Santa Barbara County not only attracts scores of off-road bicyclists, it is also a hub for mountain unicyclists, also known as MUni. One of these is the energetic and passionate Terry Peterson, a 54-year-old extreme unicyclist who frequents Santa Barbara trails even though he lives in Redondo Beach.
“I was searching for a way to get fit, yet running bothered my knees, bike riding was a bit too boring, and swimming was inconvenient,” explained Peterson. “I still wanted to do something that was not only challenging, but fun and exhilarating.” Ultimately, he stumbled on a Web site about unicycling, and was impressed with how far unicycles had evolved since he last rode one as a kid in the 1960s. Unicycling has advanced in many ways over the past 40 years. What existed as a mere, if somewhat eccentric, pastime when Peterson began riding has become a serious sport increasing in recognition and popularity. But it was not until almost four years ago—on his 50th birthday, as it happens—that Peterson first learned about mountain unicycling and truly found his love for the sport.
Today Peterson is one of the few unicyclists in the world over 50 to have successfully jumped and cleared a full set of eight stairs, a six-foot phone booth, and a seven-foot tractor. Peterson has become a worldwide sensation as one of the most unusual extreme athletes around the world. He loves the outdoors and unicycling so much that he has even taken to filming himself with such elaborate systems as a uni-cable cam.
He has ridden all over California, but his favorite trails to unicycle are here in Santa Barbara’s backyard. “Santa Barbara has a wealth of fantastic trails such as Romero, Jesusita, Saddle Rock, and Cold Spring Canyon,” Peterson said. “I can spend hours on Cold Springs trail. It is perfect because it is not only geographically beautiful, but I like the rocky terrain, shaded trees, waterfalls, creek crossings, and all the other friendly interesting bikers I run into out there.”
Most people who see Peterson out on the trails think he is half his age. You may notice him by his helmet which reads “not 2 tired,” which is true of his youthful exuberance as well as his lack of dual wheels. “Even though it is a 200-mile drive to Santa Barbara it is worth it for me,” Peterson said. “I also ride with various uni clubs from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The group I usually ride with at Cold Springs is called Santa Barbara Mountain Unicycle Club.” Some people go in groups and park at the top of the trail then ride downhill, but Peterson said, “I like the challenge of climbing steep inclines because then I get the reward of the downhill. I feel I have to earn it.”
Peterson rides five to seven days a week, and as a result, “I am in the best shape of my life,” claimed Peterson. Unlike mountain bikes, unicycles have no gears to help you climb steep hills, and you can’t coast back down when you reach the peak of the mountain, he clarified: You have to pedal. “The heightened levels of strength, stamina, and precise balance required to ride a unicycle have helped me go from 165 pounds to 142 pounds.”
Peterson owns six unicycles, his favorite being a Kris Holm 24” Mountain Complete Unicycle. “Kris Holm is one of the pioneers of the sport of Mountain Unicycling and started the sport about 20 years ago,” Peterson explained. Unicycling is still “not something you see every day,” he said, and he gets a lot of comments: Spectators first joke, “Where’s your other wheel?” but are soon awed by his expert maneuvering and one-wheeled tricks. When Peterson is not riding Cold Spring Canyon, he regularly rides 20 to 30 miles on the beach bike path near his home, from Torrance to Marina Del Rey and back on a big-wheeled 36-inch racing unicycle.
Keep an eye out for Peterson out on the trails, and in an upcoming documentary called In Unison. For more information on the local unicycle scene, visit the Santa Barbara Unicycle Club, and be sure to check out Peterson’s Web site at unigeezer.com.