City Ban on Unicycles

Short Version:
The City of Morgantown, WV is trying to amend the laws to ban unicycles from both streets and sidewalks. I’m looking for any information to reference on the issues unicycles cause, any other city bans, what has worked/failed in other areas.

Long Version:
I’m a member of the Morgantown [WV] Bicycle Board, and recently a proposed amendment came through City Council to change some laws “clarifying” that unicycles were not permitted in the streets (classifying them with ‘toy vehicles’) and also prohibited from sidewalks (classifying them with bicycles).

I rode about 300 miles in one semester commuting to class and around town when I was attending WVU, never once had an issue. Mostly on a 24”, but 20mi or so was on a 5.5’ 20” giraffe. Currently there are 2 WVU students who commute daily via uni, and it seems that 1 police officer is targeting them, and has pushed this amendment through the system, after his citations failed to hold up in court.

In any case, I’m now committee chair to recommend to the city a proper action. I was wondering you might be able to provide any knowledge of issues/concerns that unicycles cause to the city/businesses. I’m also looking for anything other cities have implemented with respect to unicycles.

All I have found is a ban on the Golden Gate Bridge, and bans in NYC. The only reasoning I found was a hazard of giraffes falling off the bridge, nothing about the NYC ban.

Any information would be helpful, as I plan to meet with the Chief of Police and the City Manager next week.

Ryan Post

Very interesting. If anything, unicyclists serve to bring attention to areas, and that can’t be bad for businesses, especially if there is say… A TV spot about a local unicyclist.

You will need to prove to them that unicycling is actually safer than bicycling. Anyone can learn how to ride a bike in 5 min and then promptly go crash into a car.

The safetey concerns usually stem from people who think we are not in control of our uni’s, because of the whole waving arms thing… To help people understand, i always say to people that unicycling is the same basic balancing idea as walking. Wich for most is a bit difficult to grasp, but once I convince them, they then relate unicycling to walking, which in their mind is also not dangerous.

I know Foss and the group will be all over this, and I don’t much care for typing in my iPad, so I will return later when I have a PC to add more information.

Good luck!

How can unicycles be “toy vehicles” and “bicycles” at the same time? I’ve never heard of unicycles being banned on the street and the sidewalk. Where are we expected to ride?

If it really is a police officer trying to change the law in order to write 2 extra citations, then that is petty beyond belief. I can understand them wanting to do something if the students are causing trouble, but if that’s the case, there are probably other laws that apply (destruction of property or something). Banning all unicycles on the sidewalk is really drastic.

The GGB ban has not been enacted, it was only proposed. We sent in a bunch of information about historical unicycle use of the bridge, and questioned whether there is any history of unicycle accidents.

Generally, cities have limited ability to enact traffic regulations on their roads, because road users can’t be expected to know different rules for every city. So your city probably has to comply with the West Virginia vehicle code, so start with that; how does it classify unicycles? §17C-1-8.
“Bicycle.” explicitly says that a bicycle has two tandem wheels; however, §17C-11A-3. Definitions. says “Bicycle” means a human-powered vehicle with wheels", without specifying the number of wheels (although it later explicitly excludes tricycles). It seems fairly clear that unicycles are not bikes in West Virginia under current law. There is a category for “Play Vehicles” but I don’t see a definition of it. Article 11 is titled “OPERATION OF BICYCLES AND PLAY VEHICLES” but there’s no reference to “play vehicles” in that section and all the regulations explicitly mention bicycles.

So, part of the reason why local authorities can’t override state code is that the state code is commonly a mess like this, and it would be a lot messier if locals could change things. But, it looks like you’re going to be stuck with being a Play Vehicle, and there’s no state code which says what Play Vehicles can do, so the locals may have the authority to mess with you.

I think you have two messages to bring:

  1. It’s not dangerous. Question whether they have any data about unicycle accidents. Show how unicycles are participating safely in large bicycle events and long road rides.

  2. It’s our right. In West Virginia, you may make headway with an argument that it’s our right to use public roads, and the government shouldn’t be interfering unless there are clear public safety issues. There is a lot of legal precedent here if you want to get into it:

“The easement in the general public, acquired by the location of a highway, extends to the limits of the highway as located, and consists in the privilege of passage, by obvious methods of transportation and passage, together with the powers and privileges which are incident to such a right.” (CJS 39A 863). Escobedo v. State of California (1950) 35 Cal.2d 870, 876 (overruled on other grounds, Rios v. Cozens (1972) 7 Cal.3d 792, 799), the court held that “The use of highways for purposes of travel and transportation is not a mere privilege, but a common and fundamental right, of which the public and individuals cannot rightfully be deprived…[A]ll persons have an equal right to use them for purposes of travel by proper means, and with due regard for the corresponding rights of others.”

But, you’re probably better off avoiding a legal showdown on this one. The people wanting to change the law probably don’t realize that there will be negative effects, so if you can bring up that there is an impacted population, and that the restriction isn’t really necessary, you might get somewhere.

If there are any local bike advocacy groups, they can give you some help; if not, you might be able to get assistance from the League of American Bicyclists (despite the unfortunate name).

You also need to follow the rules that apply to unis, so if the municipality classifies them as bicycles, and bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks, then you could be cited. What was the citation(s)?

What not have a City Council member draft a counter amendment that classifies unicycles with bicycles?

How are skateboards classified?

Lots of good stuff from Tholub above. Here’s my take. The creation of new laws, or modification of existing ones, should serve a necessary purpose to the public good. If they do not, they’re a bad idea. So what do we have here? More detail needed.

Right now, sounds like one cop is being annoyed by two unicyclists, and all other potential unicyclists in Morgantown should therefore be prohibited from riding the evil things. Sounds like a load of crap. Your immediate response should be that it’s a load of crap. Usually, traffic safety issues come along with statistics. Like there have been this many injuries and this many deaths, etc. Is there any of that here? If not, it sounds like a big waste of everyone’s time.

My general approach to rulings regarding unicycles and public thoroughfares is that the unicycle should fall under the category of bike. But that’s not always a good fit, because there are so many types of unicycling. The riders in question could be road unicyclists on 36ers, they could be unstable beginners on regular unicycles, or they could be property-damaging Street/Trials riders out on the benches and rails. What’s appropriate for one group is not a fit for others.


  • The beginner riders can be asked to keep away from pedestrians or out of the street. And cited if they don't. I would consider that appropriate.
  • The Trials/Street riders should similarly be warned off of stuff that isn't intended for being unicycled and pedal-grabbed on, and away from pedestrians and traffic. Or cited. I would consider that appropriate also.
  • But if someone is just trying to use the unicycle as transport, this shouldn't be a problem. If skateboards, scooters and Segways are legal means of transportation in Morgantown, unicycles should be as well. And they still should even if those are not. People trying to get from A to B should be subject to the same rules and responsibilities as other traffic. They should not be banned unless there is a precedent.
I'm not aware of any municipalities where unicycles are specifically banned from both streets and sidewalks. You can dig around in these forums using the Search feature to see if you can find other examples of this. There are definitely stories of people being ticketed, some reasonably, and others where a "rogue cop" keeps targeting a person. Much less on actual legislation mentioning unicycles.

My advice is to contact your local press, and have them do a story on how your city council (or whoever does this) are working so hard to protect everyone’s safety from unicycles. Get people talking about it. Meanwhile, find out why, in the first place, someone thinks this is necessary.

What were the failed citations for, and what does the officer in question think is appropriate for unicycle transportation? Any response that does not allow for unicycle transportation is unacceptable, unless he can produce research showing it is more dangerous than other forms of transportation (he can’t).

Please keep us posted!

Tricycles, Red Flyer wagons, Big Wheels? Wouldn’t those be play vehicles? Think about all the little kids playing on the sidewalks in front of their houses. Would they be breaking the law too?

There are probably more bicycling deaths a year than unicycles. Even the percentage has to be less.

I realise that this is not very scientific but a quick google search on the term “killed riding a unicycle” returns 5 results, none of which are actually about someone being killed riding a unicycle.

Unfortunately the same search changing unicycle for bicycle returns 24100 hits.

The argument that unicycles are safer than bicycles seems like a bad thing to suggest. I find it hard to believe. A bike can coast, has two brakes, is way more steerable, and the rider has way more ability to stay on in a sudden stop situation. At least that’s how I see it. And based on how difficult and insane the general public thinks unicycling is, I gotta believe town officials and law enforcement are gonna think that way too. Any stats on commuter unicycling accidents are too sparse for anyone to consider.

In my opinion, trying to convince anyone that unicycling is safer than bicycling is just gonna change their view of you… from already having two heads for wanting to ride a unicycle, to having three.


I say it’s time for all unicyclists to converge on the City of Morgantown, WV for an Occupy Day!:slight_smile:

Pick a date!! :sunglasses:

Should we ride into the Meeting?! :roll_eyes:

There are no statistics for unicycle deaths. So we really have no idea. But there are also no standardized numbers to indicate how much unicycling people are doing out there compared to bicycling. However I think it’s safe to say that it’s less than 1% of bikes in terms of number of riders, miles ridden, or any metric you would like to consider. Any way you look at it, if you’re just comparing numbers of deaths, unicycling is a big, big winner.

Generally, none of that helps when you’re being struck by a car from behind, which is probably one of the common ways for cyclists to be killed. I don’t think single-vehicle bike accidents cause many deaths, at least on roads or campuses. Based on my (inflated) percentage above, a unicyclist is 100 times less likely to be hit by a car and killed.

But somehow I don’t think this is about keeping the unicyclists safe. That’s where we need to know more about the specific events that have led to this proposed legislation.

And on that, I completely agree. It shouldn’t even enter into the discussion. That’s because there are no facts to support a ban on unicycles in the first place. So a law will either be based on factual information, or will be completely political in nature.

One argument that was made at UC Irvine successfully is that unicycles are safer than bikes with respect to pedestrians. It is probably even true, assuming we are talking about moderate unicycle riders. Since you cannot coast, the top speeds are limited and are far below bike speeds. The unicycle is slower and more maneuverable than a bike, and it is less likely to crash into pedestrians. (Again, this is not time to show people extreme unicycle videos.)

The upshot of this discussion is that bikes are banned from a major pedestrian walkway, but unicycles are allowed. :smiley:


I recognize how unicycle riding can create that perception among non-riders, but:

  • How much does the ability to coast factor into safety? Maybe they could ban fixies while they're at it. ;)
  • A unicycle has two breaks. Right leg. Left leg. :sunglasses:
  • I'd probably argue that a unicycle is way more steerable. It has a zero turn radius after all.
  • Why stay on in a sudden stop situation? Just dismount.

I’d hate for my city to ban unicycles. I might just have to find a new city… or start including “paying for tickets” in my monthly budget. Regardless, it sounds like the efforts of one jealous cop. Maybe a bike cop that had an endo right as a unicycle passed him.

Bicycle Related Injuries and Fatalities
Two percent of motor vehicle-related deaths are cyclists although bicycle trips account for less than 1 percent of all trips in the U.S. In 2006, more than 44,000 bicyclists in the U.S. were injured in traffic crashes and 773 bicyclists died as a result of bicycle-related injuries.

Eight-five percent of bicycle deaths are persons 16 and older. The most serious injuries among a majority of those killed are to the head, highlighting the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. Ninety-five percent of the bicyclists killed in 2006 reportedly weren’t wearing helmets.

Bicycle Crash Facts
The number of reported bicycle-related injuries has risen in recent years, following a decline from the 1990s. However, only a small fraction, possibly as low as 10% of crashes causing injury are ever recorded by the police.
In 2006, the average age of bicyclists killed in motor vehicle crashes was 41, and the average age of those injured was 30.
Children are at particularly high risk for bicycle-related injuries, with those under 14 years of age accounting for 13% of the fatalities, making this one of the most frequent causes of injury related death for young children. Bicycle helmet use by children 4 to 15 would prevent 39,000 to 45,000 head injuries and 18,000 to 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually.
Deaths among bicyclists younger than 16 have gone down by 84% since 1975, while deaths among bicyclists 16 and older have more than doubled.
Twenty-four percent of bicyclists killed in 2006 were alcohol impaired with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08%.
Bicyclist deaths in 2006 occurred most often during June-September and between the hours of 6pm and 9pm.
Children are at particularly high risk for bicycle-related injuries, with those under 14 years of age accounting for 13% of the fatalities, making this one of the most frequent causes of injury related death for young children.
Deaths among bicyclists younger than 16 have gone down by 84% since 1975, while deaths among bicyclists 16 and older have more than doubled.
More than 7 times as many bicyclist deaths in 2006 were males compared with females. At every age more male than female bicyclists were killed and the rates of bicyclist deaths per million people were higher for males than females. The highest rate of bicyclist deaths per million people occurred for 50-54 year-old males.

How Far Do Bicyclists Ride?
The average length of a bicycle trip taken on a typical summer day was 3.9 miles. Trip length was dependent upon purpose. Trips taken for recreation or fitness were longer at 5.6 miles while trips for other purposes averaged 2.2 miles.

Most Common Types of Bicycle-Related Crashes
Motorist failed to yield
Bicyclist failed to yield at intersection
Motorist merged or turned into bicycle
Bicyclist failed to yield mid-block
Motorist overtaking bicyclist
Bicyclist turned or merged into motorist

Where Bicyclists Ride
Paved roads
Bicycle/Walking paths or trails
Shoulders of paved roads
Bicycle lanes on roads
Unpaved roads

That is a frequent conclusion. Nevertheless it is wrong as long as you don’t know how many casualties would have happened as well with helmets. Most of that killed bicyclists would probably have been killed as well, if they would have worn a helmet.
I remember typical press statements like “Bicyclist died when being hit by 18 tons truck. He did not wear a helmet.”

What is the amount of bicyclists in the respective groups (male, age 50-54)? When you split casualties with regards to gender, you should split the total group of bicyclists accordingly.

Where to Ride

When I was in Copenhagen for FLUCK I was stopped by the police three times. The first time I was riding in the bike lane and they said that the unicycle was a toy therefore I would have to ride on the sidewalk. The Second time they stopped me on the sidewalk and told me that I should ride in the bike lane with the bikes. Tehe third time they stopped me because I did not have a rflective light on my KH! They did give me any tickets. I think that they were just curious and wanted to get a closer look at my KH.

If all else fails then and the legislation gets passed I gues that you will be forced to learn the Ultimate wheel!

True. But to assume that wearing a helmet would not have lowered the numbers would be even more wrong.

I wish they would do the same thing more often with car crashes. If they mentioned when seat belts weren’t being used, this might make an impression on people and remind them to buckle up.

Unicycles are far safer than bikes. The fact that they go much slower means lower risk of injury whatever the accident is, both for the rider, and, in the unlikely event of hitting another person, the pedestrian as well.

Falling of a unicycle rarely results in injury (other than off-roading of course) and falling off a bike is far more problematic.

Unicyles are a lot more manouverable than bikes.

Coasting is no help where safety is concerned- it is precisely the impossibility of coasting that makes the unicycle so much more controlable than a bike.

Brakes are also irrelevant- a unicycle is stopped via the feet- no need to operate a brake mechanism: that, and the lower cruising speed of a unicycle means that they have a much shorter stopping distance than a bike (when both are at their average cruising speed).

The upright, tall posture, and the unusual visual impact of a unicycle, means that they are highly visible- bicycles, notoriously, are not, think of all the drivers who excuse hitting a cyclist by saying “I didn’t see him/her”: that’s unlikely to happen with a unicycle.

A bike is not more steerable than a unicycle- the opposite is true.

I can’t, offhand, think of a single scenario in which a bike would be safer than a unicycle.

I speak as someone who’s ridden both bikes, and unicycles. I ride my unicyle on the roads (it’s equipped with lights), often at night.

I live in a place where, due to the numebr of cars and the anti-cycle attitude of many motorists, riding a bike is somewhat hazardous.

I mainly ride the unicycle, precisely because I feel far safer on it.

Very occasionally I do come off the unicycle (invariably when I’m not on a road, and so able to try more risky stuff) and it really isn’t normally a problem, 9 times out of 10 you end up on your feet.

I recently came off my bicycle (crossed a wet slippery tramline)- that was most unpleasant, and I was lucky not to be hurt more than i was.