Unicycling is a lot of fun, and something I’m just getting back into. What is often thought of as something clowns do while juggling, unicycles are used in various activities from unicycle football to mountain unicycling. I spoke with Kris Holm, the world’s best known unicyclist and one of the pioneers of off-road unicycling, about taking one wheel off-road.
Travis Blair: How did mountain unicycling originate?
Kris Holm: Unicycling in its entirety dates back to the 19th century and it’s likely that these pioneers were the first to ride “offroad”. But it wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that a handful riders started focusing on muni more seriously, and this has become known as the origins of the sport. Muni remained obscure until the late 1990’s when the first commercial unicycles became available and internet connected the emerging riding community. Today, most countries have riders and mountain unicycles have been ridden everywhere from the Himalayas to the Antarctic. I started riding offroad in 1986, shortly after getting one for my 12th birthday.
Travis: How is a mountain unicycle different than other unicycles?
Kris: Mountain unicycles, or munis, are stronger and have fatter tires than standard unicycles. Like bikes, they come in a range of sizes aimed at a variety of riding styles from cross-country to downhill. High-end models can be equipped with disc brakes and even gears.
Travis: What is the draw to riding a unicycle instead of something with more wheels?
Kris: Whether you take the motor off a bike or remove a wheel, it’s natural to seek challenges in sport and muni is no exception. Many riders like the minimalism and simplicity. In practical terms munis are also lower maintenance, easier to store and transport, and less costly than mountain bikes. The best mountain bikes cost over $5000, and the best singlespeed munis cost not much more than 1/10 that. The trick is to get over the initial learning curve – after that you can do just about anything.
Travis: Where is one of the most memorable places in the world you have ridden?
Kris: It’s hard to pick a single place! In terms of sheer uniqueness I’d have to say the most memorable was a trip to Bhutan, spending a month filming a muni ride across the country. But my home in Vancouver is near some of the best riding in the world, and some of my best riding experiences have also happened near here too.
Travis: You founded a company, Kris Holm Unicycles (KHU). What have you been able to accomplish with your cycling company?
Kris: KHU started in 1998 as a search to build a single unicycle – for me. This was the start of my professional riding career and I wanted a unicycle that could take the punishment of the notorious trails of the Vancouver North Shore. It was similar to the earliest days of mountain biking and everyone rode primitive, makeshift equipment that constantly seemed to break. Since then KHU has grown to have distribution in more than 15 countries. More than simply designing top-end equipment (although we do that too), KHU’s bigger goals have been to help grow the sport, give back to the environment, and help enable a new generation of riders to be successful. It’s very much a team effort, and I’m happy to have played a small part in accomplishing some of this. There’s a long way to go.
Kris is a global ambassador for One Percent for the Planet. He also has a new book out, The Essential Guide to Mountain and Trials Unicycling.