By Shaun Murphy
I haven’t thought about a unicycle in a long time. Strange. Not the thought itself you see, because where majority of the population consider a unicycle to be a weird, fringe machine reserved for clowns and circus performers I find it perfectly normal. In fact, some of my closest friends are performers of the circus variety. Jugglers, stilters, indulgers of the slackline. And of course, unicyclists.
I find the thought strange because I am a unicyclist. Part of a small, tight knit community of people that are warm, welcoming and accepting to whomever attempts to tame a single wheel. This friendly community is always willing to help, offer advice and come together for a ride. Perhaps, its because our numbers are few… but I like to think that this contraption entices a certain person. A particular mind set and energy draws in a unicyclist. Moth. Flame. Sunshine. Braai. You get the idea.
Once you’re in, you’re in. Sure, people come and go. Life happens, but you’re always welcome back.
The past few years my balance has shifted from a wheel to a life path. My family and I are trying a new way of living. Away from any corporate machines and nine to five J.O.B’s. We are traveling through Asia, teaching English as we go. It has been marvellous so far and has taken my full energy. Dimming the lights on any thoughts of unicycling I should add.
Recently, many unicycle memories have flooded my thoughts. All great memories, but what triggered them unfortunately was devastating news. We lost such a bright, glowing member of our tribe. A wonderful family has lost a loving father and husband. I have lost a friend.
Gray was such a big part of the South African cycling scene. It was always a pleasure riding with him because we would always be greeted with smiles, waves and banter. Always banter! It wasn’t because we were riding unicycles either. It was Gray… every cyclist we passed seemed to know him. “Where’s the other wheel Gray!?” followed by giggles. Always answered with a razor sharp comeback like “I took the training wheel off!” cue more eruptions of laughter. That was Gray. Always smiling and willing to stop for a chat. Always willing to lend a hand anywhere he could. Need help with that flat tire? No problem. Derailleur giving you issues? No stress, Gray was the man offering assistance. He had this energy about him. You felt you had known him since childhood as soon as you met him. Coffees after a ride were an unwritten rule. His love of coffee was immense, but it was the ritual of swapping stories with any other riders at the local coffee shop that he enjoyed most. People would come to our table for a chat or he would glide from table to table checking in with friends or telling a funny story. He had many of those! It made finding Gray in a crowd easy. I would simply listen out for laughter and head in that direction.
When he entered the world of unicycling he quickly became one of the stand out road unicyclists. No surprises there, Gray was strong and tenacious and loved a challenge but it was his personality that quickly cemented him into the local uni scene. It was just fun to be around him!
I first met Gray at Giba Gorge, a local park in Kwa-Zulu Natal offering trails, fresh air and single track. I was a complete noob to muni and quickly found out I had an uncanny ability to find minuscule stones to knock me off my unicycle. Consistently. Gray was patient as ever, his face always wrapped in a smile even though this particular ‘ride’ was him watching me fall. Many times over. Haha, what a gentleman. That ride sparked a friendship filled with laughs, rides, coffee and conversation. Some deep and meaningful, some classic bullshitting. Mostly classic bullshitting.
When I started riding unicycles, I planned on doing so because of the charity organisation I was running called auSOMEtism. Our son Nic is on the autism spectrum and we were raising funds for Nic’s school by riding various road rides. The magnificent tribe I mentioned earlier jumped on board riding for our cause, while the amazing OddWheel Unicycles even made us there official supported charity! Gray was no exception, he raised funds for these events like it was his own and crushed the rides along the way. He loved Nic and he loved being part of anything that was helping others. He truly was a great ambassador for auSOMEtism and unicycling. Whether he was grinding it out on a unicycle for auSOMEtism or towing an ice-cream cart for CHOC he never stopped giving.
Gray was a fantastic human. He will be missed by many. I will miss my friend, but I will not forget him. Hamba kahle Gray.
To Heather, Rivers and Emma our deepest and sincere condolences.
From the South African Unicycling community/ tribe.
Here are some links to familiarise yourself with Gray and his life through unicycling:
Details of the accident and memorial rides
Our tribes cause
When Gray unicycled the Amashova Durban Classic of 2016. Watch the video from 7:40 to see Gray and Shaun’s insert.
A tribe that rode for auSOMEtism