The crowds went wild for Abe Klafter and Phil Hilla when they became the winners of Northwestern’s Hoopla, on Friday, April 1. The original duo impressed the crowd with their juggling skills but what really earned the act its first place finish was Klafter’s unusual talent as a unicyclist.
Klafter started unicycling when he was just 10 years old. “My parents bought me a unicycle for my birthday and I spent 20 hours of the next few days teaching myself how to ride,” Klafter said. Now quite an accomplished unicyclist, he can do numerous tricks such as ride backwards, stall, juggle and even go down stairs. Besides seeing people’s reactions, Klafter said his favorite part about unicycling is the feeling and the way it requires him to focus, unlike bicycling.
According to Unicycle Today.com, it is widely believed that the unicycles and bikes evolved from a common ancestor, the penny-farthing (also known as the “Ordinary”), which was popular in the late 1800s. This precarious vehicle had one huge wheel in the front and one tiny wheel in the back. Over time, the penny-farthing’s more stable descendent, the bicycle, became popular with the general public while performers and acrobats took its frame apart and began pedaling around on one wheel.
Though unicycling is one of those abilities that most people leave up to the circus clowns to master, Klafter is not alone in his love for this unconventional hobby. Since the beginning of the 20th century, this pastime has experienced a great influx in both the number and variety of its participants. To accommodate an ever-increasing market of unicyclists, the industry produces numerous variations of its product.
When riding long-distance, the touring unicycle is the way to go. The freestyle unicycle is designed to show off flatland skills, while muni (short for mountain) unicycles have wide tires and even brakes for off-roading. For those who do not find riding on one wheel challenging enough, there is the seatless unicycle, as well as the extra tall giraffe unicycle.
In a society that televises “cupcake wars,” it is no surprise that unicycling has become a competitive sport complete with championship clubs and official rules.
Everybody has heard of the NBA and the NFL, but what about the NUC? The National Unicycling Convention holds competitions throughout the year, and believe it or not, a number of the competitive unicyclists who attend have gone pro.
However, Abe Klafter became the unicycling star of NW last Friday night. “Phil and I went out there hoping to do our best and to give everyone a good time. I was very pleased by the crowd’s response to the act Phil and I threw together the night before,” he said.
For those interested in learning to unicycle, here are a few tips for getting started. Make sure to do your research and determine what kind of unicycle you want before going out to buy. Nimbus and Torker are two of the best brands of unicycles, but they can cost over $1,000. Sun’s products are much cheaper, but break easily. For a good beginner unicycle, check out brands like Axis or Bedford. Of course, a cheap alternative to purchasing a unicycle is building one yourself. There are numerous tutorials online to show you how.
Klafter’s advice? “Check out YouTube videos of unicycles. There are some mind-blowing stunts and tricks.”