I have wanted to ride a big wheel for quite a long time. I was first planning to get a 36er unicycle, then a custom made 36 inch ultimate wheel. Both remained just plans, and I then decided to try something more extreme. I had seen some photos of big ultimate wheels made by Tom Miller. I also found interesting pictures of early trick riders from the 1890s who rode a penny-farthing wheel without saddle or supporting wheel. If those guys were able to do it, I could try to do it too!
It would have been nice to order one from Tom but it was clear that the shipping costs from the U.S. would have been too much. I had to find a builder from Europe. After doing some search I found a high wheel builder in England who was willing to help. I told the requirements: 47" wheel, as lightweight and durable as possible, and a smooth surface. He wanted to create a steampunk-look ultimate wheel and I liked the idea. The cogwheel-pattern is not very smooth, but it was clear anyway that I had to put something on the hub because the spoke ends were peeking out. I placed transparent polycarbonate discs to make it a smooth ride. The wheel has crank lengths of 165 / 147,5 / 130 mm. You may guess it’s a heavy ride, especially the rim weighs a lot… But on the other hand, the rim seems to be very strong and it’s a bit wider than the tire, so my leg doesn’t rub against the rubber so much as with smaller factory-made ultimate wheels. The leg slides much better on a smooth rim than on rubber. The tire is tightened with a wire that runs inside it. It’s possible to lift the rubber a bit from the rim. With this kind of tire the wheel feels quite wobbly when doing tight turns. The weakest part is the hub, I may have to reinforce it because when the wheel falls, the pedal and hub has to withstand a force that is comparable to hammering hard. Fortunately I’m able to catch the wheel most of the time when it falls…
See the wheel in action in the video:
Family portrait: 47" custom UW surrounded by 28" QU-AX UW, 26" Nimbus Oracle, 20" Nimbus UW, 19" Impact Reagent, and 24" Nimbus UW.
It must have been a nightmare to true this wheel, but maybe it doesn’t have to be very much trued, does it?
Fortunately it’s not your first UV, so you ride it very well, it looks gigantic though
Wow, that thing is super cool looking and unique! And you make it look so easy.
And you may have ended up waiting an indefinite amount of time for it…
I can’t be sure, but I imagine your tire (plus the wire) outweigh your rim by quite a bit. My 45" Tom Miller Big Wheel (#30, 1982) is made from steel Schwinn tubular rims, which weren’t noted for their lightness.
And it’s true, dropping a big wheeled unicycle can be hard on pedals, cranks (if you have any) and hubs. The steel, cottered cranks on mine always tend to bend if it gets a good drop. Fortunately they are made of easily workable steel; and a little bashing with a sledgehammer (after taking off the hub) has straightened them out for over 30 years.
Sounds like your tire is too loose. My tire was mounted using lots of pressure and torque (two trees to anchor the wires, combined with more rubber than the circumference of the wheel. The tire then gets compressed as it gets squished onto the rim. Your builder (or a penny farthing expert more local to you) should be able to tighten it up. The danger is in making sharp turns, or turns going fast, where the tire can roll off the rim. It happens, so be careful!
Interesting. Since there’s no “frame” of reference to spin it on, while it’s harder to true it, it’s also harder to see its trueness condition.
This discussion brings me a silly question that is a little bit out of topic, sorry for this, but :
For traditional wheel sizes between 20" and 29", I have this feeling that most of unicyclists who want to try UW will buy an UW, but why not just simply use one of their unicycles wheel with the cranks on it?
Your UW is really cool. It is a reminder about how much I want to build a spoked UW. It looks amazing!
The wide tread on a standard crankset makes a frameless wheel much harder to ride than a UW with the pedals mounted as close to the center as possible. On disc, or mag type wheels the pedals can mount almost on the plane of the wheel. With a spoked wheel like this one you need to have a sufficient bracing angle to give the wheel lateral strength. So, a spoked UW would be more like a frameless wheel, but possibly still a little narrower.
good question. Remember most UW riders contend with their inner calfs rubbing on the tire, so they sew silk into the tire or add something smooth to their jeans. I’m thinking with smaller tires than the 47" the spokes would also interfere with your calfs hitting???
The distance between flanges is about 12,5 cm / 4,9 in. I have no complains regarding to width, although narrower would be probably easier to ride. But like jtrops mentioned, we need to think about overall robustness and bracing angle. Anyway, my leg can lean to a flange and it makes riding easier at slow speed.
I started practicing with normal unicycle wheel. However, using a purposefully made UW brings a nicer riding experience and is easier. Now that I’ve ridden mostly with UW’s I think I can do 180-turns better with traditional sized ultimate wheel than with a unicycle
This is good to know, as I might need to straighten the hub in the future. However, I’m a bit scared of taking off the hub and truing the wheel again…
At the moment I’m thinking to add metal pipe or just a wood block as a reinforcement between hub flanges, but I don’t know if this will help or just bend the whole hub when the wheel drops badly. At the moment the hub is showing a few millimeters bending from a point where the pedal is attached. I dropped the wheel quite a lot on the first practice when I was getting used to a new size, but not so much anymore. Who knows if a reinforcement piece that connects the hub flanges behind the pedal transfers the force directly to the other flange as well, bending also the other side… Maybe I ask the builders opinion about this.
Fortunately it’s not so loose that I could pop the tire off the rim at least by hand, but I’ll be careful and keep an eye on any changes. I was told that as the rubber wears I may have to re-tension the wire that runs through the middle. I might need to learn even more new skills. The rubber can be fitted like this:
This is true, but as the wheel gets bigger, this matters less. a bigger wheel is less inclined to want to slant to the side as you pedal. The bigger/heavier it is, the more manageable it will be for pedaling like that.
You’ll know when you need to do it; once the pedals get too crooked, or something in the hub breaks.
Riding pressure is a lot stronger than finger pressure, so be careful. That video you posted on how to put a tire on, is very similar to what I saw when my old roommate redid my 45-incher’s tire back in the 80s. The main difference was his space-holder tool, which was much smaller and simpler. The rest of it was essentially the same thing!
My 45" tire was redone again in 1994, and has not been ridden nearly as much since the advent of Cokers (I got mine in 2002). Now I have a 1.5" gap in my tire that doesn’t want to close up; like the rubber has shrunk. Someday I’m going to have to get it fixed…