There’s a unicycle group (I think it’s the DFW unicycle club) that’s asking for volunteers to ride in the July 4th parade in Arlington, TX this summer. What could be better than slowly riding a unicycle in a parade, on asphalt, in 105 degree (40 deg. C) weather? I’ve been in a few parades over the years, none recently, and never on a unicycle. For some crazy reason I thought it might be fun to participate, and I was curious to hear what you may have experienced riding your one-wheeler in a parade, and what words of wisdom you might wish to impart.
I’m a seasoned and active rider and would likely ride a 24" muni. My alternative is a 20" freestyle uni. Both have a Nimbus gel saddle and are in excellent, like new condition. If someone has an argument for why the 20" would be better, I’m all ears, but it seems for going a distance, I’d rather have that larger wheel diameter. Also, I’m not really familiar with downtown Arlington, and since it seems like most of Texas roads are under construction these days, I’d rather ride something that can handle whatever the road (or spectators, for that matter) might throw at me. (Plus, I think this Nimbus muni just looks so cool! )
It seems to be about 2 miles, give or take, which would be easy to ride, distance-wise, but depending on how long it takes to complete and how hot and humid it turns out to be, I could imagine it being a bit of a challenge.
There were four of us at last year’s Laguna Niguel Holiday Parade, here in SoCal. Everything moved very slowly, which meant that we had to do a lot of figure-eights to keep from over-running the group in front of us. I lied down on the street, on my back, and Augie jumped my on his 20". Terry/Unigeezer rode right up to me on his 36", as if he were going to jump me, swerved, then told the spectators he didn’t want to hurt his unicycle, which got some laughs. Lance brought his pimped-out custom-built G32.
My advice is, if you’ve got great control over a larger-wheel unicycle, bring that one to the parade, otherwise go with something smaller. If you know that other unicyclists will be participating in the parade, ask them what they’ll be bringing.
Twin Cities Unicycle Club does at least a dozen parades per year, usually more. Here’s their FAQ page for parades: http://www.tcuc.org/parades/
Usually we have four groups of riders:
Beginners, who ride as best they can and walk if they need/want to.
Routine riders, who ride in the organized, glorified figure 8 patterns, to keep us moving and looking good, while not overtaking the next group/float in the parade.
Giraffe riders who do the routine.
Assorted others, who might be doing freestyle/flatland stunts in the back, or 36ers who literally ride circles around everyone, showing off their speed.
I’d plan on taking your 20" wheel. There’s no advantage to going fast. You’re right that the 24" would look cool, though. Take lots of water. Two hours in the saddle is a workout, no matter how slow you’re going.
I’ve done the Arlington parade a couple of times on unicycles. It’s a pleasant enough affair and gets started early enough in the morning that it’s not prohibitively hot. It’s a fairly large parade but doesn’t take itself too seriously so there’s not any pressure to do anything other than ride and wave – though you certainly CAN do any tricks you want – there are usually a couple of guys who get a lot of cheers for freemounting a giraffe and a couple of street riders doing unispins and such. I got some attention simply by doing it on a fat tire unicycle. Most, but not all, riders will decorate their wheels obnoxiously.
You can successfully ride any size unicycle you like – there will be a lot of time riding back and forth and riding around one of the vehicles.
In our experience wheel size depended on how wide the street was going to be. There are some narrow streets when you get into some of the towns (plus, officials let people it in the street) and the 20" made for quicker turns and the ability to avoid kids running out for candy.
It always amazes us how little the crowd appreciates the harder tricks (wheel walking; one-footed), but will cheer like crazy if we just ride in a line holding hands, or do some spins. Like others have said, there is a lot of looping as parades can be very slow.
Thanks for everybody’s input. I looked at the video that Moron posted (thanks, Moron), and that gave me a good idea of what to expect. It seems like it would be fun. It looks pretty laid back and probably won’t matter much what I ride. The big question is, where to do I get one of those cool, over-sized Uncle Sam red, white, and blue hats?
BTW, where the heck is Laniakea? Google Maps points me to Hawaii. So my first parade advice is to be in a parade in Hawaii. At least there’s usually a breeze.
Between those two unis, your best bet is whichever one allows you to be more entertaining and less boring. More about that below.
If you keep the crowd happy, you’ll be happy too! I’ve been in a few hella hot parades and that adage seems to work, as long as you have something to drink along the way.
Traditionally, parades are intended to move at a comfortable walking pace, such as the speed of a marching band or group of soldiers on display. Many have rules to remind people that this is the pace they should keep, though things often don’t turn out that way. Sometimes things come to a stop, and sometimes you may find your group has a big gap ahead of you.
Fortunately for unicycles, none of this is a problem. Your riding speed is going to be faster than the typical parade speed, so you will have to circulate. Figure your actual riding distance to be about double whatever the parade route is.
How to be great in a parade? Don’t be boring! But what does that mean? In the context of a parade, use your spectators as a gauge of success. If they’re quiet or just clapping politely, you aren’t wowing them.
If you are a single unicyclst, concentrate on tricks and comedy. But if there are a lot of you, figure out some simple riding patterns you can do. Circles are easy. Figure 8’s take practice (to avoid collisions). An audience favorite for many parades I’ve ridden in is what you could call a “flying V formation”. Tallest riders in the center, dwindling down to smallest ones on each side. If your group is small, you can just hold hands and ride side by side, which always gets a crowd response. If your group is bigger, have the talls at the front, and the sides trail back from there.
That’s just one pattern. Again, if you have time to practice, you might be able to bring that formation to a complete stop, for even bigger applause. But only if you’ve practiced ahead of time. We would do circles, the V, follow the leader, and every once in a while, just scatter all over the place.
When not in formation, each person can show off some skills, or comedy. Play a musical instrument, juggle, be funny. My best parade “trick” when I’m on my 9-footer (it’s been years now) is to pretend to almost fall on the crowd. All you do is angle toward the curb, smiling and waving to the people to your side, without looking where you’re going. Then, just before you run over the people in front of you, react with panic and surprise and make a scooping turn away from those people. Nothing makes an audience laugh more than other people in the audience. I could just do that one trick for an entire parade and it would work every time, since there are always plenty of people that weren’t watching you approach.
Other stupid tricks:
Horses in your parade (almost always)? If they left you a trail of presents in the street, do a slalom through them. This works best if you pretend not to see the poop until the last second, and barely make it through.
Shift it into "reverse" and ride slowly backwards while going "Beep! Beep! Beep!" like a construction vehicle
If there's safe room to do it, ride through the crowd
Go up behind one of your other riders and mock them (make sure they're in on it); imitating whatever they do
The above works even better if you have people walking in the parade route, or crossing the street and you do it to them
Other tricks that a general audience finds interesting
You have to remember that a general audience is still not over the idea that you haven’t fallen off yet. They don’t necessarily see the “smaller” tricks. A great example is coasting. Super hard to do? But the audience has no idea. Kick-up mounts are great pleasers. Picking up your juggling props (or anything small) from the ground works also. With some tricks, it’s less about what the trick is, and more about your presentation. Keep an ear on the crowd, and you can make lots of improvements in a single parade.
I don’t much like being on a tall giraffe in a parade, since you’re stuck up there. Even though my old 9-footer had an articulated step and could be free-mounted, I never got that better than about 33%. Which means a lot less percent when you’re under pressure. Possibly my biggest ovation ever in a parade happened when I finally nailed the freemount, but this was after a great many tries, and I was all alone (there was a big gap behind us). That was in New York City’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, probably around 1988. That was a huge parade of many miles, with about a million people lining the streets.
For best results, do some practice stuff before the parade. Organizers always want people to show up 1-2 hours early. Take that time to work out some simple formations and you’ll get a much better response than what I saw in that YouTube clip. You can still do all of that stuff, but mix in some formations and they’ll really like it.
Following a successful appearance in a local Christmas holiday parade, I inquired about having our unicycle group participate in another local town’s Memorial Day parade. Their response was that they wanted me to pay them a $75 entry fee. I told them “no thanks.”
So it totally depends on the town and the budget, I guess. I was a little surprised, because the second town’s Memorial Day parade is a pretty big deal around here. (There was neither entry fee nor renumeration for the first town’s holiday parade. It was an all-volunteer event.)
I guess I never thought about paying or being paid to ride in a parade. All the ones I’ve ever been a part of were probably all volunteer. Seems like things get weird when money is involved.
Back in 2010, I very willingly left a great paying job with Hitachi Consulting because it was pure hell, and there was nowhere better to go (hence the “corporate escapee” comment in my profile). They’re not paying me any longer, and all my non-disclosure agreements have expired (yippee!), so as long as I’m not slandering them, I can say what I want with no fear of retribution. Not having money change hands can be very liberating, and they were paying me tons. I can’t imagine being bound by some contract by whatever small amount would be paid for a ride in a parade. I’d much rather do it for free and maintain no obligations.
After leaving Hitachi, I pretty much only do volunteer work now. Not getting paid, that’s all part of the fun! No peeps skimmin’ profits, no middle men getting money for simply drawing breath, no sales people earning bloated commissions they didn’t earn, no government entity levying outrageous taxes, etc., etc. (Oh, no! I’m not jaded. Not jaded at all! ) I know money makes the world go 'round, but for me, sometimes the cost of that money is just too high!
And I say all this lightly. Nothing against anyone specific (except maybe my former employer!), and I’ll politely step off my soapbox now, thank you very much!
Many people who ride unicycles in parades are professional performers, and they don’t have the option of “pretty much only doing volunteer work.” They get paid for their performances, or they don’t eat.
People who get paid to put on events love it when they can get performances for free. For that matter, news agencies and other publications love free content. But the people who ask you for free work are always getting paid.
in some ways it can also be a mark of how “desirable” your group is for future parades. When starting out, or if your group is small, it may not attract much attention. But if you have a bigger group, lots of tall unicycles and/or great entertainment qualities, many parades may request you because you’re not a float, marching band or other typical parade entry.
Parades put on by chambers of commerce are often ones that can offer payment. With my NY club, the Long Island Unicyclists, we did a few NYC parades with paychecks. The one I remember for sure was a paid gig was the Korean Day parade. Fun times! First time we did it there was a lot of promotion for the upcoming 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. I remember a small fleet of new-fangled (somebody trying to make an old idea fresh) treadle-powered mountain bikes trying to pull a big float. Nothing wrong with the bikes, but I think they “harness” system they had wasn’t flexible enough for a bunch of individual bikes.
Ain’t that the truth. Often they will try to get you interested by telling you what “great exposure” it would be for your group. After working as an entertainer, I heard this too many times and would reply to that statement with “Isn’t that what homeless people die from in the winter?”
But doing a parade for a paycheck isn’t too weird. It’s the parade organizers having faith in you to be entertaining. As long as you are, you’ll get a check and possibly an invite back the following year.
Sure, good for them! I’m sorry I’m if it sounded like I was trashing on people for working and making money. I think it’s great when people do honest work for honest pay.
I just think that when possible, it’s nice when things don’t have to always be about money.
I think your post proves my point, though. Hard to tell tone from simple text on a screen, but it reads a little defensive, which is fine. Everyone needs to be defended, but it just shows that when money is involved people get serious, upset, touchy, jealous, etc., and if you have the luxury of talking money out of the equation, things chill out a lot. That’s all I’m really trying to say. The rest of it was sort of a silly, grumpy old man rant not intended to be taken seriously. Again, sorry if it touched a nerve, and I fully support professional performers. If they can do what they love for money and still love it, they’re livin’ the dream!