I learned how to ride a unicycle as a kid, took a multi-year hiatus and then got into Mountain Unicycling (MUni) about eight years ago after seeing a film of it in a Banff Film Festival. It was mainly a novelty at first with lots of crashing, but after a while it took on a whole new dimension as it has so many similarities to skiing. First and foremost, it is a core balance sport where you have to focus on having a quiet upper body. Second, it gives you a fierce leg work out. Third, you have to visualize success and believe you can do it – if you think you are going to fall, you will.
Another similarity with skiing is that there are multiple avenues to pursue within the sport such as trials riding, XC, free ride, street and even expedition riding such as Antarctica or Orizaba. I’m into plain vanilla XC riding, but Kris Holm, who just released “The Essential Guide to Mountain and Trials Unicycling” is a master of all of them. Actually, Kris is beyond a master. I had a chance to ride with him at the 2006 Moab MUni festival, and while there were about 200 riders from around the world, including many excellent riders (I was not one of them…), Kris was in a league of his own. My friend, who had never seen MUni riding before, was dumbfounded that he couldn’t keep up with him on a mountain bike, which is a fairly common story. A Google search of “kris holm unicycle” turns up hundreds of videos, all of the good.
If you have ever wondered about trying mountain unicycling, this book is an excellent place to start. It is concise, well laid out and has some great pointers, although as Kris mentions, there are no real short-cuts to learning how to ride. A quick learner might be able to be up and riding on the street with about ten hours of practice, and unlike snowshoeing, those first ten hours mostly involve crashing and cursing. You have to want it.
The real strong point of this book is the crisp, full-color photography, which is on virtually every page. If there is such a thing as MUni porn, this is it. Every photo shows the correct way to ride a certain feature and just by skimming the book you come away with a solid mental image of what you should be doing. I noticed an improvement of my riding even after a quick read through.
Growing up in the Vancouver, BC area, Kris originally got into unicycle riding as an alternative to rock climbing when it was raining. The fact that he got so good might say something about how much it rains in that area. He is also, unsurprisingly, a skier (tele) and there is a video of him riding a unicycle down the snow-covered slopes of Whistler.
A photo of Kris from the Horny Toad website.
I’m not much of a jumper or trickster, so I personally got the most out of the general “Mountain Unicycling” chapter towards the end. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was a whole page on how to become a sponsored rider, which was completely spot-on for any non mainstream sport, including ski mountaineering. Just replace “riding/rider” with “skiing/skier” and you’ve got the keys to the kingdom.
MUni riding is a sport of many splendors, but one of my favorites is that it involves almost zero gear maintenance and has a very high riding to prep time ratio – if I go for an hour ride, 58 minutes is riding and two minutes is putting on a helmet and throwing the uni in the car. It is also a very canine friendly sport as you are generally moving at a dog-trot pace whether you are going up, across the flats or downhill. And, last but not least, it sheds a whole new light on those beginner mountain bike trails when you try riding them without a front wheel.
Mountain and Trials Unicycling is published by Gradient Press and is available through their website, where you can also download a few free chapters. Kris Holm also has a website and Facebook presence.
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