Bikes just have one-too-many wheels for these talented unicyclists

contributed photo
Cayden Houck rides on the trails with his special Hatchet mountain unicycle.

Learning to ride a bicycle is a milestone in everyone’s childhood, but not everyone can claim to have the ability to master one less wheel. Where most people have bikes in their garage, mine has unicycles. 

“I really enjoy the challenge of unicycling. It is something that you don’t see every day,” said Cayden Houck, my brother and a Burroughs freshman. “I love riding on my big 36-inch wheel and watching all the faces of the people driving by. More than once someone has pulled over and taken pictures of me.”

My dad, two brothers, sister, and their growing group of fellow unicyclists meet every weekend at Cerro Coso to explore the dirt trails on their mountain unicycles. It is no longer strange to see a group of almost a dozen or more people every Saturday morning on the trails sometimes riding up to ten miles. Often several of the group will go for road rides over 20 miles long on a larger wheel. 

They all stay together, encouraging each other and trying to master different skills. 

“We may spend hours on one section of the route all trying to do one thing, such as a jump, a steep rocky section, a challenging uphill, or a really tight turn,” said Houck. “You get a chance to celebrate with the entire group. Everyone gets to share in one success.”

Did I mention that my family has over fifteen unicycles? As it turns out, there are lots of different sizes, and we have unicycles with wheels from 36 inches in diameter to 12 inches, which is just big enough for my 4-year-old brother to ride. 

Different sizes are used in different situations. The 36-inch unicycle, for example, is used for long-distance road rides. A 20-inch unicycle has multiple purposes, and Houck is currently using one to practice his unicycle tricks. 

“A uni-spin is what it sounds like: you spin the unicycle. I have to jump into the air, take my feet off the pedals, spin the unicycle under me, and then land back on the unicycle.”

He dedicates a great amount of time to practicing the various skills one can master with a unicycle, and confidently acknowledges that he is the best of the group. 

Unicycling was not always our family’s choice activity. My dad first learned to ride a unicycle 17 years ago with a friend and continued to ride on his own after learning that unicycling provides great cross-training for swimming. As a high school swim coach, he incorporated unicycles into training his team. 

It was several years later that he added a 36-inch unicycle to his small collection of just two unicycles. But it was an old 20-inch unicycle that he rode into the Burroughs gym as the Assistant Principal for a rally with current Superintendent Dr. David Ostash and Asst. Supt. of Human Resources Bryan Auld on a motorcycle and mini dirt bike, respectively. 

Around this time was when my brother got his first unicycle and began to learn. We still have it, and it’s a 14-inch bright green unicycle and the only unicycle Ridgecrest’s own bike shop TJ Frisbee’s has ever held.

It was several weeks before Cayden had it down, but once he was confident, he and my dad began riding on mountain trails in South Lake Tahoe, our home at the time. He even went so far as to base a science project for school on the correlation between unicycle wheel size and speed. 

“There are few activities that a parent can learn at the same time as their kid,” said Chad Houck, my dad. “Unicycling has been that for us. Because they don’t go fast, they aren’t part of a race, so we don’t [usually] compete. Instead we support each other’s successes. Then, when we go out, we can all stay together.”

Despite my family’s long history with unicycling, the Ridgecrest Unicyclists did not really come together until just over a year ago, when they began to sharpen their skills for the Ridgecrest Desert Mountain Classic Event, a mountain bike race that included segments for unicyclists. 

Ever since then, the group has continued to grow as my siblings pushed their friends to learn and other people expressed their interest. Several kids having fun with the unicycles in my front yard is never a shocking sight.

Many may think [unicycles] are for circus performances, but when you see someone out on a trail on a mountain unicycle, there is nothing about the circus when going down trails that some might not try on a mountain bike,” said Chad Houck. 

Unicycling is great exercise, super fun, and grants the rider immense bragging rights. I am starting to get used to hearing about “the unicycle family,” and it always brings a smile to my face when I can claim to be a part of that family, even if I’m still learning to ride. 

The Ridgecrest Unicyclists welcome anyone who is interested in learning to ride one wheel. For more information, contact Cayden Houck by email at [email protected] They ride on Saturday mornings from the Cerro Coso parking lot at 7 am. 

“Unicycling is an amazing sport that you can learn in a matter of weeks,” said Cayden Houck. “Anyone can learn and ride with the group. It is a fun and interactive hobby.”