The bicycle, in all of its many forms has gained a massive following while the unicycle has somehow developed into an obscure, head turning, eyebrow raising oddity. I can’t imagine an activity that has a more completely ingrained set of stereotypes and stigmas attached to it and its participants than unicycling and unicyclists.
Most people’s perception of unicycles and those who ride them revolve around the circus, clowns, and street performing jugglers. It’s true, the unicycle is a cornerstone of circus performance skills, but the unicycle has so much more to offer.
Fortunately there are a lot of folks who have experienced both the health benefits and the “fun factor” of unicycling. They’ve participated in unicycle based events and activities as diverse as trials, mountain unicycling (or Muni), long distance rides, hockey, basketball, etc.
Introducing newcomers to the sport has many potential benefits. Building cameraderie through clubs and outings, more new clubs forming, more events, more manufacturers who would spend more time building higher quality and more diverse equipment, and maybe even more media attention and corporate sponsorships for riders. It’s all about educating people, and for those visionary unicycle pioneers up to the task, there are going to be some tough but rewarding times ahead.
HOW TO CHANGE PERCEPTIONS…
When I bought my first unicycle, I didn’t really consider what others would say or think. My personal goal was improved physical fitness (core fitness in particular), while having some fun and learning a new skill.
During the first few casual conversations with friends, co-workers, and family about my new fitness endeavor, I noticed that people were looking at me as though I had three heads. The near total lack of enthusiastic “good for you” or “that’s interesting” type of comments was very noticeable. Instead, there was some lighthearted joking about clowns and thankfully shortlived nicknames like “Bobo”.
Rather than avoiding the topic altogether, I decided to become something of a unicycle crusader and spread the word far and wide, both by word of mouth and in internet published articles like this one.
In order to educate others, you must first be educated. The first step was to learn as much as possible about the unicycle in general. I learned its history and studied the various individual and team sports and competitions around the world that are unicycle based. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of Kris Holm and other skilled unicyclists. I educated myself on the various types of unicycles available, how to size unicycles, and what upgrades are available. I also researched the health benefits of riding a unicycle.
In short, I’ve become a bit of a “know-it-all” on the topic and have actually turned the “clown” comments into genuine curiosity, and even requests from some to give the unicycle a try.
While circus and performance skills are a thriving and important part of the unicycle community, for the good of the sport in general, I encourage other unicyclists to help the sport overcome the stereotypes by actively educating others about the unicycle, its diversity, and its benefits.