My first unicycle

The recent thread “found on ebay” and John Foss’s quote:

Reminded me of my first unicycle.

I started riding unicycles after reading about George Peck in the December '97 issue of Bicycling Magazine. In reality though, I owned and almost rode a unicycle sometime around 1963.

Back then I had a friend, Chris Newberry, who lived two houses away in our rural (at the time) neighborhood. He was three or four years older so we didn’t have much to do with each other but during summer break we would buddy-up and play together. He had lots of cool things including a real pin ball machine as well as a unicycle. However, even at the tender age of 7 or 8 years old I was most impressed with his dad’s white '56 Ford Thunderbird with continental kit. Mr. Newberry had a rope and pulley system in the roof of his garage to lift off and store the Thunderbird’s removable hard top … soooo cool!

I don’t have any idea what kind of unicycle Chris had … it was chrome … maybe a Schwinn? He would ride it around the neighborhood and even in to town three miles away! One day I was quizzing him about the unicycle and he offered me his “old” unicycle to take home and learn to ride. It was red so naturally I accepted it right away.

Our basement was unfinished then, so that’s where I started riding. I would ride around holding on to the bare stud load bearing wall in the center of the basement. Problem was that the unicycle was very uncomforable! The seat was just a stamped piece of sheet metal with nothing on it. It was just steel! I suppose at one time it had some kind of padding but by the time I got it the padding was gone. Right now, 40 years later, I can still remember what that seat felt like.

The other problem with the unicycle was mechanical. The bottom of the tube fork legs were squashed flat with stamped steel bearing holders screwed to the flattened out part. The screws would not stay tight. I would tighten them and in a couple minutes the bearing holders would be so loose that the hard rubber tire (the kind that doesn’t need air) was rubbing on the frame. No matter what I did the screws wouldn’t stay tight.

I think I got to the point that I could make a revolution or two without holding on to the wall, but then the tire would drag on the frame and I’d go down. I also remember the inside of my thighs hurting so bad from the steel seat that I wanted to cry.

John Foss has said that cheap P.O.S. unicycles have turned off many people to unicycling. That was certainly the case for me. Who knows though - maybe it was the feeling of almost riding that red unicycle that made me take it up again so many years later.

Steve Howard

Re: My first unicycle

and it was definatly that badly desinged unicycle that made you obsesed with building mechanicaly beautiful unicycles

Re: My first unicycle

The Schwinns came out in 1967. If it was before that, and it looked like a Schwinn, it was a Loyd. Loyd Wicker Smith sold his frame design to Schwinn and they took over making them.

You definitely had the same unicycle as me, or one just like it. I didn’t know the design went back that far. Mine was a Troxel, and I struggled with it in 1975 or 6. It was a loaner from my next door neighbor, and no idea how old it was then.

I actually learned to ride the thing a little before the wheel broke loose and refused to stay centered. Learning to ride that thing, even only a few turns, was no small achievement. The short cranks, WIDE Q-factor, crap pedals, and plastic tire made it hard enough, not to mention the lack of any ball bearings. That’s why I call it “tricycle technology.”

My wheel didn’t break out of alignment (which, when it did, was permanent) until I started attemping to learn to steer it in my driveway. Once this happened, the wheel would jam against the fork and stop completely. The bearing bolts could not be tightened to where they would stay.

The seat on mine was a piece of stamped sheet metal with a piece of thin plastic over it. The plastic was cleverly designed with a bit of air between it and the metal, making for some amount of cushioning. It wasn’t bad considering the rest of the cycle. But I’ve seen the seat you probably had, just metal with a piece of something stuck to the outside, and a shape that had little or nothing to do with the shape of a human crotch. Yours was missing the something.

I can’t agree with that, because too many people give up and never give it another chance. But for the minority of us to did learn later (3 years in my case), it may have given us a better appreciation of the accomplishment. For me, learning to ride the second time was a piece of cake. It took about 45 minutes, and this was on a Schwinn Giraffe.

In Steve’s case, boy am I glad he has a mind for improving on the machine!