To hear Matthew Gant describe it, unicycling is about being in a state of constantly falling down. That's part of the fun, though, he says.
Gant started the Chattanooga Unicycle Club in 2013. Initially, only he and Brooks Bacon were members, and Gant was still learning how to ride. In the time since, over 70 people have joined the club, all eager to learn about and partake in one-wheeled transportation.
Gant initially got into unicycling as a challenge. He'd undergone knee surgery in early 2013 and wanted something that could provide a benchmark in how his rehab was going. He knew it would be hard but had little idea of just how difficult.
"If unicycling didn't exist and someone handed me the first-ever unicycle, after an hour I'd have told them no human could do it," laughs Gant. "It's as hard as learning to walk."
"Constantly falling down" is an accurate description. Unicycles can't even be propped against a wall without falling. Gant, an engineer by trade, says there's nothing more unstable than a single point of contact when that point of contact is a wheel. It took him months before he could travel in a straight line without falling, and even then he was equivalent to a baby still mastering his or her first steps.
"If you put even a credit card or a quarter in my way, I couldn't do it. Just that little bump would throw me off," he says. "Now, though, I can go trail riding on it."
It's not just a hobbyist's game. Gant says many of the club's members unicycle for transportation as well as fun.
There are even a few who commute to work via unicycle. Gant claims it's easier to go to the grocery store for a few things on a unicycle than a bike, since a unicycle is hands-free and holding groceries with both hands can keep the rider balanced.
"It's far safer than a bike, too," he says. "That's a fact. When you're unicycling, you're rarely going over eight miles per hour. You just don't have the speed to get hurt."
Cruising speed on a bike can vary between 12 and 15 mph, depending on the model and the cyclist.
Moreover, crashes on a unicycle are a simple affair. Since the overwhelming majority of spills happen because the unicycle shoots out from under the rider, the rider ends up standing in place on two feet while the cycle clatters to the ground. In the two months it took Gant to learn how to turn on his unicycle, he says he never once fell to his hands or shins.
Gant says the time it takes to learn how to unicycle varies from person to person, and can be as little as a few days for kids and teenagers who already have a good sense of balance.
No matter how much time it takes one to master the unicycle, though, the payoff is worth the effort, he says.
Mastering One Wheel
Those interested in learning how to unicycle can join the Chattanooga Unicycle Club on Facebook. Gant says the club has monthly meetings and plenty of extra unicycles between members, meaning you can give it a try and learn how without investing in a unicycle first. Informal rides and meetups are also regularly planned among club members. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/ChattUnicycle.