21 May, 2015

Where’s the other wheel?


In a cycling daze, enjoying the sun, serenity and hopefully a tailwind.

Then loudly trumpeting within 20 metres from you, you hear, “You’ve lost a wheel.”

After hearing this a few times and depending on your mood, you may remark back “No, I haven’t. I just got rid of the training wheel.” Or if you’re riding with a buddy, “No, I haven’t. It’s behind me.”

For the few readers that haven’t realized this yet – I am talking about riding a unicycle. Not a ‘bi’-cycle but a ‘uni’-cycle.

Before we continue, I’d like to give you a little background info on myself. I ride unicycles, a lot! I run an online business called OddWheel Unicycles, which I solely took over a year ago. I’m in my mid 30’s, have a compact physique and I am a woman. Oh ya… I work flippen’ hard at keeping our sport alive in South Africa.

Unicycling has come a long way over the last 15 – 20 years. It moved out of the circus ring and started showing face on mountainous single track (muni), long distance road races and trials. We even play obscure games like unicycle hockey. Seriously!

A little bit of loose tech, unicycles come in a wide range of wheel sizes, from 12”-36”. Riders choose their wheel size based on the style of riding they do (ie freeride/downhill – 26”, distance/commuter/touring – 27.5”–36”, trials and street – 20”-24”, learner/newbie – 16”-20”).

Besides the wheel size, you then look at road or mountain variants, with or without brake, rim brake or disc brake, normal hub or geared hub and so it goes on and on and on.

Often when people see us riding one of the first comments they make is “I’ll fall flat on my face”. Really people? Think about it… unicycles use a fixed cog; you can only go as fast as you can pedal. And if you do happen to bail, you will land on your feet 90% of the time. We are flat pedal cyclists, which means you are not clipped in. The uni just falls away, normally towards the back. Sounding quite safe all of a sudden?

My local ride is Tokai Forest in Cape Town; I’ve seen some nasty MTB accidents there. Muni is much safer! You never reach the same speeds of a bicycle.

Maintenance is minimal and less complicated than most two wheels. But don’t be fooled, if you get hooked you are in for hours of tweaking and pottering on your beloved wheels. I say wheels because you can’t own just one wheel. I have a conservative collection of three, a 20” for trials and hockey, a 26” for muni and my 29er for distance.

The community is an interesting bunch and that’s no exaggeration. The most random, obscure, kind-of-normal-but-not people I continue to meet day after day. From the very young (four years) to the more mature (50 plus).

Within the community we have our uni celebs:
• David Eave – mid 50’s and without a doubt one of the fastest road distance riders in SA. In the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge, David placed first in the Uni category with a sub-six hour time. Then there was UNICON (bi-annual international unicycle convention) where he placed second behind Nathan Hoover, a little bit of name-dropping if you are in the know.
• Alan Read and Johnny Cronje – who pedaled just under 2400 kilometres from Durban to Cape Town on the Freedom Challenge route. It was 44 days of off-road unicycling and hanging out with farmers. Alan, Johnny and myself won the “Evolution of Balance Award” from Kris Holm which is granted to an off-road unicycle adventure once a year.
• Christo Coetzer toured in Jamaica and Mauritius.
• Geoff “The Heartman” Brink rode from Durban to Cape Town on national roads to raise awareness for The Sole of Africa, a South Africa based NGO run by the Mineseeker Foundation.

If this article has tweaked your interest into the world of unicycling then visit or A good starting point to connect with the South African community.