Hot Wheels: Unicycling for the First Time

Editor's Note: This story appeared in the December 2015 ORANGE Issue IV. 

I broke my arm the first time I tried to ride a bicycle. I’ve broken several other bones too, mostly from just walking around and tripping over my own feet. Needless to say, I am an extremely uncoordinated person. So when I received the opportunity to take a one-hour free unicycling lesson, I was a little hesitant to accept. 

Story by Selah Maya Zighelboim
Illustration by Jesus Acosta

I accepted anyway, and one week later, I hopped on a unicycle for the first time. 

On a drizzly day in late November, I met up with Austin Unicycling School owner Reid Jacobson in a covered parking garage, which Jacobson said was the perfect location for a unicycling lesson. Though I had concerns that learning to ride a unicycle before a bicycle was like learning to walk before I could crawl, Jacobson assured me that someone doesn’t need to know how to ride a bicycle first — though it certainly helps to be familiar with wheels. 

The first thing I needed to learn to do was dismount from the unicycle. Once I got on, I became less afraid of falling off and injuring myself. I didn’t feel like I was too far from the ground. 

After I mastered the art of getting on and off of a unicycle, it was time to learn how to actually ride one. This consisted of me getting on the seat, putting one hand against the wall and the other on Jacobson’s arm and peddling. I did this over and over again, getting a little farther each time. Every attempt ended more or less the same way. I would get to a place where I didn’t feel quite balanced, or I would lose momentum, and I would slip off the front of the unicycle properly. 

While I practiced, Jacobson told me about his own unicycling experiences. He taught himself in a few hours when he was a teenager after seeing someone on television unicycling. 

Jacobson says a unicycle is a great way to get across Austin, especially downtown. He unicycles through the green belt and other scenic routes and once even unicycled from San Antonio to Austin. When Jacobson used to have a desk job, he would take breaks by riding his unicycle around the office. “All you’d see above the cubicle wall was my torso gliding by,” Jacobson says. 

At the end of the lesson, Jacobson suggested I visualize a place I wanted to reach on unicycle. I picked a white line on the parking garage ground and got back on the unicycle. This time, I made it almost all the way to my goal, about 15 feet. 

I never actually rode the unicycle by myself. I kept one hand on the wall and the other on Jacobson’s arm the entire time, so I can’t quite say I actually learned how to ride a unicycle or that I ever did it successfully. Overall, unicycling wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but it was more of a workout than I expected. 

Jacobson says a person can usually learn how to unicycle — to the point of being able to get around the city — after two sessions with him. So, one more hour, and I could be a pro.