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Copyright © 1999 The Seattle Times Company
Local News : Friday, July 30, 1999 Convention attendees will be riding high
on one wheel
by Tan Vinh Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Don’t expect the circus when the National Unicycle Convention rolls into town
Instead, think mountain unicycling, unicycle motocross, uphill unicycle racing.
Think GenXers doing 360s and flying over boulders. Think top cyclists from as
far away as Japan and Germany taking on Cascade terrain to promote one of the
fastest-growing extreme sports: riding on a wheel with pedals.
“No handlebars, no brakes and no brains,” jokes one of the pioneers of mountain
unicycling, George Peck.
Starting tomorrow, about 250 unicyclists will show just how extreme extreme can
be when they converge for the four-day event at the Mountain Biking and Hiking
Center at Snoqualmie Pass and Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie with unicycle
speed-rope skipping, high jumping, long jumping and juggling, among other
The first off-road unicycle race took place 10 years ago in Alabama, but in the
past two years the popularity of extreme sports and the terrain of the Northwest
have turned mountain unicycling, or “muni,” into one of the fastest-growing
alternative sports in Washington, organizers and local riders say.
The national convention, the 28th annual gathering, is being held in the
Northwest for the first time, partly due to unicycling’s increasing
More than 50 participants will be local teens. The Snoqualmie Valley School
District boasts one of the top unicycle programs in the country. At the national
unicycle championship last year in California, the school district’s Panther
Pride Demo Team took 53 awards.
One reason the Unicycling Society of America promotes the convention is to show
there is a world beyond the circus for unicycles. There will be pair freestyle,
which is the unicycle version of pairs figure skating, and choreographed
unicycling, dance numbers with several riders, with music and costumes.
But the unicycle’s biggest push has come from the popularity of ESPN’s X Games,
which has spurred teens to explore ways to take cycling to another level.
This year the convention committee has added a new event - the Trials Course -
to please hard-core riders, the latest wave of unicyclists.
It will involve two 20-meter courses and obstacles such as boulders, logs,
pallets and utility spools that riders go around or over. The obstacles will be
hard enough that most will fall or get “wiped out” at least once, said daredevil
unicyclist Kris Holm, who will set up the course.
Speed is not the danger because most unicycles go about 5 mph, tops - it’s
falling in the rough terrain.
Unicycling goes against the conventional dynamics of bicycling. Going downhill
can be as hard as uphill because balance is the key.
“You have to pedal. You cannot coast,” Holm said. “You have to concentrate at
all times. The smallest stick or root can knock you off.”
Experienced riders say mountain unicycling requires two to four times the energy
and leg strength of mountain biking.
The difficulty of the sport is what draws the latest generation of riders. Jesse
Berg, 13, who learned to unicycle two years ago at North Bend Elementary School,
is so hooked he now rides his five stack - five wheels atop each other - around
“Biking is not as fun, not as challenging as (mountain) unicycling,” he says of
a sport in which bruises are badges of honor. “I fell and hit a rock,” he said
proudly, “and scraped my wrist.”
Tan Vinh’s phone message number is 206-515-5656.