A letter from Michael Kirsch

Michael Kirsch is a promoter of unicycling in Germany. He is working on
translating the IUF rulebook into German, and he has also published a booklet
that tells about unicycling around the world, for riders who only know
German-style unicycling. He attended UNICON VII and the NUC in 1994, where he
learned a lot about American and IUF style unicycling.

Unfortunately he does not have email. This is his address:

Michael Kirsch Am Tannenkuppel 9 36100 Petersberg-Horwieden Germany Tel

Below are excerpts from his two letters to me:

December 14, 1995

It is a 26" unicycle with 4" cranks which I use for my everyday business. I like
it because you do not have to pedal too much and you can almost compete with
average bicyclists.

Unicycling in Germany (from my point of view): There are three main groups of
unicyclists in Germany:

  1. Group standard unicyclists and artistic bicyclists who unicycle on the side,
    all of them members of the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer (BDR). The vast majority
    of them do not know the IUF events. I was one of them until 1994.

Most Group Standard unicyclists are trained by authorized instructors. Since
Group Standard riding requires absolute perfection, many of them could be very
good riders - if only they knew what can be done on unicycles. Among those
riders unicycle hockey is going to be the most popular IUF-sponsored sport.

The BDR may be called a very German association (I suppose you know what I
mean): Everything is perfectly well organized but so stiff and complicated, that
changes are very hard to accomplish. In addition unicycling is generally
regarded as a circus skill rather than as a real sport.

But one may not forget the fact that the BDR covers almost all sorts of bicycle
sports: road racing, mountain biking, BMX racing, BMX trials, and finally - as a
minority - artistic bicycling. Still among that minority the unicyclists are a
minority. Such a vast specter of sports demands for an equally complex
structure. If unicyclists refuse to stick to that structure, the BDR is the
wrong address for us.

  1. Unicyclists who have joined together in independent clubs. That group
    includes the hockey clubs like Lahimo (Rolf Sander’s club) and the racing
    and freestyle clubs like the one of Bottrop (the club has hosted the Open
    German Championship for the last three years). These clubs unicycle for fun,
    not explicitly for the purpose of winning. They accept a certain, necessary
    amount of organization.

  2. Individual unicyclists and jugglers who unicycle besides. These unicyclists
    are mostly individual riders who do not even want to join clubs. Most of
    them are interested in unicycle freestyle.

For I am still quite close to the BDR and the HRV (affiliated organization in
Hessen, one of the 16 federal states [Bundeslander] of Germany, I recently
arranged an information booklet especially for the first group mentioned above.
It is designed to convey the idea of riding just for fun and the variety of
unicycle sports used by the IUF. On January 20th there will be a discussion with
Josef Pooschen (Hans Born’s successor) about the future of unicycling in
Germany. I will let you know what we have been talking about.

I am convinced that, if the BDR should ever take over the IUF sports, authorized
instructors and an organized system of riders’ support is sure to come. Manfred
[Hartung] told me you met him first in Vienna several years ago. Since you were
an active bicyclist in those days you might know how well trained some of the
German artistic bicyclists are. I would expect some similar phenomenon to occur
with some of the BDR-sponsored unicyclists.

Most freestyle routines - even those of the Experts - are still lacking mastery.
For example, most world class ice skaters do not even miss a single trick in
their performances. I consider a certain degree of perfection essential for our
sport to become Olympic one day. And it is that degree of perfection that the
BDR would certainly provide. On the other hand, the BDR will tend to regard the
UNICONs as World Championships only, and it will tend to forget its convention
aspect, because it is not used to this. AS a result competing in UNICONs will be
a privilege of a few dedicated full-time unicyclists.

What do you think is more likely to strive for: “the achievement of Olympic
status” for the sport of unicycling of “unicycling as a means of recreation” and
as a sport for everyone?

In November I finished my new unicycle for the track races. It weighs 6.5
pounds! My strategy is right the opposite of Javier Ruiz’s one. On the UNICON
VII video I observed that the Miyata riders were accelerating very quickly,
since the Miyatas, especially the rotating parts like cranks and wheel, are very
lightweight. Later on in the race, when top speed was reached, Javier was
faster, for his heavy unicycle runs straight like a rocket. So I made my
unicycle lightweight and gave it a design that makes it run straight. It is as
simple as that. Let us see if it works!

But after tinkering for months I will have to spend a little more time to
practice. Recently Sammy Hellwig told me that Yuichiro Kato set a new speed
record for the 100m distance.

Bis bald (see you soon),

(Another letter:)

January 30, 1996

German IUF Rulebook: Before I received your latest letter (from 12/14), I did
not know that there would be a tentative rulebook for 1996. My translation
(based on your December 1995 version) is almost finished, and, if you keep
supplying me with the current versions of the English rulebook, I can keep it
up to date.

Final IUF Rulebook: Printing a rulebook costs a lot of money. And translating 30
pages is an excessive amount of work. That’s why the final IUF rulebook must be
settled, so that it can be valid for many years.
4) It must cover all situations that have occurred and most of those that
might occur.
5) It must be very clearly structured.

Discussion with Josef Pooschen (BDR) and the future of unicycling in Germany: In
my latest letter to you I told you there would be a discussion with Josef
Pooschen on January 20th. This is what we have been talking about. “We” - that
is some 30 people from all parts of Germany:

  • On the long run, the BDR is going to sponsor IUF style competitions in
    Germany. It is now our official organization. Note that the BDR is an
    officially recognized association which is financially supported by the state
    of Germany and is a member of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). I
    think we can take advantage of this.
  • Each of our 16 federal states (Bundesland) has its affiliated cycling
    organization. Our first step will be to appoint a “Beauftragter fur den
    Einradsport nach IUF-Regeln” (Representative of the sport of unicycling) for
    each Bundesland. This representative and his collaborators will:
  1. publish IUF rules
  2. Keep in contact with all unicyclists (no matter if they are members of the
    association or not)
  3. Represent the interests of unicyclists in the BDR (or affiliated
  4. Organize training courses for instructors and judges
  5. Organize events like the “Tag des Einradfahrens”(Day of Unicycling") or the
    German Championships
  6. Public relations
  • In Germany (in all sports) we distinguish between “Breitensport” and
    “Leistungssport” (Leistung = performance). All sorts of unicycle conventions
    for example would fit the “Breitensport” division, because they are open to
    anyone. All sorts of unicycle competitions belong to the “Leistungssport”
    division. To participate in such events you must
  1. Be either a member of the association that supports this sport or a member
    of a registered club
  2. Have a license that certifies your physical health (minors only) and your
    club/association membership
  3. Qualify for that event (especially German Championship)
  • Shocked when you read the word “qualify?” Well, consider that, no matter in
    what part of Germany you live, you will never travel more than 500 miles to a
    convention (in most cases much less). So everyone who wants to participate
    can easily do so. You will probably have opportunity to realize that
    typically European living-close-together-phenomenon at UNICON VIII. I presume
    there will be more than 100 participants from Germany only. But back to the
    point: The only thing to keep our competitions work in Germany on the long
    run will be to make up entry restrictions. Just look at the steadily
    increasing number participants in our Open German Championships: 75 in '93,
    172 in '94, 218 in '95, ??? in '96!

[Here was a diagram showing the structure linking BDR with UCI and down into its
subgroups of road racing, track racing, BMX, mountain racing and artistic
bicycling. Unicycling would start as a subset of the artistic bicycling section]

The affiliated cycling associations of our federal states are structured
analogue with this. When the sport of unicycling has grown we’ll think about
separating it from the artistic cycling section (since unicycling is not
necessarily “artistic”) and found a completely new BDR section.

Please notice all this is just planned. Only little has actually happened to
date. At present we have only one of said sixteen ‘representatives for the sport
of unicycling’: That’s me for the state of Hessen. Three further federal states
will probably follow soon: Baden-Wurttemberg, Nordrhein-Westfalen (Christian
Widlak), and Sachsen (Bernadette Girshausen). By the say: Bernadette left
Sammy’s school right after the NUC. Together we will perform a pairs routine at

End of letters

The BDR taking on IUF-style unicycling is big, big news! The BDR represents a
very old, established and highly populated segment of the world’s unicycling
(and artistic cycling and cycleball-ing) population. For example, When I went to
the German “Federal Cup” unicycling championships in 1986 (indoor Group Standard
style), it was being hosted by a cycling club that was also celebrating it’s
80th birthday that year. Now that’s tradition!

As Michael mentioned above, the German indoor cyclists take their sport to a
very high level of perfection. Some of the skills performed in artistic
bicycling are much harder than some of the hardest skills in individual

For example, one of the highest scoring artistic bicycling skills: With one hand
on the saddle and the other hand on the handlebar stem, facing sideways on the
bike, lift yourself into an “L” (both legs sticking straight out in front of
you) and hold this position for several seconds. Then press yourself into a
handstand, without touching other parts of the bike. Hold the handstand for a
full figure 8 (same size as Standard Skill unicycling). Return to the “L”
position, again without touching other parts of the bike, hold this for a few
seconds, then return to the seat.

It’s an amazing sport, and would mix well with Standard Skill unicycling (that
was the idea when we came up with the Standard Skill event). Both sports can
help each other grow. Anyway, Michael was not exaggerating about the levels of
perfection German indoor cyclists seek. They would surely be very strong
contenders as soon as the sport as a few years to be practiced there. They might
even grow to dominate the event!

Feel free to contact Michael if you are in Germany, or want to learn more about
the growth of unicycling there.

John Foss unicycle@aol.com