Blog post on product design, sustainability & KHU


The outdoor gear company Innate just posted a blog Q&A where I chat about product design, sustainability & KHU…

Just thought it might prompt some discussion here…


Here’s a discussion point: would you ever think about going the way of, say, Rivendell Cycles, letting other manufacturers take the mass market and focusing on a specific niche that is willing to pay made-in-USA/Canada prices?

Very nice! And I watched that Mercedes Benz video again, which is excellent. I remember wondering if they let you keep the car… :slight_smile:

Kudos, once again, for putting on such a great public “face” for unicycling to the rest of the world!

Glad you liked the article =)

Regarding production location - personally I would not favour Canadian or American production simply because I live in Canada.

I think we have to be careful with that argument, in general. There are legitimate reasons to think that Canada and the USA have good labour laws, but more often than not the “Made in America” label is trumpeted for reasons that have more to do with nationalism and cultural stereotyping.

There’s also the issue of skill, and having critical mass of people and facilities with the right capacities. Taiwan (specifically Taichung) is a good place for KH manufacturing because there’s few places with more people that have such high quality production skills and capacity in all the right areas. I can’t think of a town in North America where there would be an equivalent skills and production capacity in all the needed areas. Maybe there was that years ago, but not right now. I’ve been there many times and visited all my factories, and very much enjoy interacting with the smart, capable people involved with the gear production.

In terms of distribution, KHU is already a very specific niche, shipping tiny quantities (by bike standards) to many countries. So the “buy local” idea is unfortunately not really achievable at the moment - I can’t think of a particular local area with enough riders to sustain it.

So I guess to sum up - at the moment I’m pretty happy with sourcing KH production in Taiwan, for the unicycles & components.


Nice article Kris, it’s a treat to have you involved on the forum.

As always, a class act.

On a side note, it was really strange watching the Mercedes video and actually seeing you bail/fall/UPD. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who had the irrational idea that you are a “perfect” rider, landing every trick or clearing every obstacle on his first attempt. Anyway, I wish more elite riders would keep some “crashes” in their professionally edited videos. It makes people realize all the hard work that comes before the success. Glad to know you are at least somewhat human, too… hahah

I remember watching the “ride the dragon” video where Kris works the stairs to a herder’s hut for what seems like hours, then he finally gets it.

I’m sure Kris has had more than his share of UPD’s in order to get to where he is now, it’s a sport that requires an irrational sense of time and effort.

I may be one of the few riders who didn’t know anything about unicycling before learning. It was only after learning to ride that I went online and looked at what people were doing on unicycles.

For sure, watching videos of people like Kris, that’s what drove me to push my riding, it gave me a sense for what could be done with practice.

Having good gear helps too :slight_smile:

Nope, that’s me, too. At age 40, I decided I wanted a new challenge in my life that would help me get back into shape. I had recently been to the circus with my kids, so that is probably the only reason a Unicycle entered into my thoughts at all. I thought to myself “I don’t know anybody else that does that, what better challenge could there be at my age?” (I had already been through Parris Island.) As of yet, I have still never met a Unicyclist in person (knowingly), but that’s going to change on June 29th. :smiley:

After riding for 2-3 months, I had decided that this was not going to be another passing hobby for me (I’ve had way too many come and go). Something about Unicycling really seemed to identify with my personality and so I started coming online looking for other Unicyclists. Over the past 6 months, I can’t tell you how many people have asked me “How did you lose all that weight?” It’s priceless to see the look on their face when I respond with "Mountain Unicycling… "

Anyway, like you said, I had absolutely no clue what was possible on the Unicycle until I started coming here and watching YouTube videos, etc. Riding Uni is like the perfect blend of challenge, fun, and exercise.

Me too. I had never heard of mountain unicycling when I saw a mountain unicycle in a bike shop. I thought to myself “Wow, that’s totally crazy, I could never do that.” That thought stuck with me for a while, and I started wondering why my immediate thought was that I couldn’t do something that someone else obviously was able to do. So eventually I bought a Torker and started learning to ride. Only then did I start looking on-line for more info.

Back on topic-ish. . .
It’s unfortunate that we can’t match Taiwan for this kind of manufacturing, but for now that’s the reality. No complaints from me, if KHU didn’t exist within the confines of the real world, it wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t have all these great products to choose from.

Ultimately we will end up matching them as the cost of shipping increases and the cost of production in Taiwan increases, and our cost of production decreases.

I’d pay more for local products, not because they employ local people or support local economies but because it is not environmentally sound to ship products back and forth across the ocean.

Kris, can you take a guesstimate at the increased retail price to build a domestically sourced unicycle, all materials, all manufacturing, all assembly in North America?

I really agree with you about the need to reduce carbon footprints. It’s just that in the case of the incredibly dilute unicycling community, it’s tough to define what is “local”.

In terms of costs, it’s hard to say. But as an example:
In 1999-2000, the original KH unicycles used frames built in Vancouver Canada, and Profile hubs and cranks built in the USA. All the other parts were made offshore but assembled locally by the fledgling The retail price was about $1500 for a single speed unicycle.
The cost of building just the frame in Vancouver, in 1999 dollars, exceeded the cost to build the entire unicycle today, in 2012 dollars. Adding a Texas - made carbon Wallis saddle would add perhaps $300 to $400 on top of that.

But ultimately it’s not just about the costs; it’s about finding the factories and skilled workers that could actually do it. There are lots of frame builders, but beyond that I’m not sure, no matter how much you wanted to pay. I do see a small niche for custom unicycle frame builders that is actually being served less today than it was 10 years ago.

One thing I have done recently is shift to a centralized importer for all of Europe. That makes sense for a number of reasons, but one additional benefit is that less frequent shipments of a larger quantity of items, with local delivery, is more energy efficient than lots of small shipments.

Whilst I understand you not wishing to divulge hard numbers it would be interesting to know a rough percentage split of Uni sales around the world, America, Europe etc

We always refer to our community as small and niche but I find it hard to get a picture of what that actually means size wise this forum has 62k users many probably people who have not stuck at learning to ride so maybe 100k-150k global active Unicyclists?

I have done my best and bought 3 KH MUnis’ in the 5 months I have been riding and eyeing up a KH29 as my fourth :stuck_out_tongue:

I can only mirror other users in expressing my gratitude for your dedication to the sport in producing such fantastic products along with the inspiration you provide to so many of us through your astounding riding.

Thanks for the kind words - much appreciated!
High-end unicycles are a niche within a niche, and don’t really reflect the unicycling community as a whole. It’s hard to say how big it is. In general terms, Europe (especially Germany) is the biggest market for the upper-end gear, followed by the USA. After that, no other country comes close for the high-end products. There are a lot of riders in Japan but it’s quite a self-contained community, same goes for Korea and China. I would say that this forum is very much a dedicated user group for the core ridership, more than something reflective of the “average” rider. The majority of riders don’t compete, don’t attend meets, and don’t participate on forums, which makes it really important to reach outside the core community to engage with a wider scope of riders.

<Scooby Doo Voice>Urrrrgh?</Scooby Doo Voice>
The only people that know something about unicycling before learning to ride are the ones that already know involved/connected unicycle riders. For everybody else, it’s probably more about unlearning what they thought they knew about unicycling and replacing it with factual information.

That same thought was the only thing that kept me going when I was trying to learn (on a total piece of crap) in the 70s.

Back and forth is relative. As Kris pointed out later, his main markets are split between North America and Germany. Of course neither of those is near Taiwan…

There are not 62,000 people using these forums. That number must account for every user account ever created. Many are duplicates, many others are spambots, and most are probably abandoned accounts.

That said, there are way more than 150,000 active unicyclists out there. Depending on your definition of active, I guess. 10 years ago, the Japan Unicycling Association touted that it had tought about six million kids how to ride unicycles. Not all of them still ride, but most of them probably could, within minutes, if they wanted to. And that’s just Japan! There are vast numbers of people who can ride unicycles out there, but to nail down more specific numbers is hard, because you have to define what constitutes the level of participation you want to base it from.

Kris, you make a great argument for manufacturing where you do. For trying to do manufacturing in one’s own country, I always figured the main reason for that would be to promote employment (and all the related commerce) in your home country/continent, and also cut down on some of the transport costs. In other words, to have total strangers that live in a nearby country build the stuff instead of having total strangers in a farther-away country build it. :slight_smile:

We can’t escape the global aspects of wares.
My latest Muni I called “frankenMuni” because it was assembled (in Germany!) from parts from all over the world:

  • frame is russian
  • hub is it italian
  • handle is American (scott Wallis)
  • then I do not know where all parts were really built but their “make” are from different countries:
    • Rim and tire are Surly
    • saddle is KH
    • cranks are Koxx-one
    • seat post is Addict
    • pedals are Wellgo

and rider is french :sunglasses:

I can’t speak for Canada, but the labor force in America definitely ain’t what it used to be. I think it will come back someday, but probably not in my lifetime.

My wife drives a Ford Fusion that was built in Mexico, while my neighbor drives a Toyota Camry that was voted “Most American Made car” by several magazines.

It’s hard to fault Kris for “out-sourcing” his manufacturing for a niche product like Unicycles when one of the oldest American car companies is doing the same thing for a product that the majority of American families own.

BTW, what’s the deal with all the forged KH seat posts being out of stock right now? I just bought a KH Trials frame to replace my Nimbus, but I can’t use it yet cause I don’t have the right seat post. :thinking: