United States: One-wheeled wonders

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
A trio of unicyclists helps to ‘keep Portland weird.’

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.

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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