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BALANCING ACT LESSER-KNOWN SPORT OF MOUNTAIN UNICYCLING BRINGS SKILL, ADVENTURE TO CRAFTY RIDERS WHO BOUNCE AROUND.

Byline: Bill Becher Special to the Daily News

Think riding a mountain bike down a twisty trail is difficult? Try it balanced on the single wheel of a unicycle.

That's what Rod Wylie, an elementary school teacher from West Hills, does in his spare time.

``You get to jump around on things and fall down and get dirty, just like a kid,'' says Wylie, 42. ``It's a fun sport.''

Not many know about the fun. Mountain unicycling is still a ``closet'' sport, Wylie says. To get a group ride going, Wylie calls fellow riders in Santa Barbara and Long Beach.

Riding down some technical single track on the Los Robles trail in Thousand Oaks, Wylie looks like a rodeo bronco rider. One hand is gripping the handle at the front of the unicycle's seat like the pommel of a saddle, the other hand is outstretched for balance.

His unicycle is direct drive, no gears, so going downhill fast means pedaling fast or using the hydraulic brake. Wylie says top speed is about 8 mph.

Going uphill without gears is difficult and Wylie grunts on the steeper sections, but when he makes it to the top he's smiling.

If you want some of these grins for yourself, you can't go to your local bike shop and just pick up a mountain unicycle. Only a few companies in Canada and England make complete mountain unicycles. Many are custom made.

Wylie's cycle is built with a welded steel frame and parts adapted from standard bikes. The tire is a huge mountain bike downhill tire; the seat is cushioned with a 16-inch inner tube and has a Delran computer-machined handle and carbon fiber base.

Mountain unicycles start at about $300, fancier models can cost $1,500.

Like any sport, mountain unicycling has its own vocabulary - the sport is called MUni for mountain unicycling.

Getting up a steep section of trail by pogoing sideways is called chipping.

Gapping is hopping from object to object like across a small creek or from rock to rock.

When the cycle suddenly goes flying and Wylie lands on his feet, it's a UPD - Un-Planned Dismount.

Before the downhill stretch of trail Wylie puts on his body armor like a knight getting ready for a joust. He's wearing wrist, arm and leg pads.

Wylie has made a lot of UPDs, but because of all the padding, he's rarely been hurt.

He says his worst accident happened when his bike caught the edge of the trail and went spinning over a cliff.

``I slid and bounced on my kneepads. I grabbed onto a branch. My legs were dangling over the cliff.''

A friend helped him get back onto the trail and retrieved his unicycle. Wylie says it's all part of the learning curve.

Having patience, something no doubt acquired from teaching young kids, is key to MUni. Wylie started riding his cycle for 20 minutes at a time in his bedroom while watching TV. First he rode from the footboard of his bed to the doorway, then to the hall, then he tried riding outside.

Wylie, who teaches third and fourth grade at Lockhurst Drive Elementary School in Woodland Hills, rode his unicycle for his pupils at a Halloween party dressed as a clown.

Some mountain unicyclists object to the connection with the circus, but that doesn't bother Wylie, who keeps his custom-made unicycle in the trunk of his car so he can haul it out for practice when he has spare time.

Wylie says his wife thinks he's a bit obsessed with mountain unicycling.

``Some people think MUni is extreme,'' Wylie says. ``I don't. It might be offbeat.

``People don't understand it's a highly technical sport. Like rock climbing, you're problem solving as you go down the trail. There's a rush when you clean the trail.''

Just watch out for the UPDs.

Bill Becher

billbecher(at)yahoo.com

MORE INFORMATION

Web sites: Muniac.com: Information about mountain unicycling - Riding tips, message board, equipment, video clips and more.

Unicyclist.com: message board for general unicycling and MUni questions.

Unicycle.com: online store for unicycles and equipment.

Events: 2003 California Mountain Unicycle Weekend is Oct. 17-19 in Fairfield, Auburn and Downieville. Games, trials and group rides. The featured ride is the famous Downieville Downhill, 4,000 feet of descent in about 17 miles of riding.

Web site: unicycling.com/muni/2003

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

(1 -- 2) West Hills resident Rod Wylie, 42, carefully maneuvers his way around the terrain on the Los Robles trail in Thousand Oaks on his custom-built mountain unicycle.

Bill Becher/Special to the Daily News

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MORE INFORMATION (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 7, 2003
Words:774
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