A Q&A With The Unicycle Guy

If you’ve been downtown recently, you’ve probably seen Christopher Lee Shatlain, aka The Unicycle Guy. The 20-year-old Texas native and his 9-foot-tall unicycle have caused quite a bit of buzz around town and online.

“People are impressed or completely speechless,” Shatlain says. “I haven’t had any negative responses except for ‘You crazy bastard, get out of the road!’ ”

Critics have accused Shatlain of riding his unicycle for attention, but that’s something he is quick to refute.

“I do it because it’s fun,” he says, noting that he also rides the cycle to and from work. “If I’ve had a really tough day, it’s relaxing for me. I know that’s kind of hard to comprehend, but I’m left alone when I’m going through the air.”

An Interview With Christopher Lee Shatlain, a.k.a. Unicycle Guy

We were just as curious as the rest of Columbia when we kept seeing Christopher Lee Shatlain ride down Broadway on his nine-foot-high unicycle. We tracked him down on Facebook (thanks Facebook fans!) and asked him everything we wanted to know about his unusual form of transportation. Shatlain moved back home to San Antonio, Texas, after we interviewed him. Whether he returns or not, he’s a Columbia resident we’ll remember. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

INSIDE COLUMBIA: I was reading that you saw someone unicycling on a commercial and that’s why you wanted to try it. Is that right?

CHRISTOPHER LEE SHATLAIN: Yeah, there is a guy named Dan Heaton. He was in the woods and he was balancing on a log and going down a hill and doing all of these insane things. And then he was in the city and he went up and down a flight of stairs backwards. It was a small flight of stairs but it still impressed me to the point where I wanted to be able to do everything that man did in that video. And so, literally as soon as the commercial was over I grabbed the car keys and was out the door. It was an impulse thing. I had money on me, I had just gotten paid; it was a Friday. So I went out and it took me two hours to find a unicycle because I didn’t know where to start.

Where do you buy a unicycle?

I was like, who would have a unicycle? Let’s try the bike shops. None of the bike shops did. One of them said they had one but they sold it about a week ago. I was born in Austin, Texas, and I’m from San Antonio. There’s a place called Sun & Ski Sports in San Antonio and that’s where I got my first unicycle. I tried for months and months and months and months. I couldn’t figure out how to ride it.

So did anyone teach you or did you teach yourself?

Well I tried by myself for a while and I really sucked at it and I couldn’t figure out why and what I was doing wrong. I gave up on it for a couple months and then I found out my friend’s dad used to ride it professionally when he was younger. But he hadn’t touched one in ten years. I said, “well, I know you haven’t touched one in forever but would you try to give me a few pointers?” He grabbed my unicycle, hopped on it and rode off like it was nothing. He hadn’t ridden in ten years, but he told me it was one of those things you never forget.

Like riding a bike?

Yeah. And I trained with him an hour a day for six days. On day one I couldn’t even get on the thing and on day six I went my first mile and went over my first speed bump. I’ve trained two students. One learned in five days for an hour a day. And when I say he learned, I mean he went his first mile over his first speed bump. That is my milestone because if you can go a mile, you can go two miles. You’ve got the balance, it’s how far can your body go before it gives out.

How high was the first unicycle you bought?

It was just a normal 3-footer. Most unicycles you want to keep around your belly-button height for the seat. Some like it higher, some like it lower. I personally like my seat a little lower because I do stuff on unicycles that they’re not made for like going down flights of stairs and stuff like that.

Have you ever had a really bad accident?

I broke a rib. I was going down a flight of stairs and the seat broke on me. The unicycle was not put together right and I didn’t know that. It turned on me and it broke and I went down. The thing that broke my rib was that I replaced my plastic petals with metal ones for two reasons. One, it gives you better grip, and two, it helps you learn faster if you’re learning because if the metal pedal spins around and hits you in the shin it’s going to hurt a lot worse and you’re not going to want to do that again. But the unicycle turned sideways on the stairs and I went down and the metal pedal went right into my rib. Yeah it hurt. But I’m still riding.

Is this your form of transportation? Do you have a car?

I don’t have a car. This is how I get to and from work. Sometimes I get rides, you know, from other people working. I could have a car if I wanted one but I’ve wasted so much money on unicycles. I mean, my 9-footer cost half a grand. So, you would think, “it’s like half a bike it should half half the price”and its not at all!

Have you found a place in Columbia that sells them?

Yeah, actually the bike shop right down here called Cyclextreme Bicycle Warehouse.  They have one on display right now for about $120 and I’m thinking of getting it just to be able to train people with and have it as a spare.

Unicycle.com’s the best place to get unicycles. That’s where I got my 9-footer, they have the best quality ones. I love that website to death. I’m friends with the owner of it and they rock. They have different unicycles designed for different things. For example, there are unicycles with wheels that are four inches wide, I’ve ridden one before and they’re designed for sand and sand dunes. I met a guy that had one and I asked if I could ride it and I go “What is this for?” and he goes “I used it for sand dunes because it’s the only unicycle that wouldn’t really sink.” I thought, well, that makes sense.

There are unicycles that have larger wheels, thicker tires, that are made for mountain-unicycling, which is really fun by the way. You go out into the woods and just hop on.

Oh my gosh, that sounds scary.

Oh it is. I go all the time with mine.

Not to sound like a mom, but I noticed you don’t wear a helmet.

Yeah, I get told I should be wearing one all the time.

I saw a video of you riding down the highway without a helmet. Don’t you think that’s dangerous? 

It’s stupid. Riding down the highway on a unicycle is stupid. Riding down the highway on a seven foot unicycle is ridiculous. It’s insanity.

The way I saw it, I was just trying to get home from work. The person that took that video works for the St. Louis news, which I didn’t know at the time. But they put that on the St. Louis news. Come to find out, news channels around the country stole that video and it was broadcast everywhere, and it was on the internet. It surprised me. I was just trying to get to work. I had my unicycle on me. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.

I got pulled over later. The officer pulls me over and says, “You need to get off that thing.” So I jump down and say, “Is there a problem officer?” She goes, “What are you doing?” I said, “Trying to get home from work.” She stared, at me and was like, “Where do you work?” “About three miles that way.” “Where are you going?” “About two miles that way.” She shook her head and said, “I’m going to be honest with you. I would have pulled you over about a mile back, but I was busy making phone calls trying to find a law you were breaking.”

So did you get a ticket?

No, they told me not to do it again. She said you can’t ride that on the highway.

What was the reasoning?

You’re not supposed to have man-powered vehicles on the highway, or something like that. She just told me not to do it. She said, “We’re going to get phone calls about you on the streets, but as long as you follow the bike rules, you’re legal.”

Have you had any other problems like that with people in Columbia?

I’ve had people be complete jerks saying “Get on the sidewalk.” There are two reasons I don’t ride on the sidewalk. One of them is that they don’t trim trees 11 feet in the air. Second off, it’s illegal in the city of Columbia.

People think when they honk or something, it’s going to make me get off, but it just makes me jump a little bit. In fact, I got attacked by a deer the other day. When you’re on a unicycle, it’s really quiet. You sneak up on people really easily because they don’t hear you. I snuck up on a deer and it was dark. It was a male deer with antlers. I’m riding and I didn’t realize until I was like this close to it. And I freaked out and it headbutted me in the side. I just swerved. It scared me half to death and it took off. I thought “I just got attacked by a deer on a unicycle.” I think I scared it more than it scared me.

What’s the most common reaction you get from people? I noticed you have photos from fans on Facebook. Do most people think your unicycle is cool?

After I go for a ride, I try to find photos of myself just so I can have photos. I google “Columbia Missouri unicyclist.’ I look on Facebook and I try to find tweets about me and I retweet them.

When I’m riding my little one, 80 percent of the people think it’s cool. The other 20 percent think I’m  a dork for riding a unicycle, until I do something that blows their mind, like riding with one foot. With the tall one, I haven’t really had any negative responses except “You crazy bastard, get out of the road.” “Get a helmet.” But the most common reaction is just people being impressed or just completely speechless.

People think they’re really funny when they say “Where’s your other wheel?” I’ve heard it before. Or they say “Do a wheelie.” I always tell them I need money first.

One thing I want to add is some people think I just do it for the attention, but I don’t. I love what I do. If I had absolutely no fans whatsoever, I would still be riding.

Why do you think people say you do it for attention?

Because I’m going down the road on a ten-foot unicycle. I mean why else would anyone do it because they’re A, looking for attention, or B, it’s fun? I do it because it’s fun. For me, if i’ve had a really hard day, it’s relaxing for me. I know that’s kind of hard to comprehend, but I’m left alone when I’m going through the air. I’m in my own little zone. I’m just a happy camper.

Well, just to play devil’s advocate, you said you put your photos on Facebook and you have aFacebook page. Do you think that could be why people think you’re doing it for the attention?

I made that because a fan wanted me to. Same thing with Twitter. My YouTube started off with just a personal collection of my videos and what I thought was cool. People started liking it.