A Unicycle's Place in the World

Unicycles can be so ambiguous sometimes. Is it a bike? Are you walking? Or is it some crazy hybrid in the middle?

Whatever the legalese might say there are always going to be places where you’ve got to do it by ear.

Presumably you’re perfectly entitled to go on roads. Are you? Fast, large wheels presumably can’t go anywhere else if there are no cycle tracks. But then you wouldn’t go on a road with a little 16" ride.

So instead you go on the path. I’ve a 20" and a 24"; I go on paths. Obviously the onus is on you to avoid crashing into people, either by going slowly, going around or dismounting.

So then where does a unicycle have right of way over people? There’s a particular road on campus that many people cross on foot. People stop for cars; people without the urge to be injured stop for bikes, but people rarely stop for a unicycle, irrelevant of how fast I’m going. My closest incident so far (in three weeks…) has been when someone walking in the road decided to run to the other side, and came damn close to sending us both into a heap.

This is just one situation when the unicycle doesn’t really have it’s place to stand, as it were, so you’ve got to make it up as you go along. But how long will it be before I don’t react fast enough and do in fact end up in a heap? Has anyone been in a pedestrian related collision?

Or collided with a bike, for that matter? On the larger paths bikes pretty much have right of way over pedestrians; in this case does that include unicycles, being the half way house between the two?

I think it’s the fact that it’s half way between a bike and, well, walking that makes it difficult. We’re not supposed to have bikes inside the houses here at university; there’s no way I’d leave my unis in the bike rack outside for any length of time, but the other day someone asked whether I should have it inside at all. They live under my bed; I’m half expecting one of the cleaners to comment on them sooner or later.

And then there’s carrying them. Technically if you’re carrying a uni it’s effectively just a lumpy item of personal luggage, but most people wouldn’t see it as that. On the way back from Durham on the train someone mentioned I should be in the bit specially for bikes because I was getting in the way… as they struggled past with their huge collection of bags that were blocking the corridor.

It must be hard to be a unicycle… you’re neither one thing nor the other…

Phil, just me

I bet if you put your uni into a soft carrying case when you go into the university buildings no one would say a thing. That approach might save you your ability to keep it with you. Same for the train, I’d think.

I’ve always been of the opinion that if you are polite and not doing anything really rediculous, you can always plead ignorance 1 time. As a result, I always ride in the halls of my building, but duck into a room or my office when I hear the cleaning crew nearby. they probably would say nothing, but if they do and I get warned from whomever is the proper authority, then I really shouldn’t be caught doing it a second time. I guess the same about carrying it in buildings and trains and things, I would just be discreet about it, to avoid your warning. As for colliding with people, I haven’t had the misfortune. Everyone who sees me seems terrified. They jump off the sidewalk when they see me coming. I must have a crazy look about me or something. I have almost been hit by a few cars though. I’ve already had more close calls with cars on the uni than in my near 10 years of riding b*kes in traffic. People seem genuinely pissed at me when I cross the street in front of them when they are at a stop sign. A pizza guy the other day just went anyway, and I had to fold it up into a crash to stop quick enough to not get hit. (We exchanged dirty looks.)

I have always found being overly polite works when dealing with people or other obstacles such as this because i very often go on a local bike track around 3:00 every arternoon if i am not otherwise occupied, anyways the bike track has a section in which it heads on the grounds of a local school and it being in the after noon the school is letting out. I do my best to avoid large amounts of people but some how i always run into the “wrong” person who gives me a nasty look and gives me a remark to get off as it being school policy. I was unsure that a school would have anything about unicycles in its rule book so after having to say Ok and walk a half mile of the track one too many times i decided to visit their office and i borrowed a rulebook and looked and i noted thatit only mentioned the 2+ wheeled type of object so after that i now can politely mention that there is no rule agains it to their dismay and after a year now i have had no retalliation because ive been way too polite and have just out’ruled’ them.

 thats my story about those kind of jerks that always seem too have the stick up their butt.

dont ya just love happy endings

I’d say always assume that you don’t have right of way unless someone clearly concedes right of way to you. The exception is on the road where if you are riding sensibly and at a decent speed, occupy your bit of road and be confident, with clear hand signals. Wave acknowledgement to anyone who slows down and passes wide.

Remember, humanity is just another animal species. Individually, they may be OK, but collectively, they follow the herd instinct which means anything outside the normal is treated with suspicion or, conversely, ignored altogether. So, some pedestrians will assume that they have right of way because you are doing something unusual, and others will simply pretend you’re not there. If you can make eye contact and smile, they may realise you are a human too, in which case, just sometimes, they will apply the rather outmoded idea of courtesy and step aside.

As for taking unis in buildings, I find that if you park it on its seat, with the tyre off the floor, it looks like it isn’t almost a bicycle, and people treat is as just another bit of equipment or luggage.

Re: A Unicycle’s Place in the World

phil wrote
> Or collided with a bike, for that matter? On the larger paths bikes
> pretty much have right of way over pedestrians; in this case does that
> include unicycles, being the half way house between the two?

I know it’s frustrating at times, but in the UK peds always have right of
way. Except on motorways, but then you can’t yike there anyway.

I would dearly love to have a network of fast cycling routes where peds and
motor vehicles weren’t allowed - they cycling equivalent of motorways. But
it’s never gonna happen. Besides, it’d probably make even more motorists
believe that cyclists shouldn’t be on the roads, which would be a bad thing.

Danny Colyer (remove safety to reply) ( http://www.juggler.net/danny )
Recumbent cycle page: http://www.speedy5.freeserve.co.uk/recumbents/
“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” - Thomas Paine

Re: A Unicycle’s Place in the World

U-Turn suggested:
> I bet if you put your uni into a soft carrying case when you go into the
> university buildings no one would say a thing. That approach might save
> you your ability to keep it with you. Same for the train, I’d think.

I used to carry a couple of bin bags when travelling by train with my 20".
I never had to use them, but it’s good to be prepared.

Danny Colyer (remove safety to reply) ( http://www.juggler.net/danny )
Recumbent cycle page: http://www.speedy5.freeserve.co.uk/recumbents/
“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” - Thomas Paine

if i cycle past somebody any they get out of the way quickly like their scared to be run over, i always tell them not to worry about being run over.
if someone gets out of the way to be helpfull then i always say thanks.
if somebody nearly runs into me i sometimes say sorry, and sometimes politely tell them to be carefull, even when they were just being stupid and not looking where they were going.
i haven’t run anybody over yet.

the fact is i’m riding a unicycle on the pavement, and despite the fact that riding a unicycle is second nature to me, most people on the street have never seen one before, and have no idea that i can ride allong walls and jump gaps. so their a bit cautious.

True… in York the other day someone coming the other way froze in the middle of the path until I went past. In general people usually give you a really wide berth.

The main problem is deciding where I can ride and where to either walk it through or find another way. It’s less of a problem with the small one; if necessary I can carry it so it doesn’t touch the ground and people don’t tend to mind as much as if I were pushing it along or riding it.

With a bike “going round” is usually less of a problem as you can go quite quickly; on a unicycle, especially if you’re having to walk it anyway, isn’t so fast, so you’re more likely to go where the pedestrians go, so more likely to have to fight your way through, as it were.

Phil, just me

Most of the time people are too freaked out to move out of the way when im on my uni. So I take it upon myself to not hit people, much as i would like to. I dont know where a unicyclist is supposed to ride, so I ride on the road occasionally, but mostly on the sidewalk, much to the dismy of pedestrians. Most people get off the sidewalk when they see me, ye of little faith. I almost hit a little kid the other day. Someone called their name and the kid stopped dead right in front of me. I had to pull an evasive to avoid a collision. Some people… sheesh.

I for a lot of places, the unicycle is not classified as anything under the law. Also, it is illegal to ride a biycycle in ontario without a helmet unless you are 18 years of age. (It’s 18 or 16 I think.) I’m not old enough to forgo the helmet on a bicycle, but seeing as how there are no laws forbidding me to ride my uni helmetless, I ride helmetless. I dont do anything extreme so I think I’m pretty safe. People tell me to wear a helmet cuz it’s illegal and I tell them they are wrong. Uneducated fools.

That was a nice rant. I feel far better now. :wink:

Re: A Unicycle’s Place in the World

In most cases, the legalese usually doesn’t say anything. Even if it does, arguing about it with someone who doesn’t believe you won’t make you any friends. Especially if it’s a cop or security guard.

My advice is to use the rule of common sense. The hard part about this is figuring out what’s sensible. Common sense is after all, an oxymoron.

Here are two basic suggested rules to live by:

  1. When in doubt, follow the rules for bikes.

  2. If you are riding around people, anywhere, it is your responsibility not to hit them. Especially kids that may freeze in your path or otherwise dart in directions you don’t expect.

Back to #1. If we want to be treated with respect, if we’d rather have rules that apply to us, it’s up to us to assert ourselves and take a place in existing laws. This will be much more effective than trying to get laws created or changed for unicycles. This usually only happens with legal battles, and over long periods of time. And locally.

Unicycles are much closer to being bikes than they are to being pedestrians. They’re slower and they take up less space, but otherwise we’re mostly the same.

When it comes to bringing it into the classroom, technically you probably shouldn’t. You should park it where the bikes park. What makes you more special than the other cyclists? As for riding down the halls, if you live in the US like me, the only sensible answer is not to. All hallway rules are going to favor the pedestrian, and you’re just going to put people at risk until you eventually tangle with somebody. When you do you will be in the wrong regardless of the details.

I’m a good rider. I have been paid to ride my 6 footer through Bloomingdales department store. In that instance, I was being paid as a professional to be safe. And conservative, around crowds of people and glass cases full of jewelery.

It doesn’t matter how skilled you are as a rider. You cannot read peoples’ minds. They should be able to walk down the hall, preoccupied or perhaps carrying stacks of books, without having to worry about dodging (or seeing) a person on a unicycle.

Sorry. If it makes you feel any better, the same goes for skateboards and scooters.

This depends very much on where you live. To be safe, think and act as a bike. I know some places requre brakes, lights, bells, etc. on bikes. But you can at least start by riding only where the bikes ride, and assuming the same responsibilites they are supposed to.

I can think of one place only. That’s in a unicycle competition. Most specifically, in the old fast-backward race, one we mostly never do anymore due to the danger factor. Anyone on the track during that race is going to have a rude awakening from a blind unicyclist with the right of way :slight_smile:

In California, pedestrians have a more-or-less blanket right-of-way. I’m not sure of the details of this, but it makes good basic sense. If somebody steps off the curb, you are legally required to not hit them. You’re not supposed to be on the freeway, and you’re still supposed to use the crosswalk when one is available, bit it makes being a pedestrian a lot safer here than, say, New York.

I’ve never heard mention of a law anywhere that grants unicycles any form of precedence in right-of-way situations. So on questions of this nature I recommend falling back on the “be a bike” approach.

Some people will never “get” what you are as a unicyclist. Certainly non-unicyclists don’t have enough of a trained eye to be able to tell a beginner rider from a smooth and confident one. I for one don’t want to be near a beginner rider on a bumpy sidewalk. One mistake and BAM! Pedal in your shins. No. Give the people plenty of room, and expect them to react in stupid ways. That way you’ll always be ready. Same rules you should be applying when driving a car.

I’ve only ridden inside once, leaving JuggleSoc on a sunday evening at 11pm… not the busiest of times…

<re: rights of way over people>

While I realise people will always have the right of way, I probably didn’t phrase the question very well… whereabouts could we expect people to not jump in front of you quite so fast? While pedestrians may have right of way everywhere it’s a pretty safe assumption that they won’t walk blindly across the path of traffic. (much, anyway…)

Wherebouts will unicycles be treated the same? I’d have thought on bike paths people would keep out of the way, but it seems the line between bike tracks and people-paths are very blurry…

On a related note, I rode through the middle of York on saturday afternoon. That was very busy… probably busier than I’d ever rode in before. Half of that was because I’m better than I was the last time I rode through a collection of people, and the other half was probably shamelessly showing off. :slight_smile:

Needless to say I didn’t run anyone over; then when I got to the really busy part I got off. Although riding was probably easier… people keep out of the way, whereas they will quite happily walk straight into the uni if you’re just standing next to it. Grrr!

Phil, just me

At a rough guess, nowhere:( No matter what form of transport you use, from walking to flying a plane (and everything in between), there’s always a chance that someone else around you will be totally unaware of your existence, unaware that you present a danger or even arrogant enough to think that you’ll reroute around them if they get in your way.

The lack of perception of danger is, I think, quite a big reason why people step in front of unicyclists. Other people have pointed out the opposite reaction, i.e. they give a really wide berth. These are perhaps two sides of the same coin, people are unfamiliar with unicycles and don’t know how to react so choose one extreme or the other.

People are unpredictable at times, even us perfect unicyclists;)

Have fun!


When people walk right in front of me, or “play Parcheesi” by spreading out across the path so there is no room to pass, I try to take it as a compliment on my riding ability. I get lots of nice compliments that way!

Admittedly a bit of me likes when they do that, as it means I can show off a bit by stillstanding while they move on, hopping sideways out of the way or something…

Phil, just me