How Unicycles Work and How to Ride One

Unicycles are not just for those who want to perform in the circus; anyone can own and ride one. While most riders prefer to unicycle on even terrains, there are those who use mountain unicycles. These daredevils take the sport of unicycling to a whole new level. If you are new to unicycling and want to learn the basics, check out our intro for beginners and how a unicycle works. Then you can continue onto the vast world of mountain riding.

Source: Keesler AFB

How Unicycles Work

A unicycle is a one-wheeled bike. Taller unicycles are chain driven, just like a bicycle. Street performers and acrobats usually ride the chained versions. However, most unicyclists have pedals directly connected to the wheels.

Unicycles require a great deal of balance, motor coordination, and focus. A rider generally will want to practice on a flat surface with accessible railings or bars, such as a large porch, before taking to the streets. Most riders can become proficient in mounting, riding, and dismounting in 10-20 hours depending on their ability to balance well before starting. Since unicycles generally do not have brakes, learning how to get off a unicycle quickly, without falling and becoming injured, is an important skill to acquire before leaving the area with railings.

From there, a grassy surface is the next best place to practice, as the ground is more forgiving than a paved surface.

How to Ride a Unicycle

Riding a unicycle is relatively simple, as far as direction’s go, but takes a lot of practice to ride successfully.

The first thing you will want to do is properly adjust the unicycle to your height. When you are learning, you want your leg straight when it is on the pedal in the lowest position; one will be high, and one will be low. This will typically leave your foot several inches off the ground, but not so far that if you lose your balance; you want to be able to touch the ground quickly with one or both feet should you need to stop.  

There is a correct way to mount the unicycle, as most have the left and right pedals marked as such. The widest part of the seat should also be in the back, where your bottom would rest; this is not unlike a bicycle.

Getting on your unicycle is a little challenging; this is where balance and coordination come into play. You will start with the seat between your legs and put your foot on the lower pedal. Hold onto a railing while doing this because the pedal will crank about a quarter of a turn. Holding a rail will keep you and unicycle from falling over.

When done correctly, the seat will glide up under you, and you will be in a seated position. Next, find the other pedal with your opposite foot and practice pedaling forward and backward. You are riding a unicycle!

Remember to sit straight up and keep your bottom on the seat; this will keep the unicycle balanced and upright.

Taking Your Unicycle on Mountain Trails

When you become an experienced unicyclist, you can join mountain unicycle clubs, known as MUNI, and trail rider clubs. This type of riding adds an exhilarating element to the sport.

There are three types of MUNI riding:

Rough terrain: a combination of rocks, fallen trees, and mud.

Uphill: For endurance junkies, uphill MUNI riding takes skill and extraordinary leg strength.

Downhill: For the thrill seekers, downhill unicycle riding is fantastic. Many MUNI riders start by taking a ski lift to the top of a mountain and ride on their unicycle downhill. It’s like snowboarding on steroids.
Unicycling has come a long way since its advent. Now, not only are they popular in circuses and street fairs, but sports enthusiasts have found a way to make riding a unicycle competitive and thrilling. If you are looking to get into unicycling, check out your local bike shop and ask if they sell unicycles. Be sure to purchase safety equipment while you are there.

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