When one rides by, everybody wheels around

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When one rides by, everybody wheels around

We can all remember learning how to ride a bicycle. We shook the handlebars violently as the bike wobbled left to right.

Our fathers lied, "Don't worry, just go ahead and I'll be here to catch you.... Just look ahead and keep pedaling." Eventually, after a fall or three, we got the hang of it, and balancing on the bike became second nature. And the cuts and scrapes healed.

If you think learning to ride a bike was hard, imagine learning to ride a unicycle. Plenty of brave souls show up every Sunday at the Seoul Olympic Park near the park's World Peace Gate to do just that. They are members of the Korean Unicycle Club, which was formed last July.

Usually about 10 people show up for the weekly meetings and start pedaling around atop a solitary wheel with nothing else to support them. They use their arms to maintain their balance. Curious passers-by stop and marvel at them.

The unicyclists go around in tight circles and hop up and down on their steeds. When you watch them you think they're going to crash at any moment; but somehow they stay up and keep pedaling away.

A middle school student, Park Jeu, who joined the club a month ago, was asked why he took to the unicycle. He had been practicing moving quickly back and forth in a tight line. "What attracts me about unicycling is that it's something new and not many people do it," he said. "I also like it when we get an audience; people crowd around us to look. The only thing that bothers me is when I hear people asking if we work for a circus; that really puts me off. I do this as a hobby."

Rollerbladers in the park always slow down to watch the unicyclists, looking at them in amazement.

An 18-year-old high school student, Hong Hae-mi, has been a member of the club for more than six months. "The thing I like most about this sport is that you and the equipment become one."

The unicycle is "truthful," she said. "When you pedal backward, the bike moves that way, and you can never stand completely still. And because there are no handlebars, I have to keep total control over my body, shifting my weight to make the bike move."

Unicycling advocates say it provides a better workout than bicycling and other sports because the pedaling is steady and the arms must be held up and the back kept straight.

In the club is a father-son team, Cheong Hyeon-do, 35, and his son Seong-ju, 9. "Every Sunday morning my son begs me to take him here to ride unicycles," Mr. Cheong said. "It's about the best pastime for a father and son to enjoy together."

Most of the 400 people who belong to the unicycle club that meets at Olympic Park are male; only about 10 percent are female. Beginners are welcome to come and learn by using the members' equipment. But it takes a long time to get the hang of this sport. And protective equipment is highly recommended.

by Sung Si-yoon

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