What are all these different types of unicycles?
by John Foss
If you’re new to unicycling, you probably never imagined how many choices there were. In fact, even the unicycling world is still getting used to the idea. Before Unicycle.com existed, you could only find unicycles in bike shops or in the mail-order catalogs, and the choices were few to non. Mostly none.
Today you have nearly as many choices of unicycle types as you do for a bike or even a car. Lots of vehicle types for lots of price ranges and uses. What are those types, and their uses? Let’s break it down, based on the category list in the Unicycle.com Catalog:
- Beginner Series (with or without Learner Packs)
- Cruiser (24-inch)
- Touring (26/28/29-inch)
- Rough Terrain
- Freestyle (Advanced and Expert)
- Giraffes (TALL)
- Ultimate Wheel
- Impossible Wheel
- Trick Bikes
- Training to Balance
If you’re a new unicyclist, you may not know which of those categories suits you best. That’s okay, because most unicyclists start out with Beginner (regular) unicycles, then branch out from there. First you’ll learn to ride, and in time you’ll figure out what type of riding you enjoy most. So let’s start off with a definition of each category:
This is the “regular” unicycle category. They’re not just for beginners, but they’re the best place for beginners to start. Back before you could shop for unicycles online, this type was about all you would ever see in a store. Wheel sizes range from 12-inch to 24-inch. Good, basic, affordable one-wheeled transportation. If you’re just starting out or if you plan on doing just basic neighborhood or gym riding, this is what you want. Even if you plan to move on to something bigger or stronger, a basic beginner-type unicycle is always good to have, as a backup, and to teach your friends to ride on.
What’s a Learner Pack? Basically it’s a very good deal on some basic safety gear and a video. Each unicycle in the category comes with size-appropriate helmet, wrist guards and knee protection.
This category overlaps he Beginner category with some higher-end “regular” unicycles in the common 24-inch size. This is a great size for all-around unicycling as you can learn lots of tricks with it, cover some distance, and basically do a little of everything.
Since unicycles are generally limited in speed by their wheel size, the most common way to speed on up is with a bigger wheel. The Touring category contains wheel sizes of 26-inch, 28-inch, and 29-inch may also be called 700c by cyclists, as it’s the rim size used on the vast majority of road bikes. Combined with a thick tire, you get wheel sizes up to 29-inch. So these unicycles are quite handy for getting around, while not being too large to easily fit in the car, or other places when not being ridden.
This category contains the fastest unicycles, 36-inch and larger. You can commute on a smaller wheel, and you can tour on a bigger wheel, so don’t let the category names rule your choices. Starting with just one 36” unicycle originally, this category started a revolution in long-distance unicycling and now there are lots of choices. Not only are there 36” wheels, but you can also get 2-speed hubs that will power a 24” wheel to the equivalent of 36:, a 29” wheel to 42”, and a 36: wheel to 54”! These unicycles are also available with optional brakes, to make long or steep downhill’s safer. You can also get handlebars, to take some of your weight off the seat and to provide a more aerodynamic riding position. You can also get antique-looking wheels in 43” or 48”.
In its simplest form, rough terrain unicycling means riding on dirt. It’s more fun than you may think. In fact, Mountain Unicycling (Muni) has become extremely popular in recent years, and this whole category has formed to provide the equipment to fit your needs and budget. For off-road riding, you generally want a thicker tire with beefier tread, longer crank arms for leverage, and stronger parts, especially in the axle and crank arms. Wheel sizes generally range from 24” to 29” though the 24” rims in this category usually come out to about 26” with the tires on. A rough terrain unicycle can go anywhere a mountain bike can.
Trials is the sport of overcoming obstacles. In a Trials competition you will see people hop and ride over cars, rocks, cable spools, logs, and anything else in their path. Trials unicycles are similar to rough terrain unicycles but with smaller wheel, and beefed up parts o help them withstand the constant hopping and jumping of this activity. Due to all the hopping and dropping, a good Trials unicycle really needs to have a splined axle/hub. That’s a special hub and crank system, such as Profile or ISIS, which is much stronger than the typical square-taper axle found on beginner type unicycles. The Trials category also contains some unicycles geared to Street and Flatland riding Street is where you combine Trials riding with tricks, and Flatland is where you do the tricks without any obstacles.
These unicycles are for doing tricks, either for fun or on a stage or in a circus. Small riders might use 16” wheels and some do Freestyle on 24” wheels, but the vast majority of Freestyle riders use 20” wheels. A freestyle-specific unicycle will be stronger than the basic beginner types. It will also provide good foot support on the fork crown for one-foot riding and other skills. If you plan to ride indoors, be sure to choose a cycle with plastic-ended pedals, plastic bumpers on the seat, and a non-marking tire.
These are tall unicycles, usually with a chain drive. Believe it or not, they are much easier to ride than they look. Ever try to balance a ruler on your hand? Notice how balancing a yardstick is much easier? Same idea. And even on a 6-foot tall Giraffe, your feet are only about 3’ off the ground so it’s not really as high as you think, even though observers will think you were ten feet up! This category also includes multi-wheeled unicycles. Didn’t think a unicycle could have multiple wheels? It can if you stack them up! The wheels drive each other by tire friction. A three-wheeler rides like a regular giraffe (only heavier). A two-wheeler has reverse-drive, which makes it quite a mind-bender to ride. Much practice required! But that’s what unicycling is about anyway, right?
This is basically a wheel and pedals, with nothing else. No frame, no seat. Great leg exercise and a great challenge, Unicycle.com makes the most beautiful Ultimate Wheels on the market. You can also build your own, with a rim, some wood, and a pair of GB4 pedals inserts.
An impossible wheel is basically just a coasting wheel with a place to put your feet. Kind of like a one-wheeled skateboard, it’s not exactly impossible, but it’s not easy either! They are also known as BC Wheels, in reference to the Jonny Hart comic strip. Because they can coast, Impossible Wheels are the only unicycle type you don’t have to constantly pedal!
These things have two wheels, chains, and are otherwise overly complicated. In other words, from time to time, specialized bicycles are offered.
TRAINING TO BALANCE:
This category is for training devices that we sell, but that aren’t unicycles. Three wheels side-by-side? Not a unicycle, but good practice for balance, as well as leg exercise.