Kai Tierney: No Coasting
Kai Tierney, 39
Day job: works at W.L. Gore
Based in Northern Arizona, you might have seen him commuting to work, not so unusual in this bike-friendly town. However, after a double take you’ll notice he’s not on his bike. He’s on a 36-inch cross-country Mountain-unicycle.
An avid mountain biker, Kai Tierney then 27, decided to try unicycling while visiting cousins in Colorado. After only about ten minutes of trying it out, he was hooked. He came home and immediately bought a unicycle, now one of four that he owns. “It’s not mountain biking,” says Tierney, “It’s a strange sport. You can be riding on a flat road, hit a pebble, not be thinking about it properly and find yourself on the ground. You can also be going over huge boulders, tight, technical trails and because you’re dialed in and focused, have no problems at all.”
What’s the difference?
Unicycles have fixed wheels so there are no gears and you aren’t able to coast. You can only move as fast as you pedal. The diameter of the wheel depends on what kind of riding you want to do- but more than that, what you are capable of doing. He chooses the 36” cross-country mountain unicycle because “it’s harder than riding a smaller wheel on the trails. It’s part of the challenge and experience. It’s common to have a brake because the wheel is so big, the momentum so intense, your legs need a little help taking the pressure off.”
Mastering a Unicycle
Tierney mastered road riding and trials riding, and now enjoys the technical and long distance mountain terrain. His uncle, Mike Tierney, organizes trips to ride. In 2012, they went with some of the continent’s unicycling gurus, Kris Holm and Nathan Hoover to Moab, UT to ride the White Rim Trail. While a mecca for mountain bikers, it was the first time a group of unicyclists dominated this 130 mile off-road, technical climb.
Tierney has inspired several friends to take up riding. He says while most people pick up bike riding quickly, those who try unicycling will never pick it up again because of the difficulty ( he did manage to teach most of his wedding party to ride- enough for a photo). When asked about riding with Tierney, Scot Porter, longtime friend stated, “He’s a beast!” It could be the 8,700 vertical ft. he climbed up Mt. Lemmon during a road bike race or the weekend he decided to ride the 85 miles to the Grand Canyon from his doorstep, arriving 9 hours later. Or even his yearly trip up and down Arizona Snowbowl (11,000 ft.) in the snow.
While everyday routines and demands can be an excuse to not get outside, Tierney says that by simply commuting to work he’s reminded of the continual challenge that he craves and mentally depends on. “Every time I ride, even something familiar, it’s continually testing me physically. For me it’s a spiritual thing too. I’m focused on every inch of the trail. My heart is pounding, I’m sweating and talking with the Lord, praying for my family, trying to figure out different situations in my life.”
Staying active is key. His advice, “Push yourself not only physically, but mentally and spiritually in everything you do. My motto in unicycling is One wheel, One God, One way”. He’s got at least one more person to teach- his 4-year old daughter who already owns a 10” unicycle.