Ryan McArthur balances the reliability of a public transit journey with the need to travel his way.
Toronto construction worker Ryan McArthur starts his workday commute on at least 88 wheels.
But by the time he gets close to his job site, he’s usually down to just one.
For most of his daily journey, McArthur is just another GO train rider, heading toward Union Station from his home in Aurora, in central York Region. And he wouldn’t stand out on the TTC, as he continues his trip to his labourer’s work.
Unless you notice the unicycle.
McArthur uses the single-tire for the sections of travel not covered by public transit. More and more, customers are finding innovative ways to cover the ground of the short distances at the start and end of these journeys.
During the week, McArthur leaves the unicycle locked up in Union Station’s Bicycle Station, a secure facility that rents him one of their 160 bike racks. For someone who’s often tearing stuff down, and covered in dust and debris by day’s end, the changing room and shower that come with the rental are a welcome luxury.
But among fellow cyclists, his vehicle – decked out with sophisticated and very bright lights in the spokes that constantly switch so they’re always showing red behind him and white in front – is unique.
Though he may be pedaling ahead of his time.
Unicycles have been around since the 1800s – likely a modification of the original penny-farthing bikes with their huge front tires. But ‘uni-commuters’ are making tracks in cities around the world, thanks largely to a breed of modern electric unicycle that self-balances.
But in cycle circles, that’s digital transport where you stand and glide. McArthur is an old school peddler.
“I’m just a… weird guy,” he explains. “So this suits me.
“And it’s a really great workout for the thighs.”
He began making his unicycle a part of his commute last year – a helmet bought from a gift certificate won through a Metrolinx custumer survey. He moves at the pace of a brisk walk, and can navigate any place a mountain bike can go. That’s handy around construction sites and over Toronto’s constant curbs.
Under his seat, there’s a mandatory bike bell, in case you may have missed him hovering above everyone on one wheel.
Toronto isn’t a place where people stop and stare. Like many big cities, there is an air of ‘yawn – I’ve seen that before’.
McArthur is often surprised by the attention he doesn’t get – peddling steadily to keep up with the morning and evening urban tide.
But those who do comment as he goes by are largely supportive. Though if he’s on the sidewalk, he gets an occasional cold shoulder tossed his way.
“There are bike lanes – so fair enough,” he says to the three people who have so far told him to get off the sidewalk.
He thinks his single wheel will remain a part of his transit commute.
Though he doesn’t often turn on those bright lights he cleverly hooked up.
He doesn’t want to stand out, he explains: “I’m just not brave enough to turn them on.”
Story by Thane Burnett, Metrolinx manager of editorial content.