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Prime Time: Burnt Hills unicyclist gears up for Tour de Cure ride

Friday, May 10, 2013
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Unicyclist Jeff Pease rises in Schenectady's Central Park between Maggie Fairbairn of Schenectady and Robert Detweiler of Colonie.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Unicyclist Jeff Pease rises in Schenectady's Central Park between Maggie Fairbairn of Schenectady and Robert Detweiler of Colonie.

— All winter long, Jeff Pease trained on his unicycle in the gym at Open Arms Church in Rotterdam.

But that's not to say he couldn't have been riding it outside in the snow. He's got a studded tire for that sort of thing.

The 51-year-old Burnt Hills resident got interested in one-wheeled cycles about five years ago while working at Freemans Bridge Sports in Glenville and has been riding around on one ever since.

"I asked my boss if he thought I could ever learn to ride one, because I had never done it in the past, and he gave me the confidence of, 'If you can ride a bike, you should be able to ride a unicycle,' and it's all history now," he said with a laugh.

Eight unicycles later, he admitted he's addicted.

"It's a great addiction," he insisted.

His unicycles range in wheel size from 20 to 36 inches, and he not only has the equipment to ride in inclement weather but on rugged trails too.

Club rides

Pease, who works as head custodian at Pashley Elementary School in Glenville, rides with the Capital District Unicycle Club, a group of about 15 that meets weekly to ride and race, both off-road and on.

Two of their regular venues are Central Park in Schenectady and Saratoga Spa State Park.

The group includes riders ranging from 7- or 8-year-old kids all the way up to adults nearly 50 years their senior.

"We strongly encourage people to come out and try," Pease said, noting that there are always extra unicycles and helmets to spare.

Learning to ride a one-wheeled bike with no brakes and no option for training wheels just takes practice, he said, admitting that he has taken his share of spills.

"Every dismount's a spill," he said. But he was quick to point out that he has received more injuries while riding bicycles than while riding unicycles.

"The bigger the wheel, the faster they'll go, but you're always planning for a dismount; on a bicycle you don't plan for that," he said.

Benefit ride

Pease and a team of about 10 others will ride unicycles and out-of-the-ordinary bicycles for 10 miles in the Saratoga Springs Tour de Cure June 2, in support of the American Diabetes Association.

Richard Himmelwright, owner of Freemans Bridge Sports, is another one of team's members. The 55-year-old said he's not that great at riding a unicycle, so instead, he'll ride his high wheeler, an old fashioned bicycle with a large front wheel and a much smaller back wheel. Like a unicycle, it has no gears and no brakes, and is guaranteed to turn heads.

During last year's Tour de Cure, kids were very interested in Himmelwright's funny-looking bike.

"There were many little guys that I would come up upon last year on my high wheeler and I'd be looking down as they were looking way up at me and going, 'Wow,' " he recounted.

After the 2012 Tour de Cure, a couple of people came to Freemans Bridge Sports shopping for unicycles, inspired by those they saw during the ride in Saratoga Springs. But few ever come looking for a high wheeler, Himmelwright said. The cost of the old-fashioned bikes — “$1,000 or more” — is probably the main deterrent, he speculated.

Pease and Himmelwright's team plans to kick it up a notch for the 2014 Tour de Cure.

"We're going to try to do the 25 [mile ride] next year," Pease said.

He's already got his unicycle picked out for the longer ride, too — the one with the 36-inch wheel.

Pease said he likes anything that rolls, including motorcycles, bicycles and mountain bikes, but there's something special about a one-wheeled cycle.

"It never gets boring on the unicycle, because each time you get on it, you learn more," he said.

 
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