Beginner questions: 29er, brands, tires, brakes, locks, etc etc

I tried to find a “beginner FAQ” thread and tried to search for a while but my internet-fu isn’t good enough, I guess.

I’m learning with my local club on their 20" unis and am looking ahead to buying my own uni.

My goals are:
a) some short street riding for errands, 3-5 miles, occasional longer trips, speed not a primary consideration.
b) some MUni-ing, but nothing extreme.
c) some gym time but mainly for social reasons and to work on skills relevant for street and MUni.
d) it is important to me to be able to fit my uni inside my car.
e) I would like to avoid having more than one uni.

My inseam is 36" (91cm) and I weigh 240 pounds (110 kg).

So, some questions.

  1. I’m thinking that a 29er would best suit my needs, based on what I have seen and heard. Does that make sense?

  2. The less expensive 29ers are tempting because they are, well, less expensive (Schwinn, house brands), as is the mid-priced Nimbus Drak. Being new to this it’s hard for me to understand what I get for the extra money at the various price points. Then again I don’t want to buy something that I have to replace within a year or two. Should I get a KH or Oracle now, or start with something less expensive and see how my tastes develop?

  3. Should I get a brake right away or wait to see if it’s something I want?

  4. I read posts expressing concerns about tire availability but it’s unclear whether these are accurate or up to date. What is the current situation regarding uni tires? Are there good tires available in all sizes? Are there sizes where availability is expected to become a problem over the next few years?

  5. Saddles. So, is it worth seeking out a local dealer and trying various saddles, or is this something where I’ll have to try them over a longer ride or a period of days/weeks to figure out what I want?

  6. Theft and locks. In general, is theft the serious concern that it is with bicycles? Is something like a Kryptonite lock thought to be necessary when leaving a uni for short periods of time during daylight hours? Is there any consensus on the most sensible type of lock?

20" to 29" could be a big jump.
29" would work for MUni, assuming things are not too technical.
A 29" running cranks 125mm or less on hills might need a brake.
A 29" will fit inside your car.
Hopefully you will still have access to the 20" at your club to keep learning skills. Generally speaking, there is a more limited repertoire of techniques performed on larger-wheel unicycles. There are some exceptions.
Saddles are such a personal thing, I’d just go with the stock saddle and see if that works for you.

+1 with elpueblounido.
Transition from a 20" to 29" can be a lot. I bought my 29" second hand early one because it was a good bargain and I knew I would use it eventually, but each time I tried it in the beginning, I was not confortable sitting that high up. And my other uni was a 24"…
It took me a couple of months to decide to switch for good.

One thing I love about it though… when you switch back to a smaller wheel, you feel like you’re the master of the UNIverse!

Maybe consider a 26" first.

Re: brake. I wouldn’t get it now. You’ll only need it if you have a lot of down hills on your rides. Brake on a uni has little to do with brakes on a bike, we use them to balance for a steep terrain. Not to slow down.

Tires: there’s plenty choice in 29 (and 26). Speaking about which, just got my Hookworm in 29, can’t wait to try it!

Hi Ace :wink:

What you describe is best served by different sizes and can be correctly served with others depending on how much concession you are willing to do.

If I play “name the size” on your first list:
a) 26, 29
b) 24, 26, 29
c) 20
d) 20, 24, 26, 29 (except if you have a very small car)

Then for your second set of questions:

  1. 29 is nice but a big step from 20 and can be a big wheel in some situations. If you are afraid/want to stay conservative/can use a more compact solution, 26 (or 27.5) can fit the bill well too.

  2. Going for best brands will give you stronger, lighter and sometimes slightly more comfy ride (see 5). The middle prices covers very well most of the needs and should last long except if run it over with a truck.

  3. I would say: no brakes until you are good enough to feel like one will helps (it will help reduce the bill & maintenance too).

  4. Tire availability is good on common bike sizes (26, 29 and now growing for 27.5). It is harder or less choice with uncommon or legacy sizes (19, 24, 36). Anyway, you are already targeting a common size so tire availability shouldn’t be a concern.

  5. Usually, saddles split in 4 groups: the cheap ones, the old Muni ones (thick & soft), the freestyle/newer ones (thinner & denser) and the flat ones (either homemade or the KH Zero narrow & hard). If you go with a Nimbus, KH or Qu-ax/QX uni, you shouldn’t worry about the saddle. If you go with cheaper brands, that is something to consider buying in addition (maybe after some testing of the stock one).

  6. Storage inside is best when possible. If you cannot, you still want to lock it just to protect against “looks nice I want to play with it before dumping it” kind of theft. Keep in mind that any lock will apply only to the wheel (except for double hoop frames like the Oregon or Impulse). But locking it should be sufficient against basic bad luck.

Some things to consider based on your requirements:

I) It will be difficult to find a wheel size that will fit properly indoor, road & muni.

II) If you drop the indoor (you use the current 20 for that), you will have to either find an average crank length that works for road & off-road or go with double hole cranks.

III) For the tire, you can either compromise on a tire with light tread for a good rolling on the road and still some grip off-road or plan to have two dedicated and swap them.

The saddle comfort, crank length comfort & tire choice is really personal but I hope it gives you an idea of where you stand and what to address to get the most out of your next uni :slight_smile:

just so you know, with the back seats folded down I can fit my KH 36er in my '05 Mini Cooper! tight fit going in, but it works!!:slight_smile:

Unless it’s a 36" unicycle, this isn’t an issue. Between the trunk and the backseat, I can any five of my unicycles fit in my car (small sedan) at a time.

Really, really, REALLY bad idea.

At the very least, you’d want two for the mix of riding you’re talking about: a small wheel for (19" or 20") for the gym, small outdoor spaces, and low-speed skill practice, and something bigger (700c or 29") for the road. Splitting the difference gets you the worst of both worlds, not the best. :slight_smile: And really I think it’s worth having separate road and off-road unis if you do both. The road one can have a smaller high-pressure smooth-tread tire on a light, narrow rim. A firmer saddle is good and it doesn’t need a brake. The muni needs a wide strong rim with a fat knobby tire that can run 15 psi or less, long-ish cranks (150 mm or more, total joy-killers on pavement!) with a well-padded saddle, and this is a good place to start learning to use a brake. For all the pieces that differ between them, life is simpler leaving each one set up as it should be.

I think a 29" trainer could be a good next step for you. Those are pretty close to my road uni setup, other than the crazy long 150 mm cranks which need to be made to go away immediately. You can get one for not much money and save the rest for when you know more about what you want. I jumped from a beginner’s 20" to there, and yeah it was big, but it was a fun challenge, not overwhelming at all.

Since you’ve got a local club, ride as many of the other members’ unicycles as you can. I’ve never seen one unicyclist turn down another who asked to try out their unicycle, and you’ll learn things that we couldn’t possibly tell you.

A 29 is going to be your best bet as an all arounder. I wouldn’t worry about the jump from 20 to 29. It may take a few minutes to get used to, but is definitely attainable.

Realistically speaking, there is no unicycle that can do it all, so the idea of having only one will have to change.

IMO, the best 29er deal out there will be the Drak.

I’d hold off on brakes until you get more comfortable on the bigger wheel.

24" tires are the ones we’re running out of. There are plenty of 29" tires.

I learned on a 24" and then moved to a 28" (aka 29er) without too much trouble except for road camber. I’m still working on balancing/steering from my hips when I encounter road camber that I have trouble controlling. Depending on your set up and strength you may or may not encounter this when you move to a 29er.

Lots of people on this site say you will always want more and more unicycles once you learn to ride, but I really am pretty happy with just a solid 20" as my wheel of learning (and teaching) and a 29" roadster for travel. I have ridden up to 30 miles in one day on my 29, but the 3- to 5-mile distances you mention are really what it’s ideal for. Three miles is also not impossible on a 20, however.

Just about anyone can learn to ride on a cheap unicycle, but will soon outgrow it. Given that you are a big guy, this process will happen more quickly, and even finding a low-end uni with a long enough seat post for a 36" inseam would be a challenge, so I’d definitely recommend investing in something solid. KH is expensive and, in my experience, overrated, but all the Nimbus unicycles I’ve ever tested were very sturdy and high-quality.

Im just going to elaborate on your second question of what you you pay for at each price point on a unicycle.

The three key things to look at in a unicycle are hub, frame and rim. Anything else can be swapped out easily and at a relatively low cost.

Hubs on expensive unicycles are mostly isis. There are some proprietary standards emerging and QuAx pushing a new standard but these tend to come at high or ultra high ($600~ hub and cranks) price points. Cheaper hubs are mostly cotterless which is not suitable for adults off road and now has little choice of crank designs.

The most important bit on a frame IMHO are the bearing housings. Pressed bearing housings do not hold the bearings anywhere near as securely as machined housings. Frame material tends to be aluminium on pricier frames or various types of steel on the cheaper frames. Alu frames will weigh in at 600-650g while steel frames will be closer to 1kg. With spirits and a d’brake or a mountainuni setup, disc brake mounts are not essential features.

On a cheaper uni the rim may be narrow, single wall and steel, none of which are desirable. Narrow rims cannot handle good sized tyres, single wall is weaker and more prone to puncture and steel is extra weight where you don’t want it. Most riders like to use a wide 35-47mm rim.

While steel framed the drak is a beast of a 29er and is a good choice for someone coming into bigger wheeled unicycling. If you are planning mostly roads with the occasional light trail, you may wish to look at the road drak with a tyre change as the big apple sucks at any form of dirt.

I will be honest though. My drak is now major parts of two unicycles and minor parts of two more as I have changed and upgraded things.

Thanks for the great breakdown davejh!

How can one tell the difference between bearing housings? I don’t think UDC mentions this in their specs.

One more question. If you’re only going to do distance road riding would a single wall rim less than 35mm be ok … or maybe even a better choice?

Ace beats a pair, I bought the 29" Oracle LT Road with the thought it could be turned into a mountain unicycle if I wanted to do that. It’s not the cheapest unicycle but I think if you’re only going to have only one (or two) unicycle(s) it might be a good choice. I got a brake put on it but don’t use it at the moment since I haven’t been riding hills. I’d say you could skip putting on a brake until you think you need one.

Maybe not necessarily a better choice but certainly sufficient. The narrower rim would be beneficial for running narrower tires, and single wall is a bit lighter. People poo poo single wall rims, but I’d rather have a well built single wall wheel than a poorly built double wall wheel.

It depends how thin a tyre you want. I went for rim widths for the 2-3" tyres commonly used which are the most forgiving for newer riders. If you go for a 700x28, then a 47mm rim is going nowhere.

Single wall rims can be perfectly adequate or indeed very good (Surly). On a pre-built unicycle on the other hand, they are normally a nasty semi-hidden cost saving.

This is a pressed/stamped bearing housing

This is a machined housing

The pressed housing started off as a flat sheet of metal with even thickness. The machined housing is produced by removing material from a larger piece

Your uni is not going to be stolen by a unicyclist

Kinda counter intuitive, I know. A little cable that prevents the fast crack head snatch is all you need. The chance that a real uni rider would pull out a wrench to take the KH free ride seat is zero. Buy the KH free ride seat by the way, crack heads won’t know the difference, and it’s your ass that will.

Thanks for the info davejh.

Yes, my earlier comment about KH being overrated does not apply to KH saddles. I haven’t tried that new flat one, but lots of people on this forum are happy about it. I also think Nimbus seats are good, though.

Thank you all for the replies. It helped.

Based on the feedback received, I’ve decided:

  1. To be sure I’m completely confident on a 20 before moving to a 29, and to be prepared for the possibility that the transition may take some work.
  2. On the Nimbus 29 road uni for now, as I do not need the slight weight savings of an aluminum frame, nor a brake. The Nimbus 29 has machined bearing caps, a double-wall aluminum wheel, and a high quality ISIS hub
  3. As my tastes evolve I can change the tire and cranks to make my setup more amenable to MUni, or not, or get another uni…
  4. Not to incur the cost and weight of a high security lock

Thanks again