The first milestone I can remember is my first ride on a Schwinn. I guess there’s a milestone before that, which was when my next door neighbor, Chris Vennix, let me borrow his unicycle. There was a kid around the corner who had a Schwinn (24") but it wasn’t out much. I mentioned to Chris how I wanted to learn to ride one and he offered his, for me to take and practice on. For those who have read my posts over the years, it was a typical crap low-end unicycle from the 70s; made with tricycle technology and parts. Solid plastic tire, no ball bearings, tricycle cranks & pedals, etc. I think unicycles like that contributed to a whole generation of people who mostly thought unicycling was impossible because they had tried it before.
The 16" wheel with roughly 3" cranks and resistance from the bearings was crap to ride, and very frustrating. I gave up many times during the roughly six weeks I spent trying to gain control of it.
At some point during that time, my neighbor had his Schwinn out and a bunch of neighborhood kids were taking turns trying to ride it with varying levels of success. When I finally got my turn, in one try, I went at least 50 meters, maybe as far as 100. It was so easy! A “real” proper unicycle with a pneumatic tire, wheel bearings, bicycle pedals, etc.!
Then I handed it off to the next kid, and went back to my P.O.S. uni with more confidence. It fell apart when I started trying to turn left & right on it.
So that’s my first two remembered milestones. The third was “mastering” the 6’ Schwinn Giraffe. Note, this was three years after milestone #2, with ZERO unicycling since that P.O.S. Troxel fell apart. Another neighbor, Brad Nowak (Bradley Bradley) had recently purchased a Schwinn Giraffe. He didn’t own a regular unicycle. Eventually I had to have a crack at it. We were 17 and indestructible, so why not just try riding away from the hood of a car? After much hemming and hawing at the idea, I finally started making attempts to go somewhere. Lots of dismounts, but most to my feet. About 45 minutes later, I had successfully ridden away from the car, which was parked on the street, made a 180 degree turn to bump up onto his driveway, and rode all the way to the back-yard garage, where there was a basketball hoop. I COULD RIDE!!!
Milestone 4: Stupid, Stupid Long Ride! About a week after Milestone #3, Bradley and I headed out on a multi-mile ride to a McDonalds across town, to meet our high school football team on their way back from a very far away game, as they approached being one of the top high school teams in the state. We had the Giraffe, and a borrowed Schwinn 20". Neither of us could freemount the Giraffe. we used posts, poles, someone else’s car, etc. I don’t remember if I could freemount the 20" either. I’ve just stopped to map the distance, and it was about 7 miles (11.2 km)! On that day we learned about severe crotch “discomfort” and painful urination when we finally got there. It was dark, it was cold (November, I think), and neither of us was up for riding back. So we started walking. Less than a mile down the road, my brother happened to drive by, totally by chance, and pick us up!
Beginner tip: Don’t go for a 7-mile (one way) ride if you’ve only been riding for about a week.
Some other early milestones:
- Freemounting the Giraffe
- Finding the local unicycle club (Redford, Michigan)
- First parade, first show (with the club)
All of this was in 1979-1980.