The Munifest mountain-unicycling festival takes place in Moab Friday through Sunday, March 21-23. After a five-year hiatus, and with a new director organizing the event, “municycling” enthusiasts are excited to hit the area’s single track and slickrock.
“The old Munifest was one of the most fun things I have ever done,” said Jon Davis, the new Moab Munifest director. “I couldn’t be more excited to bring such a great thing back.”
The festival had been dormant for five years since previous director Rolf Thompson decided to retire from the event in 2009. Davis had been an enthusiastic participant of two of the previous festivals, which started in 1999.
“I was geared up and ready to go in 2010, and that’s when I found out it had ended,” Davis said. “That was especially disappointing.”
He couldn’t let the event go, and after seeing online posts from other enthusiasts, he decided to take action
“There was a lot of talk every spring about if this would happen again, would anyone take up the reins,” Davis said. “I did a lot searching and found that this was a recurring theme for the past five years and I thought now would be a great time to do it.”
The idea of unicycling Moab’s famous, rugged trails is still an unusual idea to most people, though municycling has been around for decades.
“A lot of people see a unicyclist riding a technical or crazy-looking section and they think that’s insane,” Davis said.
But municyclists seem to agree that one wheel is safer, if not easier, than two. Generally on a unicycle, the pedals are attached directly to the axle. There are no gears, no chain, no brakes. To stop moving, one just stops pedaling. Also, when a rider does fall, there is far less bike to get tangled around.
“The reality is that the balance point is so precise that if you’re going to fall you know it,” Davis said. “You kind of just step down.”
As interest in municycling has grown over the years, more cycle styles and options have become available. According to the Unicycling Society of America, some riders do use a brake, with the lever located under the front of the seat and geared hubs can also be used. What they all have in common is a fat, knobby tire, just like their mountain bike cousin.
“I have been mountain biking on and off since the early 90’s,” local municyclist Jason Haley said. “Muni has been an extension of mountain biking for me. The challenges are completely different. A three-mile ride on my unicycle is like a 15-mile ride on my bike.”
Also just like their mountain bike cousin, the limits of where a municycle can go and what it can do are continually being broken. On Youtube, there are many examples of unicyclists riding—or hopping—on, and over, obstacles like rocks, logs, drops.
“Hopping, which feels a lot like a pogo stick, is an optional skill,” Davis said. “That’s if you want to negotiate really technical things.”
For those not yet ready to hop to extremes, the Moab trails approved for the Munifest can accommodate a variety of skill levels. Group rides are organized for beginner (Bar M loop), intermediate (Slickrock), and advanced riders (Porcupine Rim and Amasa Back).
“In 2006, I had been riding a unicycle for roughly four months,” Haley said. “My riding was beginner level at best. Watching the riders at my first Munifest helped improve my riding probably more than any other single event. I have enjoyed watching other riders, especially the ones pushing the limits of what one would think possible on one wheel.”
Munifest rides begin with the Slickrock Practice Loop on Friday, March 21 and continue through the weekend. Locals and visitors who are interested in exploring the sport are encouraged to come to the unicycle basketball game on Friday at 5:30 p.m., tentatively scheduled at the Sun Court, located next to the court house.
“Most riders that I know are so friendly and congenial they’d happily let people try it out at any time,” Davis said.
David said extra unicycles will be on hand that people can play around on. He hopes that can happen at Swanny Park on Friday from 1 to 5 p.m., but as of press time, his permit hadn’t yet been confirmed by the city.
“Unicycling is incredible,” Haley said. “If you can invest the time it takes to learn, the feeling of accomplishment is amazing. Once you can ride a unicycle, muni is a great way to further build your skills and always find new challenges.”
Mountain-unicycling festival to take place this weekend
“I have been mountain biking on and off since the early 90’s. Muni has been an extension of mountain biking for me. The challenges are completely different. A three-mile ride on my unicycle is like a 15-mile ride on my bike.”
Registration for the event closed March 14, but people who want more information can stay up-to-date by visiting the event website at munifest.us.