Scary Guni Gear Incident
If you don't already know by now, I have one of the few change-on-the-fly geared unicycles in the world. There are only a handful on the East Coast, a bushelful in the whole US, and fewer than a bowl-of-riceful in the entire world*. They were created by Florian Schlumpf, a Swiss engineer, using a planetary gearing system similar to what's found in a motorcycle. Basically there is a small 'sun' gear surrounded by a dozen 'planet' gears that are activated or deactivated by having a piece click into or out of place. Shifting gears is accomplished by knocking a button with your ankle or sneaker while you're riding, tho less adventurous or skilled types can simply hop off the uni to change the gear from a safer position.
Florian is currently on his third gearing system. His first hub had 6 planet gears, which meant that sometimes the wheel rotated freely for 60 degrees before the gear shifted. Since the 29" wheel moves about 10 feet per revolution, a rider could easily find himself coasting for about two feet before the gear's teeth were reactivated. As disconcerting as this was, the first-generation hub had a bad habit of not always catching gear or, worse, slipping out of gear and into coasting mode. This resulted in one really badly broken leg for a well-known Kiwi rider named Ken Looi during a group trip thru Laos that he had organzied. It also happened to me, tho happily I was not injured in the resulting fall. Then it happened a few more times. In the end, Florian was generous enough to replace every 1st-gen hub he'd sold with his newer, 12-planet version.
I was riding to Port Authority three weeks ago when I attempted to shift into low gear as I neared the depot. Suddenly, I slipped forward from the waist down and landed on my backpack, with my helmet basically kissing the pavement too softly to make even a scratch. I was wearing wrist-guards, too, but I didn't have time to react and simply landed with my hands by my side. The funny thing was that this came a day after my doctor had suggested I take it easy on my back since I'd strained a muscle during firefighting duties. Ah well.
I didn't contact Florian about the gear; instead I wrote about the incident to the online uni community. Ken and others suggested that I had experienced a non-catch of a gear rather than a gear-slipping (which is what happened to Ken). The consensus was that I had hit the button just hard enough to put it in no-man's land. After further discussion, we all seemed to arrive at a name for this deadly location: the sour spot.
Since then, it took me a few days (ok, weeks) to recover the gumption to try that down-shifting again. It's been fine ever since, but if I fail to hit the button hard enough to shift gears, I immediately jump off just in case.
* Rice is a great food if you want to eat 2,000 of something -- Mitch Hedberg