High in Santa Barbara’s mountain trails, Jess Riegel aims his cycle down a boulder, tackles it successfully, and promptly faceplants into the brush.
He manages to accomplish this with only one wheel. Members of UCSB’s Unicycle Club execute stunts most people would consider suicidal – careening down mountain trails, launching off staircases and bounding onto narrow rails – all in the name of extreme sporting.
First launched in 2002, the UCSB Unicycle Club is comprised of 10 regular members who congregate Thursdays at 2 p.m. next to Storke Tower. The group specializes in several types of riding, including mountain unicycling, street riding and trials/obstacle course unicycling. While Associated Students no longer recognizes the club as a campus-affiliated organization, President Eyal Aharoni said the group is currently attempting to become an official campus entity once again.
“We’re in the process of obtaining official status for the club, which would allow us funding to buy more unis for students interested in unicycling,” Aharoni said.
According to Aharoni, a psychology graduate student, learning to ride a unicycle on flat ground takes approximately 15 hours of training, but further progression in the sport requires dedication. Additionally, multiple types of unicycles are used in a variety of styles of riding. The freestyle unicycle is the basic model, but other variations include the “muni” or mountain unicycle, trials unicycle, Coker unicycle or touring cycle and the giraffe which can be anywhere between 8 to 12 feet tall.
With unicycle trails like Tucker’s Grove, Saddlerock and Tunnel all within a short distance of UCSB, the organization has access to what Aharoni said are some of the best riding places in California. In an effort to bolster national recognition, the Santa Barbara unicycle community hosted the 2005 California Mountain Unicycle Weekend, drawing a national crowd of avid unicyclists. This season the club will compete in the 2008 California Mountain Unicycle Weekend in San Diego.
Club member Jess Riegel, a third-year CCS art major and Daily Nexus artist, said the club unites thrill seekers eager to showcase their skills.
“The club is all about bringing people together in the sport, sharing tricks and hitting up the trails,” Riegel said. “Most importantly, on the local Santa Barbara trails on the weekends. One wheel is just extremely fun.”
Riegel said he first became interested in riding unicycles in 2002 and has since remained addicted to the sport. In the past, Riegel said he has participated in the World Unicycling Championships and Convention and plans to attend an international competition in Copenhagen, Denmark, later this year.
When contrasting bicycling to unicycling, Aharoni said riding on one wheel is far superior to cruising on two.
“Unicycles are easier to ride and safer because the fixed gear does not allow you to ride as fast as a bicycle,” Aharoni said. “Also, because of the lack of frame and handlebars, if you are involved in a crash you won’t get all tangled in metal.”
Paul Chakerian, a fourth-year German major, said he took up unicycling in January and has become an avid rider, eager to share his passion for the extreme sport with others.
“I love teaching people to ride and I am always willing to teach new people,” Chakerian said. “I’ve been trying to teach my girlfriend, but that has proved to be a bit harder.”
Students interested in learning to unicycle or wanting to participate in group events can log onto the club’s Web site, http://sbuni.com, for more information.