What most of us have difficulty learning on two wheels, students at Pine Ridge Elementary are mastering on one. Wheel walks, figure 8s, kosh-koshs, and 180 hop spins; these kids have some serious unicycling skills.
In 2009, a group of students approached PE Teacher Carisa Thomason, asking to show off their unicycling skills in class. Thomason agreed, and a unicycle renaissance began.
With the help of a student-generated Kickstarter and a teacher grant submitted by Thomason, the local club now has more than 20 unicycles for students to borrow and ride.
Ten-year-old Owen Smith created the Kickstarter campaign to buy one single unicycle; his goal being $150. Within two weeks, he had raised $720 and was able to purchase nine unicycles, thanks to the generous help of Webcyclery, a local bicycle shop.
Nearly 90 students now participate in Pine Ridge Elementary School's before-school training sessions, and the interest is growing as quickly as the students' skills. Thomason jokes that her own unicycling skills are lacking these days due to the 46 unicycles sitting in the gymnasium closet that all need tuning, fixing, and inflating.
Thomason uses the criteria from the International Unicycling Federation (IUF) to determine which skills to teach the students and to assess their proficiency. According to the IUF, Freestyle Level 1 students learn to mount the unicycle, ride with the seat out in front, and more.
"Beginning riders are finding their balance, learning to keep pedaling, free mount the unicycle, and make big turns. The intermediate riders have more control. They can change speeds, make sharper turns, hop, idle in place, navigate small obstacles, and play modified sports."
The IUF has a 10-level ranking system for its Freestyle standards; a few fifth graders have made it to Level 6. These students are able to perform intermediate mounts, figure 8s, unicycle hops, backwards cycling, one-footed riding, and a move called Walk the Wheel, which requires a great amount of balance and concentration. Walk the Wheel looks like regular unicycling, but instead of pedaling, the feet are placed on the front of the wheel and the wheel is pushed down toe to heel, toe to heel, to propel the rider forward.
The Pine Ridge Unicycling Club not only meets for practice in the morning, but also participates in school assemblies and community events. The club can be seen at the Bend Christmas Parade, Earth Day Parade, and occasionally on a group ride in the Old Mill.
The unicycle club meets four times a week before school, during Thomason's prep period, from 8 to 8:45am, with beginner and intermediate sections. Students between third and fifth grade can participate, and all are welcome.
The students are gone for summer vacation, but when asked about the future of the club, Thomason responded, "We are going to keep doing what we are doing; teaching kids to ride unicycles, learning more skills, participating in community events, and having fun."
For those interested in learning to unicycle, Thomason suggests watching YouTube videos at home, taking a Bend Parks and Rec class, or (if you are a Pine Ridge student), joining her club. For those in the market for a unicycle, she recommends doing research to determine what size to get, and to focus on quality. "Look at spending at least $100 or more," she says.