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Unicyclist's adventures have taken him all over the world

LINDON (AP) — When you first learn that Guy Hansen does mountain unicycling, you think he's pretty cool. But the more you learn about him, the more you realize he's beyond cool.

Hansen not only enjoys mountain unicycling, but has also competed in unicycle road races, backward unicycling and obstacle races. He excels in hand unicycling competitions. In fact, Hansen said he currently holds seven unicycle hand-pedaling world records — three for speed and distance two-hand-pedaling, and four for speed and distance one-handed pedaling.

Yes, that's right, not only does this 64-year-old man traverse all over Utah mountains on his unicycle, he also lays his stomach on the seat and pedals by hand.

He built the one-handed unicycle himself. And that's not the only one. Hanging in the workshop of his Lindon home are almost 50 different types of unicycles — most of them hand-welded and created by Hansen. He has small 8-inch wheeled ones, four-foot tall ones called giraffes, ones with two, three and four wheels on top of each other, racing ones with gears, and even one built from a kids' bike that rides on one wheel.

Hansen said he wanted to ride unicycles even when he was very young. His farming family had very little money during his childhood, so for a long time, unicycling was just a dream.

"I came home from milking the cows one day when I was 12, and I saw a unicycle hanging in our garage. I thought it was a miracle," he said laughing.

The unicycle turned out to belong to a relative who was storing it there temporarily. But Hansen wasted no time. He taught himself to ride it before the relative came back. By the time he was 14, he'd saved enough money to buy a unicycle from Montgomery Ward. He cycled all through junior high and high school, and by the time he'd left for college, he had added a Schwinn unicycle to his repertoire.

Hansen served a mission in Chile for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and even with the rigors of missionary life, he found time to unicycle. He connected with two other young men serving there who also loved the sport, and they spent part of one day each week building and riding unicycles.

Even after he married his wife Karen, he still unicycled as often as possible, even taking apart a unicycle and stuffing it into his suitcase to take on their vacations. The list of where he's ridden unicycles reads like an atlas — across the entire state of Minnesota, through various states across the nation, Canada, throughout the Mediterranean, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Baltic states, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Greece, Finland, Estonia, Chile and India.

Interestingly, if you visit a small village near Panvel, India, Hansen said you just might see a group of people riding a unicycle as they travel back and forth to town. Years ago while working there, he rode into the village. When he left India, he left the unicycle for the village. When he stopped by for a visit about six months later, he was delighted that about 12 of the village's children could already ride.

Those few are not the only ones he's converted to the sport. All five of his children unicycle — and a couple are world championship riders in their own right. Of his 15 grandchildren, most of them have already picked up the sport as well. His sons and a few older grandchildren often enjoy mountain unicycling with him.

Though it sounds extremely hard and risky, Hansen contends mountain unicycling is actually less dangerous than mountain biking.

"You're going a lot slower, so when you fall, your injuries are less severe," he said.

He also maintains that it is a unique experience, like no other.

"It's almost instinctual. You just do what it takes to maintain balance," he said. "It's hard to explain, but it's just so much fun. The scenery is so beautiful, and the terrain offers you unlimited input and challenges. It's just so much more fulfilling to ride in that rougher terrain."

Though his hobby originally "drove me batty," Karen Hansen credits her husband's unicycling habit to keeping him very healthy. He broke his back six years ago while working on their house, and he bounced back from that quickly. He recovered in a similar fashion after a bout of cancer and two shoulder surgeries.

"When I complained to my sister early on, she said to be grateful my husband has a hobby that keeps him active and healthy. And it has," she said.

"I just heal fairly quickly for an old guy," Guy Hansen added with a laugh. "I've learned to be good at falling, and as a unicyclist you learn how to move real quick."

He shows no signs of slowing down, especially if his workshop is any indication. He still has wheels and frames galore, with plans to build many more unicycles for himself, his family and really — anyone else he can sway to straddle one wheel.