I recently came across an article about the unicycling clown phenomenon. A clown on a unicycle had been used to test the theory of "inattentional blindness", whereby people are so distracted by their cell phones that they do not see the "bizarre occurrence" of a unicycling clown passing them on the street. My heart sank. Here it was again and this time even confirmed in scientific research: the image of unicycling as a niche art form, only really encountered in the circus. If you ride a unicycle, you have probably been faced with this stereotype. How does it make you feel? (comments welcome below)
I personally felt that the image of unicycling as purely a circus art is not representative of what people intend to do with their unicycles. So I created a questionnaire in which I asked unicyclists about their reasons for learning how to ride and posted it in various unicycling groups on Facebook. Two days later, I had over 180 responses. At the end of the week, the number had increased to 212. A big thanks to the unicycling community at this point, you are absolutely amazing!
And here are the results:
Only 10 % of the respondents indicated that they were intending to use their unicycles for performing. However, learning something "unique" played a role in motivating 59 % to learn how to ride a unicycle. There was only one other factor which was perceived as more motivating and this is simply "having fun" (71 %). So what does this mean for the circus stereotype? Do we reject it because it is not what we personally intend to do on our unicycles? Do we subconsciously like it because it confirms that we do something unique?
Whatever it is, one thing is for sure: we are having fun. And my little research project shows that there are three more things that we have in common as unicyclists. In my questionnaire, I asked an open question about what has helped unicyclists most in their learning process. Responses ranged from descriptions of posture and ideal locations to learning materials and support in the form of fences, lampposts, ski poles and garbage cans. But an overwhelming number of responses mentioned the same three things: The willpower to achieve a goal. The perseverance and patience to keep practicing. And belonging to a community who inspires and motivates.
I was particularly moved to learn how much of an impact the community had not only on the learning process of individual riders, but also on their personal lives. I received responses from people who have successfully overcome fears, drugs and depression by learning how to ride and becoming part of this amazing community. For most unicyclists, the initial motivation for learning how to ride a unicycle might not have been to change their lives. But I am sure that it did change many many lives. It definitely changed mine.
I would like to end this post with a video which Emile Mathieu filmed at UNICON 19 in Korea. Enjoy "The Unicycle Spirit"!