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DateLine Sunday, 02 December 2007

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Unicycling - Thrills on the wheel

When modes of transportation are concerned, the simplest and most natural way is to walk. After the invention of the wheel, there came a host of modes to travel.

If the simplicity of a particular vehicle was to be measured, in terms of the number of wheels, the simplest vehicle would be the vehicle with just one wheel. Therefore, that honour would go to the 'unicycle' which has been catching up a certain level of attention lately in some countries of the world, although not in Sri Lanka. Let's look at this interesting contraption (machine or device) which would seem a new experience to you children.

A unicycle is a wonderful creation, which is a one-wheeled human-powered vehicle. Unicycles are similar to, but less complex than, bicycles. Unicycles are composed of a few key parts: the wheel which includes the tire, tube, rim, spokes, hub and axle, the cranks, pedals, fork-style frame, seatpost, and the seat of the unicycle.

The wheel is usually similar to a bicycle wheel, with a special hub designed, so the axle is a fixed part of the hub.

Surely you would have seen this sort of unicycles used in circuses by the stuntmen and clowns.

However, due to the challenging nature and simplicity of the unicycle, it has become an area of interest as a sport for many active youth around the world, and it has also been identified as a general means of transport. In the last 10 years, unicyclists have taken unicycles out of the traditional parade, gym, or circus setting and have created new forms of unicycling. These forms can be described broadly as 'extreme unicycling'.

History

Although under human evolution, the concept of one wheel came first, the design of the unicycle has begun after the invention of the bicycle. About halfway down the evolution of the bicycle, in 1866, James Starley developed the penny-farthing, a bicycle with a very large front wheel and a small rear wheel.

The unicycle is believed to have evolved from the penny-farthing during the late 19th century. Since its pedal cranks were connected directly to the front axle, the rear wheel would go up in the air and the rider would be moved slightly forward.

This made riders test how long they could ride with the back wheel in the air, and from that the unicycle was born.

***

Types of unicycles

* Freestyle unicycle

These are generally used on flatlands. These unicycles are used similarly to flatland bicycles.

Wheel size is usually 20 inches, but smaller riders may use 16-inch unicycles. Some people prefer 24-inch wheels. Freestyle unicycles are considered stronger than most other types of unicycles.

* Trials unicycle

These are designed for unicycle trials, which are stronger than standard unicycles , since they should survive the stresses caused by jumping, dropping, and supporting the weight of the unicycle and rider on components such as the pedals and cranks. Many trials unicycles also have wide, 19 or 20 inch knobby tires to absorb some of the impact on drops.

* Offroad unicycles ('Munis')

'Muni' is an abbreviation for mountain unicycling. Munis have many of the same components as trials unicycles, but have a few key differences. Usually, the tire diameters on mountain unicycles are either 24 or 26 inches, allowing the rider to more easily and roll over obstacles such as roots and rocks.

The seat is also thicker and more comfortable on Munis to provide a less bumpy ride for the rider on a rough terrain. Brakes are sometimes used when going down steep slopes.

* Touring unicycles

This type of unicycles is used for long distance travel. They have a large wheel diameter, between 26 and 36 inches, so that more distance is covered in few rotations of the pedals.

*****

International Unicycling Convention

The International Unicycling Convention (UNICON) which takes place once every two years is the main event for unicycling.

This consists of unicycle track and field events such as high jump, long jump, novelty racing which is a collection of, wheelwalk, coasting, juggling, slowboard, and the obstacle course. Freestyle events include pairs, individual, club, group, and standard skills. The 2006 UNICON was held in Langenthal, Switzerland.

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