Maxwell DeMilner is aware of the stereotypes. “I was worried you were going to say the c-word,” he admits sheepishly. “Clown.”
DeMilner is a unicyclist. “I’m willing to acknowledge that unicycling is a circus art,” he says from atop his unicycle, surrounded by a dozen wheeled devices. “Even though what we do is an athletic pursuit, we wouldn’t unicycle if part of us didn’t want to show off.”
Despite the juggling clubs he keeps in the trunk of his car, DeMilner considers himself an athlete first. He lives in Dover with his fiancé, who is, of course, a competitive ballroom dancer.
As a sport, unicycling can be a real workout. A unicyclist needs more balance and core strength than a bicyclist, and their speed is limited by how fast they can pedal. “I mostly do distance events — that’s sort of the niche I’ve carved out for myself,” DeMilner says. He competed in the 2013 annual North American Unicycle Championship, racing all 26.2 miles.
Of course, the community likes to keep it fun — like when the previous year’s world championship coincided with Montreal’s naked bike ride. “Forty unicyclists from 10 different countries showed up at once, stripped naked, and stole the show,” DeMilner recalls.
Perhaps he had the courage to zoom nude through Montreal’s narrow streets because of his last vocation. “I used to work in Manhattan as a bike messenger — on this unicycle.” He has had brushes with busses, cars, and once, a limousine carrying Michael Bolton. “Being a messenger in New York City, it is only a matter of time before you get hit by a taxi. It is the rite of passage.”
But DeMilner is familiar with taking chances. At 19, he dropped out of college and took off on a 29-day unicycle tour around New England. “I organized this unicycle tour as a way to pay tuition and get me back into college — but also as sort of a running away from home, to get away and accomplish something.” His longest day was 86 miles, and it rained almost the entire time.
His 2006 bike tour inspired a man named Ed Wedler to organize and fund Canada’s “Ride the Lobster,” the longest unicycle race in history. “Nova Scotia, if you sort of tilt it a little bit, looks like a lobster,” DeMilner says. Thirty-five teams representing eight different countries relay-raced 500 miles in five days. DeMilner rode the relay with his father and brother, who are both unicyclists themselves.
“Forty unicyclists from 10 different countries showed up at once, stripped naked, and stole the show.”
DeMilner swings playfully around a lamppost while pedaling. “It makes me feel like I’m fulfilling my potential. I think a lot of people my age have this sort of latent feeling like they’re destined for more … but I have been able to make a name for myself in unicycling.”
The lunch whistle sounds from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, located across the Piscataqua River in Kittery, Maine. DeMilner’s resume is eclectic — he’s been a pharmacy technician and a comedian, among other things — and now he’s an apprentice fabric worker at the Shipyard.
“Mostly what I do is I make containments for nuclear work,” he says. He designs ways to keep nuclear material in and everything else out, especially moisture. “The sort of funny responsibility of our shop is to make sure the submarine does not get wet.”
Though DeMilner’s well known in the unicycling community, he’s just starting his career at the Shipyard. He occasionally rides a unicycle to work, and, though it might not seem apparent at first, believes there’s an overlap between his two pursuits.
“So many unicyclists are engineers … and upon learning how to unicycle, the next (question) is, well, what else do I do?”
DeMilner’s life is shaped by this fascination for testing boundaries. Can he cycle 100 miles? Can he keep the water from touching a submarine? Can he navigate Manhattan traffic? Engineers are often seen as introverts, shy people who study the intricacies of the physical world while ignoring the big picture, but DeMilner knows how to balance dreams with reality. Unflappable, buoyant, and intensely curious, he is always looking to go further. “It just takes practice,” he says.