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Buying your first Unicycle!

Which type is for you?

Deciding what type of unicycle to buy is a daunting process, the choices are limited. Many of the specialized unicycles mentioned in the Types of Unicycles section are not suitable for all beginners. Selecting the proper type of unicycle will make the learning process much easier. Once you are riding, you can move on to a more specialized unicycle tailored for the type of rider you are.

A 20” to 24” wheel is easiest to control, and the longer cranks are easier to use while you are learning. Thus, the ideal starter unicycle for a child or an adult is one with a crank length of at least 114mm minimum on a 20″ wheel or at least 125mm on a 24” wheel. Children younger than 7 years old may need to start on a smaller 16” wheel.

It is also important to have the seat at the right height. For most riding, the seat height (measured at the lowest dip of the saddle) should be an inch or two below your navel. If your seat post is too long, it can be shortened by using a pipe cutter or hacksaw. If your seat post is too short, you can purchase a longer seat post at one of the online unicycle stores for about ten dollars.

The only other choice to make is whether to buy a fat-tire unicycle (trials or smaller muni) or a smooth-tire freestyle unicycle. A freestyle unicycle is suitable for gym riding or outdoor riding on pavement or smooth trails. A trials unicycle, with its fatter tire, is suitable for jumping curbs and other obstacles, and for riding on rougher trails.

The choice is yours!

Once you buy your first unicycle, it is time to learn to ride it! See Learning to Ride for some instructions on getting started.

Types of Unicycles

In recent years, unicycling has blossomed into a large variety of distinct types of riding, with a type to satisfy almost any interest. This has spurred the development of many specialized unicycles, optimized for each type of riding. The descriptions, below, cover the main types of unicycle and the types of riding to which they are suited.

Indoor/Freestyle Unicycle

Unicycle competitions have given rise to a style of riding called artistic freestyle. This is a type of riding where individual or group performance routines are set to music, somewhat like gymnastics or ice skating. The typical freestyle unicycle has a 20” wheel with a medium-width, smooth tire. Some freestyle techniques depend on having flat tops to the forks, where you can place your foot. Many freestyle unicyclists prefer to ride with short cranks (100mm or less). Freestyle unicycles also get used for other indoor unicycling activities, such as hockey and basketball.

Outdoor Unicycle

For riding outdoors on the street, you can use a 20” freestyle unicycle, or you can use a unicycle with a somewhat larger wheel, say, 24” to 29”. The larger the wheel, the faster and farther you can ride. Beginners will find it easiest to start on a unicycle with a 20” to 24” wheel. Smaller children may need to start on a 16” wheel.

Mountain Unicycle

The unicycling equivalent of mountain biking is muni (mountain unicycle) riding. A typical municycle has a 24”, 26”, or 29” wheel with a very fat, knobby tire. Some riders use a brake, with a brake lever located under the front of the seat. Muni riders usually prefer long cranks which provide additional leverage on steep terrain and metal pedals which are more durable and hold to the feet on the pedals better. Occasionally, geared hubs are also used.

Commuting/Touring Unicycle

Long-distance unicycling has been popular since the Coker company introduced a very large wheel unicycle in 1998. Some riders are traveling as far as 100 miles in a day on unicycles. It is also possible to ride long distances on a unicycle with a smaller wheel, if it has a geared hub. A typical long-distance unicycle has a 36” wheel with a large tire. Often, it has small handles that project from the front of the seat to allow you to stand up or adjust how you are sitting. A beginner usually starts with very long cranks (152mm), but more experienced riders prefer shorter cranks. Cranks may also be changed, depending on how hilly the day’s ride will be. Some riders use a brake, with the brake lever mounted on the handles or under the front of the seat.

Standard Racing Unicycle

US and international competition have settled on a standard unicycle for certain track and road races. This unicycle has a 24” wheel and 125mm cranks (younger riders use a 20” wheel with 100mm cranks). A unicycle optimized for racing might have a very skinny, smooth tire and a lightweight rim and frame.

Trials/Street Unicycle

Trials and Street riding are the unicycle equivalents of bicycle trials riding or skateboarding. In trials riding, you negotiate extreme obstacles and jump large distances. Street riding makes use of urban obstacles, such as stairs, railings, walls, park benches, etc. Both types of riding use a unicycle with a 19” wheel and a very fat, knobby tire. Usually, the seat is set quite low. Trials and street unicycles must be very strong in every way. Even so, advanced riders break equipment regularly. If you want to get into trials or street riding, make sure you buy a unicycle intended for that purpose, along with the proper safety gear.

Flatland Unicycle

Flatland is like Street riding, but it doesn’t use any obstacles. Oftentimes flatland riders use a Trials/Street unicycle, but some riders prefer a 20” wheel with a somewhat smaller, smooth tire. Flatland riders may also use shorter cranks than a trials rider would.

Giraffe Unicycle

A giraffe unicycle is a tall (usually 4’ to 8’) unicycle which is often used in parade routines. Giraffes typically have a 20” wheel and use a chain to connect the pedals and cranks to the wheel. Although it can be intimidating to be perched so high, riding a giraffe is surprisingly similar to riding an equivalent shorter unicycle.

Where to buy sells a selection of very good beginner unicycles in their Club line, higher end unicycles under their Nimbus brand and offer the full line of Kris Holm unicycles. Goudurix is a Canadian juggling supplier that is a vendor for Qu-ax unicycles. Your local bike shop may be able to order a unicycle

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