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Squamish hosts unicycle event

Holm, Kerr hope to raise profile of unicycling




While unicycling is still best classified as a fringe community within the cycling world, it's a community that is getting larger - and more respect as well, as participants prove they can do almost anything on one wheel that riders can do on two.

Vancouver's Kris Holm can take a lot of the credit for the growth of the sport, doing things on a unicycle over the past two decades that others never imagined possible. He helped to create the growing sport of competitive trials unicycling as well as the concept of extreme unicycling. His credits include unicycling to the top of the highest mountain in Central America and the highest volcano/third highest mountain in North America. He's ridden trade routes across Bhutan and on the Great Wall of China. In 2006, Holm climbed a 5,950 metre volcano in Bolivia, and then tried to ride down it. This summer Holm also completed the seven-day B.C. Bike Race.

But while Holm got the wheel rolling, he's also using his fame to turn the spotlight on some of the up-and-coming riders in the sport that are following in his treads and making tracks of their own.

Some of that talent will be in Squamish this weekend, Oct. 16 and 17 at Uni Squam, the first unicycling event hosted in the community. Holm himself may make an appearance, but the focus is divided with a focus on newbies and first-timers on Saturday, and a ride for experienced pedallers on Sunday.

Scott Kerr, who is organizing the event, wants to use it to raise the profile of the sport in town.

"Hopefully this is something that will appeal to everybody," he said. "One of the motivating factors for this is a group of kids aged nine to 11 that are getting into riding on the streets and just starting to ride trails as well."

Kerr got into the sport of mountain uni (sometimes abbreviated as "muni" while living in New Zealand. He expected a larger community between Vancouver, the North Shore, Squamish and Whistler when he moved back here a year ago. However, most unicycle riders are into the street scene, which means skateparks, doing rails and trials-style urban riding.

For Kerr, getting off the road and onto the trails was just the next logical step.

"I did a lot of two-wheel mountain biking and I used to race a lot, but never got into the downhill mountain biking a whole lot," he said.

He was riding around the streets in New Zealand on a road unicycle when he was invited to go off-roading for the first time. Now he's hooked.

"It's super-fun, it's technical, and it's a good mix of fitness as well because you're always pedaling," said Kerr. "It's a good mix of challenges in general. You can't just jump on a unicycle and be good at it the first time."

Kerr rides a wide selection of trails around Squamish, mostly out of his home in Valleycliffe. The only trail he wishes he had a two-wheel bike for is Half Nelson - although he says that's fun on a unicycle, too.

A beginner can probably find a used unicycle for around $100, while deluxe off-road models with disk brakes to help the riders legs out on descents can be $1,000. With no gears or shocks, there are almost no maintenance costs, says Kerr.

The fun gets underway at Republic Bikes on Saturday at 10 a.m. with free demos, workshops and a display by top riders. At 2:30 p.m. there will be a screening of a unicycle film at the Squamish Adventure Centre.

Kerr says the goal is to get a few people to try unicycling, and to show the riders with a little experience where they can go with the sport.

"The first time, it's pretty hard," said Kerr. "It's not like riding a bike with no hands, it's a totally different, really foreign feeling. The first time it feels like it's impossible, but the second and third time you get on it, it starts to make sense. From there it doesn't take long to pick it up. There are people on the trails who have been riding for less than a year."

On Sunday, there will be a mountain unicycle skills workshop at Republic that starts at 10 a.m., followed by a group ride at 12:30 p.m. All experienced riders are invited out, meeting at the end of Perth Drive.

All events are free.