Beginner: Crank Length for 20 inch Unicycle?

Beginner: 20 inch Nimbus with 114 cranks. I am 73 yrs old and an avid Road Bicyclist - which I know has nothing to do with riding a Unicycle. I read in a forum that a beginner usually does best with a 20 inch unicycle wheel. So, in my complete lack of knowledge about what I was doing, on-line, I ordered a Nimbus 20 inch. I did not know enough to consider crank length (although on my road bicycles it’s important) The Nimbus came with 114 cranks. I am using a chain link fence to hold on to and after 3 one hour session I see little to no progress. I am 5 foot 10 inches tall. I have two questions: 1 - are some people just not able to ever learn to ride a Unicycle? And question 2 - do I have the wrong length cranks for a struggling beginner. Holding the fence I cannot even do two revolutions! Thanks for any advice!


It’s very consistent. Those who don’t/can’t learn give up! Those who learn are the ones who persisted.

The114 cranks that the 20 came with will be fine to learn on.

@19tarheel69 Enjoy the challenge! If you persist the rewards will come.

Almost everyone on this site firmly believes the way they learned is the only way to learn. If you continue to persist you’ll probably learn differently then most of us.

If you enjoy the challenge — each fail is just one fail closer to a rewarding success!


Thanks for clarifying that the 114 mm cranks are OK for a beginner on a 20 inch wheel. Also, I am an old man at 73 but I am very active and I am 99% sure I won’t give up on learning to ride my new Unicycle.
Last year I decided I wanted to learn to juggle three balls. (Much safer than learning to ride a Unicycle.)
For the first week I thought I would never be able to keep three balls going. Then one day it just happened. I have read a lot on this forum and I am guessing but I think that’s the way learning to ride a Unicycle is for many aspiring riders! Of course you don’t progress from “you can’t ride” to “an excellent rider” all of a sudden but you finally go 6 or 8 pedal revolutions and you just “feel” the magic - that’s what I am hoping for!!!


After 6-years I am still learning.
The crank length on my 20" wheels work best when they are either 127 / 114 / 102mm. So you are using the optimum length at 114mm.
127’s work best for balance and control
102’s are best when trying to move forwards smoothly.

I have 140’s on one of my 20" wheels - but it is awkward with the longer leg movements.
I tried 89’s on my 20" once, and on the 16" I bought to practice my freemounts - The 89’s were quickly removed for a more conventional length.

My limitation is my fitness rather than ability, so i don’t practice enough…
As I get better, I need less effort, and continue to improve.
Stick with it - if it was easy everyone would have a uni.

I just recently learned to ride, and it took me about 3 months of 5 minute sessions maybe 1 to 5 times a week (I don’t have the luxury of being able to spend as much time on it as I would like).
I will say for me, it was rather sudden transition from not being able to ride away from the wall (for quite a while), to being able to. At first it felt like I was setting off for a certain fall that is going to happen any second, but somehow you don’t, and for me I quickly progressed from riding a few feet to say 100 feet or more once you get over that hump. Then suddenly the problem is not balance anymore, but due to being exhausted quickly from terribly inefficient beginner pedaling. I think you might be very close to this point based on your description.
I am still at this point, but can ride maybe 1/3 of a mile now and its slowly improving. The next frustration that feels like it’s taking forever is trying to freemount so you don’t need to find a handhold to get on it. I haven’t got that down yet, but am getting close I think. Lots of helpful folks and tips to be found on here.
Just have that resolve to never give up and keep on keeping on, you’ll get it!

Someone here said the best unicycle to learn to ride on is the one you have. I learned on a 24 and sometimes wish it was a 20, hoping I could maybe pick up things up faster, But it works and I still learn on it. Maybe it will make the transition to a 27.5 muni easier later, my hopeful goal once I can ride well enough to do so. Feels like it will be another year minimum at this rate! I thought I would be riding around the neighborhood after a couple weeks, but quite a few months down, and I am still not. I just try to enjoy the challenge though and it will make it that much sweeter when finally successful.
Good luck and keep at it!

This is interesting; I’ve got a 24 with 127mm cranks. I have assumed that going with smaller cranks is something to only consider once I am really solid on these and ready to go faster, but maybe 114’s might make riding a little smoother. They are only $20, maybe I should just try them to see what they are like. (I imagined I would eventually like to try them anyway even if I am not ready now)

My 24" club worked well with 114’s when I had enough space to get some speed up.
I was mounting from a kerb at the time, and once I was moving the gyroscopic effect kept everything pointing in the right direction (upright).

My short legs do not work well with longer cranks. I learnt on 127’s - so that is my “go-to” default.
I enjoyed the 102’s on a 20" wheel for a while, then went back to the bigger lengths when I started to roll-back free mount.

This thread has made me want to get out more.
I parked the cycles in the garage for most of the summer - and need to get rid of the lock down blues (England are on 4-week Covid restrictions at the moment)

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This has been my experience with unicycling. Sometimes there will be long periods where it feels like you are getting nowhere or even regressing. Then there will be a breakthrough. Your body will learn the movement patterns in its own time. There’s no way to rush the process. Daily practice is the most important part.

And you’re right, you can feel the breakthrough as it’s happening. It’s a great moment to look forward to.

If you click on this post from a while back from an older guy who captured the whole learning process on video. When I was learning, I found this video both corny in a charming way and very inspirational. It sort of stuck with me.

Disagreement time…

My first 20" was a Torker CX. It came stock with 125mm cranks. You have to ask why Torker chooses 125mm as a stock crank length. Maybe because it’s more middle-of the road for beginners.

I agree that, if you persevere, you will succeed on whatever setup you start on. But, as a beginner, you are more likely to have a bad fall on shorter cranks. The unicycle will be more likely to slip out in front or behind you.

This is an oversimplified model, but unicycling involves the interaction between 1. steering the unicycle under the fall and 2. balancing the upper body over the unicycle. Beginners flail madly with the arms, because they haven’t yet learned the lower body / pedal control. When we flail our arms, we’re using a familiar form of balance. What we need to learn is how to pedal the unicycle under ourselves, which is an unfamiliar form of balance. This is made easier by longer cranks, IMHO.

My first unicycle was a Nimbus Bling 20" that came with 138mm cranks.
Next uni was a 26" that had 150mm cranks.
Now, both my 29" and 36" are 127mm cranks.

This was my progression.

Yes, but for your succes it’s best to assume you are not one of them. (Of those people who keep at it, I’d guess it’s less than 1% who don’t manage to anyway).

Not really. I mean, if anything I’d go a bit longer (125mm would be good, 140mm is the next common size up after and a bit too easy to pedalstrike and too hard to spin smoothely IMO). I mean it’s cheap, if you really, really feel stuck and would like to tweak something, why not. But I’d do a few more of those 3 hour practice sessions before going to tweaking the setup.

You’ll find a lot of different advice on how to practice on this forum, and I don’t want to turn this thread into another discussion about those (there are different threads for those conversations). But one thing I want to stress is: when riding along a fence, make sure you use only one hand on it, so that your upper body isn’t twisted towards the fence.

“Tarheel”? That must mean something!
My own take on crank length is that

  1. Longer cranks will effectively mean you are in a lower gear, so you will need less strength to get moving.
  2. Longer cranks also mean that you will ride closer to the ground, and when you dismount (intentionally or otherwise) the impact on your joints will be gentler.
  3. When you get to free-mounting, it is a shorter jump up with longer cranks, and an easier start, of course, due to the greater leverage.

I am sixty-seven. In order to protect my joints I chose a 19" Athmos with 140 mm cranks as my learning platform. I found the high leverage and low height to be very conducive to learning, and gentle on the joints. Top-of-pedal height is about six inches off the ground, an easy step down under any circumstance.

I continue applying that logic to my other unicycles. For example I have a Nimbus Hatchet with a 30" outer diameter tire and 170 mm cranks. The pedal height is only eight inches off the ground, still manageable.

As a further suggestion, I would not do one-hour sessions. The brain learns at rest and also during sleep. And you will be more rested when you do practice. Be kind to yourself.

Wow! What a generous group of people here on this forum! I am pleasantly shocked at the number of replies and the information you have shared with me.
I am a compete “newly” so I can’t answer Unicycling questions but a few of you asked questions about me so I will briefly touch on those.
My forum name: “19tarheel69” - tarheel is a name given to people of North Carolina in the Revolutionary War. When a British General could not force the N.C. soldiers out of a town he reported that the small number of N.C. soldiers were stuck as if the had tar on their heels. 1969 is not my birth year as someone guessed (I wish it was!) but the year I graduated from the University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC (best known for a college basketball player you might have heard of: Michael Jordan.)
Again, in response to a question - I am in Eastern North Carolina just a couple miles from the Atlantic Ocean - so all the terrain is FLAT which I believe will make learning to ride and then riding a Unicycle easier than navigation up and down steep hills!
As you all know there are lots of Unicycling videos on You Tube. Even as a “newly” I can spot some as not so useful but then again a number of them are helpful.
Finally, I won’t quit but I see that this is a serious challenge for me so I don’t have a specific date in the future that I want to set as my time frame for having learned to ride. Every day that it is not raining I will do a short morning and afternoon practice session and hope for the best.
From Slamdance: The stubborn/never say never/bloody shins and broken wrists people that will try at any age. That’s me - at 73 yrs old out beating my body beyond what good sense would dictate!
Last thought: one of you said you learned by riding in your garage - between the wall and your car so you could hold on to either/both. I have a garage but if I tried that the whole side of my Subaru Outback would be beat to pieces.
Thanks a million!


Welcome. Keep at it, I recommend helmet and wrist guards, easy body protection for piece of mind. And cover your shoulders and knees. I also recommend a railing you can slide your hand on. You do need to be able to do a few revolutions though, keep at it. :smiley:

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If you are determined but still struggling with a 20" 114mm setup you might want to try a larger wheel.

As a cyclist you are probably used to spinning 160mm+ cranks comparatively slowly in unicycle terms. This probably isn’t the time to find local clubs but I know they are scattered across the US, If you found a club I bet you you would be able to find someone to lend you a larger unicycle.

I learnt on a 20 with 140mm cranks, but feel I would have learned faster on the 26" that I bought as my second unicycle. Everyone has a slightly different learning path.

I’ve helped a few people in the early stages of learning and almost everyone likes having someone walk beside them so that they can use their shoulder for support. If you have any friends that are willing to support you in your endeavour ask them for their shoulder.

Good luck and have fun!

I just learned to unicycle over the last month at age 55.

I think darn near anyone could learn to ride a unicycle but only a small percentage of people are crazy enough to invest the time. For me, learning required about 23 hours (mostly in 1 hour/day chunks).

I think learning to unicycle is similar to learning piano (or other musical instruments). It takes time to develop the neuro-pathways required for the coordination and balance.

One big motivational difference between learning music and unicycle is that you can learn music in tiny steps even at the beginning. With unicycle your first satisfying accomplishments take much longer and will make you doubt you can do it. Try to set those doubts aside and enjoy the process of learning and practice as much as you can.

I found some motivation in tracking my hours of practice time. Recording the time was a small reward and helped remind me that each hour I logged was one hour closer to the goal of learning.

I agree with others recommending protective equipment: helmet, gloves, wrist guards, shin guards and calf guards.

Good luck!

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Welcome @19tarheel69! Like you, I came to unicycling from road cycling, but I started nearly 2 years ago at a mere 58 years old. It was about 2 months before I could ride at all, and my progress has been steady but slow ever since then. I still do a lot of road cycling, because I love to explore new places (which means going quite a long way), but unicycling always puts a big grin on my face.
I think there’s two advantages to coming to unicycling from road cycling:

  • Leg strength, especially quad strength and endurance.
  • Backside toughness. I’ve seen lots of beginners complaining about saddle soreness, but I’ve never had this problem.
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Your setup is fine. I’m an inch shorter, 41, and recently learned on a cheaper unicycle with the same dimensions.

Your perspective that you have made no progress most likely comes from high expectations of what skills you should be improving at this point. At 3 hours of practice you should be measuring how well you can achieve an upright position with the assistance of a wall or fence, sustain that assisted balance sometimes for some revolutions, and dismount intentionally many times when you feel your balance faltering or just decide X revolutions is good enough. You should have also become accustomed to the idea that learning unicycle depends on retrying unfamiliar movements.

If you haven’t drilled on finding your balance and falling to dismount then definitely spend a handful 20 minute sessions on that. Tailbone falls can be brutal and they become unnecessary with a little technique.

It just takes consistency and effort. Even though I would have analyzed each attempt and changed the bad parts when starting, I had no mental framework for it. So I just got up and tried over and over. Wrist guards saved me from serious injury during that month.

I first learned by balancing with chair backs, taking off from the wrought iron banister on my front porch steps, and then taking off from my mailbox. Once I could consistently cruise more than 60 feet I practiced mounting without props. I’ve since met with a trainer who suggests using parking garage walls and chain link fences for beginners and has many successes. That seems like I could have shed less blood on my shins and ankles.

Anyway I think you’re getting close to where I started seeing tiny bits of breakthrough progress in many sessions. But the increments of progress really were the tiniest things such as getting an extra half revolution consistently under control. At 10 hours of practice making it 25 feet and dismounting with just a brief stagger was pretty common, but still not at all my typical ride.

I noticed that 30 to 40 minutes was an optimal practice time. You definitely can do this if you have the will and stamina to make an hour session in the beginning. I notice in my early sessions that it took at least 10 minutes to warm up to my best performance then after 30 minutes in that zone I was starting to lose power.

From experience I can tell you that your setup is fine for working up to mile rides with some hills over the next few months. And it’s worth the doubt to keep going. The hobby has been far more rewarding than I imagined.

Basic riding has very little to do with balance. Don’t try to sit too upright. Lean very slightly forwards so that the unicycle is leaning slightly back and keep your centre of mass above the wheel’s contact point with the ground. This is much more stable than being upright. Think of your upper body and the uni as hinged where you sit and your legs as part of the uni. Change the angle between your body and the uni to keep your weight above the wheel. And of course, adjust the pedalling speed.

The longer you spend on the fence the longer it will take to learn. Getting started riding is mostly about steering the wheel under your fall. Having a fence nearby gets in the way of doing that and encourages the wrong responses. It makes the learner think of balance and going very slow. Like on a bike, a beginner does not have the skills to ride slowly. You did not learn to ride a bike by starting out trying to achieve a still stand.

Having a fence as support also stops you learning the most important skill of all which is how to step off the uni when things start going wrong and run out of the fall. Those who don’t focus on this often end up with a lot of pedal bite on their legs and often don’t overcome their fear of falling.

Start from a support and ride into the open. Lean both you and the uni a long way forwards to start, much further than you would expect. Begin pedalling rapidly to bring the wheel under your centre of mass. This will bring you up to speed quickly and generally avoid falling off the back which is about the worst thing.

Starting with a backstop can be good to stop the uni rolling backward. Put your weight on the the back pedal and step onto the front pedal. Experiment with both sides and the position of the pedals to find what works for you.

Try thinking of putting the wheel where you would put your leading foot if you were walking. This can deploy some of the existing neural pathways to help your ride.

Start out with most of your weight on the pedals and grip the saddle between your thighs. This keeps your weight low and helps keep the uni under you. Work towards getting your weight on the seat as soon as you can but you won’t be able to do this until you can keep the wheel underneath you. Think of getting your weight on the seat as a test for how you are doing, not as a prerequisite for riding.

Learning rapidly involves becoming a bad rider first. As soon as you can actually ride a few rotations, concentrate on becoming a good rider with your weight on the seat and sit more upright. Don’t become dependent on bad technique.

Alternatively use the fence, sit upright with your weight on the seat and learn good technique right from the start. Be prepared for a very long wait before you can ride at all though because you will need to be able to precisely position the wheel under you,

+1 on OTM’s advice.

Not knowing what part of the pedal stroke to bail out is a nuisance for beginners. The remedy for this in my opinion is to practice mounts. If the seat is set low enough, a 6:00 mount can be practiced. This is not a practical mount for riding away. But if it is practiced on both sides it will teach the rider how to bail out. Specifically the last foot to leave the pedals will be in a downward position. In many other pedal positions an awkward dismount may cause the uni to shoot forward or backward resulting in a bad fall.

I agree that learning rapidly involves becoming a bad rider first. If a beginner is seeking a feeling of control as an indication of their progress, forget it. Learning is going to feel crazy and out of control. Maybe there are very talented riders who learned things right the first time. In my own experience every technique I learned started out crazy and out-of-control, then became more refined later on.