evening walks, with my 24" unicycle, which is super-easy to mount and handle in the city, and I like riding around downtown with it. When I ride around Stora Törget (Central Square), I can easily transition from the asphalt to cobblestone and vice-versa and keep riding. One surface I've not ridden on just yet has been grass, particularly clumpy grass. On one of our evening rides, I came across a large patch of ice which I wanted to avoid, but since I haven't the experience of riding on grass, wet or otherwise, I couldn't just ride off the road and onto the grass, and this is therefore the next surface type I'd like to learn to ride on. Since I'm already quite familiar with riding on snow, being able to ride on grass would allow me to go off-road, in perhaps what would be a good first step towards being able to ride Muni.

Baba

New unicycle: URC Roadrunner 29-er

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/bicycling/2021/02/09/New_unicycle_URC_Roadrunner_29-er, and cross-posted here.


I bought another unicycle! It's a URC Roadrunner 29-er, with a hydraulic disc brake. Weighing in at 6.8 kilograms, this steel uni is no lightweight, but feels very well balanced and responsive.


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The distinctive handle-saddle.


I'd been thinking of buying a 29-er for a while now, but I wasn't quite sure if I really needed another one, or if it was THE size (that's the hardest part of choosing a uni), as each size has different characteristics, and every choice means that some options open up and others get ruled out or sidelined. Having gotten a 24" unicycle a while ago, it's gone a long way in improving my confidence as it's an excellent all-round unicycle for getting around in the city, negotiating through traffic etc. I've now added more than 130 km on my 24", and I even started to gradually but steadily improve my speed, but I realized that a 29-er would be the ticket, for something faster. A 29-er would also be less daunting than a 36-er, and I just might be able to dare push it a bit harder than I can, on the 36-er. I asked around for advice, looked at the options, and tried ordering through the Swedish chapter of UDC (unicycle dot se) but was put off by the tepid response I got. The 29-er I initially looked at was a Kris Holm 29-er, but realized soon that it had a rim which was quite exceptionally broad, meaning I couldn't really get skinnier tires on it, if I wanted. Following the recommendation of a friend, I looked at URC, the steel offering by the same manufacturer that makes the popular mad4one unicycles, and before long, I'd decided that I wanted the URC 29" Roadrunner with the ISIS disc, a unicycle I could practice riding faster with, and perhaps sometime in the future, even try a bit of mountain unicycling with.


I received my unicycle on February 2, and did some riding in the basement before daring to take it outside. I realized however that the 28x2.0 tire that it sported was too skinny to inspire confidence on snow and ice. After a 5 km ride, I came back and decided to order a studded tire, perhaps with a broader profile. After a bit of asking around, and searching for options, I decided on the 29x2.25 Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro; the tire arrived today, and I lost no time getting it onto the 29-er.


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While I've ridden a bicycle with studded tires, the experience of riding a unicycle with a studded tire was quite different, and it took a bit of practice to get the hang of it. The tire is quite noisy on cement/asphalt without snow, and feels a bit unusual to ride on, but I seemed to get used to it quickly. On snow though, the tire feels exceptionally good. Even on slippery patches, the tire inspired total confidence, and I was for a while worried that I might do something stupid due to feeling overly confident, but I checked myself. Per Schwalbe, it's good to at least ride 40 km on clean asphalt, in order to ensure the proper bedding in of the studs, so even if the snow melts away, I'm going to ride on this for a while. The tire behaves a bit differently with camber being a bit more challenging, but it's more a matter of acclimatization than anything, and I hope I can get better with practice. Now that I'm no longer worried about the snow/ice outside, I'm looking to get more miles on the 29-er now.

Baba

Riding in snow

This entry was originally posted at https://pchengi.com/bicycling/2021/01/28/Riding_in_snow, and cross-posted here.


Since I bought my 24" Nimbus II unicycle, I've had more options for outdoor riding. The 24" is my default choice when I ride along, accompanying my wife on her evening walks, as it's way more practical and easier to control at low speed than the 36-er. I've been riding the 24" pretty much everyday, and that's helped me improve my finer control skills. I've on occasion even cycled on a bit of snow, but today was different as it had been snowing heavily all day, resulting in a big buildup of snow.


After briefly toying around with the idea of doing an outing on the 36-er, I decided that it would perhaps be both safer and more enjoyable to ride the 24" instead, and I think it was the right call. The deep snow and odd patches of ice under the snow meant that mounting was at least a bit different. I had to be extra careful not to apply too much weight on the first leg, to prevent the wheel from skidding out from under me. The feeling of the tire sliding without much traction was also something that took a bit of practice, getting used to, but wasn't a skill very hard to pick up. The increased inefficiency due to the extra slippage is apparent, and the effort feels like a continuous climb, even while on flat land. Unicycling perhaps feels safer than riding a bicycle, as there are no two wheels to go in different directions in a skid; the fact that there is but one wheel means you stay in better control, or so it seemed to me!