Two men on unicycles
Tom Ringsmuth and his dad John Ringsmuth show off their unicycle skills. John has been riding unicycles for 50 years and his son Tom has been riding them ever since he can remember. Photo by John Zurcher/NNS

Learning to ride a bike is no easy task. Learning to ride a unicycle is an even harder task. What’s harder than learning to ride a bike and a unicycle, is building a unicycle.

That is what John Ringsmuth of Lincoln has been doing for the last 50 years.  Building unicycles has been a passion of his since a very young age. That passion was ignited from the television and an eye for invention.

“I remember I was an early teenager when I saw on the TV a man riding a unicycle and carrying groceries with both hands,” Ringsmuth said. “Right then and there, I wanted to start riding a unicycle. I didn’t know how to yet, but I was determined to do so.”

Ringsmuth came from a very big family, as he had 10 siblings. They didn’t buy the fanciest new toys so the siblings were good at making their own. Ringsmuth and a few other siblings began building a unicycle.

Ringsmuth has now built over 50 unicycles and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Fifty years later he still makes time for building and riding them.

“I not only love to build unicycles but I love to ride unicycles,” Ringsmuth said. “There is something more special about riding a unicycle that you made with your own bare hands.”

This process of building is not easy. It takes Ringsmuth weeks, even months to make a single unicycle. The way Ringsmuth builds unicycles is by taking parts of old bikes and using a wheel and the other parts. He then turns this once unusable bike into a thriving unicycle.

Ringsmuth never has made these one-wheeled bikes for himself. He has always done it for others. As a father of five children, he has made unicycles for them and their children as well.

“I don’t have the fancy tools to make my unicycles, and I don’t have a fancy workshop,” Ringsmuth said. “All I have is my garage and my own tools.”

The hobby of unicycle making is no easy task. It takes lots of time and plenty of meticulous effort to make a useful unicycle. The time and effort spent in the shop have not gone wasted, however.

John Ringsmuth’s children were present in the lives of their dad’s unicycle making. They watched him weld the unicycles together. They watched him test out the pedals. They watched him maneuver the wheels, and after he was done making a unicycle. The children rode them everywhere.

“Dad was such a loving father growing up,” John Ringsmuth’s son, Tom, said. “We took part in his love of building unicycles and that love of single-wheeled bikes was transferred to us.”

Tom grew up riding unicycles. He spent his days riding his unicycle to school, in the driveway, around the neighborhood and almost everywhere else he could get his unicycle to roll.

Today, Tom still rides unicycles with his dad. Both of their favorite things to do are ride them and teach people how to ride them. 

The legacy of John Ringsmuth has been passed down from generation to generation in the entire Ringsmuth family.

“I hope that unicycles will continue to be taught and ridden in our family,” John Ringsmuth said. “I would love to see my grandchildren teach their children how to ride such an incredible tool.”

Senior Journalism student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln