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Jumps, hops and tricks -- all on one wheel PDF Print E-mail
Written by MAYAN FREEBORN   
Monday, 07 June 2010 15:02

The addictive fun of sport unicycling

Downtown along the Bow River, unicyclists slide down stair rails and jump from rock to rock. Onlookers often stop to watch, but it’s not part of a performance.

Equipped with helmets, shin pads and gloves, the art of sport unicycling combines mountain biking trials with the skill of riding on one wheel. One Calgarian to take on the sport, Matt Bootsman, has been unicycling for seven years.

“Quite a lot of [people] will want to take video or pictures and watch,” he explains. “If you want to watch that’s fine, but we’re not out to please anyone.”

Atop his unicycle, Daniel Cormeau takes a plundge onto a steep hill for the sheer enjoyment and challenge of the sport.
Photos: Mayan Freeborn/Calgary Journal
Bootsman adds that the common question onlookers ask is “is that hard?”

His response is that it’s difficult to learn, but a lot of fun.

“The main point of [unicycling] is that’s it’s incredibly fun and it’s very challenging. It’s great for working on balance and coordination...You never run out of stuff to do,” he says.

With that being said, Bootsman, 22, says it’s difficult sometimes to find places to practice.  He says him and his unicyclist friends have never had any issues with the authorities, but that he and his friends have been asked to leave areas of the downtown because of liability issues.

“I ride for myself only. I don’t ride because [people] are watching. I ride because I love it,” Bootsman says.

Balancing upon his silver and black customized one-wheeler, Daniel Cormeau, a friend of Bootsman, says he became interested in unicycling after seeing his brother participate in bike trials.  He wanted to do something different, though, so he bought a unicycle.

“With a unicycle, you can fall in all directions,” he says, adding that balance is something a rider learns over time.

As a rider for almost five years, Cormeau, 18, dabbles in trials unicycling, mountain unicycling (also known as MUnicyling), cross-country and road riding.

With carbon fiber, titanium bolts, high-grade aluminum cranks and a three-inch wheel, his unicycle is much more high-tech than what most would picture a clown riding in a circus.

Recently, Cormeau says he mastered coasting, a move which is similar to gliding, that he spent over a year practicing. The advanced freestyle skill has both feet on the frame of the unicycle, Cormeau explains.

“You have to be dead on or you’ll fall backwards or forwards…it’s all about maintaining your balance. It’s one of the hardest freestyle skills that you can do,” he adds.

While Cormeau can reach speeds of up to 15 kilometres an hour pedaling, he says he can glide as fast as 40 km an hour.

Cormeau says he used to unicycle competitively, but that now he organizes events and rides for enjoyment.

Matt Austin, 26, has been riding unicycles for 11 years. Starting out as a performer with a ministry group that put on shows with unicycling and juggling, he did stage tricks such as riding on his stomach, jumping over people and juggling while on a unicycle.

While he still performs on the rare occasion, he says he mostly participates in trials and MUnicyling.  He specializes in downhill, which is quite different from the smooth stage he began on.

“You’re doing tricks that really don’t add to your riding capabilities,” he says, speaking about stage performing on a unicycle. “Whereas now, I go into forested areas and I go down hills,” Austin explains, comparing it to downhill biking without brakes.

He adds that off-road, which is another word for MUnicycling, has kicked off in Alberta and British Columbia over the past few years.

Austin is a member of the Calgary Mountain Unipsychos, a group of unicyclists who off-road in places like Fish Creek Park.

He says that two to 15 or more unicyclists, will show up to ride together.

“It’s nice to go with other riders so you can feed off of each others energy and keep pushing the envelope on your abilities,” he says.

Austin now resides in British Columbia, but says he still visits a couple times of year and makes it out to rides.

“It’s always fun to ride with new people,” he says.

With about 20 riders, Cormeau says Calgary’s unicycling culture is bigger than in most cities.

“We have quite an active community in Calgary,” he says, adding that it has room to grow.

For beginners who are interested in the sport, Cormeau says it’s relatively easy to learn.  He adds, “If you have really good balance, you’ll probably be able to unicycle faster then the next person.”