The Importance of Tire Size and Width

The Importance of Tire Size and Width

06/09/20

Here at Unicycle.com, we are proud to offer much more than a comprehensive collection of gear for serious unicycle riders. We are also proud to call ourselves a valuable font of information for those riders who are interested in learning more about some of the finer points of their sport.

For example, we’ve investigated in the past some of the huge benefits that learning to ride a unicycle can have for you, depending on what your goals are, personally or as an athlete. It will challenge you in many ways, physically and mentally. While it’s no secret that cycling sports like bicycling offer a variety of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal benefits, other cycling sports like unicycling shouldn’t get eclipsed - unicycling is a whole body workout that in some ways can be considered a low impact equivalent to jogging. Naturally, this can vary according to the specifications of your equipment and to the environment, but it is a fair comparison.

As an authority on the information that our readers can use to be more effective in the pursuit of their sport and in their quest for knowledge, we’d like to take a look at one of the finer points in unicycle riding. Tire size and width are important factors to consider when deciding on a model of unicycle, because regardless of your style of riding the diameter and width of your tire can affect the ride you experience.

In bicycling, tire size is more or less relegated to the speed that a rider will be able to achieve with it. However, it’s important to remain that since bicycles are geared, tire size is nowhere as important a consideration in bicycling as in unicycling. Additionally, there are really no hard limits that a rider can choose in tire size for a bicycle. Since the saddle sits between the tires, a rider can pick out a bike with tires as big or as small as he or she pleases.

With a unicycle, there are some hard limits, and since most unicycles are not geared, one of the biggest things that a rider will need to consider is the effect that tire size will have on speed. However, a rider can’t just jump onto a one wheeler with a 36-inch tire and expect to ride off into the sunset. That’s because tire size does not just affect top speeds - tire size is also determined by the inseam measurements of the rider, as well as the rider’s specific style of riding and personal preferences.

Preliminary Considerations

Before a rider can take into account personal considerations and preferences as well as style of riding, he or she will have to take inseam measurements to figure out what tire sizes will be practical in the first place. Since the saddle on a unicycle sits over the wheel in order for the rider to reach the pedals, the rider’s inseam length will set limits on the size of the wheels that he or she can use. Interestingly, unicycles share this in common with gearless bikes such as the Penny Farthings that you can find on our site.

There is more than one method for measuring an inseam length, and if you already know yours, you can skip this part. If you are new to this or have never taken the measurement before, you can get your inseam length by standing straight and tall on a flat, even surface. Then, have someone take a tape measure and measure the length from your crotch seam all the way to the floor. This will give you your inseam length, which is a place to start when shopping for a unicycle if you have never done so before.

There is one thing to keep in mind here - unicycles each have their own minimum inseam length rating. Two different unicycles can have different minimum inseam lengths even with the same tire size, so it’s important to pay attention to that when shopping.

Beginner Unicycle Tire Sizes

Learning to ride a unicycle is going to bring enough challenges along with it, so you don’t need to make it more difficult for yourself by trying to get on the biggest unicycle you can possibly mount. In fact, some of the unicycles we recommend for beginner riders have fairly small tire sizes that can be beneficial to learners. After all, since tire size will dictate the top speed that a unicycle can achieve, there’s no need to look for this in a beginner model.

Since beginners will likely be learning on flat, relatively forgiving surfaces, our beginner recommendations are only rated for use on flat pavement. As far as tire size is specifically concerned for beginners, we recommend that those with inseam measurements between 21 and 26 inches choose a beginner’s unicycle with a 16-inch tire.

The 16-inch tire will limit the speed of a beginner rider, but the smaller tire will also keep the rider closer to the ground and will offer less rotational momentum as well. In the first place, being closer to the ground will also lower the center of gravity which can potentially have a positive effect on balancing, and since falls and bumps are inevitable for learners, being closer to the ground is not a bad thing.

On the note of rotational momentum - that is the force required to counteract the spinning of the wheel once it is in motion. A larger tire presents more rotational momentum and thus is harder to reverse; since beginners will be constantly fighting the back and forth rocking motion of the wheel, the smaller wheel size can be easier for some to control and this is another thing to consider.

Beginners with inseams between 25 to 30 inches and 28 to 34 inches should choose unicycles with tires between 20 and 24 inches, respectively. Although this is not related to tire size or relevant to it, you will also find that a number of the unicycles we recommend for beginners have large, comfortable saddles that learners may find amenable.

Intermediate to Advanced Sizes

Since intermediate and experienced riders are more likely to be taking on different styles of riding like off-roading riding disciplines in addition to on-road riding, we can be more confident in recommending larger tire sizes. Having a smaller tire size, though it may potentially be easier to control, can also be more tiring as you will have to work harder over longer distances.

For intermediate and experienced riders with inseam measurements between 25 and 31 inches we recommend a unicycle with a tire size of 20 inches. For these riders whose inseam measurements are between 28 to 31 inches, we recommend a unicycle with a tire size around 24 inches.

These, however, are general recommendations and only take into account the relative experience level of the rider. They do not address the rider’s style or intent, and that is just as important as experience. Therefore, you can further subdivide the impact of tire size by the style of riding.

Wheel Size and Width by Discipline

Before getting into the different styles of riding and how tire size will affect them, here are a few generalities to consider in addition to those that we have already discussed.

Smaller wheel sizes can be more forgiving for beginners, but some advanced riders may prefer them because a smaller wheel size makes it easier to stop and start as well as to make sharp turns. Wide tires can also help with traction and balance, but they will likely add weight and thus rotational momentum.

By contrast, larger tires will impact the top speed that a rider can accomplish with a given unicycle. In short, a unicycle with a larger wheel size like 32-inch tires or even 36-inch tires makes it possible for you to ride faster and will be easier to ride for longer distances. They can, however, be harder to control than unicycles with smaller tires. As with bikes, thinner tires can be more practical for road riding or commuting when distance and speed are your main considerations.

Cruiser Unicycles

Cruiser unicycles may be considered as high-end beginner unicycles as they offer some features that other beginner unicycles might not. They’re capable of riding longer distances without excessive fatigue and some of them are suitable for the performance of some basic tricks. Cruisers with a tire size of 24” are in the middle ground between really small tire sizes and larger tire sizes that are mainly the territory of the touring and commuting unicycles with which we will follow.

Touring and Commuting Unicycles

In touring, and more so in commuting, distance and speed are the name of the game. Tour riders (and commuters) are riding to get somewhere or just to cover a trail. They’re not necessarily concerned with doing tricks and clearing obstacles. Touring unicycles commonly have tire sizes between 26 and 29 inches as the larger size enables riders to go faster for longer distances more easily.

Commuter unicycles typically have tires that are 36 inches or bigger, as tires in these sizes enable riders to reach the highest speeds and generate the highest rotational momentum to keep that speed up. 

Something to consider as a unicycle that could be considered suitable either for touring or commuting is a unicycle with 32-inch tires. A unicycle with 32-inch tires is only slightly slower than one with 36-inch tires but can be much faster than a one wheeler with 29-inch tires. In fact, a unicycle with 32-inch tires can hit speeds of 2 or 3 miles per hour higher than one with 29-inch tires. Additionally, 32-inch unicycles are surprisingly agile and handle very well.

Mountain Unicycles

Mountain unicyclists or Muni riders need a little bit of everything from their equipment. Speed is not as important for Muni riders as it is for road riders, as they need a fair balance between handling and control. In fact, some Muni riders who are very advanced may specifically seek out unicycles with smaller wheel sizes because of their maneuverability and agility. Unicycles for mountain riding also benefit from longer crank arms for better power as well as wider tires. Wider tires make it more practical for riders to get traction on rough terrain or balance on top of obstacles, for instance. Therefore, as we mentioned, tire size is not only tied to the experience of the rider but also to the style of riding.

Trials and Freestyle Unicycles

Trials and freestyle riders, like Muni riders, need unicycles that can handle the stresses put on them while clearing obstacles and performing tricks. Therefore, while there is no specific size in tire, some riders might prefer a smaller tire for its maneuverability, as a mountain rider might.

Though it isn’t related to the tires of the unicycle, these riders need tough unicycles with strong frames, rims, and more to stand up to the stresses of these styles of riding.

The Rider’s Preferences

Though there is a direct correlation between the size of the tire and the speed and amount of control it will afford, it’s also important to remember that different rides have different preferences. Any given rider, through experience, might determine that a larger tire or a smaller tire works best for his or her preferences as taking into account agility, speed, and handling.

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced rider with a fleet of mountain unicycles or touring unicycles, you can find the equipment to fuel your passion here at Unicycle.com. We have plenty of models available for everyone from the most inexperienced riders all the way through experts. If you’re new to the sport and would like a little help sifting through all of this information to find a good beginner model, give us a call. Actually, even if you are an experienced rider and you’d like some of our insight into our models for touring, mountain riding, or even trials riding, feel free to reach out to us at 678-494-4962 and get our professional take.