On a wheel and a prayer; Bayonne is bridge du jour for trio of unicyclists who plan to pedal across every span in the city
25 February 2010
The Staten Island Advance
Watching three men on unicycles dodging potholes in the cold and rain, drivers on Richmond Terrace could be forgiven yesterday for asking themselves, “Who are these clowns?”
Well, one of the riders, Keith Nelson, 39, co-founder of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, is in fact a clown, not to mention a juggler and sword swallower, though he was dressed for the trek not in floppy shoes and a red nose but in sneakers and a sweatshirt.
He was joined yesterday by friends Rob Hickman, 47, an artist and sculptor, and “The Brooklyn Juggler,” Kyle Petersen, 25, who entertains the crowds at Brooklyn Cyclones’ games and is also a stilt walker and plate spinner.
The one-wheeled trio of Brooklynites is on a quest to cross every bridge in the city by unicycle, and they had set their sights on the Bayonne Bridge.
Yesterday’s ride marked their first foray into Staten Island and ultimately New Jersey, as they crossed number 24 off their list.
The NYC Unicycle Bridge Tour was born last October, when Nelson and Hickman crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and thought they should try all the others. Very minor crossings included, they estimate there are 2,078, which they intend to tackle during rides every Wednesday, weather permitting.
The Triborough Bridge, now known as the Robert F. Kennedy, was the most challenging so far, they said, mostly because they got lost on Randall’s Island.
The Bayonne, though beautiful, was also a little hairy, they agreed, with its narrow bike path and low railings.
When they finally reached the span, it was a long pedal up the steep incline to the midpoint of the arch, where they paused to admire the architecture, before rolling downhill into Bayonne, where they paid a visit to a friend’s saloon to rest their legs and gear up for the long ride back to the Staten Island Ferry.
“It’s a gorgeous bridge,” Hickman said. “This bridge is a gem.”
Along the way, “We get a lot of thumbs up and horns honking,” Petersen said.
They also got plenty of quizzical looks and chuckles, as they cycled around two construction sites along the way.
And they took the potholes and rough road along the Terrace in stride.
“It keeps it interesting,” Petersen said. “It gets a little boring when it’s just smooth ground.”
The unicycles top out about 8 mph; the average for yesterday’s ride was somewhere between 4 and 5 mph.
The trio is working up to maintaining a 6-mph clip, which they say is the minimum speed required to join the Five Borough Bike Tour. That’s key because it’s the one day a year that it’s legal to cycle across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
The Goethals Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing aren’t on the group’s unicycling itinerary, as neither span has a public walkway.
Petersen, who learned to ride on one wheel at age 12, was charged with updating the group’s live Twitter feed during the ride, until a Richmond Terrace pothole swallowed his tire. “It was an ‘unplanned dismount,’” he said after losing his balance, as opposed to a face plant on the pavement.
Hickman and Nelson just learned to ride about a year ago.
Follow them in their journey by visiting their blog at http://unicyclenycbridgetour.blogspot.com/, or http://twitter.com/uninycbridge.
Maura Yates covers transportation news for the Advance. She may be reached at email@example.com.