Rediscovering Columbus: Wheels

Unicycling is just one unique way to get out and around in the city.

Tom Schneider knows a thing or two about adventure.

As a jumpmaster and rappel master in the army, his every day job consisted of stunts that us regular people plan a lifetime for. In 2016, he sprained both wrists, which meant he would be benched for the skydiving and rappelling season. But he needed to scratch that danger itch, and where does one go for adventure when they can already jump out of a plane with their eyes closed?

They take a walk on the weird side, of course.

As he was healing and enjoying the spring weather with his wife, he hit a garage sale. Sitting off to the side at one sale was a vintage 1960s unicycle. Schneider flashed back to his childhood, when he had tooled around on one wheel for fun around age ten, until it broke after he started riding it off road. At that time, they just weren’t designed for rough terrain. He decided to pay the $10 asking price and see if he could still ride. In less than an hour, he was back in business. 40 years had passed since his last one-wheeled adventure. Schneider had just taken himself down an unplanned and unconventional path. Figuratively, as well as literally.

Two short years have passed since Schneider rekindled his single-axle love affair. In that time, he has been sponsored by Nimbus Unicycles and Unicycle.com. After curiously Googling “extreme unicycling,” he discovered that someone somewhere had had the bright (or maybe crazy) idea to create a mountain unicycle. He fell in love with off-roading, and then added a long-distance cycle to his herd. In 2017, he rode over 400 miles on one wheel between training and charity work –including becoming the first person to complete the Pelotonia on one wheel.

Schneider compares the challenge and focus of unicycle riding to his training as a skydiver. The difference therein is that padding counts.

“You will fall a lot, and all you’re thinking about is that next tree root, rock etc. I’m not brave; I watch a bicyclist clear a route—[they] did it, so I will. It may take me several attempts, but I know it’s doable. Each time you clear a trail, your confidence shoots thru the roof. You won’t get cocky because you may not clear it the next time.

“It’s a massive workout as well—your legs are going to be sore because they don’t stop working. You’ll need to eat more and drink plenty of water with electrolytes. You’ll burn through calories like crazy!”

Unicycling is different from bicycling in that there are no handlebars, no gears, no coasting, no chain. And unicycles are very unforgiving—one wrong move and you’re down. The riders rely on their core for control; they must stay directly above the wheel. On a bike, the rider is stabilized and spread out over two wheels and a frame, leaning forward. Schneider didn’t ride bicycles at all prior to his foray into single-wheeled adventure. In the last two years, he has dusted off his old road bike, and become a commuter cyclist. But this is only to support his habit.

“If I miss three or four days of uni, then I have to start all over again, and riding my bike to and from work helps with that.”

There are plenty of mountain bike trails in the Columbus area. Much like mountain biking, mountain unicycling is simply riding in the woods versus the street. Alum Creek has trails available for public use that are maintained by the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization, the only group authorized by the state to build and maintain trails.

A great way to keep in shape, both mentally and physically, the novelty of the sport may overshadow the practice. But keeping an open mind may lead a new rider down a one-wheeled path to health and fellowship.

“I am truly trying to build the uni community here in Columbus. I’m 55 yrs old and in the best shape of my life, shy of the Army. Many say, ‘I could never do that…’ Yeah, you’re probably right because you just told yourself you can’t! Get with me and I’d be overjoyed to teach you.”

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