Dan Hansen knows what you think about his unicycle.
You're thinking circus. Wobbly. And "what the ....?" when he cruises past you in traffic.
But Hansen is just thinking: Commute.
For the last three and a half years, he has ridden his unicycle almost every day from his home in northeast Minneapolis to the Mill City Museum, where he's responsible for the upkeep of the historic building.
Rain, snow, ice — he's out in all of it. "I don't think there's any poor weather to ride a unicycle in," Hansen said.
Earlier this month, a cell phone video of him pedaling his unicycle across a downtown intersection in a flurry of snowflakes landed on ABC News, but Hansen, 51, shrugged off the sudden attention. If you've got the gear, he said — the jacket, the helmet, the shoe covers, the balaclava — there's nothing to it.
Some people commute by car, some by bike, some by walking. And some — very few, he admits — by unicycle.
"Some options are common and some are not," Hansen said. "This happens to be 'not.'"
Hansen's unicycle is built for city riding. The wheel is 3 feet tall, much larger than your average unicycle, because it's designed for travel rather than tricks.
And you can forget those stereotypes of unicyclists throwing their arms out for balance and wobbling as they ride. Hansen rides steady and fast, reaching a cruising speed of 13 to 14 miles per hour — roughly the same speed as a two-wheeled bike commuter. He rests his hands on a grip at the front of his seat to stay aerodynamic.
Because of the simplicity of the unicycle — one wheel, no chains, no gears, no brakes — it can't get clogged up with snow or ice, like a bike can. And if you fall, you fall forward, onto your feet, and just "run it out."
"To me, it feels safe and normal," Hansen said. He's always on the lookout for ice, but in his many years of winter cycling, he's never had an accident.
Hansen first learned how to unicycle 16 years ago, after a brush with a stranger. He was out on the street one Friday when a woman blew past him on a unicycle, faster than he'd ever imagined one could go.
By that Sunday, he could make it about 30 feet down his sidewalk on his own newly purchased unicycle. He was hooked.
He quickly mastered it, though at first he practiced at night so no one could see him fall. He went on to teach his three children to unicycle, too. Now grown, they rarely show it off — it's more of a "dad does this weird thing" activity, he said.
A year or two after learning to ride, Hansen discovered that the woman who had inspired him on the street that day was something of a legend: Irene Genelin.
"She turned out to be like unicycle royalty in the Twin Cities," Hansen said.
Genelin is just one of the big names around town: According to the Twin Cities Unicycle Club, its 200-plus members holds over 30 national titles and more than 15 world championship titles. But they all ride differently.
"The unicycling community in the Twin Cities is really robust," Hansen explained. There are trick unicyclists, mountain biking unicyclists — "munis" — and a handful of road unicyclists, like Hansen.
"I try to make it a cardiovascular exercise, not just a Zen balance exercise," Hansen said. When he wants a longer ride beyond his commute, he takes a winding loop all around the city, along the lake paths and Minnehaha Creek. Sometimes he's out for hours, even in subzero temperatures.
Last summer, Hansen even took a 700-mile trip around Wisconsin on his unicycle.
"Walking is great, running is great. But physiologically, I'm not as much about that," Hansen said. "I'm a short-legged, stout character, and so somehow, [unicycling] feels like having wings."
No matter how normal and practical he considers his unicycle, though, Hansen knows people will always snap pictures out of their car windows as he passes.
"There's an element of street theater that goes into riding my unicycle. Lots of tiny little performances, from the point of view of people who see me riding down the road," he said. "Some people are revolted, some people are horrified, some people are charmed."
But Hansen? He's just going to work.
360 video: Hansen's commute from atop his unicycle
This is a 360-degree video. Click and drag your cursor on the screen as the video plays to see the view from the top of Dan Hansen's helmet as he rides to work. | Video by Evan Frost