Here’s a local article (Times Union, Albany, NY, US), which came from my riding the Black Fly Challenge. At the newspaper link, there are also a few pictures.
Here’s the text. It comes on a bit too “anti-biker” for me, but what the heck.
Big wheel keeps on turning
First published in print: Thursday, July 15, 2010
You’ve got two wheels on that bike, Lance. No excuses.
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You and all the other riders in that grueling, 20-stage race up the Pyrenees and through cobblestone streets are no Steve Relles.
Who? No, he’s not part of the Tour.
He’s a guy from Delmar who pedaled his unicycle up Whiteface Mountain – eight miles and a 3,500-foot climb – legs cranking as he tried to manage another revolution on just one wheel. He’d be the guy who, when he placed next to last in his first Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race in 2005, crossed the finish line and saw a mob of people who’d completed the race on two wheels, cheering and honking horns.
It took him a smidge less than two hours to become the first person to ride the course on a unicycle. He has competed in the race four more times since, and sliced his time to 1:15. Now, the 47-year-old finishes only three-quarters of the way back in the pack, which means a bunch of guys with an extra wheel to work with can’t keep up.
That’s badass, Lance.
You think you’ve got a strong core? It’s an apple core compared to Relles, who doesn’t even have the advantage of coasting down hills. Instead, he’s got to lightly apply the brake installed on his unicycle and use his legs to keep the pedals from spinning out of control. Essentially, he’s holding the bike back for the entire descent while you’re cruising at top speed taking it easy.
The unicycling community is a small one for a reason. Any middle-aged guy with the money to blow on a bike can shimmy into some Spandex and pretend he’s you on the nearest stretch of two-lane. But a unicycle accepts no imitators.
“You can’t be a poser,” Relles says.
He started riding after he hurt himself playing ultimate Frisbee and needed to have anterior-cruciate ligament surgery. Biking is a good post-surgery exercise, he figured, and he did mountain and road bike for fun. But two wheels didn’t strike him as much of a challenge, and the one-time computer programer does admit to having a geeky streak. He already loved to juggle and thought he’d look even cooler doing it on a unicycle, so he bought a one-wheeler off eBay.
The stay-at-home dad of two and owner of the Delmar Dog Butler, a dog waste removal business (yes, a professional pooper scooper), then spent an hour a day out in his driveway, perched on top of a unicycle and leaning on his car for support.
Learning to ride a unicycle isn’t an intellectual thing. You can’t just think about what you need to do and do it, how you need to adjust when it’s leaning right by turning the wheel to the right and finding your center again. It needs to become part of your muscle memory, an instinctual thing, before you can really ride.
The neighborhood kids watched Relles fall a bunch of times, then fall so hard he cracked his helmet and then not fall so much. It took three weeks of daily practice before he could ride smoothly down the street.
He does still suffer the usual jokes, shouted out car windows like they’re novel. Lots of, “You lost your other wheel,” and, “Hey, you only have half a bike.”
But on the trails, even if he’s leaving them in his wake on the hills, bikers look up long enough to bow down.
“We’re very welcomed by the mountain bikers,” Relles says, the “we” meaning he and Albany unicycling friends Roland Kays and Perry Woodin. “They think we’re the greatest thing. They think that what we’re doing is nearly impossible.”
Relles was hooked immediately on the sport, loving the way it made him feel like he was flying (even if he can’t safely ride any faster than someone can run) and enjoying the fact that it was so blasted hard.
His wife, Rose Duhan, who compares to the “Field of Dreams” wife when it comes to indulging her husband’s quirky passion, says unicycling just fits him.
“It combines his two favorite things,” she says. “Athleticism and exhibitionism.”
Besides, as mid-life crises go, this one is pretty tame. She doesn’t have to wonder where her husband is at night. He’s out in the driveway, tooling around on one wheel.
So when Relles said he and a couple other friends won a contest that meant they’d be unicycling the width of Panama – overgrown jungle paths and all – she said to have a great trip.
Same went for the 77-mile charity ride, and the recent Black Fly Challenge in Indian Lake where he left 30 bicyclists in the dust. (Chumps.)
There’s something about being the first to do something that makes it special. Skiers love the first descents. Rock climbers love the first ascents.
And you were the first to win the Tour seven times, Lance, so you probably get what it feels like to cross the finish line a pioneer.
Even if it was – yawn – on two wheels.
Jennifer Gish can be reached at 454-5089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Friend her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JenniferGishwriter.