Climbing hills on a unicycle

I have noticed that hill climbing on a unicycle is often a heck of a lot easier and maybe a little faster then a bike. what is the reason behind this? :thinking:

I think with the ultra low gearing bikes have, and the relative stability compared to a uni, climbing is much easier on a bike. This fact comes in to clear focus when you look at the massive 32% grade hill at Fargo street. It is many factors more difficult to climb that hill on one wheel, compared to a bike. The reason a lot of us pass bikes during hill climbs is because we don’t have a low gear and thus must move faster than a low geared bike to keep from lowing momentum.

Muni Addict is right about hammering up hills on a uni, so it seems like it’s faster then on a bicycle. I also ride MTB and if I ride as aggressive as I do on a uni my climbing speed is almost double that of the uni. The main reason for this is the addition stability of the front wheel and the huge leverage advantage from the handlebars allows you to just consentrate on a powerful spin instead of reacting to every rock and root.

The uni is still a lot more fun though…

Good points, and also with a bike there’s the definite advantage of “pull” in addition to push when clipped in. I know that a few have tried clipless pedals on unis, but for me the risk of a faceplant outweighs any benefit. It only takes that one time you couldn’t get out in time and it’s hello reconstructive surgery! :astonished:

Thanks for the replies. I rode up a hill on my bike then ended up going up it with the uni a little later. The uni seemed to gobble the hill up and left me less winded.

Uni is lighter, simpler, and leans with you (It doesn’t force you to stand in front of the saddle or be leaned back sitting down, like when you are climbing on a bike.)

One thing to consider is the ability to pull the saddle. This means the force on the pedals can exceed the weight of your body. Also outclimbing a mountain biker is very satisfying. Never mind that your face resembles that of the incredible hulk while doing so.

Hahahah the look on their faces is amazing. Completely confused about what just happened. :astonished:
I would assume handle bars also help. This would allow more ability to push the pedal with more force.

I agree with most of the comments here. A bike is almost always both faster and easier, because of the gears and not having to balance like on the uni (takes a lot of extra energy).

Even with a more fair comparision with a singlespeed bike (or fixie), the bike would still be faster and easier:

  • leverage: As stated above, there's more leverage with the handlebar.
  • gears: Even on a fixie you have 2 "gears", sitting and standing (normal bike also has multiple gears)
  • balancing: On the uni you use extra energy balancing.
  • -weight: bike has more weight. [/LIST]

    However, there does seem to be a “sweet spot” where the gearing is just right and then the uni is not bad. Advantage is less weight but you still have to use extra energy balancing and have less leverage.

    I think the real reason it sometimes feels faster is mostly what MuniAddict stated: on a uni you have to keep up the fast pace, or else. On a bike you can just spin and downshift if need be. There is no “relaxed” climbing on a uni (ok, maybe on a slight grade, but nothing steep).

    I’ve done lots and lots of climbing on a bike and not nearly as much on a uni. Interestingly I went on a group mountain bike ride last fall on my muni with my MTB group. There were maybe 30 riders and we started with about 30-45 minutes of climbing on a gravel road. My “cruising” speed was way faster then the group. Thus, 1) it was really hard to ride in the pack as they were slower than my “gearing” so I had to pedal and stop and wait and balance so as not to run into the wheel in front of me and 2) way more stenuous, 3) most of the MTBers could have ridden as fast as I was but they were relaxing in the group. I ended up riding ahead and then waiting for them to catch up and then mounting and riding again. Thus I made it up the climb in the same amount of time. However, I was beat and very tired. The MTBers (except maybe the weakest 4 or 5 riders) were relaxed and could have ridden on like that for another 3 hours… (BTW: The descent was a difficult technical trail with switchbacks, roots and drops and I was very pleased to have been able to ride in the back of the more advanced group, and the slower group did not catch me: granted this was no race, but a group ride with frequent stops and sessioning).

    However, the real reason why I often pass bikers on the uni when climbing is simply because I am much more fit: If I were on a bike I would be even faster and flying past most of the other bikers (I have done various types of bike racing over the years).

  • What i was thinking about is that a direct pull on the saddle allows fixation of the hips with respect to the pedals allowing the application of the full force of the legs. Most people can push with more force than their own weight using the legs. So as far as force is concerned there should be an advantage in the amount of torque that can be applied to the wheel. On a bicycle or on a unicycle with handlebars the handles are in front which does not allow a direct pull.

    I have used both handlebars and the handle of the saddle itself and found that the latter results in a faster climb.

    Climbing is limited by your cardiovascular ability to put energy into the cranks, not by your leverage on the cranks. People sometimes reinvent the idea of a bike with hand cranks to augment the foot cranks, but they wind up going slower than with just the foot cranks, because your legs are better at generating power and your heart and lungs can only provide a certain amount of oxygen to your muscles.

    We have a good amount of data on unicycle vs. bicycle hill climbing. All else being equal, unicycling is clearly slower; for long climbs, I use 20% as a rule of thumb for the difference.

    The bicyclist might be exerting himself more for that extra speed, because bikes are better able to maximize your muscular output. But if the bicyclist were going 20% slower (at the unicyclist’s speed), he’d be using less energy, for the same reason.

    20% isn’t a huge difference, so it’s very possible for a particular unicyclist to be faster than a particular bicyclist on a climb, but that’s not the same as unicycles being faster than bikes.

    All good points. I agree with all of them. Nevertheless when the climb is short and steep a healthy dose of torque comes in handy. I agree that climbing Mont Ventoux is a different matter.

    I think the difference between uni and bike on a short, steep climb is greater, not less. I’ve got some Strava KOMs on short climbs around here on bike, and the times I put in on that kind of thing are way lower than my best plausible uni speed on the same climbs. Even on a geared uni, there’s no way to generate the torque available in a bike sprint.

    There’s a one-block steep climb (~12% grade) near my house I’ve done in 16 seconds on bike; the fastest I’ve done on uni is 54 seconds. I could get that down below 50 seconds, but very doubtful I could get it below 40. There’s a downhill leading into it so some of that is momentum, but the difference would still be huge from a standing start at the bottom of the hill.

    Bikes are way better at translating power input to forward momentum than unis are.

    Excellent thread-- thanks for all the info, tholub.

    My $.02: part of the reason hills on a uni can feel faster than on a b*ke is that with one wheel and handlebars you can find that weightless, floating feeling when you are not just hammering your quads – you have sufficient speed to lean into the hill and find that very small sweet-spot in between hammering and face-planting; to me this feels like flying, somehow. (Needless to say, you can’t do this on a bike.)

    Of course I may be completely wrong, but this is how it feels to me.

    On my uni I just hop over hills. I can’t do that on my b*ke. :wink:

    Seeing the discussion above i am wondering if mounting handlebars is an advantage on climbs. I tried riding with handlebars on my 36" and on my 26" muni and found that the advantage of handlebars is mainly in riding in a better posture when riding fast on flat terrain. While doing muni especially when there was climbing involved i noticed that the advantage was minimal. The reason is that the point where you hold on is forward of the handle on the saddle itself. When riding uphill i sometimes worry about ripping off the saddle (this is not a joke). Going downhill and speeding into the next hill a uni is at a clear disadvantage compared to a bicycle with or without handlebars. Nevertheless when comparing two unicycles, one with and one without handlebars i wonder which would climb faster.

    I am a very avid Mtbr and I got into unicycles because of the simplicity, so naturally I fought against having handlebars on my KH29. I have been doing a lot of climbing on the uni so I decided to throw on a pair of the kh muni bars and WOW! They clearly make a huge difference in your posture while climbing and the biggest thing I notice is that with the extra leverage extending beyond the saddle you can easily pull up and over rocks and roots without changing your cadence. My wife who rides with me on her MTB supports the change I feel by telling me “I now have to work to keep up with you”, I may not be fast but the the handlebars clearly make me faster while reducing saddle soreness.

    It depends on the climb (and the rider, of course). If the climb is shallow enough, and the rider is powerful enough, to stay in the saddle with hands on the bars on the climbs, it’s probably faster to have the bars. For steep “funky chicken”-style climbs, having your hands further out from the saddle is probably a negative for most riders.

    Scott Wilton, a great climber who thinks about equipment a lot, has moved to short handlebars which place both his hands just in front of the saddle handle.

    I should add that I have the zero saddle with the plastic handle removed and the muni bars as close to the saddle as I can get them, I rarely climb with both hands on the bars as it’s difficult for me to negotiate rocks in that position while doing the “funky chicken”.