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Special Issues & Guides » Bike Issue

The Clown

Bikes that get laughs

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Cyclists tend to take themselves pretty seriously. But Mike Russe is a different breed. It is near impossible to keep a straight face when he rides by on his unicycle, which he uses amazingly, to commute up, and down (!!!) College Hill.

"It's the most inefficient means of transportation you can choose," Russe said with a wide smile. "If you're in a big hurry, don't unicycle."

Russe, a seasoned unicyclist (yes, that is a noun), has been one-wheeling for over a decade. He rides city, road and even takes his uni out to trail ride, which he says is his favorite way to pedal.

It is a pretty lighthearted person who would choose to jump on a unicycle daily, and Russe fits the bill. A former fire dancer, juggler and stilt walker with an infectious smile, Russe is finishing nursing school at OSU-Cascades. He says unicycling is one remaining semblance of his former bohemian-circus lifestyle.

Invented in the early 19th century, the unicycle was part of an evolving culture and style of bicycles, including perhaps the most ridiculous looking bike of all time, the Penny-farthing (large wheel in the front, small wheel in the back). The unicycle was an evolutionary shoot from that style, when riders recognized they could simply ride the front wheel because the pedal and cranks were connected directly to the front axle; no tiny back tire necessary. From that time forward, the one-wheelers became a circus staple, ridden by acrobats and performers, and have been renovated for new generations of mono-wheel enthusiasts. There's the " Ultimate Uni" which has no seat (uh, what?), the extra-tall "Giraffe Uni," and what Russe rides, the "Muni," or mountain unicycle.

No matter the incarnation of the unicycle, the bikes are always good for a laugh. Russe says that the reactions he gets riding the bike in town are priceless.

"Most of the time I turn into a novelty," explained Russe. "It goes from total not processing, mouth hanging open, to people hollering and screaming." SW

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