Terral Fox replied to my post Featuring YOU! and told me about a unique adventure that he and his brothers often go on: mountain unicycling! It is often called Muni for short. They ride specially built off-road unicycles down mountain biking trails. Terral said that “Mountain Unicycling is an incredible
challenge of balance, strength, and stamina. I think that the simplicity and challenge of it is what draws me to it.” I can certainly see how challenging this would be from this video that Terral made of himself and his brother out riding:
(This is definitely worth seeing full-screen. Click on the arrows next to the volume control to expand it.)
This video only served to pique my interest, so I asked Terral if he was willing to be interviewed. Fortunately he was, and he provided some wonderful details about how he got into Muni. Read on to see what he has to say. (My questions are in italics and Terral’s response is regular text.)
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a freelance graphic designer and photographer living in Southern Utah. I have a degree in graphic design and I’m working on a second degree in photography as well. (editor’s note: You can see some of Terral’s work on his website.) Some of my favorite activities are: hiking, snowboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking/rafting, camping, backpacking, fishing, and mountain unicycling. I love just about any outdoor recreational activity. I live in an area that offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities and an amazing landscape.
How did you get into Muni?
When I was in the 5th grade my friend got a unicycle for his birthday. I was intrigued by it and asked my parents if I could get one. The same year I got one for Christmas and learned how to ride it. I rode it around for several years but eventually it got put away and I rarely ever rode it. Later in life I became interested in BMX bikes. I couldn’t afford a new BMX bike that I could do tricks on so I had a used bike that someone gave me. It was in bad shape so I had to spend quite a bit of time fixing it up. One day my friends were out riding their bikes and I really wanted to go but my bike was not in shape to ride yet.
At this point I remembered my unicycle and I had this crazy idea… I wondered if I could do tricks on my unicycle. I dusted it off and began playing around on it. Before long I realized that I could stand up on the pedals and hop up and down. This, of course, led me to riding it around trying some of the tricks my friends were doing on BMX bikes. One of my friends saw me doing it and asked if I could teach him how to ride. Eventually he had one and was riding with me. On any given day we were out on either bikes or unicycles. One day we took a shortcut on a dirt road on our unicycles. We discovered that it was a totally different experience to go off road. One thing led to another and soon we decided to ride down a new mountain bike trail near our homes. It was 4.5 miles of technical single track downhill.
We thought that we had invented a new sport of mountain unicycling. The problem was that our unicycles were not designed to take the abuse we were giving them. They didn’t last very long at all. We ended up fixing them and modifying them to be better suited for off road use. Eventually my friend began looking for a new unicycle and found that there were custom unicycles being built for off road use. Of course this meant that we were not the first to venture off road on unicycles but it also meant that there were resources for better unicycles. Mountain unicycling is often shortened to “muni”.
What kind of gear do you need for Muni? Do you make or buy it? Where at, if you have a preferred place?
Eventually I got a new unicycle with a 24 inch wheel and a three inch tire. I ordered all of the parts online and assembled it myself. Although I’ve replaced some parts, I still ride the same unicycle. I have now been riding a unicycle for about 16 years and I have been riding muni for about 10 years.
A good mountain unicycle usually costs anywhere from $200 to $1,600. Some bike shops are now carrying mountain unicycles but most of them are bought online. It has become more popular in Europe so it is easier to purchase them there. Unicycle.com is really the only distributer of mountain unicycles in the U.S. that I know of.
Since all of a riders weight is placed directly on the pedals during most of the technical riding and while hopping they are made with extremely strong crank arms and hubs. They are also made with wide tires to get better traction and to absorb as much shock as possible. All mountain and freestyle unicycles have a handle on the front of the saddle. Some unicycles now have brakes but usually a rider’s legs are the only brakes that they have. Safety gear is a must! At bare minimum you will want a helmut, gloves, and shin guards. I often ride with elbow and knee pads as well.
Tell us about some experiences with Muni.
People give us funny looks and always make comments like “looks like the circus is in town”, or “what happened to the other half of your bike?”. They don’t realize that someone else said the same thing to us five minutes ago! The most common response when people find out that we ride on advanced mountain biking trails is that they think we are crazy and ask us if we have a death wish. In reality mountain unicycling is MUCH safer than mountain biking. I do both and I rarely get injuries from unicycling, if I do they are usually minor. Since a unicycle doesn’t coast it can only go as fast as your legs can pedal! When things get out of control it is easy to go from pedaling to running. I travel much faster on a mountain bike and if I crash, I can’t just bail and land on my feet like I can a unicycle. Of course there are people that push the limits of safety but for the most part it is safer than people think it is. The most common injury is a pedal to the calf!
The longest trail I have done was a 17 mile downhill trail. It is technical single track until the last two miles. Mountain unicycling is the best leg workout I have ever had. When we do a long trail or a trail that is very steep it hurts to go down stairs the next day!
Although all of the riding in the video is in the desert low elevation mountains (we filmed it in the early spring) we often ride in the high mountains.
<-- end interview -->
As you can see, Terral did a wonderful job of answering my questions. (Thanks Terral!) If you want to know more about him, check out his website or his new blog where he is selling the Unshoes sandals that he makes.