Electric unicycle draws stares
When little kids see him whizzing by, they think he’s a Power Ranger.
Adults don’t know what to think. They want him to stop and explain himself, but he likes to keep moving — on his one motorized wheel.
Meet Tony Roberson, a personable, 68-year-old from Twinsburg who rides an electric unicycle.
Where does he ride it? Everywhere. Western Cleveland suburbs like Rocky River. Eastern exurbs like Chardon. In Creston in Wayne County. On highways through parks. On the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath.
On one trip, he rode all the way from his Twinsburg residence to downtown Cleveland and back.
Roberson is diminutive man with a huge white beard. But when he suits up, it’s hard to tell what he looks like, because he learned the hard way that wearing a full helmet and padding makes a lot of sense.
When he started riding 10 months ago on a cheaper, smaller unicycle, he was wearing only a bicycle helmet when he went down hard. He didn’t break any bones, but he did a face-plant that required stitches above his eye.
These days he wears a full face helmet, along with elbow pads, knee pads, hip pads and shoulder pads.
“If you’re riding, you’re going to fall,” he says. “Even the best fall. It’s only one wheel. You don’t have the luxury of making a mistake.”
Roberson knew nothing about electric unicycles until he happened across them while searching online for a trike to add to his collection. When he saw a video of kids riding unicycles, he said to himself, “Wow, that’s something else! I wonder if I can do that.”
He decided to buy one on the lower end of the price spectrum, $600, to test whether he would enjoy the sport. They range in price from $500 to $3,000.
Once he was hooked, he forked out $2,150 for a Kingsong 18XL.
The slower you go, the farther you can go on one charge. At 15 to 20 mph, Roberson can cover about 70 miles.
Top speed for his bike is 31. Some bikes can go 45. Can you imagine 45 mph on one little wheel?
He enjoys his wheel so much that, if he were still working, he says, he’d use it for his daily commute.
That wasn’t an option during Roberson’s three decades at Atlantic Steel in Twinsburg. He operated a crane, moving around gigantic coils and loading them in trucks.
He was born in Arkansas but as an infant his parents moved to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Cleveland, just west of Shaker Heights, and he eventually graduated from JFK High School.
Roberson and his wife are approaching their 40th wedding anniversary. They have two kids (one of whom was gifted Tony’s first unicycle) and six grandkids.
Until the pandemic hit, Roberson’s new hobby was making him fast friends. He joined a group called the Cleveland E-Ryders, who ride in the parks … in the cities … almost anywhere with a paved road.
“I’m really bummed out that I can’t ride with those guys,” he says. “We had just been together for a few weeks when the pandemic hit ….
“It’s too much of a risk factor. But whenever it’s over, we’ll get together again.”
One thing COVID-19 hasn’t affected: his ability to grow facial hair. He is sporting a world-class beard.
When asked how long he has been growing it, he laughs. “I’ve always had some kind of hair on my face. And then two years ago, I said, ‘What would happen if I just let it grow?’”
Now he knows.
Look, kids — a Power Ranger with a beard!
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.