From the New York State Comptroller’s internal publication OPservations, dated 7/2/2010
Unicyclists are Well-balanced People
by Paula Shappy (Contracts)
“Hey, are you guys in the circus?”
I’d heard it before. It didn’t matter one of us was sitting on a unicycle for the first time, holding onto a railing for dear life. Another had been unicycling for decades and was so good he’d been on Leno and Letterman. The rest of us were somewhere in between. None were wearing clown costumes; all had helmets and other safety gear. I replied, “It’s not just for the circus anymore.”
It was this year’s first meeting of CAPUNI, the Capital District Unicycle Club, an informal gathering of people interested in the sport of riding one wheel. CAPUNI is the creation of a guy named Steve from Delmar. If you travel Delaware Avenue, you may have seen him. Although only riding for several years, Steve has mastered all wheel sizes currently made, including the Ultimate Wheel that has no frame or seat.
He’s raced a unicycle up Whiteface Mountain and been on cross country treks in foreign lands. He is insane. The Club meets at 6:30 pm on the Madison Avenue side of the Empire State Plaza on the first and third Wednesdays of the good-weather months. “All are welcome; come discover a new superpower!” say CAPUNI email announcements.
Never would I have thought I’d be a spokesperson for unicycling. Not when there are so many people much better at it than I am. Well, maybe not that many… But next time you’re on your home PC, type “extreme unicycling” into the YouTube browser and check out some truly jaw-dropping videos. These guys got killer skillz!
I wish I’d started earlier but was thwarted by over-protective parents. Owning a unicycle was my dream for years, since Christmas when I was 8 years old. I’m not even sure where I came up with the idea, but Santa Claus was not kind. When I was in my late 30s, somehow the thought came back to me and I realized I could buy my own unicycle. I ordered one at unicycle.com (of course) and for a $100 investment, using helmet and pads from my rollerblading days, I was ready to try.
The day the unicycle arrived, I got “padded up,” went outside, jumped on the unicycle and pedaled off down the driveway. Well, not really. I tried doing that but don’t recommend it. After somehow climbing up on the unicycle using my car to steady myself, I pushed my right foot forward on the front pedal and fell backward off the unicycle immediately. My first thought: that was like stepping onto wet ice in Saran Wrap shoes. My second thought: I can always resell it on eBay.
For my next attempt at taming the cursed contraption, I had to bring it somewhere much safer and softer. So into the carpeted hallway outside my bedroom I went. Using both walls for balance, over the span of a couple of months, I spent about 15 hours learning how to unicycle. I was probably being overly cautious, but that bounce onto my backside made me a little tense. It was worth the wait. The first time I pedaled past the safety of the hallway into the dining room was an almost religious experience.
A friend of mine asks if it’s all about having a good sense of balance. I tell her it’s more about how determined you are. If you like a challenge and you’re willing to put in the hours to practice, the balance and muscle memory will come. Most people could get on a skateboard and roll a few feet with no previous experience. With a unicycle, which has various angles to fall from, you can’t do that. It requires a sizeable commitment of time to do it successfully; you can’t be a “uni-poser.” But if I can do it, anyone can.
I’ve been unicycling for a few years now but never did get very good. I blame it on my long commute and having to work 5 days a week, besides the fact that I’m in my mid-forties now. I can ride a few hundred feet or so before my legs, breath or bravery give out and I have to hop off to regroup. There is no coasting in unicycling (unless you take your feet off the pedals, but that’s a different story). In the coming years, I’m hoping to become better at freemounting; that is, getting on without holding onto anything, and to get up the courage to practice more on the Green Demon. See the picture and you’ll understand why I call it that. The wheel is about twice the size of my first unicycle and it feels like I’m a mile above the pavement. But then, I guess I can always wait until retirement, when I’ll have much more time to commit to this crazy hobby of mine.