Elevation gain

Good evening. Or good whatever time of day it happens to be wherever you are reading this!

I have recently returned to unicycling after not riding for a few years. I went back to 2 wheels for a while. I’m happy to report I can still free mount, ride, and ride off road, although not as far yet and with more upd’s than when I stopped!

Where I live is generally pretty hilly unless I ride on the roads. However there is one private road I have easy access to, with minimal traffic. It rises approximately 115 feet in a little over a mile according to the Strava segment. It feels pretty steep, although I was never very good at uphill riding. I’m just curious as to what other riders consider a ‘steep’ or ‘hilly’ ride?

My aim over the next little while is to be able to ride that mile or so without stopping. Then I’ll move onto some of the steeper forest roads to keep challenging myself.

So, just to satisfy my curiosity what is your average elevation gain in feet per mile? And what wheel size and crank length are you doing it on? And on or off road?

I’m currently using my 24" nimbus with 150mm cranks on a specialized big roller 24x2.8, though as my confidence grows again I’ll also use my 29", which also has 150mm cranks and has a schwalbe 29x2.35 tyre.

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I will venture uphill again after a few years. I remember I mostly drove with medium-width 26 inch tires. I tried 127mm, 150mm (Kris Holm cranks), 125mm and 145mm. It probably depends on the incline and fitness level. I didn’t get up the mountain any better with the Kris Holm cranks with 150mm than with 127mm, one seemed too long and the other too short. Well, I suspect that a length of around 137mm/140mm will be ideal. But tomorrow I’ll start with my dual cranks at 145mm. And if these seem too long I will install 140mm.

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Steepness is definitely a personal item. If you look around the forum you’ll find awesome hill climbers doing “Everest” challenges and more. Or riding up every steep road in San Francisco.

I often do a loop on trails that is a little over 4 miles with around 500 feet of elevation gain, so about 250 feet per mile (I down as much as I go up). That’s not linear - some parts of the trail have a lot of elevation gain and others are much flatter. I find that to be a good workout and “hilly”.

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The local loop I’ve been doing regularly on 2 wheels is just over 8 miles with over 800’ elevation. However, the last half is fairly flat. Checking with Strava, there’s almost 600’ of climbing in the first 2.5 miles. I would like to manage that on the uni, but I’m trying to set goals I can actually achieve, or at least steps on the way to achieving the end target!

I think at the moment it is technique rather than fitness that holds me back on the climbs. Losing weight and getting fitter will definitely help too though. And riding regularly again should help with that too!

I usually consider a ride “hilly” if there is more than 10m D+/km. It converts to approximatly 50 ft/mile.

Check out the Olympus Mons Challenge 2024
currently under way.
21,500m (70,538ft) elevation gain in 3 months
Three have completed under a month.


My benchmark for rides in the SF Bay Area is that a ride with less than 1% total distance/total gain is not hilly, 1-1.5% is average, 1.5-2% is hilly, and above 2% is epically hilly.

So, a 50km ride with <500m of climbing is on the easy side, where >1000m of climbing would be epic. (That’s about a typical Mount Diablo ride).

In between is in between.

I made it up that road today, although I did have 2 upd’s on the way. I managed to get back down in one go without any upd’s though. Next goal is to complete the climb in one.

What do you all do as a warm up? On a bike I generally take it easy for the first 10-15 minutes, use a lower gear and spin before putting in a harder effort. On the uni it seems a lot more difficult to ease off, I’m either riding or walking with little in between!

I imagine, the same as all things unicycling, it just takes time to get used to riding ‘softer’ but do you do a warm up? And if so, what?


I definite uphill riding based on effort level and riding technique:

Type 1: Easy uphill riding
Normal pedaling rhythm with extra efort. Depending on distance you might be able to “cheat” uphill with speed, but eventually you have to surrender and settle down to a high effort pedaling rhythm. This is good cardio workout if you can go longer than 10 minutes. Try 30 min. Try an hour…etc. Just pick a nice long hill. Also, if you need to “mechanically cheat”, then experiment with different crank length, seat height and wheel sizes.

Type 2: Pumping uphill
Pedal → Pause → Pedal → Pause… It’s too steep to simply have continuous pedaling action. You must stomp one at a time from 3 to 9 o’clock. Keep most weight on your pedals. This also requires a quick or slow “pause” in between. This allows setting up for next stomp, and also some “rest” time. You may also be holding saddle in one hand to counteract the twisting forces.

Type 3: Extreme climbing.
Same as type 2, but even more stomping and pausing action. Throwing/rocking"your body weight forward for additional power. Requires advanced balancing skills. Being able to SIF idle is very helpful. This technique is especially needed when the terrain is bumpy or even grassy w/holes everywhere.

For Type 2,3 the trick is to get into a good rhythm of pedaling, balancing and breathing. Maximize the “pause” for rest. Also, be very very aware that you must never let your body go to maximum effort. A certain “reserve” energy is always needed in case you need a rapid unicycle escape move to prevent falling. Those saving reflexes are gone when you are completely exhausted.

…have fun…slam

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Check out the Olympus Mons Challenge.
Link above .
The 4th rider just finished and on his day 31, on his final ride he recorded on Strava
2058m elevation gain over 100km averaging 15km/hr. Massive Epic!

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I can’t even contemplate trying the Olympus mons challenge on a bike with gears never mind a unicycle! Respect to those that have done it!


Me too.

To me there is something, some feeling about hill climbing a unicycle that is “satisfying”. Not just when getting to the top of the hill, but also during the climb.

I can’t go past a hill without trying to hill climb it on my unicycle. I don’t feel that feeling on a bike (even with gears)

I enjoy the advantage I get by moving my weight to different positions to use different muscle groups during the climb, depending on grade of Hill - engaging different muscle groups within Hips/buttocks/upper legs.

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I’m a fan of hill climbing on one wheel having done Fargo Street, Mt. Washington, Mt. Ascutney, and Whiteface plus some local climbs around the state of Maryland in the U.S. So for what it’s worth, some might find this information helpful …

Very good website for finding climbs: https://pjammcycling.com

They recently switched from the FIETS index to their own index to measure a climb’s difficulty.