Just shy of 60, Terry “Unigeezer” Peterson finds health and happiness in extreme unicycling.
- Written byStefan Slater
On January 16, the day after his 59th birthday, South Bay local Terry “Unigeezer” Peterson rode his unicycle for 150 miles. “I had to turn that wheel around almost 85,000 times for the 16 hours I was pedaling,” says Peterson. He started cycling before sunup, beginning in Torrance and moving up and down along the South Bay’s coastline.
“I felt pretty good for most of the ride,” he says, adding that he had to pace himself for the majority of the trek, taking strategic breaks every 20 miles or so at first so he could eat a Power Bar, rest and then trek on. He notes that there were challenges, as one might expect when riding a hard-to-balance unicycle for 150 miles at roughly 10 to 12 mph.
“You can’t coast on a unicycle; you’re pedaling every inch of the way. For some people, riding 10 miles is an impossible feat. You only have so much strength and stamina,” he says.
Maintaining balance and momentum proved to be a potent physical and mental challenge for Peterson. But since he can usually be seen riding throughout the South Bay on a regular basis—ranging from the rough, rocky trails up in Palos Verdes to the smooth Strand down in Manhattan Beach—it’s no surprise that he managed to pull through just fine.
Peterson mostly did the run as a personal challenge of sorts. (He’s done other long-distance cycling runs before, including a 120-mile ride he did for leukemia awareness.) But the ride was also “a precursor to what I really want to do, which is a 24-hour, 200-mile ride … I’m planning for later this year.”
For Peterson, unicycling is part of his identity. It’s a challenging, unique sport—one that’s brought an ample amount of positive change to his lifestyle. In his opinion, unicycling provides a constant source of thrill and excitement, and he is grateful to be involved in the extreme unicycling community.
Growing up in the South Bay, Peterson received his first unicycle in 1967 when he was 11. (He refers to it as the “summer of unicycling.”) He took to the sport almost immediately, and it wasn’t long before he learned how to ride backwards, spin around and ride down small stairs.
“This was a long time before they were purpose-built,” he notes, and it wasn’t long before he started breaking his first unicycles. “My mom and dad were going broke buying me unicycles. I mean, there were five kids in the family,” he says.
He moved on from unicycling and delved into other activities, such as ventriloquism. Forty years later, Peterson was on the hunt for a new activity to pick up. A piano tuner by trade, he wanted something to keep him active and fit. After moving through all the classic sports and not finding anything of interest, he made a move back to unicycling.
In 2005 he picked up a unicycle and “went in the backyard, because I didn’t want people to see me fall on face. But I was pretty astonished: I got right on it and rode. It’s like a bike that way, I guess—you don’t forget.”
Peterson says the appeal of unicycling is that it constantly demands his attention. It’s an active sport, and since you can’t really coast on a unicycle like you would on a bike, you always need to be on your toes.
“It’s a great way to get in shape,” he says. “It’s a great core exercise. I went from being way out of shape, and within a year I went from 170 to 145 pounds. I was floating in my old clothes.”
He adds that during his rides he meets tons of locals, including other unicyclists. Once, when riding along with some younger unicyclists, one of them told him that it was great to see a “geezer” riding a unicycle. Peterson took a liking to the word, and he added “uni” to it to form his nickname.
“People do cheer me on all the time,” he says, adding that he’s proud to bring so much exposure to a sport that he loves so much. “I think of myself as an ambassador for the sport—I get letters from around the world,” he says, adding that he even has sponsors now, including Krisholm.com and Twins Bike Shop.
“I’d discovered something so awesome, and it’s changed my life in so many positive ways,” he says, referring to when he first picked up the sport. He practices various unicycling disciplines, and one of his favorite activities is to ride off-road on specialized and ruggedized unicycles.
He also has a fun trials setup in his backyard, including a set of stairs and piles of pallets where he can practice hopping from one to the other. He’s tackled other extreme challenges, including successfully riding up Fargo Street near Echo Park. With a nauseating 33% incline, it’s one of LA’s steepest streets. (The Los Angeles Times reported that the fire department and car manufacturers allegedly test their equipment on it.)
“It’s not a circus thing at all,” says Peterson. He adds that unicycling has transformed from a sideshow affair to a legitimate sport. The unicycle’s compact size, relatively low cost and quirky nature have all contributed to its rise in popularity in recent years. And because unicycling requires constant pedaling and balance, it’s also become popular as a form of exercise.
Peterson, who calls himself an extreme unicyclist, plans to keep riding as long as possible. He’s going to keep pushing the limits on testing his unicycling abilities.
“For me, when I go to bed at night I’m thinking about plotting my next day’s ride. When I get on the trail, I’m not thinking about finishing. I’m thinking about enjoying my adventure.”