Ryan Kremsater hears a lot of trash talk for someone brave enough to fly down a mountain bike trail while balancing on one wheel. “It’s hard to get acceptance from other sports because unicycling looks weird,” he says. “I’ve gotten used to the ‘You’re missing a wheel’ jokes.”
Unicycling is more commonly associated with circus or street performers. But, Mr. Kremsater, 26, is an athlete pushing the boundaries of the niche sport of mountain unicycling.
Based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Mr. Kremsater is an environmental geologist, a job that provides constant inspiration. “I assess terrain stability and am always noting interesting features I could ride, like logs or cliff drops,” he says.
His introduction to one-wheel riding began at age 10, when his daredevil uncle bought himself a unicycle to ride while recovering from a broken collarbone. Mr. Kremsater then asked for his own. Despite practicing every day for weeks, he couldn’t complete a single revolution.
Two years later, “One Tired Guy,” an extreme film starring Canadian off-road unicycling pioneer
inspired him to start practicing with renewed determination. “You need a certain level of pain tolerance and patience to get it,” he says. “It’s not like riding a bike. No one gets it on their first try.”
He started riding in his basement, using the walls for balance, then graduated to pavement. “Even a short distance, like 200 meters, is exhausting,” he says. “Unlike a bike, you can’t coast. You’re constantly pedaling and you don’t have a brake.” In the spring of 2004, one month after he learned to ride, he hit the trails with the Vancouver Unicycle Club.
After competing for years, he now eschews competitions to pursue freeriding, which he considers the “more artistic” side of the sport. That could mean landing 13-foot drops or cycling knife-edge ridges. “My goal is to ride terrain that no one’s ever ridden,” he says.
Much like mountain bikers, mountain unicyclists spend a lot of time out of the saddle. When landing a drop or riding steep, bumpy terrain, they hold a handle that attaches beneath the seat with one hand and use the other to help stay balanced. Because there’s no suspension or added stability from a second wheel, the rider feels every root, rock or slope change and must adjust their balance accordingly.
Mountain unicycling requires all of the stabilizing muscles a person doesn’t normally notice or use, Mr. Kremsater says. “A lot of these muscles are in the core, but the legs, hips and shoulders are significantly involved as well,” he says. “When I am trying to train and fine-tune my balance, I really notice which muscles I have control over and which I don’t.”
He says strength, long-distance stamina and a good range of motion allow him to ride more varied terrain. He maintains his fitness with a mix of trail running, rock climbing, volleyball, tennis and Alpine skiing. He practices yoga twice a week.
He tries to go for a trail ride on his mountain bike or mountain unicycle up to three times a week and occasionally does some urban riding. He says his skill level has advanced to a point where he often rides alone on steep, technical terrain. He rides year-round, in rain and snow.
When he’s working on a new skill, he’ll practice it up to 30 minutes a day. He’s been practicing hopping up steps with his right foot forward to gain better control with his non-dominant riding stance.
Mr. Kremsater tries to eat a varied diet. Breakfast might be a bowl of Kellogg’s Vector cereal with almond milk, granola with blueberries, or toast topped with peanut butter and banana. He’ll snack on peanuts, cashews, apples or oranges. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. Favorite meals include steak or chicken with quinoa salad and tortellini with vegetables. Chocolate is his favorite indulgence.
The Gear & Cost
He is sponsored by Kris Holm Unicycles. He has eight unicycles with varying wheel sizes designed for everything from street riding to all-mountain terrain ($575 to $1,700). A helmet, elbow and knee pads, and gloves with wrist guards are essentials. He also owns a 2018 Kona Process 165 mountain bike ($4,000). He likes the extra padding and grip on Adidas Five Ten Impact Pro mountain bike shoes ($160). He rides in clothing by sponsor RedBear Apparel. His yoga studio in Abbotsford charges $18 a class.
“From a safety perspective, when I’m in nature, I want to be able to hear a bear coming or a mountain biker behind me,” he says. “From a mental standpoint, listening to my breathing and the tire scrape or slide gives me important feedback I’d miss out on if I had music on.”
The Outer Limits of Unicycling
Riding on one wheel is a feat in itself. But athletes take unicycling to new extremes at Unicon, a biennial unicycling world championships. Here are some impressive world records set there and elsewhere:
- U.K. athlete Mike Taylor jumped his unicycle onto a 4-foot, 10.5-inch platform and side-hopped it over a 4-foot-6 high-jump bar.
- Qui Hongying of Beijing completed 220 jump-rope revolutions in one minute.
- American Scott Wilton holds the unicycle marathon (26.2 miles) record of 1 hour, 19 minutes, .51 seconds ridden on a standard 29-inch diameter wheel.
- Niklas Wojtek of Germany has the fastest 100-meter time, 12.473 seconds.
- It took U.K. athlete Sam Wakeling 6 hours, 18 minutes, 39 seconds to ride 100 miles.
- Márk Fábián of Hungary balanced on a narrow plank without jumping or turning his tire more than 45 degrees for 25 minutes, 16.5 seconds.
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