Distance on a smaller wheel...

So… I have read about people doing distance rides on 36ers and stuff, and I can search and find training logs and different things to help get decent at distance riding. Right now though, I don’t have a 36er. And looking at my finances… it will be a while before I do. So… my question:

Does doing distance on a smaller wheel translate into the skills and fitness needed for a larger wheel well? If I do 10 miles on a 24" wheel, will it be similar enough to 15 miles on a 36" wheel to be of real benefit? How much of riding distance on a big wheel about technique that wouldn’t translate from a smaller wheel?


A big part of doing distance is just learning to sit on a unicycle seat and spin for ages. General fitness helps a lot too. You’ll get all that from riding the smaller wheel.

The thing that is different, is that the skill of riding a 36" wheel is different to riding a smaller unicycle. Getting that skill makes a big difference to how much energy you need to put in to ride a given distance.

So, it won’t be everything, but it’ll really help a lot. I’ve certainly found that fitness gained from long muni rides improves my road riding.


It’s not an exact correlation. One of the big differences is wheel weight. The 36" wheel is heavier and takes more energy to move. But at the same time this weight makes it a more stable riding platform, so maybe this balances out somewhat. Moving at a higher speed puts more breeze on you, which is probably a big plus on hot days. A smaller wheel will be less affected by hills though, as it’s a little easier to ride uphill, and a little less strain on your knees and legs on the big downhills.

Speed on a 24" is going to be limited mostly by how fast you can pedal, and how long you can maintain that speed. On a 36" you may limit yourself to speeds where you feel confident in making a dismount. There’s a greater risk of repetitive-use injuries with smaller wheels. I remember the first big unicycle tour, riding Minnesota from south to north, where lots of riders had problems with their achilles tendons. You don’t hear about that much with the larger wheels.

But sure, you can go out and train on any size wheel. If you can get a 26" or 29" wheel it’ll probably be more enjoyable, but if this is just while you’re saving for the 36", go ahead and start laying down some miles.

I have ridden 20 miles on a 20" wheel and 24 on a 24" wheel. (Metric: 32 km on a 20; 39 km on a 24.) It can be done.

A bigger wheel is more stable for a number of reasons. It is less sensitive to small changes in the surface, or small irregularities in the surface.

A big wheel is usually heavier. Once it is turning, there is a flywheel effect: it stores energy. On a steel-rimmed Coker, when you first try to ride, you feel like you are pumping more energy into the flywheel. From high speed, it can take 10 or more full wheel revolutions to stop a Coker. This is a very different feeling from a 20" wheel, where you can start or stop almost instantaneously!

Whatever size cranks you use on a smaller wheel, the simple fact is that your legs will need to make more movements for a given distance. The mass of your legs is moving up and down, the mass of your feet is moing round and round. This all takes extra energy compared to riding a big wheel.

Then there’s the boredom factor. 2,016 pedal strokes per mile on a 20". 1,680 on a 24". 1,120 on a Coker.

Many people can hit a higher cadence (rpm) on a small wheel, but sustaining it is hard work. There’s nothing to “push against” and the co-ordination breaks down easily.

On my 28, I can average 10 mph for an hour. On my Coker, I used to be able to do 12.5 mph for an hour. On a 20, I’d be struggling to maintain 5 mph for an hour.

But let’s not be negative. The simple fact is it can be done. People have crossed the USA on 24" wheels. When I bought my first uni, 20" and 24" were the only readily available sizes.

Sit on it for long enough and you’ll get there - and you’ll be a better rider for it too.

BTW, if you’re going to be doing lots of miles on a 24", get some really short cranks. I’d start with 89mm and see how you like them, then go up or down from there.