March 30, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

'A weird kind of famous'

The Unicycle Guy relishes being the most noticeable commuter on the road

Each morning, to get to work, most of the city climbs into sedans or minivans, a fair number sit on the bus, some bike, others who live close enough to do so walk — every trip moves along with the flow of traffic, and every commuter somewhat disappears into the thrum of urban movement.

Not Daniel Voth.

<p>Daniel Voth, who has five unicycles, has become known for riding his unicycle to work, and not even an icy winter road, nor over-aggressive Winnipeg traffic, can stop him.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Daniel Voth, who has five unicycles, has become known for riding his unicycle to work, and not even an icy winter road, nor over-aggressive Winnipeg traffic, can stop him.

For one thing, he’s deceptively gangly, standing six-foot-three, often towering over the people he meets. And then, there’s that thing he’s sitting on to get to work every winter morning: a 36-inch high unicycle, decked out in neon green decals, in case you weren’t already staring. He wants you to stare. He dares you to smile. He loves your attention.

"I call myself Dan, but people can call me the Unicycle Guy," he says. So we will.

The Unicycle Guy lives in an apartment on Garry Street, with his cat Jam Jams and five unicycles, a collection he’s been accruing for nearly three years. Every morning, around 8 a.m., he descends, wheel in the air, passing tenants who know him if not by name, then by his mode of transport.

He started riding a unicycle three years ago, when he saw a man riding one along the Assiniboine Park walking bridge. The Unicycle Guy, who was then strictly a Car Man, was intrigued. The next day, he called every bike shop in the city, and bought the cheapest ’cycle he could find.

His mother, Debbie-Lee Olfert, is no unicyclist herself — she says she can barely ride a bike. But she was not surprised to find out her son was picking up such a peculiar talent. "He is the most quirky person you’re going to meet," she says.

Voth has his winter tire on. Tire. Singular.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Voth has his winter tire on. Tire. Singular.

"And as the mother of grown-ass men, you stop telling them what to do and hope they make choices that aren’t illegal, immoral, or life-threatening," she says. "I say have fun, be safe, be smart."

At the time a Charleswood resident, the Unicycle Guy was determined to learn. He wouldn’t stop practising that first day until he could reach the bottom of the driveway without bailing, and soon enough, he could.

"The origin to my interest is that riding a unicycle has always seemed like an impossible task, and I always liked the idea of doing something often perceived as undoable," he says before a commute one March morning. "I always describe this as the easiest thing to learn that looks the hardest to do."

The Unicycle Guy isn’t wrong: from a distance, and up close, it seems like every moment not spent falling is a miracle, but ultimately, the pursuit of one-wheeled balance is one grounded in patience and trust. When talking about the unicycle, the Unicycle Guy takes on a somewhat spiritual tone: if you will it, you can ride.

“And as the mother of grown-ass men, you stop telling them what to do and hope they make choices that aren’t illegal, immoral, or life-threatening. I say have fun, be safe, be smart.” — Unicycle Guy's mother Debbie-Lee Olfert

Soon after he got down the driveway, he aimed higher, and further: he wanted to ride to work. So, last summer, he sold his rattly car, forwent his $100 per month parking expenses, and rode away.

The commute was 20 minutes by car, and though Google Maps doesn’t have a unicycle option, it took about an hour from Point A to Point B, an office on Market Street. In the summer, the ride was smooth, if not slightly scary.

The unicycle shared lanes with its two- and four-wheeled brethren harmoniously, aside from a few heckles from the seatbelted population. Some passersby rolled down their windows to sing circus music — da da dada dada da da dada. The Unicycle Guy was unperturbed. In fact, he was delighted.

People are always on the lookout for Voth, like the bus driver who gives him a wave along Waterfront Drive during his daily 15-minute commute.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

People are always on the lookout for Voth, like the bus driver who gives him a wave along Waterfront Drive during his daily 15-minute commute.

He started riding his unicycle in even more unconventional ways. To the arena, he lugged his hockey bag. While eating sushi with chopsticks, he pedaled around. Jam Jams has joined him for a ride here and there.

"I’m trying to stick out like a sore thumb, because I think the image is funny," he says. "The looks I’ve gotten — I get a kick out of it."

Later in the year, he moved to Garry Street, where his daily commute shortened to 15 minutes, but the amount of recognition he’s received expanded ten-fold. A woman waiting with her children for the school bus said her kids look forward to seeing him every day. A bus driver on Waterfront Drive waves to him daily.

On Broadway, one woman says she’s begun to text friends whenever she saw him roll by. "My friends in the deep Exchange speak of a Unicycle guy," she says. "He’s sort of a weird kind of famous."

Voth rides above it all near the Via Rail station while other vehicles sit bumper, to bumper, to bumper.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Voth rides above it all near the Via Rail station while other vehicles sit bumper, to bumper, to bumper.

His route shifts, but on this day, he darts across Main, and at the VIA Rail station, makes a sharp left turn. As cars sit and wait, jammed bumper to bumper to bumper, the Unicycle Guy floats above it, zooming past a stationary Kia Soul and an idling Volkswagen Golf at nearly 20 kilometres per hour.

Soon, he arrives at work, storing his wheel at his desk.

This summer, he plans to ride to Kenora on his unicycle to raise money for charities of his choosing; he’s starting to figure out which now. Upon hearing those plans, his mom was once again unsurprised.

"It’s such an absurd thing, but if it’s what he wants to do, I am not going to talk him out of it," she says, adding that she’s proud he’s cut down his carbon footprint. As for riding to work in the winter, "All the power to him," she laughs.

"I always tell people, if I die or get hurt on the way to Kenora, I accept it," the Unicycle Guy says, taking a serious turn. "But if I’m not doing the things that I enjoy in life, then what am I doing?"

"I could just stay at home all day every day and not go out into the world, but if something’s going to happen, something is going to happen doing what I love," he says.

"I don’t walk anywhere unless I have to," he says.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

What began with a successful first trip down a Charleswood driveway has turned into a passion for the Unicycle Guy that rolls on, whatever the weather.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

What began with a successful first trip down a Charleswood driveway has turned into a passion for the Unicycle Guy that rolls on, whatever the weather.

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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