The Unicycle Factory Documentary

The Unicycle Factory Documentary is now online.

I apologize for putting this in general discussions, instead of the videos section. I feel that this goes well beyond a typical “video.”

Here’s the back story as many of you already know. I called Tommi Miller in 2016 to order a 7 ½ foot tall giraffe. He knew I could do video editing, so he offered to show me how to make the unicycle just for the price of the parts. In exchange, I would make a video about the process and put it on youtube. I accepted and decided to go above and beyond. Instead of just making a video, I decided to make an amateur documentary about Tommi and his company in addition to the making of the unicycle.

As you will see, its not perfect. My budget was zero dollars but I spent as much time as I felt necessary to satisfy my own standards. I also made it for unicycle riders, not the general public. Enjoy!

Great job on the video Gary, it looked like you and Tommy really had fun making it.
All the work that went into the builds from the tiny to the tall is amazing, I appreciate you documenting it.

Thanks, Jim

Excellent video. When Tom retires from making giraffes, who will take over the craft? He has an enormous amount of knowledge, skills, and jigs for making these things that he has acquired over a lifetime. I can’t imagine anyone trying to duplicate all that.

Great Video!

I am really enjoying the video, but I do recommend that anyone who is just starting out always wear some sort of head protection!

Big thanks SuperG.

I can’t wait to watch it on my next train ride. Thanks to the amateur nature, you were not tied to the usual 50ish minutes. So more footage for all of us :slight_smile:

Jim – Thanks! Yes, it was a lot of fun. A lot of work…but a lot of fun also.

Unibabyguy – Thank you! I am sure there are many people capable of making high quality giraffes. Tommi stands alone though when you consider his fabrication abilities and riding experience.

Barnstar – Thanks! I’m glad you have enjoyed the video. Of course everyone should take proper safety precautions. I admit I have now had 2 serious injuries from falling off tall unicycles. So has Tommi. All falls resulted in foot injuries. We instinctively land on our feet. The best advice I have is to slowly and conservatively work your way up in height. I own a 10 footer Tommi made. I originally thought it would be OK to go from 7 ½ feet to 10 feet. I now realize that, for me, that is not OK. I will need to go to an 8 footer, then a 9 footer, then my 10 footer. Its all about confidence and fear level.

Siddhartha – Thank you! Yes, it is best to wait until you can allow yourself time for the whole video. Early on I attempted to limit the time to maintain viewer interest. I later baled on that when I decided to go over the build in detail. I admit parts of the build are tedious to watch, at least for me. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t a Hollywood movie, it was documentation of a project.

Perfect video to watch on a lazy holiday Monday. I always enjoy build videos but the interview before the build was great as well.

A couple things popped out to me. I’m curious about the pneumatic tire he made from sewing a couple bike tires together. I’ve done a few myself (with varying results) to get a lighter 36" tire, but was able to use existing innertubes to make it work. I’m also kind of surprised that you used a stationary wire wheel on the assembled frame. I would have thought you would use a cupped wire brush on an angle grinder. Moving that frame around must have been a bit unwieldy.

Great stuff. Love the humour and it looks like you guys had fun and ended up with an exceptional unicycle. Thanks for sharing!

Eric - Thanks! The tire sewing bit was news to me as I heard it in that interview. I couldn’t tell you anything more about it. You’re probably right about cleaning up the frame with the fixed wheel. One cool thing about Tommi is that he is very open to improving his processes. I’ll pass the idea on to him. I’m glad you liked the humor (humour). Tommi is a wacky guy and I tried my best to spice up the video in a way consistent with his personality.

A great documentary! It is good that someone told this important part of unicycle history. It’s a beautiful giraffe that you two built. Must be very satisfying to build your own uni from scratch. To watch someone ride 16 footers and taller is just scary. Good job!

:astonished: Great film! Thanks for sticking with it and coming up with a finished product! I’m sure people will enjoy it. Here’s some comments, which I tried to match up with their approximate locations in the film:

“Tommi started the business (TUF) in 1984” That was interesting to me because I know he was building Big Wheels and other stuff for people since the mid-late 70s. Was the birth of the “Factory” the point where he made it full time? Probably something like that.

Tom speaks of Connie Cotter having the women’s giraffe record at 16’. I thought she rode it at 22’ but I might be wrong. I think hers was built to the same specs as the two he made for himself and Chaz Marquette in 1984(?), meaning it had a 6’ center section that was removable, so it could be ridden at 16’ or 22’. Or maybe Connie only opted for the 16’ and I’ve been telling people an inaccurate story for all these years. She rode it at a big promotional event for the Nintendo UniRacers game, which took place at the Mall of America in 1994 (or so). I think they had Guinness presence and everything.

Cartoonist Mike Kazaleh, a friend of mine since second grade. I don’t remember the details but Tom relayed to me what he had in mind for a logo, and along with the Ed Roth theme I think he also mentioned Odd Rods. Remember those? From Topps bubble gum, they came in a pack like baseball cards, but were all crazy cartoons of monsters driving hotrods, usually sticking out the roof and often with big shift levers. That was also the inspiration. Mike was drawing cartoons all the way back in second grade, and went on to do comic books and cell animation for his livelihood. He was also learning to ride a unicycle at the time, and I asked if he could draw something for Tom, which came out great. Last name pronounced with the accent on the second a. I’ve lost touch with him in recent years (got to dig up an email or something and get back in touch!) but you can find out more about him with a Google search; lots of links and images!

The whole story of building the giraffe was fascinating; never knew how much goes into doing such a project properly! The “factory” way, I guess, with lots of pre-existing jigs and specialized tools.

I also have a Unicycle Factory giraffe. This is a 9-footer with articulated step. That is, the step in the back is spring-loaded, and presses down on the tire so it won’t move when you’re on it. So it was possible to freemount the thing, though I never got beyond about a 30% success rate. It’s a lot of work jumping on and off something that high, catching it, standing it back up and repeating…

It got used rarely, since I lost interest in being trapped up there for entire parades. I once rode it in the Old Sacramento St. Patrick’s Day Parade, going a whole block on brick pavement–very bumpy! Now I can say I did it. In more recent years, I was working on turning it into a piece of wall art for our living room. The plan was to paint it in blocks of many colors, separated by black borders, and replace all the silver plated areas with copper (paint). No we no longer live in that same house, but I’ll eventually finish that paint job. The intent is for it to still be rideable, but to look super-fine when not going anywhere…

Other reason why seat mast tubing is so thick; the joint where it connects to the crankcase assembly (I used to call that “crank barrel” but don’t know where I got that name from) tends to be the weakest point in cheaper giraffe frames. A lot of torque goes through there between your feet on the pedals and your legs/crotch torquing at the seat. I’ve seen even Schwinn Giraffes bend or break there, though they were very well built.

Thick material for your seatpost on a tall giraffe is a good thing. If the uni gets dropped, an ordinary seatpost might bend!

My first product from Tom was my 45" Big Wheel, which was completed in 1982 for the National Unicycle Meet. I had ordered it one year earlier, at the '81 National Unicycle Meet. It has TMU stamped on the side, and is #0030. It’s a much more fun parade machine, though it needs tire help. A gap has opened up in the tire, which was last redone in 1994. I don’t want to ride it much with that gap, for fear of damaging something. Not sure where to take it (locally) for tire help…

Oh yeah, I was going to add that I’ve ridden a few tall unicycles but not that much 10’, 12’ and 16’. The 12’ was one of Toms, that I rode on a couple of occasions. One was at the 1983 National Unicycle Meet, where I juggled clubs on the thing. I dropped one, and as it fell I considered Murphy’s Law of it landing directly in front of the wheel. Which it did. Time for quick thinking! Should I panic, and end up eating it into the floor (same room I pictured Tom on Chaz’ 22-footer)? Or grab the seat and see if I could power over that club handle! Fortunately I managed not to panic, made it over the handle and then straight to the wall to have a quiet heart attack.

Tom brought his “other” 16’/22’ to the National Unicycle Meet in 1986, I think, where people were trying it out from a catwalk under the seating of the Bowling Green University football stadium. There was a railing at a perfect height to hold onto while sitting on the thing. My impression of first time on a 16’ unicycle. You look down at a tiny little wheel waaaaay down there and your brain says “Aw HELL no.” I did not ride it out in the open, but got a feel for it by riding along the rail, and doing 50 idles. That was the requirement for Level 3 of the Skill Levels at that time. Someone else had fallen off of it earlier that weekend, and I didn’t want to be a copycat. I imagine a 22-footer wouldn’t be too different; still way the hell up, but with a little more weight and a little more distance between control input (pedals) and output (wheel). Add some wind, and no thanks!

Thanks for making that great documentary. It was very educational, and also contained a bit of history! I hope lots of people get to see it. It runs pretty long though, so if you ever want to play with it you could make it more palatable by taking out any slow bits, or even splitting it between the history part and the giraffe build. But I have some idea how much work goes into such things. That’s why you don’t see much in the way of videos from me…

… and how I enjoyed it. Great piece of work (both, the film and the giraffe).

It shows really well, what differentiates a high quality custom giraffe from just welding some pieces of metal together.

UniMyra – Thank You! Yes, it was extremely satisfying to be involved with the build. Without a doubt it is the coolest thing I’ve ever had a hand in making. To me it is priceless.

Eric aus Chemnitz – Thank you also! Trust me, all compliments are greatly appreciated.

John Foss – Thanks! I am a little disappointed though that you didn’t give it a more thorough review. Ha! :stuck_out_tongue:

As for TUF starting in 1984, Tommi was very specific that he started “The Unicycle Factory” in May of that year. That simply means he started using that name at that time. As you stated, he was making big wheels and other unicycles well before that.

Connie’s record was on a 16 footer. I’ll post a pic or 2 in another post. You are correct about the Nintendo “Uniracers” game promotion.

I agree that the build part of the documentary is too long from an entertainment point of view. Even though I went way beyond what was negotiated, I didn’t want to gloss over too many details of the build. After all, his request was for me to convey how much goes into it.

As for improving it in the future, that won’t be happening. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on it the way it is, to the point of being stressful. By that I mean self-imposed stress. I do intend to create one more youtube video about Tommi sometime in the future. John Moller, who shot the old footage seen in the documentary, shot a lot of other footage with the intent of making his own documentary. He covered the build process for making a big wheel plus did his own interview session but never completed the documentary. When the time is right, I intend to edit that and put it online.

Connie Cotter - Women’s World Record - 16 footer

Thanks for the pics for proof! I don’t think I ever saw any from that event. Yeah. Imagine sitting up there and purposely riding out into the open? No thanks. But I guess that’s a record that’s ripe for being “one-upped”.

I like the woman in the foreground of the first picture. "Excuse me, don’t want to block your view of Connie, she’s short! Not on that thing. :slight_smile: Then in the second picture, the guy in the foreground might be Gilby, but can’t be sure. Back near the unicycle I also see Dana Schneider, the first person to officially pass Level 10.

That would be really cool. What year did he film that?

I enjoyed the slow reveal on the forum thread.
Thanks for bringing the giraffe build photographs to life Gary.

My intentions were to watch a small part of the video and catch up later, but ended up watching the whole thing in one go.
The 90-minutes went by very quickly. Probably due to Tommy’s unpredictability (I never knew what was coming next).
Well done to both of you.

John Foss – John Moller shot his footage in 1994. I spent an afternoon at Tommi’s dubbing VHS clips to DVD so I could then rip them into digital files. My only goal that day was getting the footage of Tommi riding so I could put together that montage you saw in the documentary. While sifting thru the video, I learned of the big wheel build. I was fascinated about the technique used to do the tire, but didn’t have time to convert all of it to DVD that day. I just made a mental note that I should revisit it. With your current big wheel tire situation, it would be super helpful.

Reeny – Thank you! It was my pleasure “bringing the giraffe build photographs to life.” It was difficult but gratifying to make. Compliments like yours make it all worthwhile.

Note to everyone:

I went the extra mile for Tommi to help his business, which is very slow. I also did it to boost his spirits. If you watched the documentary and thought it would be fun to talk to him, then call him up! He enjoys meeting new people and talking about all things unicycle related.

Gary your documentary is great. It must be a great feeling to make your own giraffe unicycle, with a little help from Tommy.

Seeing all the precision tools it takes to build a high quality giraffe was awesome.

The documentary will help others with there own small projects. When it comes to the big projects leave it for Tommy.


I really enjoyed the documentary. Thanks for your hard work in putting it together.


What an absolutely wonderful documentary!
I enjoyed every minute of it: the introduction of Tom and yourself, Tom’s history, execution of the giraffe build and good sense of humor. At the end i was left with a deep sense of respect of a true artisan. Well done and thanks to you both.

Unicyclist Lou – Thanks! I love to make things in the first place, so yes, making the giraffe was great. It was more than a little help from Tommi though!

TheWheelThing – Thank you also! Many worthwhile things in life require hard work.

Timoteusmunk – Wow! I really appreciate your compliments. I like the fact you used the word “artisan” because it really is fitting for Tommi. And of course I’m glad you enjoyed the documentary.