Any tips for fast unicycling

So, hopefully I am going to enter the unicycle road race in horwich this year.

I kind of need to start practising for going fast. I normally just go at a comfortable speed, but I really want to do well. I’m using a KH29

Quick questions:

  • Should I get a 29er road tyre (I'm currently using a 29x2.5
  • What would think would be a better for this, a KH T bar or a Disc Brake
  • If the T-bar, the Muni or Distance? I would use it for both Muni and distance.
  • I'm using 127mm cranks. Would a smaller pair be better? If so what size? 114 or 100?

cranks between 89 and 105

I’ll let someone else answer the other stuff, but 127mm cranks seem pretty long (I switch between 100, 114 and 127 for my commute on my 36er in the city and 127 is way too long for speed although it’s good for maneuverability). And freemounting is harder. On the 127s I have a relaxed commute with easy freemounts, make all my 10-15% grade climbs and am confident and relaxed sow-speed in high-pedestrian areas. With the 100s I have to work hard on my uphills and sometimes walk them and pedestrian areas are stressful.

How short? Depends on what you will be riding and how good/strong/coordinated you are with shorter cranks. I do fine on my 100s for everything except slow-speed stuff like at intersections or where there are lots of pedestrians and dogs and such to avoid.

But for a road race you should have a closed course with no obstructions, probably. Then I would be looking at something between 89 and 105. As I don’t find 100s at all too short for my 36, I personally would probably aim for 89s on a 29er. But you’ll probably get some different opinions…

MUCFreerider pretty much nailed it as far as cranks go.

I might add: for speed, it’s all about the cadence. The faster you can spin your pedals, the faster you will go. A fast track racer on a 24" can beat an average rider on a 36". So work on getting your RPMs up.

Yes, a road tire will also help.
Use of a handle is a personal preference. Some people find them useful, other not. See which works best for you.

Good luck!

I did the Horwich race last year (and will be doing it this year, see you there!) and a brake will be useless - the course is mostly flat with only a slight decline. For that same reason, I would recommend shorter cranks and a handlebar if you want to swing that way.

Road tyre is a must!

I do think you’re in the minority riding 100s on a 36. I think 125s are a typical do-it-all road crank for the 36. Tackle some gravel paths and climbs, and you can get quite fast. I find I’m a few mph quicker on the 110s, but it’s far from a friendly climbing gear.

Some gear ratios:
150s on a 36 is about 121s on a 29
125s on a 36 is about 100s on a 29
100s on a 36 is about 80s on a 29

Given that it’s slightly more effort to ride a small wheel than a large one, I would aim for 90s or 100s for racing depending on terrain and road surface.

That’s a good tip - try cross training on gravel/dirt roads and tricky climbs and you might find it helps. I know some of my fastest average road speeds have been the day after a muni ride. Riding on uneven surfaces just seems to be a good balance/stamina/confidence builder when you go back to the road.

This trick seems to work with different sized wheels, too. My muni is a 26 and my road wheel a 36. In fact, maybe different sized wheels work even better!

I’ll be another one to recommend a handlebar. It really helps to smooth out your pedaling motion. If you’re going to get one, do so as soon as possible so that you get plenty of practice in. Plus once you get one you’ll probably wonder why you waited so long :D.

A trick to getting the most out of the handlebar is to mount a headlight to the front of it and do some night riding. The movement of the light shining on the ground out in front will make the natural sway of the uni/handlebar very obvious. This allows you to work on your pedal/body motion to minimise the swaying and maximise efficiency, which in turn will allow you to spin faster.

Riding with a T-bar and short cranks is the way to go for me. Get a few in between sizes before proceding to the really short ones though. I now have 114 mm on a 36 inch. Brakes come in handy on most descents but i removed the rim brake that i had after a while and just take advantage of shorter cranks on all but the steepest descents.

You will need some time to adapt however. At top speed control is more posture and less legwork. Another thing i recommend is spening a lot of time on getting the saddleheigth right. Not just for comfort but also for control. Setting up the t-bar also takes a lot of experimentation. If you can ride with both hands on the bar comfortably it starts to pay off. In the beginning i was struggeling with sensitivity to wind which interfered with yaw control. Shortening the t-bar did the trick.

Anyway once you start to sweat out of fear in stead of sweating because of the excersize you are on the righ track.

It might sound glib, but if you want to win a race the most important thing is not to fall off.

I’ve seen plenty of riders lose races because they tried to go slightly faster than they could handle. I lost races that way myself, early on.

So yes, practice high cadences, but also learn your limits, learn when you’re close to losing control and learn to back off a bit if necessary. If someone overtakes you, don’t go all out to get back in front if that might mean losing control. Let him go all out to stay in front, then watch him lose control and fall off instead. Once he’s on the ground you can cruise by easily :smiley:

True, but positioning at the starting line is also important… Overtaking slower riders takes a lot of time and effort…

How far can you ride flat out without getting off because of saddle soreness?

Do marathon racers ride the whole route without getting off?

The winners don’t get off. They’re done with the race in under 2 hours. The “rest of the pack” might pause occasionally to reflect on the meaning of life.

Makes sense. Not sure how to get farther with less pain in the crotch. I shift my weight but that only helps for so long.

You need very strong thighs. This allows you to pedal while lifting off the seat, the way most bike riders do. Lifting off the seat, even for a minute or so every 10-15 minutes (or whatever your needs & tolerance require) will significantly reduce saddle soreness. Practicing this, however, will lead to a burning sensation in your thighs until you develop endurance for it.


Getting away from the start is where a lightweight tyre is so important to allow rapid acceleration.

Considering last year’s Horwich race had our friendly neighbourhood Roger Davis and even he came second, I wouldn’t bank on the faster riders losing control - most of us humans in the rest of the race might let you pass gracefully via such means though.

The race is only ~7 miles and so going all-out isn’t really out of the question - it’s not exactly a marathon endurace, more of a blast at your max speed until your legs set on fire.

Me too. I remember my very first sprint race; I tried to keep up with the other guys and fell off. That was a 100 yard race in 1980 (we didn’t invent meters until '84)!

But the falling off thing is less relevant the longer the race. Apparently this one is about 7 miles, which still allows for a mistake or two (within a field of people around your same speed/fitness level). In a multi-mile race, it’s more about finding a maximum cruising speed that you can sustain for half an hour or so, and work on gradually speeding it up.

This can be a factor as well. If it’s a crowd, you can lose a bunch of time if you don’t have room to pass. If it’s a big bunch at the start, make sure the race organizers are going to coach the group on riding etiquette. Basically riders being overtaken should yield, in terms of making space for the passing rider to get by.

About 22 miles for me. That was in the Marathon race at Unicon XIV (Denmark). I completed the distance without a dismount, but my crotch was very, very angry with me! It was a borrowed unicycle as well; I’m sure I could do better with my own, but that 26.2 miles is my personal record for riding without a dismount. :slight_smile:

Cranks: short. The course description seems to be that it’s nearly flat, so even 100mm cranks may feel slow. Try 89s and give them some practice time; if you still don’t like them go to 100.

Tire: Not sure if it’s still available, but the go-to road tire for 29" used to be the Shwalbe Big Apple 2.0" (not the wider one). It’s supposed to be less sensitive to road camber, and should also be lighter.

Handle: If you’re committed to getting one, I’d go for the shorter one because it will work on and off road. A long handle would be bad for dirt, and eventually might get broken or otherwise ugly in some dirt crashes.

Best of luck!

As an additional tip:

i have a 36" and recently swapped the TA tire for the Nimbus Nightrider tire. This tire can take more pressure which reduces rolling friction and you will be zooming along at high speed especially when using short cranks.

Well today i found out that there is a downside to high pressure. I encountered a very small bump in the road, the kind you don’t see. Perhaps caused by a tree root. I was going very fast, the unicycle bucked upward, i was thrown off and went down hard.

so when riding fast a high pressure tire helps but be sure you are traveling over smooth asphalt…

As you cycle try introducing short bursts of increased speed. As you get more comfortable with the extra speed you can extend the increased speed intervals until your overall average speed is faster.

Hope this helps :slight_smile:

Although I have not participated in any race events, I find a lot of self improvement by alternating a tenth of mile of going as slowly as possible followed by a quarter or half mile of fast riding. Also, there seems to be no substitute to frequency on the unicycle - better to spend 15 minutes per day on the unicycle than an hour and 45 minutes once a week.

Good Luck!

This morning I rode 10km and always after 7-8km I get saddle aches, but I tried your way by lifting off the seat, though not for a whole minute as it was very heavy on my legs, but that actually helped a lot. Once sitting back in the saddle, I can give my legs pause again.