Unicycle articles (but wait there's more...)

One wheel on my wagon
By Chris Wilson
660 Words
21 October 2006
The Daily Telegraph
© 2006 Telegraph Group Limited, London

Riding a unicycle is a similar experience to that moment just before you fall off a bike but somehow don’t. Off-road, it gives you the same adrenaline-filled rush, but with the added attraction of boulders to collide with. Despite this, I have somehow convinced myself that riding across Dartmoor on a unicycle is a good idea. But now every muscle in my body is screaming its dissent.

It seems that the unicycle was invented in the time it took someone to fall off a penny farthing. While tumbling forward for a frantically brief period of time, someone apparently realised that he had actually been riding on one wheel.

Then, for almost a century, the unicycle was exclusively adopted by the clowning profession. The image of the machine in the 20th century suffered greatly from the association with these men in silly trousers breaking their tandem in two while juggling. Apart from amusing appearances at festivals and in street theatre, there unicycling would have remained if it hadn’t been for mountain biking.

After a few years of watching their two-wheeled counterparts have all the fun off-road, a few Californians (why are we not surprised?) decided that they could do the same thing with one wheel. So, one large, fat tyre was put on a toughened frame and a new sport was born. Baptised as a muni (pronounced mew-knee), the unicycle was given a new lease of life. It became, dare I say it, cool. Now, it is one of the fastest growing sports in both the US and Britain. My heart-stopping experiences on the moors leave me in no doubt as to why that is.

Once you have mastered a few basic tricks, mountain biking is not that difficult. Hence the widespread appeal of off-road riding with two wheels. Muni, on the other hand, makes even a simple track a technical challenge. A dink in the path that a bike rider would barely notice on a machine with suspension and disc brakes counts as a major obstacle for the muni rider. This means that muni-riding is wheeled sport at its purest. With almost no technology to get in the way (unicycles have no brakes, suspension or gears), when you’re riding the trail on a unicycle, you are connected to the terrain in a way that mountain bikers are not.

Unicycling is more beneficial than bicycling in a surprisingly number of ways, but what sold it to me was the health benefits. My muni salesman clinched the deal by saying: "You never see a fat man on a unicycle.’’

Unlike cycling, which leaves the abdomen to its own devices, every part of your body is given a workout on a unicycle, all the time. It is also safer, apparently, as the maximum speed is limited by how fast you can pedal, rather than how steep the hill is.

That was why I find myself lurching along a Dartmoor track, in training for a sponsored race and wondering if I will ever achieve the graceful ease with which my companions hop over rocks.

I am told that once you have mastered the basics (staying upright and not falling backwards) the rest is easy. However, I’m still wobbling along.

getting started

A basic unicycling starter kit costs between pounds 60 and pounds 100 and includes an instruction book or video. Try www.unicycling.co.uk for more advice.

D The best way to learn is to find someone who knows how to do it and then get out there on your own and fall off.

D Details of unicycling clubs all over Britain can be found on www.unicycle.uk.com/calendar.asp.There are regular meets and even unicycle hockey competitions.

D There is a sponsored ride in aid of the MS society tomorrow. More details at www.bristoltobathonaunicycle.co.uk.