Thursday Sep 01 2011
Community Portrait: Local cycling mix includes one-wheeled veteran
By: Story and photos Michael Kirby
Atakin LeBlanc is a different kind of guy. LeBlanc’s chosen form of transportation is a unicycle, and most likely you’ve seen him riding along Bell Road between Highway 49 and Interstate 80. Cycling is a big deal around here, and LeBlanc throws his highly visible unicycle riding into the mix. Besides having just one wheel, a unicycle is different from a regular bike because it’s direct-drive — there is no chain and the pedals are attached directly to the wheel hub. There’s no coasting for LeBlanc who must constantly turn the wheel with his legs while he rides. He’s quite a sight and it makes your day just a little to see him cruising along. The 25-year-old LeBlanc has been riding a unicycle for more than 14 years and he’s pretty proficient on the one-wheeler. He hops up on his 29-inch wheel bike effortlessly, balanced perfectly upright with grace and confidence. He travels downstairs, over the curb, stops on a dime balanced perfectly still, and bunny hops up and down for as long as he wants. For now the unicycle is LeBlanc’s only transportation, but he’s OK with that. He feels it makes him unique and that suits LeBlanc just fine. He seems to enjoy the wow factor from people wherever he goes on his unicycle. And he attracts attention when he’s on his unicycle.“It’s pretty much the only way I get around,” he said. He’s rode in the Fourth of July parades in Foresthill where he was raised for the last several years, and along with his juggling skills he’s quite an act. He’s also done some long distance rides on his unicycle. LeBlanc once rode non-stop from Foresthill to Auburn in two hours and 45 minutes, and from Auburn to Cool in two hours and 15 minutes. His technique on the Cool ride is to lean forward while riding up the steep switchbacks of the canyon. LeBlanc has more endurance rides planned for the future. “Auburn to Lake Tahoe non-stop is a ride I’d like to try,” LeBlanc said, and someone even suggested a ride across the United States would be challenging. LeBlanc started riding a unicycle on the invitation of a friend when he was 11 and it took him six months of practice to get good. “My advice to anyone who wants to learn to ride a unicycle is practice makes perfect,” he said. While he was learning to ride, LeBlanc had the expected spills and crashes as he was figuring it out. Even with his years of experience and time in the unicycle saddle LeBlanc has to be on guard just like a traditional bicyclist and always rides defensively. LeBlanc also wears a helmet when he rides on the road. Once he was struck by a car, knocked to the ground, and ended up with a broken tooth and eight stitches in his face. LeBlanc was also on a television segment with “Good Day Sacramento” that featured his unicycle exploits. LeBlanc lives in Auburn and rides his unicycle daily. “Riding a unicycle is kind of unique. It’s not everyday you look out the window and see a unicyclist,” said LeBlanc.