Commentary

This wheel's on fire

Updated: August 4, 2009, 12:39 PM ET
By Jim Caple | Page 2

Alberto Contador won the Tour de France last week, riding the 2,140 miles in 85 hours and 48 minutes, an average of nearly 25 miles per hour up towering mountains and across wind-swept fields and shores.

He used two wheels. The slacker.

If you want an impressive cyclist, check out Joe Myers on this video of a ride up Washington's Mount Baker (you can see him at the 2:07 and 5:53 points). Myers rode this weekend's annual Cougar Mountain Climb for Cancer in 18 minutes, 42 seconds on a unicycle. The Cougar Mountain ride is about two miles long with an average gradient of nearly 7½ percent and some stretches as high as 16 percent. To give you some perspective, that's almost as steep as the Tour's legendary Alpe d'Huez. It's not pleasant on two wheels, let alone one.

I know. I ride up Cougar every now and then when I do hill work, sweating up inclines so steep you can hear cars changing gears as they strain to climb them. I rode the Climb for Cancer time trial for the first time Sunday and finished in 15:32. I would have felt prouder of that time if it hadn't been almost five minutes slower than Adam Fung's winning time of 10:46, and slower than 63 other riders as well.

Of course, I was barely three minutes faster than Myers on his unicycle. In a single gear. With no brakes (I don't think he went back down the course). At 52, he's also five years older than me.

"I got into this six years ago for health reasons," Myers said. "I have an office job and I was gaining weight and had high blood pressure. I bicycled, but that didn't really have the challenge that I wanted. So I started this. I've lost 20 pounds and my blood pressure went down and I got healthier."

Myers said he practiced on the unicycle for about 15 minutes a day to get the hang of it, and within six weeks he was riding up and down the block near his home in Bellingham, Wash. It wasn't long before he was riding longer. Much longer. Up to 5,600 miles a year longer. He can cruise along at about 15 miles per hour on a flat road.

"I commute to work on it. It's about four miles each way, and I commute in all weather -- snow, wind and rain," he said. "I had a stretch of 2½ years of car-less commutes."

That streak ended last summer when he broke his leg in a crash while crossing a railroad track during the final day of the five-stage, 500-mile Ride the Lobster unicycle race in Nova Scotia (just when you think you've heard of every race, along comes something else). Doctors told him he could have the leg surgically repaired there, but he would have to remain in Nova Scotia for two weeks until the leg was stable, or he could have it done back home. Myers opted for the latter, though it required his wife to drive him across the continent. It took them four days.

Twelve weeks later, Myers was back on the unicycle. This past weekend, he was powering up a hill that left me and others gasping for air and ready to vomit.

People make a lot of excuses for not exercising. Not enough time. The weather is too hot or too cold or it's raining. But after watching Myers, I don't want to hear any excuses. He's just an average guy doing something amazing. He's not alone; you can find other unicyclists doing similar things. OK, we don't have to ride unicycles up mountains, but it's a beautiful summer, so let's get out there and do something.

Me, I'm going to train to improve my time for next year, get it under 15 minutes, maybe closer to 14. I'm not sure what Joe will do. I mean, I don't know what he could do that would be more impressive. Ride while juggling?

"Oh, I can juggle," he said.

Take that, Alberto.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com