United States: One-wheeled wonders

By , Correspondent

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    A trio of unicyclists helps to ‘keep Portland weird.’
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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

PORTLAND, ORE. – Last month a small pack of cyclists made its way through Oregon’s 100-mile Reach the Beach race a bit more slowly than most. They were passed, pointed at, and applauded – all because they were each pedaling hard atop one wheel.

In the past decade, unicycling has grown from an activity of the few to a well-connected, multigenred sport that includes rough-terrain mountain unicycling (MUNI) and street tricks. Unicyclists may still be seen as quirky athletes, but the talented clown stigma is fading fast.

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And the Rose City, whose signature bumper sticker reads, “Keep Portland weird!” is the obvious place to find the sport’s most ardent devotees.

Leif Rustvold, a research analyst and 21-year unicycling veteran, owns four unicycles. To those who wonder why one wheel instead of two, Mr. Rustvold says: “I also do 100-mile ultramarathons, running day and night on mountainous trails. For me, riding a unicycle along 100 miles of road is the easier task, and doing it on two wheels hardly seems like a challenge.”

As a fixed-gear machine, a typical unicycle requires pedaling through every inch of the route; the muscles on Portland’s distance unicyclists bulge. With only four out of 2,500 cyclists at Reach the Beach pedaling on one wheel, this latest take on how to use a unicycle – ride it really, really far – has yet to inspire a mass following.

Still, as rider Monty Mcfly likes to point out: “Last year two people unicycled the 100 miles for Reach the Beach. This year four people are doing it. I would say that is a 100 percent increase.”

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