Local unicyclists take to the trails

Geoff Wymer navigates a trail at Oak Mountain State Park during the 2013 Bump 'n Grind competition. (Contributed)

Geoff Wymer navigates a trail at Oak Mountain State Park during the 2013 Bump ‘n Grind competition. (Contributed)

From garage to the mountain

 

The local coalition of off-road unicyclists didn’t spring up overnight. In fact, it took more than 32 years and discovering a disassembled unicycle in an Alabaster garage to bring the sport to Shelby County.

Wymer became interested in the sport when he was a child, but his attention shifted away from unicycling as he approached his adolescent years. After disassembling his unicycle and leaving it in storage for more than three decades, Wymer decided to put it back together and go for a ride in 2010.

For the past few years, Wymer has been unicycling to and from his job everyday at the Shelby County School System’s New Directions alternative school.

Since picking up the sport again, Wymer has had a hand in teaching four kids on his street – including Rotenberry’s son, Elijah, and Streets – how to ride a unicycle.

After Elijah learned how to ride, he helped the group of unicyclists convert Wendell from the mountain biking side of trail riding to unicycling.

“Wendell was in the mountain biking side of it, but we converted him,” Wymer said with a smile.

“I balanced between two chairs in my front yard until I could stay up (on the unicycle),” Wendell Rotenberry added. “It took me one week practicing 30 minutes a day to get the hang of it.”

 

‘A full-body workout’

 

For those used to hanging onto a set of handlebars as they zip through the wooded paths at Oak Mountain State Park, mountain unicycling, or muni for short, is another beast entirely.

A typical muni-ready unicycle consists of a large seat perched atop a forked metal body. Because unicycles don’t have suspensions like bicycles, the tire is much wider and runs on lower pressures than a bike tire.

Unicycles also differ from bikes because they don’t have brakes or gears.

“The tire is the suspension,” Streets said.

And the fewer components bring a much steeper challenge compared to riding a two-wheeled machine, the local unicyclists were quick to point out.

“You go eight miles on a unicycle and it’s like riding 25 on a mountain bike,” Rotenberry said. “It’s not much of a hot-weather sport. I don’t ride a lot from May through August because it’s just too hot.”

One unicycle trait in particular makes mountain riding much more difficult than it is on a two-wheeled machine.

“You can’t coast. You are always pedaling,” Wymer said. “We always say ‘Lose a wheel and up the challenge.”

Because there are no handlebars for steering, unicyclists turn by leaning while holding onto the front of the seat. For off-roading, many unicyclists wear protective pads to protect their shins and legs from striking trees and other obstacles.

But there are upsides of taking the one-wheeled route on the trails. High-end mountain bikes can cost thousands of dollars, but a few hundred bucks will purchase a trail-ready unicycle.

“The wheel is the only thing that moves, so there is almost no maintenance,” Rotenberry said as he picked up his unicycle and wheeled it across the ground.

Unicycling also brings a greater sense of accomplishment, and the local muni enthusiasts said the looks on spectators’ faces never gets old.

“You can feel the accomplishment of ‘Wow, I just did that,’” Wymer said.

“What you are doing is harder than 99 percent of the people you’re going to meet,” Rotenberry quickly added.

For Elijah Rotenberry, one trail occurrence stands out above all others.

“What’s really fun is when you pass a mountain biker on a trail,” Elijah said as a grin spread across his face.

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