Pop quiz: What’s the best way to get exercise, enjoy the outdoors, challenge your body and mind, and really, deeply astonish everyone you pass on the SB trails? The answer: mountain unicycling.
You read that right. Mountain unicycling - muni to the initiated - is a sport that’s been around for about twenty-five years. Unicyclist lore tells us that the daring and intrepid George Peck, a judge from Alaska, began the sport when he strapped on some rudimentary protective gear made from common household items (read: duct tape and sponge) and hit the trail on his street unicycle. A video of his feats made it to a group of mountain bikers in Santa Cruz, who were, understandably, astounded at the sight. And so the legend began.
Today, no one need tape sponges to vulnerable parts of his (or occasionally her) anatomy, or risk their safety on a unicycle designed for street riding. Specialized, mass-produced gear and unicycles with reinforced frames are now available for mountain unicyclists. Like any extreme sport, mountain unicycling even has its own star; Kris Holm, widely (well, relatively speaking) known as the best munier in the world, Holm also sponsors a line of gear. According to Eyal Aharoni, co-founder of the Santa Barbara Mountain Unicycle Club, muniers need special helmets and pads for their sport, as they frequently “look for the biggest, scariest stuff they can find.”
And one of the biggest, scariest things a mountain unicycle can face is, of course, a jump - or a drop, as muniers call them. Unlike mountain bikes, which are equipped with unnecessary extras such as gears, handlebars, and an additional wheel, unicycles go no faster than a jogger. As a result, riders don’t get a lot of thrills out of simply going up and down a trail. Jumping is the true test of a mountain unicyclist’s mettle, and jumping a ledge five or six feet high is not uncommon. Of course, that doesn’t sound like much, but try sitting on a single precarious wheel and rushing downhill towards such a jump, and your perspective will magically adjust. As Aharoni says, they’re “not in it for the speed; the whole point is to stay on top.”
One benefit of the mountain unicycle’s slow speeds, compared to those of a mountain bike, is their compatibility with hikers and their safety. Rather than whizzing by, pebbles rattling on all sides, a mountain unicyclist will cruise by only slightly faster than a person on foot and, Aharoni emphasizes, will always yield to pedestrians. According to Aharoni, most Santa Barbara hikers enjoy the sight of a mountain unicyclist on the trail. Believe it or not, they even stare.
Of course, mountain unicycling is not confined to Santa Barbara. (Though Aharoni is proud to have hosted the California convention several years ago, which was the original impetus for beginning the club’s website, sbuni.com.) The 2007 California Mountain Unicycle Weekend is happening in Santa Cruz, from October 12 through October 14, and anyone is welcome to attend, although they recommend that mountain bikers remove their training wheels before arriving at the festivities.
Want to find out more about the noble sport of mountain unicycling? unicycling.com is a great resource for beginners and enthusiasts alike. The Santa Barbara Mountain Unicycle Club also welcomes new members, and will provide all the tips you need to start riding. They ride approximately twice a week. And for the latest in muni gossip and news, check out unicyclist.com, where Aharoni says “all the cool unicyclists go.” Don’t miss it!
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