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Freshman engineering majors Evan Jones, left, and Andrew Terrill take their unicycles for a spin on East Campus.
December 4, 2017

UMass Lowell students pedal a uni-que way to get around campus

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  • Lowell
Two freshman engineering majors turn heads on their unicycles

There are many ways to get around campus. Most students walk. Some ride a bicycle or skateboard. Others catch a River Hawk Roadster shuttle.

And then there are Evan Jones and Andrew Terrill, both freshmen in the Francis College of Engineering. They prefer to get around campus on their unicycles.

“It’s fun when you’re riding down the street and people do a double-take. You always get some smiles,” says Jones, a mechanical engineering major from Boxford.

Even more surprising than the sight of Jones riding a unicycle from his dorm on East Campus to classes on North is the fact that he only began learning to ride in September.

Jones and Terrill met this fall as floormates at Leitch Hall. One day, they went to Terrill’s home in Milford to get some of his belongings and say ‘Hi’ to his family. Terrill said he also wanted to grab his unicycle.

“I said, ‘Um, what?’” recalls Jones, whose eyes popped when Terrill opened his garage door to reveal 17 different unicycles of all makes and sizes. Turns out most of Terrill’s family ride the one-wheelers, led by his father, Kelley.

“My dad rode it in college, and so did my older brother, so I wanted to keep up the tradition,” says Terrill, who got his first unicycle for his birthday in the third grade.

Terrill offered to teach Jones how to ride, beginning with some balance lessons. The lessons then moved outside Leitch, where Jones began pedaling while cautiously keeping one hand along walls. After two weeks, Jones was off the wall and riding on his own.

Terrill felt like a proud parent watching his child ride a bike without training wheels for the first time.

“He grasped it really quick,” says Terrill, who was soon taking 5-mile rides with Jones around the campus and city. “It takes a lot of perseverance. A lot of people give up immediately. And it requires confidence. You can’t be scared of falling off.”

“I was shocked to pick it up so fast,” Jones says. “The learning curve was exponential. The first two weeks, I was measuring progress in feet. Two weeks later, it was in miles.”

Jones bought a unicycle of his own, dropping $415 online for a Nimbus 29-inch mountain model. (Terrill says his dad owns one that cost more than $1,000.)

Both Jones and Terrill plan to keep riding their unicycles into the winter, as long as the streets are clear of snow. 

“Riding on snow and ice is actually pretty fun,” Terrill says. “Balancing on this is a feat on its own, but it’s much harder on a frictionless surface.”

Considering how much less space they take and how much more maneuverable they are than bicycles, Jones and Terrill wonder why more people don’t take up unicycling. A few students have asked them for lessons, and they are thinking about starting a club.

“Without my unicycle, I wouldn’t be exploring Lowell as much,” Terrill says.

“It’s a really good workout for your legs, arms and abs,” adds Jones, who has noticed that back pain he used to feel has subsided since riding his unicycle. “It’s made a huge difference. I love it.”

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