A unicycle is a one-wheeled human-powered vehicle. Unicycles are similar to, but less complex than, bicycles.
The unicycle's history began before the invention of the bicycle
. The Comte De Gaye first developed unicycles during the late 18th century. His device, called a celerifere
, was a wooden horse that had two wheels joined by a wooden beam. Germany's Baron von Drais improved the design by adding a steering mechanism, introducing his Draisienne
or "Hobby Horse" in 1818. Kirkpatrick Macmillan
, a Scottish blacksmith, added cranks and pedals to the rear wheel in 1839, and called it the Velocipede
. The first mass-produced riding machine, the Michaux Velocipede, was designed in 1863. In 1866, James Starley
developed the penny-farthing
, a bicycle with a very large front wheel and a small rear wheel.
One theory of the advent of the unicycle is based on the popularity of the penny-farthing (or "Ordinary") during the late 19th century. Since the pedal and cranks were connected directly to the front axle, the rear wheel would go up in the air and the rider would be moved slightly forward. Many penny-farthing owners discovered they could dispense with the frame and just ride the front wheel and handlebars. Evidence for this theory of development can reportedly be found in pictures from the late 19th century showing unicycles with large wheels.
Over the years, unicycle enthusiasts have inspired manufacturers to create new designs, such as seatless ("ultimate wheel") and tall ("giraffe") unicycles. During the late 1980s some extreme sportsmen took an interest in the unicycle and off-road unicycling (MUni) was born.
Unicycles are composed of a few key parts: the wheel (which includes the tire, tube, rim, spokes, hub and axle), the cranks
-style frame, seatpost
, and saddle
(the seat of the unicycle). The wheel is usually similar to a bicycle wheel
with a special hub designed so the axle is a fixed part of the hub. This means the rotation of the cranks directly controls the rotation of the wheel (called direct drive
). The frame sits on top of the axle bearings, while the cranks attach to the ends of the axle. The seatpost links the frame to the saddle.
There are many different types of unicycles, which can include (but are not limited to): freestyle unicycles, trial unicycles, MUnis, giraffes, and long distance unicycles, which all have special components unique to that type of unicycle.
Having props, or training aids may make it easier to become comfortable with riding a unicycle. Two round wooden poles an inch or two in diameter and up to 4 feet long can be used as training poles to stay stable
. Another method for training is using a spotter
to make riding easier.
Types of Unicycles
Freestyle Unicycle : Generally used for flatland skills and routines. Usually has a relatively high seatpost, a narrow saddle, a squared fork (used for one-footed tricks), and cotter
-less cranks, as they do not need to withstand very much pressure. These unicycles are used similarly to flatland bicycles. Some examples of freestyle unicycles include Miyata, Nimbus, Schwinn, and Semcycle brands. Prices typically range from US$100
to $300. Wheel size is usually 20 inches, but smaller riders may use 16-inch unicycles. Some people prefer 24-inch wheels. Trials unicycle: Designed for unicycle trials
, trials unicycles are stronger than standard unicycles in order to withstand the stresses caused by jumping, dropping, and supporting the weight of the unicycle and rider on components such as the pedals and cranks. A recent development in trials unicycles is splined
cranks and hubs, a feature that is very useful and somewhat expensive. Many trials unicycles also have wide, 19- or 20-inch knobby tires to absorb some of the impact on drops. Offroad Unicycles ("MUnis") : "MUni" is an abbreviation for mountain unicycling
. MUnis have many of the same components as trials unicycles, but have a few key differences. Usually, the tire diameters on mountain unicycles are either 24 or 26 inches, allowing the rider to more easily roll over obstacles such as roots and rocks. The seat is also thicker and more comfortable on MUnis to compensate for the rough terrain. Brakes are sometimes used for steep descents. Touring Unicycles : Used for long distances, these unicycles are specially made to cover distances. They have a large wheel diameter, between 26 and 36 in., so more distance is covered in less pedal rotation. A 36" unicycle made by the Coker Tire
company started the big wheel trend. Some variations on the traditional touring unicycle include the Schlumpf "GUni" (geared unicycle), which uses a two-speed internal fixed-geared hub. Larger direct-drive wheels tend to have shorter cranks to allow for easier cadence and more speed. Geared wheels, with an effective diameter larger than the wheel itself, tend to use longer cranks for control, as the speed comes from the gear ratio, not the wheel itself.
- Giraffe Unicycle: a chain driven unicycle, usually very tall (but includes multi-wheel unicycles).
- Geared Unicycle ("GUni"): a unicycle whose wheel rotates faster than the pedal cadence. Used for distance riding and racing.
- Multi-wheeled Unicycle: A unicycle with more than one wheel, stacked on top of each other so that only one touches the ground (nicknamed stacks). The wheels are linked together by chains or direct contact with each other.
- Kangaroo Unicycle: unicycle that has both the cranks facing in the same direction and the hub off-center. They are so named due to the rising and falling motion of the rider, supposedly resembling the jumping of a kangaroo.
- Ultimate Wheel: a unicycle with no frame or seat, just a wheel and pedals.
- Impossible Wheel (BC wheel) : a wheel with pegs or metal plates connected to the axle for the rider to stand on. These wheels are for coasting and jumping. A purist form of unicycling. There are no cranks.
- Monocycle (or monowheel): a large wheel inside which the rider sits (as in a hamster wheel), either motorized or pedal-powered. The greater gyroscopic properties and lower center of mass make it easier to balance than a normal unicycle but less maneuverable.
- Eunicycle: a computer-controlled, motor-driven, self-balancing unicycle.
- Freewheeling Unicycle: a unicycle in which the hub freewheels, allowing the rider to coast or move forward without pedaling, as a bike would. These unicycles almost always have brakes because they cannot stop the way traditional unicycles do. These unicycles also cannot go backwards.
- Other variations include tandem, recumbent, hydraulic giraffe, unibike, suicycle, and motorized unicycle.
A unicycle is a form of inverted pendulum
. It is also a nonholonomic system
because its outcome is path-dependent. Balancing a robotic unicycle
or a Eunicycle
forms an interesting problem in control theory
. (See Segway
Rider Height vs. Wheel Diameter
|| Wheel Size |
|23" or less
|| 16" |
|| 20" |
|| 24" |
|33" or more
|| 26" |
The pedals of a typical unicycle (e.g. not a giraffe or guni) are connected directly to the wheel. This means that there are no gears to shift and provides a very direct feel of the wheel contact with the ground. It also means that wheel size is a major factor in unicycle speeds:
|| High |
|| 4 mph
|| 8 mph |
|| 5 mph
|| 10 mph |
|| 7 mph
|| 14 mph |
|| 11 mph
|| 22 mph |
Traditionally, unicycling has been connected with parades or the circus. This is because the unicycle requires a great degree of skill to ride, and watching a unicyclist can be entertaining. Recent developments in the strength and durability of bicycle (and consequently unicycle) parts have given rise to many riding styles such as trials unicycling and mountain unicycling. Unicycling has therefore developed from primarily an entertainment activity to a competitive sport and recreation.
Neighborhood: For basic unicycling, this is the place to be. Not too long ago, all mass-produced unicycles were in this category. Basic, cheap unicycles such as the Torker CX are used. Freestyle unicycling: "Freestyle" means to do skills, stunts, or tricks. Not only is freestyle
a well-known term in BMX
bicycling, it is also the name for a competition event in unicycling. Trials unicycling
: Trials unicycling is specifically aimed at hopping and riding over obstacles. Because of the constant pounding a trials unicycle endures, it must have a very strong axle and crankset. Street unicycling
: Street unicycling (or simply "street", as it's known within the sport) is a style of unicycling where riders use combinations of objects found in urbanized settings, such as curbs, ledges, handrails, stairs as well as flat areas to perform a wide variety of tricks. Off-road or mountain unicycling
(MUni): Unicycling on rough terrain has been the swiftest growing form of unicycling in recent years. Any place a mountain bike can go, a mountain unicycle can go as well — and sometimes more easily, due to the unicycle's greater maneuverability. Touring or commuting: This style is meant for distance riding. With a 29-inch or 36-inch wheel cruising speeds of 10 to 15 mph can easily be reached. However, the smallest wheel diameter to fit within the "touring" category is 26 inches.
Recently, unicycling has gained popularity as a sport, and as a general means of transport. In the last 10 years, unicyclists have taken unicycles out of the traditional parade, gym, or circus setting and have created new forms of unicycling. These forms can be described broadly as "extreme unicycling": Street unicycling: Invented by Dan Heaton in 1999, Street is a form of riding that combines freestyle and trials. The cliche definition is a style that uses trial obstacles to set up freestyle moves. Street however does have moves that are distinctly its own, such as rail grinding or hopping stair sets. Major contributors have been such names as Mike Clark (invention of the Crankflip, current record holder for longest handrail grind), Brian Lundgren (invention of the Backflip), and Shaun Johanneson (everything else). The basic street moves include Cranflips, Unispins, Twists and Varials. After these skills have been mastered, the object is to learn variations and take the these moves up or over or down obstacles. Examples of variations include a Hickflip, which is a 180 unispin and a crankflip at the same time, or a 180 Flip, which is a 180 twist and a crankflip at the same time. Generally Street is ridden on a 20" trials unicycle with some modifications. Flatland: Flatland is a relatively new form of unicycling derived from a combination of street and freestyle riding. By definition it follows the same rules as freestyle: to do various trick and move on flat ground. Flatland, however, has a distinctly urban flair to it. It is often ridden in such a way as to combine many moves into a single combination or line. It's creation can be traced back to Dan Heaton, who began focusing on lower impact riding after breaking both of his ankles in a unicycling accident. Recently, riders such as Spencer Hochberg (Bedford Unicycles) and Xavier Collos (Koxx-One) have been making huge advances in this particular form of riding. Flatland too, is commonly ridden performed on a 20" trials unicycle with some modifications. Unicycle trials: Trials is a form of unicycling that has been based on bicycle trials, and before that motorcycle trials. The object is to ride or hop over obstacles without putting a foot or hand down (known as "dabbing"). Trials can be ridden in an urban or natural environment, and each offers its own set of challenges and possibilities. A trials unicycle is traditionally a 20" wheeled ride with a 19" rim in order to fit a 2.5" trials tire. Mountain unicycling: Also known as MUni, Mountain Unicycling was created sometime back in the late 1980s. It is not known who the originator was, but Kris Holm is without a doubt the biggest innovator and contributor. MUni can take many forms, most of which follow the various styles of mountain biking. There is Cross Country which involves riding long distances off road, and there is Down Hill riding which is all about riding the most treacherous off road stretches one can find. In addition, Shore riding is very popular, which is the unicycling version of British Columbia's North Shore mountain biking style which is based around riding on wooden ladders and logs through a natural environment. A traditional MUni is a 24" wheeled beast with a 2.5-3" aggressive tire. Freestyle: Perhaps the oldest form of extreme unicycling. Traditional freestyle riding is based around performance. Freestyle tricks and moves are derived from different ways of riding the unicycle, and linking these moves together into one long flowing line that is aesthetically pleasing.
Unicycle Team Sports
In addition to individual efforts, team sports played on unicycles have also grown in popularity. Unicycle Basketball
: Unicycle basketball is played using a regulation basketball on a regular basketball court with the same rules, e.g., one must dribble the ball whilst riding. There are a number of rules that are particular to unicycle basketball as well, e.g., a player must have at least one foot on a pedal when in-bounding the ball. Unicycle basketball is usually played using 24" or smaller unicycles, and using plastic pedals, both to preserve the court and the players' shins. In North America, regular unicycle basketball games are organized in Berkeley, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Toronto. Also, Puerto Rico fields a team which has won several world championships. Unicycle Hockey
: Hockey is played according to rules basically similar to ice hockey or inline hockey, using a tennis ball and ice-hockey sticks. Play is non-contact. The sport is growing in popularity, with active leagues in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Unicycle Handball
: Handball is played with use of a handball
-sized ball. The teams aim to throw it into a vertical hoop placed about 6 feet above the ground It has been played in the Polish village of Chrzelice
since late 1970s
Equipment and safety
Wrist guards: The most common impact points when falling from a unicycle are the hands and wrists. Of all the safety gear, wrist guards receive the most wear and tear. Knee and elbow pads: The second most common impact point are the knees followed by the elbows.Helmet: A helmet is especially important with specialty riding like MUni
, and in some jurisdictions is required for road riding.Shin guards: Shin guards become a necessary piece of equipment when using metal or pinned pedals. These types of pedals grip the shoes better, but can cause injury to the legs.Cycling shorts: Padded cycling shorts are designed with a seamless, padded crotch, and long enough legs to extend down past the saddle, making them much more comfortable than "normal" shorts.Gloves: Gloves are required for certain unicycling events such as racing. Gloves may be fingerless.
International Unicycling Convention
International Unicycling Convention (UNICON) consists of unicycle track and field events — high jump, long jump, novelty racing
(1 foot, wheelwalk, coasting, juggling etc.), slowboard, and the obstacle course.
Freestyle events include pairs, individual, club, group, and Standard Skills
The 2004 UNICON was held in Tokyo, Japan.
The 2006 UNICON was held in Langenthal, Switzerland.
The 2008 UNICON will be in Frederiksberg, Denmark.
The 2010 UNICON will be in New Zealand.
The world's first multi-stage unicycle race was held in Nova Scotia
in June 2008 called Ride the Lobster
with 35 teams from 14 countries participating. Each team consisted of a maximum of 3 riders and 1 support person.
Unicycle manufacturing companies