Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Unicyclists make Kluane history


June 22, 2017

A track left in the snow by a single tire on the unplowed Haines Highway early Saturday testified to the odyssey of UniQuest Yukon, a unicycle team that made a quixotic and historic ride to the finish line of the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay.

Four men from California and Alaska became the first unicycle squad to finish the relay and the only team to make the 150-mile ride to tidewater in Haines Saturday, averaging 10.8 miles per hour. The event was cancelled for unsafe conditions about two hours after the unicyclists headed out in near-darkness.

It wasn’t an easy ride.

Former Haines tour operator and lead rider Ned Rozbicki, 49, said he “officially” fell twice in the first leg of the effort, working a single, studless tire up and down hills in several inches of slush. “It was brutal,” he said.

Unicycling typically involves leaning forward to make progress, but the slick surface meant riders had to sit upright, keeping enough weight on the tire for traction. “That made hills particularly tough,” Rozbicki said. A video the team posted on social media this week showed riders struggling to mount their cycles on snow.

The team started at 4:30 a.m. to ensure that they would finish in time for the king salmon feed at the relay’s end. About 30 miles into their ride they learned the event was cancelled, but that didn’t change their attitude.

Unicycling is not a sanctioned division in the race and team members weren’t expecting race officials even would be keeping their times, although they paid a required registration fee and attached team numbers to their cycles, as required. Cars heading into Haines stopped and cheered.

“From Day 1, it was a competition against ourselves. When we found out it was cancelled it didn’t dissuade us because that wasn’t why we were here,” Rozbicki said.

The team rode unicycles that had 36-inch wheels, the largest ones made. The “touring” unicycles also feature a handlebar and a hand brake. A cycle used by team member Nathan Hoover features a second gear. In ideal conditions, the second gear allows speeds up to 16-20 mph compared to 10-14 mph on a single-speed model.

Like many two-wheeled teams, UniQuest was not quite prepared for the day’s frigid weather. Between them, they had a single pair of rain-proof pants. “Our transitions weren’t that smooth because we had to keep switching out the pants,” Rozbicki said.

The team included attorney Jim Sowers of Oakland, Calif. and school teacher Ben Richardson of Anchorage; Hoover, a software developer, lives in Los Gatos, Calif.

Long-distance riding is only one facet of unicycling, said Rozbicki. Sowers plays on unicycle basketball team in Berkeley, Calif. that competes internationally. There’s even off-road unicycling, featuring beefier, “mountain-style” unicycles. “You can YouTube extreme unicycling and there’s some great videos,” he said.


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