Thanks for the great article, @CraigGilbert
Would it surprise anyone that the man who has been turning heads by riding a unicycle around London in a storm trooper uniform was married on Halloween?
“I was actually Darth Vader at my wedding reception,” Brian Mackenzie said. “My wife LeeAnn was a princess to maximize her dress time.”
Now a freelance unicycling videographer and web developer, Mackenzie brings a bit of Halloween with him wherever he goes.
A former mountain bike enthusiast, he ordered his first one-wheeler just to figure it out after seeing Kris Holm, the “Wayne Gretzky” of unicycles, on an episode of Ripley’s Believe it or Not about 12 years ago.
“I never rode anything else again,” he said. “Anytime anybody sees me I’m having a really great time. It’s the only thing I do to stay in shape.”
He spent several years making films on interesting subjects from his unique perspective, such as a quest by a personal friend to own a DeLorean DMC-12, the car made famous by the Back to the Future films. He’s zigzagged through Manhattan traffic filming another unicycle rider.
But producing films as a freelance gig can be a tough row to hoe, even on a unicycle. Looking for a new angle to promote his work, the lifetime Star Wars fan had considered donning a storm trooper uniform for some time but didn’t make the dive until about a year ago.
His dream of riding a unicycle as a storm trooper was dashed a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away when he looked at the technical specifications: the full-body armour is heavy and almost impossible to move in.
But the scout trooper uniform, worn by the Imperial soldiers in the flying scooter race on Endor in Return of the Jedi, is close in design to the safety gear worn by motocross racers, making it a perfect fit.
He said he was at a stop while filming the Santa Claus Parade in London two years ago when he struck up a conversation with a member of the London Rogues Star Wars fan and costuming club about possibly filming for them in exchange for a costume.
“I didn’t have $1,000 to spend on a costume, so I had to justify the cost with the marketing value of it,” he said. “Being a freelancer, with everything I do I have to think about how I can get money for it.”
After a year of riding on the Dark Side, Mackenzie said business is soaring like a Tie fighter chasing an X-wing.
“Every one of my current clients have come from someone tweeting about me,” he said. “Whether it’s the owner of a business or a secretary having lunch downtown.”
About the same time he donned the suit, he started riding to raise funds for the Ontario Association of Families of Children with a Communication Disorder (OAFCCD), which he describes as “handful of people doing a lot of hard work.”
“I (started wearing the uniform) for personal marketing, but I saw how easy it was to get exposure, so I wanted to raise money for children.”
Mackenzie saw an article about the charity on Linkedin and filmed their Walk the Talk for Kids fundraiser last year. He was asked by a director to produce a promotional DVD.
“If your child doesn’t have this disorder, you haven’t heard of them,” he said. “It helps children with speech apraxia. They know what they want to say but can’t.”
Founded in Tillsonburg in 1984, the charity advocates for more speech therapists in schools.
He may be having a blast, but it’s still a serious workout to ride a unicycle in plastic body armour.
He has cut vents into his helmet and has a tiny battery-powered intake fan inside, but during the summer months it can get hotter than the sands of Tatooine.
“When I take off the helmet it just pours with sweat,” he said. “I can’t coast like on a bike, so when I’m riding it’s like I’m always sprinting. For me, it’s like going for a jog with no knee impact. It’s about the same amount of effort.”
As a former mountain bike enthusiast, Mackenzie’s first instinct was to take his unicycle for a trail ride.
Mackenzie rode his unicycle in the MS ride from Grand Bend to London and back, more than 170 kilometres. He took part in a 24-hour ride, a 100-km trek over hilly and technical terrain.
“Whatever the sport, there’s a unicycle equivalent.”
He said where mountain biking can become repetitive and in some cases requires a road trip in a car just to get to the spot, the unicycle provides a different opportunity.
“I’m on my ride as soon as I leave the front door,” Mackenzie said. “Every trail became new again.”
He said a unicycle is an excellent way to explore the Forest City, or anywhere else. On a bicycle, you tend to ride past things and foot you can’t cover as much territory. But on the unicycle, your eye level is about a metre above the average pedestrians.
“On Richmond Street when it’s busy, I can see a great deal,” he said. “I see people recognize me from quite a distance away. Some smile because it’s the neatest thing they’ve ever seen in their life. Some smile because it’s the weirdest thing they’ve ever seen in their life and some people refuse to look. Every fifth car honks, and everyone is taking pictures.”
He said some people try to take pictures on the sly, which Mackenzie gets a kick out of.
“I’m a guy in a storm trooper uniform riding a unicycle,” he laughed. “Of course you can take a picture!”
Now with an 11-month-old son, Aidan, Mackenzie has a whole new reason to get out and a non-stop stream of film ideas to pursue when he’s riding.
He modified his son’s jogging stroller so he can tow it on the unicycle, and discovered he could use it as another mount for his camera.
“With the tripod attached to the stroller I can film right from down at the wheel in front of me to 15 feet in the air,” he said. “So even if I’m just running errands, I get my exercise, I get to make films and he’s going to have an awesome childhood.”
Thanks Todd, great coverage! @ToddDevlin
You may have seen Brian MacKenzie around town. I had my first sighting during Victoria Day weekend. Or rather, I witnessed an unidentified person dressed as an Imperial Stormtrooper riding a unicycle. Does that ring a bell?
My sighting was confirmed only by the pointing and giggling of a neighbouring couple on their porch. Otherwise, I’d have needed a double take. But, my eyes had it right. The only question that remained was: why?
The unicycle part dates back 12 years. A freelance videographer and web designer, MacKenzie came across a unicyclist on television who was able to do things he wasn’t able to do on his mountain bike. Intrigued, he ordered a unicycle.
“As soon as I figured it out, I headed into the woods and never rode my bike again,” he said. “Unicycling is the only thing I do now for exercise.”
And the stormtrooper part? That stems from his involvement with the London Rogues, a Star Wars fan group in the city.
While filming the London Santa Claus Parade in 2012 (on his unicycle, of course), Mac-Kenzie mentioned to the group that he’d been thinking of riding in a stormtrooper suit — because why not? The response was that it would be difficult to move in the costume.
Perhaps a scout trooper outfit might work?
“I did what I do often … I went home and watched Return of the Jedi,” MacKenzie said. “The scout trooper was a perfect costume that would allow me the needed movements, as well as being recognizable to the general public.”
A deal was made with the Rogues: website design for a scout trooper outfit.
But the relationship has evolved into much more than that. MacKenzie has done videography for the group and attended several events. His first was last year’s We’re All Stars event, in which children with special needs get the chance to meet sports heroes — and Star Wars characters.
“It made me realize quickly the effect the Rogues had on the kids and how excited they were,” MacKenzie said. “And when I talked to the guys in the club, I could tell the passion they have for making kids happy. It seemed like a really nice group to be part of.”
He’s done work with the London Children’s Museum and Storybook Gardens, as well as the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event, which will be held on June 9.
“We try to get out to as many events as possible,” MacKenzie said. “It’s so easy to make people happy simply by wearing the suit, and if we can use our recognized costumes to bring awareness to the various causes, even better.”
On the unicycle, MacKenzie has travelled across Ontario and the U.S. while making two movies. He’s landed sponsorship deals, produced an extreme unicycling DVD and now teaches.
“My goal has always been to make a living doing what I love,” he said. “Some people wait for the phone to ring. I think of something really fun I want to do, and then I think about how I can justify it as a business venture.”
Follow Todd Devlin on Twitter @UrbanCompassLdn
Unicycling Around London Ontario (How many landmarks can you see?)
coasting on a unicycle in kingston ontario
mountain unicycling – 24″ wheel vs. 36″ wheel
The Time I Unicycled Across The Guard Rail On The Port Stanley Bridge With A Giant Wheel
Can you scale a rock face with a unicycle? yes! Trials Unicycling in Kingston Ontario
[VIDEO] Unicycling Scout Trooper : May 2013 – Scout Trooper POV
WHO I RAISE FUNDS FOR
WWW.OAFCCD.COM (and on twitter at @WalkTalkForKids); A very underfunded organization that helps kids in Ontario lead better lives. I have heard from parents of kids with communication disorders and the hard times they have had trying to navigate the complex and confusing Ontario School System, and the impact this organization does to help families often faced with overwhelming situations. I’m happy to help them however I can. Please read this excerpt from www.oafccd.com and consider donating a few dollars; any amount would be appreciated and used with planning and care.
The Ontario Association for Families of Children with Communication Disorders (OAFCCD)
Established in Tillisonburg, Ontario in 1984.
Our vision is that all children will have access to a continuum of speech and language services to support their successful participation at home, in school and in the community.
Our mission is to work with families and community partners to ensure children have access to effective speech and language services.
Our goals are to:
- Increase public awareness regarding the need and benefits of services
- Provide support and information to families
- Support families to advocate for the speech and language services their child needs
- Work with community partners to enhance speech and language services
- Advocate with government and provincial organizations for adequate public funding of speech and language services
- Maintain an effective volunteer structure and viable organization
Our association may be of assistance to you if:
- Your child requires speech and language services
- You have been affected by service delays or cuts at your hospital or school
- You wish to network with other families for support
- You need more information about your child’s communication difficulties
- You are looking for information about available community resources and services in your area
[VIDEO] Walk The Talk For Kids
A Walkathon is not complete until a Stormtrooper pushes Batman and The Joker on swings
[VIDEO] Unicycle Scout Trooper Ribfest 2013 In London Ontario
[VIDEO] Film Crew From Fanshawe College Filmed a Documentary About Me For Their Film Project
When I was contacted by students from my alma mater about making a documentary about me for their class project, I was happy to help them out and give people a chance to get to those that ‘crazy guy’ a little. I really like how it turned out, and I wish them well in their careers.