Introducing me, plus other bits

Tim, in your letter you mentioned some mountain unicyclers. I just
started unicycling a few months ago but I’ve had some people telling me
that a unicycle is great for riding around the campus and all, but I
should get a REAL bike so I can go off-roading! In response I’m telling
them that when it gets a bit warmer I’ll go out mountain biking with
them. However, it might be nice to have a few modifications to my
unicycle before I go. Do you know what type of chages those two blokes
made to their uni’s? Bigger and knobier tires, or shock perhaps? Also,
what type of racing was it? Sorry for all the questions, but I live on
the west coast of Canada and don’t have access to it, And too impatient
to wait for a copy to get mailed to me :slight_smile:

I’ve just joined the list, so here is a little about me, plus some exciting news
(well I hope it’s news to you). Also a request for info on geared unicycles.

In 1985 I was working on my juggling, and my girlfriend told me about a new
Circus Theatre School, called Fooltime. That name was to become famous all
over Europe as a top centre of teaching and innovation in New Circus (i.e.
circus skills performed theatrically with narrative - not just the “Hey look
at me, I’m clever” style). But right then Fooltime was brand new, and only a
mile from my door. So I went down to check it out one night, when they had a
juggling workshop.

Fooltime was in a deprived Caribbean area of the inner city (Bristol, England),
rather lively, but I was used to it. As I walked into the heart of the district,
the light was dim, and everyone was out on the streets. The atmosphere was
electric and everyone was looking over where I was headed. All I could see was a
shimmering sea - quite unusual when you expect to see a dirty grey road. As I
got closer I realised what it was - hundreds of police riot shields in
formation, glistening in the lights. It was a historic moment. The police had
been creating more and more tension recently, and then had barged in violently
to arrest a couple of people for drugs (they found nothing) with several vans of
police. This may be quite usual in America, I don’t know, but in a small English
city it was Overkill (that’s a capital ‘O’). The small community had had enough
and reacted by ejecting them. The riots continued for a couple of days, and
inspired copycats around English inner cities. I never got to that juggling
session! Neither did another chap I met, who was going for some fire juggling,
carrying a can of paraffin - kind of difficult to explain to police bombarded
with petrol bombs.

Well next week I made it to Fooltime, and discovered another world. A large hall
kitted out with toys of all kinds: trapezes, mats, walking globe, tightrope,
slackrope, walking ladders,… and a long row of unicycles hanging on the wall. I
decided at once that this kindergarten for adults was the place for me! I spent
most of the next several years around the place, learning everything in sight.

I learned to unicycle in a few days concentrated effort and was soon cycling
backwards across the hall, with an upended crash-mat to cushion my arrival at
the wall. I never did hit it, my terror always felled me first. A Danish acrobat
dropped in for a while, and showed me my first tricks. I wasn’t even hovering
then. He showed me the suicide mount, and then the kick-up mount. The kick-up
looked totally impossible, but he told me it was easy really and pushed me to do
it. It was only later I discovered it’s a level 6 skill. It took me a couple of
hours before I got it, and yes, it’s not that difficult. Anyone who hasn’t tried
it yet-do it! It looks amazing, and 80% of the difficulty is overcoming the
terror of attempting something that only LOOKS deadly dangerous.

Another tip: Hovering eluded me for quite a while, I would wobble and migrate
across the floor sideways. But I then learned a bit of tightrope walking, and
afterwards suddenly hovering was easy - no effort at all. This rope (cable) was
only a foot off the ground, and if you don’t have access to one, just use a very
thin rod or stiff edge of something securely resting on the floor. You keep your
head up, looking at the horizon not the floor (liked unicycling), and balance on
one foot. The rope goes along your sole from between your big toe and the next
one, diagonally to the middle of your heel. When you wobble impossibly far to
one side, instead of giving up and falling off, you think ‘UP’ and stretch with
your arms and body vertically upwards (not sideways to counteract the direction
you’re falling). You can recover from ridiculous positions, and your sense of
balance is finely tuned up. Try taking steps too of course.

Anyway, my unicycling took a temporary interruption, as I practiced on a uni
with a bent crank. It dug into my ankle, and gave me a minor fracture and tendon
injury. My leg was completely cased in plaster, and suddenly I had the perfect
prop for that week’s clowning lessons. The next week was trapeze lessons, which
were a little tricky. Pull-ups and pikes get hard with a few extra kilograms on
your leg. I was quite happy, but other people got distinctly nervous with me
doing handstands next to them…

So I finally bought my own uni, and a few days later was wheeling it up a steep
hill of trendy shops in town when a hand descended on my shoulder. Oh my God
what have I done? ‘Can you ride that thing?’ said the stranger. ‘Yes, pretty
well’ I replied. ‘Great do you want a job?’ He managed a cut-price jeans shop
and loved unicycles, although he’d never seen one in the flesh. He booked me to
cycle around on saturdays giving out leaflets about his shop on my uni, which
paid for my uni four times over and gave me practice manouevering inside slow
crowds of people - very handy.

Well that’s enough for now, except to say my other job is publishing
micro-miniature books. But about that news I promised:

In England there are two blokes who recently started up Mountain Unicycling.
They used to compete seriously in standard mountain bike competition events,
then gave it a go on unicycles for a laugh. They beat 9 other teams! (Those
people looked very sheepish when they saw what they had lost to.) Then they
entered a major 2-day event, the Polaris Challenge, on their unis. Out of over
550 teams, they beat 100 other teams (who only had state of the art 18-geared
mountain bikes). The full stories (hilarious), with their tips, can be found in
‘The Catch’, issues 10 and 11, and probably future ones.

I’d recommend reading the Catch anyway, it’s witty and lively. It’s the major
British magazine for ‘juggling, new circus, and street theatre’ and includes
everything else too. No, I don’t work for them, but I read it from cover to
cover. If you want to read up on mountain unicycling, copies are 1.50 plus P&P.
Overseas subscriptions 15 inc. P&P. Write to The Catch, Moorledge Farm Cottage,
Knowle Hill, Chew Magna, Bristol, BS18 8TL.

A final request: I saw some news somewhere that someone had made a unicycle
with gears. They were the old type of hub gears. I’d love to know more, and
if they are available to buy. Maybe this has been discussed to death already,
I don’t know, but if anyone can tell me more, or where to find the info, I’d
be grateful.