Jessica Kreitz's love affair with the unicycle has come full circle.
"My fascination begins with wheels in general. I've always been kind of obsessed with wheels, transportation design and how people can get around on wheels," said Kreitz, who graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stout this December with a bachelor's degree in industrial design.
The Breezy Point native first learned how to ride a unicycle her grandfather bought her at a flea market when she was 10, but she improved upon the trick bike's design for her senior project.
"I learned how to ride it in my yard hanging onto a fence. Once you learn, it's just like riding a two-wheel bike. You never forget," Kreitz said.
The 22-year-old designed and built a rugged 24-inch-wheel unicycle with a disc brake, a suspension system and ergonomic handles on the seat for her senior industrial design class and unveiled her creation Dec. 15 at her university's Senior Show.
"From someone else's standpoint, it appears to be very difficult to ride, so I think that's what people find very fascinating about it. Not a lot of people do it, it's kind of a tightknit group of people that do it. I think a lot of people really want to try it, but they don't take the time to learn."
The blue unicycle is powder-coated and has Kreitz's logo on it. The logo is a bear riding a unicycle, which brings the elements of being outdoors and adventure, Kreitz said.
"I kind of wanted to implement things that are going on in the bicycle market right now because it's thriving and a lot of things are happening, and I wanted to kind of incorporate that into the unicycle," she said.
"I was originally recruited for basketball, so that's how I found out about this school but then I saw the industrial design major, and I was seeking an art-related major. I just didn't know what it was going to be yet. Industrial design seemed perfect given my background."
Her grandparents, Lloyd and Eva Kreitz, were artists and her father, Jeff Kreitz, is a welder who owns Creative Steel Works Inc. in Breezy Point, creating custom items such as fireplace doors.
"My dad's an artist, my grandpa is an artist and so is my grandma, so I grew up knowing that I wanted to design and build things," she said. "I just didn't know how to turn it into a career, and I thought industrial design would be perfect for that."
In 2013 she graduated from Pequot Lakes High School, where she played basketball and continued the sport up until her junior year at the university.
"I kind of had to pick between college athletics and school, and obviously I was there for school, so that was more important to me," said Kreitz, who was a forward on the university team and rode a unicycle in the Pequot Lakes Fourth of July parade soon after mastering it as a child.
Kreitz loves the challenge of riding a unicycle, an activity that has evolved into team sports such as unicycle basketball, hockey and handball in which players ride the single-wheel vehicle.
"It's unique," Kreitz said of riding a unicycle. "It's more of a challenge than your average bike. With a bike you can rest. You are pedaling a unicycle constantly. You have to watch your every move. If you hit a bump you have to compensate. You're constantly balancing."
Kreitz was one of about a hundred students from UW-Stout's School of Art and Design who presented their capstone projects at the biannual Senior Show. Projects included in various design disciplines were on display such as graphic, game, interior, industrial and entertainment.
"It is specifically for mountain unicycling or trail riding," Kreitz told show attendees of her unicycle. "A lot of mountain bikers I know, they kind of want sometimes more of a challenge, so they'll pick up unicycling or mountain unicycling."
Kreitz had to draw the designs, create prototypes using parts from three other unicycles she had and come up with a final design. She then built the new unicycle, including 3-D printing the ergonomic handles for the seat.
"I saw that the unicycle hasn't really had any redesigns done on it. It's kind of been the same since it was invented," Kreitz said of the traditional unicycle, which originates back to the 1800s.
Jennifer Astwood, an industrial design associate professor who taught Kreitz's class, said Kreitz was the first student to take the senior project to the next level, not only designing but engineering the unicycle.
"It is super impressive," Astwood said. "This just shows the type of drive Jess has. She always goes above and beyond. She is such a good designer."
The handles of Kreitz's senior project help with getting on and off the unicycle, particularly important when trail riding, according to Kreitz, who received a Dru Sjodin scholarship and a Kia Nagel scholarship for art and design when she was a high school senior.
"I have not seen a suspension like this on a unicycle before," Kreitz said. She noted the suspension is a more fractured design, which to her is more interesting than a traditional fork with a seat post design.
"I wanted to also create a working model for my Senior Show because I think that adds more value to something that you're designing if you understand the mechanics of it, and how it works and how it's put together."
Kreitz starts work full time in product design on Jan. 3 at Integrated Design Solutions in Chippewa Falls, Wis., a comprehensive product design and development company.
"I'd be open to selling the design or taking it a little further," she said of the unicycle.
But Kreitz plans to keep her new unicycle for now. If a company is interested in her new design, Kreitz said that would be thrilling.
"It's pretty sweet," she said of her unicycle, which took about three months to complete from start to finish.
"Anything with wheels is something I enjoy, and if you are passionate about what you are designing, I think the design always comes out better."