The Unicycle Misadventure

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This page last updated on 01/26/2019.

Copyright ę 2001-2019 by Russ Meyer

When I was a kid I had a strange fascination with unicycles.  Whenever I saw one on TV, I'd drop everything I was doing and gape, slack-jawed at the seemingly magical operation of this fabulous vehicle.  I just had to have one.

On my 13th birthday, I begged to get a unicycle and lo-and-behold got one!  I was ecstatic.  I could visualize myself wheeling around the neighborhood in no time, impressing my friends and attracting the adoration of neighborhood girls.  I only had to spend an afternoon or two learning to ride my new steed.

I assembled the unicycle and adjusted the seat to what seemed like the right height.  I got on and placed one foot on a pedal.  I hopped the other foot off the ground and started pedaling.  The thing bolted out from under me like a stallion at the Kentucky Derby.  The result was the same too...I was thrown indignantly to the ground.  I tried to mount that stupid thing for a week and made absolutely no progress.  My best ride was all of a half wheel turn in duration.  The end was always the same...flat on my back, on the concrete, with my sisters snickering from a discrete distance.

I began to see why so few people ride unicycles...I mean beside the fact they are utterly impractical modes of transportation.  The main reason is that unicycles are hideously unstable in all directions.  At least a bicycle is stable fore and aft; that's a great asset.  Riding a unicycle is like balancing on top of a, no, it's harder than that.  It's like balancing on a ball that itself is resting on a tightrope.

After a couple of bruising weeks, I became discouraged and set the unicycle aside.  A bit later I noticed a magazine article written by a guy who taught himself to ride a unicycle.  He started out riding it up and down a hallway where he could steady himself against the walls.  Next, he used two canes for balance as he went about outside.  After 3 or 4 weeks, he was able to ride it fairly well but with great care.

I immediately got my unicycle and tried riding it up and down the hall.  Although I could do it, it was extremely difficult.  I could only manage about three or four pumps on the pedals before everything got out of control, even when going very slowly.  I also managed to put 2 or 3 dings in the sheetrock.  I could expect my Dad to nix this plan right away.  This was just not practical.  I tried using a couple of poles to steady myself outside while I practiced.  Now instead of just crashing in a heap with the unicycle, I crashed in a heap and got whacked in the face with the poles.  I tried all kinds of other things too...rolling down a ramp so I wouldn't have to pedal (disaster), just sitting there trying to balance (impossible), bracing myself against someone else as they walked beside me (killed my buddy too).  Nothing seemed to work.  This was really exasperating and I abandoned the unicycle again.

A month later, I decided to make one last ditch effort.  I tried to mount the beast and gingerly pedal a bit.  I actually got to the point where I could pedal one half turn of the wheel without falling down.  Maybe if I then tried to make the wheel go a full revolution, master that, then build from there a half revolution at a time!  I was never able to get further than 1 to 1Ż revolutions...I just couldn't keep it balanced.

The final nail in the coffin happened one sunny morning.  I stepped outside and there was my unicycle lying in its customary heap on the back porch.  I picked it up and began practicing.  After a couple of attempts, I wanted to see how far I could go if I was really determined to stay in the saddle.  I got on and started revolutions...tree, sky, cloud, blackness...grey, swirling, dizzy, misty forms...sluggish consciousness, sit up, feel sick...surroundings spinning, blood on back of head...stagger to feet, throw unicycle across patio...crawl inside, lay down on carpet, feel sick rest of day.  That was my all-time record; three revolutions.  That pretty well beat the unicycle fascination out of me.

Epilog:  Years later, as I was trudging to one of my sophomore classes at Washington State University, I saw a guy zipping across campus on a unicycle.  I saw him often and marveled again at that magical mode of transportation.  This time though, I marveled out of respect for the difficulty of the feat rather than the dreamy novelty of it.  The WSU campus is built on a series of very steep hills, making it extremely tricky to negotiate via unicycle...they're bad enough on level ground!  This guy rode all over those hills, and I never saw him falter.  Completely cured of any desire to emulate the man, I merely gaped, slack-jawed in awe and respect, then turned away and trudged to class.