|Learning to Unicycle
Searching through family photos my mom discovered a picture of my brother Karl
and me on our earliest days of unicycling, hanging onto the peach tree in our
backyard. Ten years old for him, twelve for me. Deeper in the box
were other pictures, one from my first year, sitting atop my dad's unicycle, him
proudly holding me in place.
Dad Taught Me: My dad learned to unicycle in
college. For years his unicycle hung on a peg in the garage until I got
curious and he started teaching me to ride. A year later six of us from
the neighborhood were pedaling all the local sidewalks. Our favorite trip
was a journey to the 7-11 store for bubblegum. In college I rode to
campus. Later, as a campus pastor I commuted on one-wheel. In all
that time my longest ever ride was just five miles. I've done long bicycle
tours, but my first ever unicycle tour was pedaling over 9,000 miles through all
50 states in 2002.
One Wheel - Many Spokes: If you haven't already read the
story I hope you'll order a copy and enjoy the experiences of hospitality that
happened so often, the engagement with Native American life, and the journey of
our family as my wife and kids supported the tour from Harvey, our ancient motor
Learn to Unicycle
They come in all ages, though admittedly many are younger than
a dozen years. They ask, "How can I learn?"
You can Google LEARN TO UNICYCLE and get exactly
For Anne and me, teaching some dozens of kids and a
few adults: here's what we find works.
Rotate the unicycle wheel until one pedal is up and
one is down. Put a foot on the pedal closest to the ground.
Have one person on each side of the new
learner. Help the unicyclist to sit on the unicycle. The unicyclist
supports themself with their hands of the shoulders of the helpers. Stay
stationary. You've got step one.
Now carefully, ever so gently, pedal forward just
enough so that the two pedals are level with, parallel to the ground. Then
rock the pedals back and forth no more than an inch. Your body is now
starting to learn the balance of returning the wheel under your body whenever it
gets off centered.
Okay, next make sure you're looking straight
ahead. "Look down, fall down." When you're ready try just a single
half-pedal until the rearmost pedal is now the forwardmost pedal.
Stop. Congratulate yourself. Rock the pedals back and forth again
for awhile. Try another half pedal.
Repeat until you're ready to start doing more and
more pedals at a time. If you're the learner, treat your helpers well, and
hope they will assist you for 15 minutes a day for a couple of days or a couple
of weeks until you learn.
Some folks take a month. Don't worry.
Every day you practice, you get closer to riding, and I guarantee you the thrill
of getting your first independent pedals will be worth it.
If you're a bit scared of letting go of your helpers
and heading into the great wide independence of the path ahead of you, sometimes
it helps to ask a helper to stand in front of you and you can ride to them,
first just a foot, and then two feet, and so on until you're getting a couple of
your first independent pedals in.
One magical day, you'll be riding.
The fastest I ever saw anyone learn? 5
hours. A 12-year old named Emily. I admit it. I was
jealous. Don't worry, however long it takes, once you learn, you'll never
forget. Happy unicycling. I'll look for you on the
Teaching Kids: Along with the touring, another
real delight of unicycling includes teaching young people to ride. We've
created a couple of unicycling clubs these past years, one on Whidbey Island,
and a second at Holden Village. It always thrills when someone reaches
that point of turning impossible balance into a first ride across a gym or a
Learn to Ride: Learning is different for every
kid, perhaps a lesson that could transfer well to GLBT conversations. On
the unicycles, some hook in right away, others take their time developing a love
for the one wheel, and a few never grab interest. Some students become
obsessive in their quest to learn, like I did when I learned as a kid. Others
approach the balance puzzle more casually, like my own two kids did a few years
back As teachers, we try and stay engaged, while honoring the way that
each person encounters the unicycle.
In 2004 I rode my second unicycle tour. 1700 miles down the West
Coast from Vancouver, Canada, to Tijuana, Mexico. I rode for 6 weeks to
celebrate the publication of ONE WHEEL – MANY SPOKES, stopping in bookstores and
churches all along the route. The ride felt short compared to the half-year
spent going through the 50 states. I reveled in each day, building new
stories of encounters with land and people. However you decide to do your
unicycling, I hope you'll enjoy each pedal stroke.