By Vernon Felton
This is what geek smells like. Or rather, this is what the smell of geek looks like.
It’s Saturday morning and the Galbraith trailhead parking lot is packed with riders either readying themselves for a morning mud bath or returning from said bath. It’s a dirty mob of high-fives and Where have you beens and What’re you riding todays. A sea of cycling brotherhood, you might say…
Except for one, lonely geek-scented corner of the parking lot.
Everyone is giving this particular chunk of the parking lot as wide a berth as humanly possible. Riders glance over and shake their heads in disbelief. A few point and mutter darkly. You’d think that leprosy, the Black Death or some similar contagion was threatening to erupt here, but it’s worse than all that.
Three guys are standing around a tailgate, unicycles within arm’s reach. I try to inconspicuously sidle on over, though it’s hard to hide the fact that you are stalking unicyclists when you are the only person willing to get within 15 feet of them. The uni guys are, it turns out, talking tires. Uni Guy Number One likes the Maxxis Ardent 2.4s—nice, burly sidewalls, low rolling resistance, decent grip in the wet. Uni Guy Number Two swears by these monstrous WTBs he’s been riding for awhile, though Number One isn’t buying it for a second—he’s never had luck with WTB tires in the rain. Uni Guy Number Three wants to know if Number One or Number Two have ridden Moab and, if so, what tire they’d recommend for wintertime riding out there in the desert.
In other words….the unicyclists sound just like every cyclist in the parking lot. Just a couple of guys shooting the shit and talking gear. Not too surprising, right? After all, they’re cyclists just like the rest of us, right?
If only it were that simple.
Every tribe has its outcasts—that member of the group which gets rocks thrown at it, is chased away from the community drinking well and is never allowed to mate and pass on its DNA. In the cycling world, unicyclists fill that sad ecological niche. They are, much like the Charlie in the Box and cowboy who rides an ostrich, sorry misfits on the Island of Misfit Toys (check out the video clip below if you’re childhood somehow failed to include 500 viewings of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer).
Unicycles are, a wise man once told me, nothing more than a desperate cry for help—the cycling equivalent of the handlebar mustache or Kokopelli tattoo. I’ve often felt there was something to that characterization.
We have a bit of a unicycling faction in town. In the summer months they cruise along the waterfront. Spinning in circles. Chattering excitedly amongst themselves like very clever monkeys who’ve discovered the wheel, millions of years early, but are at least an aeon or two away from figuring out that their one wheel could be paired with another wheel and made into something really functional—the bicycle.
Unicyclists, above else, always seem to be saying, “Look at me! Notice me! I’m on one wheel! Did you notice that? You see, there’s just this one wheel and I’m hovering above it and it’s really quite difficult, but I’m managing quite fine, thank you, so long as I wave my arms around frantically. No, really, this is great. You should do it too! You’d love it. Who needs a second wheel anyway? Come on, join us!”
And I always look at them and think, “Fuck that.”
So, yeah, I guess I’ve always been a unicycle hater. But, you know, I think I’ve been wrong all these years.
What’s so lame about unicyclists, really? Yes, they look ridiculous, but every kind of cycling looks ridiculous. Really, how cool is it to pedal around on your bike while wearing a complete Troy Lee Designs enduro kit and a full-face helmet? I mean, I think that’s cool, but I’m pretty sure 99 percent of the world sees the same rider and wonders why the hell a grown man is riding around on a child’s toy while wearing a football helmet and pajamas. We cyclists have to exercise some caution before calling other people “uncool”. It’s a simple matter of rocks and glass houses, pots calling kettles black and such.
There’s also the matter of skill…. Unicyclists are fundamentally doing something that 99 percent of the population are incapable of. Let me be clear—the unicyclists that I saw yesterday had just come off of some of the hardest trails in the lower 48. Big, slimy wooden stunts, high up in the air, steep fall-line descents, ugly root sections…I don’t understand why you’d want to do that on a unicycle, but maybe that’s really just a matter of me not knowing how to do all that on a unicycle. Who the hell am I to judge something I can’t even do?
And, finally, there’s this: unicyclists know that they are the butt of jokes. They are openly shunned. And they don’t care. They don’t need you to understand them. They don’t actually care if you ever pick up a unicycle and join them. They are in this for themselves and, clearly, they don’t require your approval…and yet, while the very act of unicycling conveys their unwillingness to join the cycling status quo, they never seem belligerant about that fact. I know…I’m generalizing here—I’m sure there’s some pompous, two-wheel hating member of the Uni Tribe—but I have yet to run across him or her. Unicyclists always seem to be smiling. Just pedaling along to that inner circus clown soundtrack, perfectly content to be riding their solitary wheel.
When I look at it that way, I’ve gotta say…unicyclists may be the coolest damn people I’ve never given the time of day to. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still not going to pick up a unicycle. I still don’t understand it. At all. But I respect the fact that unicyclists are out there, sticking their goofy thumb in the eye of cycling convention and having a good time of it.
So, fly your freak flag my uni brothers. Fly it high.