Bike commuting — minus one wheel

Published 6:18 am Sunday, March 17, 2013

By Bob Shaw

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Bob Clark is living a well-balanced life.

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He doesn’t have much choice, since he commutes to work year-round on a unicycle. Clark dodges, weaves and wobbles about 18 miles a day, from a bicycle trailhead in Mendota Heights where he parks to his office in downtown St. Paul.

“It’s good exercise,” said Clark, 51, a software programmer for Cray Inc. who lives in Eagan.

Clark was introduced to uni-commuting seven years ago and has had a one-track mind ever since.

“It’s not as hard as most people think it is,” said Clark. “Anyone who can ride a bike can ride a unicycle, with a little practice. It’s a mind-body thing that happens automatically.”

On his commute early in March, he wove up hills, darted through traffic and navigated across patches of snow and ice. When he rides, his motion is smooth, not jerky. He doesn’t look like he’s constantly falling and catching himself.

Does he ever fall down?

“We call them unplanned dismounts,” he said. “Usually you land on your feet.”

Clark has four unicycles — “which is more than my wife wants me to have,” he said.

They have different wheel sizes: 24 inches with knobby tires for off-road riding, 29 inches for everyday commuting, 36 inches for summer riding, and a small-diameter wheel for riding indoors or in parades.

On his winter unicycle, he can average about 10 mph. On his biggest unicycle during the summer, he cruises at 12 mph.

He has had his share of roadside harassment. “I had a firecracker thrown at me once, “Clark said.

But usually, people just gawk.

“The comments are 99 percent positive,” he said. “Lots of people stick their cellphones out the car window to take a picture.”

He usually travels light, with a helmet and a messenger bag that holds his lunch. He doesn’t have to carry a lock. When he gets to work, he just carries the unicycle to his office.

The most frequent comment he hears is predictable. “Most people,” he said, “just ask where the other wheel is.”