Unicyclist Ben Linder, a brief biography.

With all the recent talk of geared giraffes, unicycling tours, Cokers, and epicyclic hubs I would like to share the accomplishments of a unicyclist I haven’t found mentioned yet on Unicyclist.com, RSU, or any of the other unicycling sites.

Ben Linder and I were two of the very few undergrads at the University of Washington from 1978 to 1983 that unicycled daily for campus transportation. Ben came in from his home in Wedgewood; I took my uni in with my car or motorcycle every day. We met after I posted an “any other unicyclists?” message at the student bike shop. Besides bumping into each other on campus we also rode together occasionally at class breaks and did several fun rides. Today’s urban trials riders would put us to shame but we thought it was quite an accomplishment to ride the rim around the main campus fountain without falling in or off!

Ben and I both had 24" Schwinns, he also showed up one day with a really cool Schwinn giraffe, which I ended up purchasing a couple years later. He was an accomplished juggler, clown, and kept a tight rope between two trees in his back yard. Ben could pass juggling clubs while idling, I still only know a couple three ball patterns (but he did introduce me to scarf juggling). Basically we became friends because of our common interest in unicycling, if it hadn’t been for the wheel we probably never would have crossed paths, but I’m glad we did.

What I really want to tell you is a couple of Ben’s unique accomplishments and the rest of the story.

In 1980 Ben had a custom 5 foot giraffe with 20" wheel built by Glenn Erickson (now Erickson Tandems and Touring) and Mark Bulgier (now Ti-Cycles) at R&E Cycles. Ben was an engineering student and designed a three-speed triple crank for 20, 24, and 26 equivalents with an adjustable idler arm and gear to take up the chain slack. He had pannier racks mounted on the forks, pump pegs on the front for a frame pump, and water bottle cages below the seat. The bottom bracket was placed as low as possible to keep the center of gravity low but still allowing the pedals barely clear the panniers.

Then over the summer of 1980, with supplies, clothing, and cooking wares filling the panniers and his sleeping bag, pad, and tent on a belt around his waist he rode the Pacific Coast route from the Canadian border at Blaine, Washington making it 1200 miles to Santa Barbara, California before he had to return to school for the fall classes. His ride was completely self-supported, he met up with friends and other jugglers along the way and called ahead to the towns to be sure a reporter was there to chronicle his journey, but otherwise no sag wagon or daily assistance.

On June 11, 1983 Ben and I were in the same commencement ceremony at UW. My unicycle was in my trunk; Ben’s was close by behind a door. When the engineering group proceeded forward, Ben got his unicycle and rode right up the ramp to receive his diploma! It was a major hit! You’ll see the photo in a little bit, he put a smile on a lot of faces.

Two months later Ben moved to Nicaragua as one of the thousands of Internationalists who went there in the ‘80’s. As an engineer he found his niche providing power to villages through small hydro-electric projects. Unfortunately, in 1987 Ben was the first American killed in the war going on at that time. He is the subject of a book published in 1999 titled “The Death of Ben Linder” by Joan Kruckewitt.

Ben’s unicycling is a prominent part of the book, but not the main subject. There is a photo of him on the Pacific Coast trip across from the title page and a unicycle graphic in the title page. The opening sequence of the book is the graduation story and the book tells how more than once he used his unicycle and clowning to attract children for immunizations. He also was somewhat involved with the local circus; one story is of him gifting his only unicycle to one of the performers for their 18th birthday (His parents brought another one down for him later).

The main subject of the book is Ben’s life in Nicaragua and the circumstances leading to his death. Because he kept a journal, was a prolific letter writer, and had many close friends the book is quite detailed. The book is also about the horror of war and is very frank in its images, stories and message. I found it interesting but sometimes hard to read because I knew him, terrible things happen in war.

While researching for this brief biography of Ben as a unicyclist I contacted his brother, who then put me in contact with his mother. I wanted to photograph his custom giraffe but found it had also been gifted to the circus; his mother provided me with a couple copies of color photos from his trip though. I also found out that Ben almost didn’t do the 1980 trip because he couldn’t self-mount. After encouragement from his friends and family he did learn to self mount and the trip is history.

I have made up an album of the photos from his family, the book, the web, and my personal collection; additional information is in the gallery:


One thing I have not found out yet is whether Ben was a member of the Unicycling Society of America or if his trip was ever mentioned in On One Wheel. If any of you know please post it here or send me a PM.

Ben really did love people and left deep impressions with everyone he met. Even though we were just casual friends, I remember him often.

I hope you found these bits of unicycling history informative and interesting.

Steve DeKoekkoek

Damn you. You almost made me cry. I already knew the ending before I started reading. I first heard of Ben two or three years ago when I went to the Portland Juggling Festival.
There was a workshop or a section where they told Ben’s story. It’s amazing that you knew him and rode with him.

re: Unicyclist Ben Linder, a brief biography.


Wow! Thanks for posting that! Thanks very much!

I was curious about the book, so I did a quick search, and I hope you don’t mind,
but here are a couple of interesting links about Ben Linder:

This site has a lot of photos from the book, and even a short video of Ben explaining his work in Nicaragua.

This link is an activity for students to use Internet resources to learn about the
politics and history behind the death of Ben Linder.

(two more)


– Glutes

Steve, thanks for posting that information about Ben. I also know his name from the Portland Juggling Festival where they give out an award in his name every year to the ‘most inspiring’ juggler.
It is good to know more about this special young man.



Thanks for your touching and informative post about Ben Linder. This must be the place to post it because the unicycling community is already responding with additions to your own story. It’s nice to know that something we frequently take for granted can be such a powerful link between not only individuals but cultures as well.

Re: Unicyclist Ben Linder, a brief biography.

Thanks for a very informative post Steve. Through the Portland Juggling
Festival I’ve known of Ben for many years and have the book by Joan
Kruckewitt. His death was tragic, but it’s great that people like you and
many others are making efforts to keep his memory alive. He touched so many
people in such positive ways.


Unicyclist Ben Linder, a brief biography.

I thought I’d just kick this thread back up to the top again for all those who may have missed it on the first run, because it’s interesting and important.

What a great post! Thanks, Steve. I’ll print it out and share it with our club.


inspirational to say the least

Wow…I’ll be sure to pick up or order this book. I’m sorry I never got to meet him.

Re: Unicyclist Ben Linder, a brief biography.

Thanx for the bump- else I would have missed it (and the additional links).

I’ve said that one too many times myself; time to go out and meet people while there’s time!


Everyone, thanks for your warm response to this bio.

There was much debate due to Ben’s death and the debates continue even today but debate was not my intention. I found that many jugglers knew of Ben through Jugglers World and the Portland Juggling Festival but found a void for Ben as a unicyclist. I knew I had something unique to share that had not been presented before so I decided to to the bio. Just his accomplishments with the trip and commencement were worth mention on their own merit. But, since RSU is all things unicycle I could not leave out mention of the book either.

I sent a copy to Ben’s mother, she responded: “Sunday, Jan 5, 2003 Steve: thanks so much for sending your bio of Ben. It sounds great and I’m glad you did it. I will check the gallery when I get a chance. In the meantime, best wishes for 2003. Elisabeth”

I also sent a copy to Marc Becker who’s headstone photo I used, he has linked the bio and gallery from his site: U.S. International Electoral Observation Delegation/Benjamin Linder

If you want to learn more about Ben on the web just search “Ben Linder Unicycle” and you will find hours worth of reading.

One of Ben’s legacys is Green Empowerment:

Joan Kruckewitt also wrote an article in 2001 comparing Ben Linder to John Walker http://news.pacificnews.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=2017cfcfef2fd892ff7d17a613ea3196

I saw another quote today: “There are no ordinary people. It is immortals whom we joke with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. - C.S. Lewis”.

Let’s continue to meet all those extra-ordinary people.

Steve DeKoekkoek

P.S. I “Googled” and found the entire passage for that quote, hope you don’t mind:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself – is truly hidden.

C.S. Lewis
‘The Weight of Glory’

Re: Unicyclist Ben Linder, a brief biography.

I’m offering perhaps one last Ben Linder story for anyone who might be
interested. I’m rather amazed at the coincidence that has resulted in
this recollection now. I only just got a unicycle this past Christmas
and I’ve been lurking here on this newsgroup looking for hints on
riding for less than a week . Checking the thread titles yesterday
morning I was surprised to see the name of Benjamin Linder, a man I
met very briefly in the absolute middle of nowhere in Nicaragua in
July, 1986.

I was a member of a Witness For Peace short-term delegation to
Nicaragua. I was nineteen years old. We were going north into the
mountains and the area affected most directly by the contra war.
Fording the umpteenth river, this one wider than any one previous, our
pickup truck’s engine cut out right in the middle in two feet of
water. We had been there for about ten minutes scratching our heads
about what to do when suddenly, down the road on the far side, came a
fellow norteamericano in a jeep. This was Ben Linder. After
attaching a cable to our truck he soon had us pulled out of the river.
We spoke briefly, and then he continued south, and we, north. The
miraculous appearance of this total stranger with four wheel drive I
logged as just one more surreal episode in the surreal environment of

We spent that night in El Cua, a small village where Ben was
working on his hydroelectric project. I did not know about that at
the time, however, nor about Ben living there. Neither did I know
then that Ben was a juggler. I had brought some tennis balls with me
and did a small performance for twenty or thirty children in El Cua.
I did all the tricks I knew, some basic three ball variations and a
shaky four ball fountain of which I was very proud. The beautiful
children smiled and applauded appreciatively when I finished. That
they were regularly treated to much better juggling than mine I only
deduced much later after I heard Ben’s mother talk about his juggling
when she spoke in my university town a year after his murder.

And now I have learned that Ben was an accomplished unicyclist,
too. That is gratifying somehow as I struggle to gain some facility
with this thing myself (I am no longer nineteen, after all). Ben’s
story is a wonderful example, devoid of sentimentality, of how an
individual may use even innocuous talents in the task of living a
morally courageous, exceptional life. He died a young man, but many
who have lived twice as long have not lived half as well.

Lest this post seem too somber, I want to note for those who
might not be aware of it a developing story where Ben Linder’s spirit
lives on. There is a growing number of people who are now making
their way to Iraq to share in the violence and hardship that this war,
if it comes, will inflict on the people of Iraq. Like Linder, they
are common people connecting to common people, possibly giving their
lives to resist the illogic and inhumanity of massive violence.(See
www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,866259,00.html for
one man’s statement.)

In a smaller way, my family and I hope to honor Ben Linder’s
spirit of dissent when we join hundreds of thousands of other
Americans in Washington this Saturday to question the motivation,
wisdom, and sanity of our government’s approach to national security.
I invite you to join us as time runs short. Unicyclists for Peace?
Ben would be pleased.

re: Unicyclist Ben Linder, a brief biography.

Thank you, Greg, for a very interesting and well-written post!

I hope you continue to post to this forum, and hang in there with the unicycling!

– Glutes

Since Checkernuts thinks that death squads are funny…

I’m kicking this thread back up front again, in the hopes that some people will get the message…

Thanks for reviving the thread Glutes. Ben really does seem like one of those guys you just can’t help liking.


Life is a fragile gift. Cherish it.

I hope this kicks the thread back up front for others to read.

Hi, I just thought I’d register to say I feel a bit overwhelmed by the story of Ben Linder.

I was looking for info on the Sandinistas and came across some stuff about jugglers, thinking WTF is this to do with anything, but being a juggler myself, I read on.

All I can say is I feel inspired, to do what I don’t know. I haven’t really juggled for ages, but I’m seriously thinking of getting my clubs out and going into the park, sod what people think.

The funny thing is that his life has so much of a point to it, but I bet you anything, outside of a few circles his story is unknown. Why would that be so?

Completely OT and possibly a rant

Here is a quote from a book called, The Strategy of Desire by Ernest Richter of something called the Institute for Motivational Research (an advertising think tank). It was written in 1960.

“We are now confronted with the problem of permitting the average American to feel moral even as he flirts, even when he spends, or when he buys a second or third car. One of the fundamental problems of prosperity is to sanction and to justify its enjoyment, to convince people that making their life enjoyable is moral, and not immoral. One of the fundamental tasks of all advertising, and of every project destined to promote sales, should be to permit the consumer freely to enjoy life and confirm his right to surround himself with products that enrich his existence and make him happy.”

What is essentially true of the life of Ben Linder and Rachel Corrie is that they demonstrate that an “enjoyable” and “enriched” life need not be primarily focused on the need to “surround” oneself “with products”. Easier said than done, I know (I know), but there, in my opinion, it is. Without meaning to overly romanticize violent and untimely deaths, I do believe that they died having experienced more inner peace and satisfaction than I’m ever likely to know.

Why don’t more people know about them? I would venture to say that their stories promote the idea that communities can be built around the values of self-sufficiency, peace and perhaps even equality. This is not a concept of which global capital approves and works hard to squash. Their stories are out there. But since most of us get our news and information from sources controlled by big business whose interests are not served by widely publicizing these stories, then it follows to reason that they wont be.

Raphael (Who should know better than to make posts like this, but does so anyway) Lasar
Matawan, NJ

Your story is very well written and very sad, yet inspirational. I will definetely take the time to learn more about your friend, Ben. Thank you for sharing.