First long ride on 36er or why I still suck at this.

I decided to do a trial run on my new(ish) Nimbus 36. I bought this uni with the intention of doing more distance/road riding and also my 7 mile commute to work. When the weather’s nice I’ll often commute by mtn. bike but I’ve wanted to do the uni for some time now. I figured I’d ride it to work this past Saturday and just see how it went.

I still have some “issues” with the 36 so I was a bit nervous about the ride. I still have some intermittant trouble mounting this beast and I’m still not terribly good at going uphill. I got on my bike tights, a light jacket, my helmet and wrist guards and left the house about 8:30 in the a.m. It was a crisp 34 degrees outside but the weather man promised it would warm up nicely today. I thought to myself, if I nail this first mount, it’s gonna be a great day. Nailed it! My first little challenge was the steep hill going down out of my neighborhood into town. The inertia of this big wheel is amazing. I can’t believe how hard I have to keep the back pressure on to keep the wheel from running away from me. Well, it ran away and I had my first UPD less than a quarter mile from my house. I remounted and continued on my way. I got lucky at all the major street crossing being fairly early for a Saturday and was able to keep riding right on through the stop signs. I still can’t even come close to idling on this big beast so stopping means dismounting. I had a really pleasant ride through the back streets and neighborhoods that are on my usual commute route. I had to stop and wait for a train at one crossing, walked across the tracks and resumed my ride. I quickly came to one neighborhood that I had some misgivings about. The route is all slightly uphill and this particular nieghborhood has a lot of speed bumps. I made it past the first bump but the next one upset me for UPD #2. It was a short uphill and remounting on an uphill is still virtually impossible for me on this uni so I walked it a couple of hundred yards. Then I proceeded to botch about 20 attempts at mounting. I was starting to get frustrated and was glad it was early and I wasn’t attracting any attention. I finally got going again and was able to ride another mile and a bit before I UPD again. I got a water bottle out of my backpack and took a drink before I tried mounting again. This time I botched ten then twenty then thirty mounting attempts. I was getting pretty angry with myself and started saying an awful lot of socially unacceptable words. And I was using way too much energy. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to get going here. When I finally got it, I was exhausted and I was right at the base of the biggest climb on my route. A pretty steep grade thats at least half a mile long. This one makes me gear the mountain bike all the way down. Somehow, I managed to get about 3/4 of the way up before I briefly lost momentum and couldn’t regain it. I had a step-off UPD here and just walked the uni to the top of the hill. Once at the top it took me about half a dozen tries to get going again and I rode the last mile and a half in to work without incident. I was exhausted and decided to go into my office and take care of a few phone calls and e-mails while I was here and give myself a little chance to recuperate for the ride home. All told, it took me an hour and 20 minutes to ride the 7 miles. Absolutely pathetic. Absolutely discouraging. I can do better on my 24 (which I can mount EVERY time and ride for miles without a UPD).

The return ride wasn’t much better. When I get tired, and I was very tired, I tend to list to one side a bit and I expend a lot of energy just trying to keep going straight. That and my pedal cadence was now anything but smooth so I was simply wasting a ton of energy just trying to ride. I had several UPDs but my mounts were going a little better. Even though I was tired I don’t think I took more than 10 tries to get back on it on the return trip. Once I got downtown and about a mile from home, I felt so out of control that I was a hazard to traffic and pedestrians so I hung my head in shame and walked it the last mile home. Return trip; an hour and 20 minutes. This is just way too long and I’m going to have to get a lot better at riding this thing before I can consider using it for my commute. Anyone wanna buy an Nimbus 36? JUST KIDDING. Any of you who remember my extremely LOOONG learning curve from a couple of years ago probably realizes just how damned stubborn I am.

So, I’m not really looking for any sympathy or anything like that here. I just wanted to share my experience. For some people this whole unicycling thing comes very easily and for others it can be a real struggle. For me it’s one of the most challenging and ultimately most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’m gonna keep practicing and riding every day. As my mounts become better (I went through the same thing with my 29er and I can now mount it first try 99% of the time) and I get better at climbing and just in general become more used to the 36er I know that I’ll be able to use it for a commuter.

Words of encouragement: Whether you’re struggling with learning to freemount, or idle, or trying to nail that 540 unispin. Don’t give up. Practice, practice, practice.

Your doing great. My ride to work is 2 mi and I still haven’t attempted it. (will be doing it this year once the snow melts)

I don’t have a 36 (will be using a 24) but have been told that their a begger to mount.

As you’ve already mentioned. “Don’t give up. Practice, practice, practice.”

Sounds to me like the only real problem was the mounts. If you could have got on first go each time then I’m sure you would have halved your journey time.

It might be good to set aside some time just to spent working on the mounts. Then when you’re out on your next decent ride you can concentrate on the riding itself rather than getting frustrated each time you stop.

I’m in a similar position to you, although maybe a couple of weeks ahead. I’ve been commuting 8 miles each way through London on a 29er for the last year (26" before that, and 20" before that), and have just got a new Nimbus 36er myself. I’d say that I can freemount cleanly and safely a third of the time. Another third I tend to career wildly around before I get going, and the other third… well, lets not talk about those. However, there’s no shame in holding on to a lamp post or wall or whatever if you need to stop at a junction, or to re-mount. I do this whenever possible, and can therefore do the whole journey without a dismount nearly every day.

But the bigger wheel is a bit of a beast though. I’m still not confident on it, although thinking back to my first rides through town on a 29" I was about the same. It’ll come. In time. And with practice.

Keep us updated


Wow, nice story. I mean, nicely written. It felt like I was there – doing the riding – like I went back in time and took a very familiar ride. As I was reading about your return trip, my legs felt like rubber, like they would have too much “give” if I UPD’d. I was glad the main character walked the rest of the way (always a wise yet nevertheless tough and disappointing decision to make). It was feeling much too hazardous for us. Don’t want to end up out in the road.

You should learn the walk-behind-the-unicycle-then-hop-on mount. When I’m really tired, it’s the ONLY way to get on. It takes VERY little energy because of the momentum supplied by the walking motion.

Well done to you even trying the freemount during a longish ride. I don’t unless I absolutely have to. I usually find a tree, lamp post, wall, etc to help me on. I don’t intend to even try to regularly freemount during my rides until I feel more confident, although I might do a bit of practice when I return home. My rides are carefully chosen to make sure that I will have something to help me mount with.

At least three times a week, usually more, I spend half an hour just practicing freemounting. My goal is to be able to freemount confidently, with 50% success by July.

It’s a long way up for me - I have very short legs and very little natrual balance. I find it very difficult to jump up with good enough balance to ride off. But I’m getting there.

I certainly can’t idle at junctions, infact I can barely turn my head to look for cars without upsetting my balance, and so I use my ears to listen. If in doubt, I get off to cross (I’m quite conditioned to doing this anyway from when I’m out with my son).

Don’t worry - you are not on your own. It’s a difficult thing to do. But with the proper props to help me on, I have been able to ride for 23 miles in 3 hours (but with very few hills)

Just a couple weeks ago I got my first big wheel…a N36d. The first thing I did was remove the 125mm cranks that mine shipped with and put on some longer 165mm crank arms.

The longer arms will give you more leverage. This helps for mounting, downhill and uphill. You may sacrifice some speed with longer arms, but you will gain more control.

If I lived in an area that was totally flat I would probably keep the 125’s on. Part of the reason I switched is that with 3 surgeries on my leg and knee in the last 5 years my knees really don’t enjoy the strain short cranks put on them.

I totally feel your pain!

I have, on and off, for years considered what it would be like to ride a Coker. Many of my more skilled uni pals have said to me, 'Ah, c’mon, just get one, you know you’ll love it!" But I dunno, I envision more of an experience like yours, to be totally honest.

Recently, as a compromise, I approached a few local owners to see if someone would lend me their big beast for a month or so so I could really spend some time on it before deciding if it was for me. But the Coker riders are either too active on their 36 inchers or not so out of riding they don’t even get back to me…sigh. I just won’t want to commit to owning this big wheel without being sure I was actually going to have an enjoyable relationship with it.

I have commuted the 24 km round trip to school many times on my 24 inch and then later on my 29’er. Its a great ride and when I am in the zone it is a purely magical experience. But to be perfectly honest, if my mount were the big wheel, I’m not sure the Coker would behave herself and I can imagine reaching my destination as exhausted and disheartened as you did on your first ride to work.

That said, I applaud your determination and have to agree that if you want it badly enough you will blast away at the skills until you have what is necessary to tame the wheeled beast. Keep us posted - perhaps you’ll inspire the likes of me to, someday, follow in your footsteps…errr, make that, your tire track. :slight_smile:

Cathy, you’ve been a long standing inspiration to me. You’ve never made a secret of your shorter stature and I’ve often wondered, with some awe and admiration how you’ve managed a Coker. I too feel like I’m a bit balance challenged and it’s never been an easy thing for me to do, but it’s always been a very rewarding thing.

Uni57, the rolling mount is a good suggestion and is one that I too MUST use when I get tired. The only way I can manage a static mount on the 36 is if I’m fresh and going slightly downhill.

Erin, I know that the Coker isn’t for everyone. And ultimately, it may not be for me either but, it seems like the right direction to go. I’ll keep at it and I’ll let you know how it’s going. Then, maybe one day, you’ll be ready to give it a try. There’s nothing wrong with a 29er. Of the 5 unis I own, from 20 to 36 my 29er is still my favorite.

Thinking of changing my username from Underdog to Rubberlegs.

Thanks all, for the words of encouragement.

I was getting tired and scared too. It’s great that I could just walk it.

Underdog, I was thinking about your post today while out on my ride and practicing my own mounts. It really helped me stick with it longer than I might have. And by the time I came in I had several successful mounts (ok… it’s only a 24… but it might as well be the moon if I can’t get it. :smiley: )

I like reading posts about struggles and frustrations. I like hearing about the successes too.

I couldn’t mount the coker reliably for the first month or so of commuting through London. I used to practice mounting at home, and at work, so once at each end, but generally if I got to a traffic light or had to get off, I’d use a lamp post or railing or something to get back on. Like you say, taking 1hr 20 to commute just gets old after a couple of times.

For the shortarses amongst you, remember 2 of the top 4 coker riders in the world (by unicon standards anyway) are shorties too. The coker takes practice for everyone, but once you’ve got it, no matter how tall you are it’s great fun.


Your story sounds so familiar!

Your story was great, and if I was as good a writer as you I would have written the same story a year ago. I got my Coker Deluxe for Christmas 2005, and around Mar06, when the snow was a bit lower I tried it out on my 2 mile commute. What a disaster! And so embarassing when 20 or 30 cars of work buddies honk as they go by, while I try and try again to mount. I finally learned how to do the rolling hop mount, and it works almost every time now.

I hear your pain on the hill climbs too. For a while I thought there was something wrong with me because I could not make it up a hill that I could MTBike up in middle chianring. But that too improved with practice and the hill technique is getting pretty good.

Christmas 2006 Santa brought a Nimbus 36er frame and an HS33 hydraulic brake. I’ve had a wonderful time riding my 36er down in Erin’s area (Vancouver BC), and am looking forward to a great tour around Lake Tahoe in June with 3000 other cyclists. Only about a dozen are unicyclists, though. Underdog, why don’t you keep practicing and come join us in the “America’s Most Beautiful (Cycle) Ride” June 3?

Erin, you know you need one, so bite the bullet and buy yourself a 36er, then come join me in the Nova Scotia “Ride the Lobster” ride next year. You can do it. By the way, my daughter and I went riding tonight, she on your old 29er. It’s still a great uni!


Great write-up, and thanks for not sparing the details on the parts that sucked. It’s important to talk about that stuff, and you’ll get better quality of responses the more detail you share. I know it feels really discouraging, but I also know from experience that it absolutely gets easier with time and mileage. Especially the hills… Mounting…eehhh…it gets better, but there is always that hit or miss element, at least for me, despite lots of practice.

When I read your post above, I thought to myself “I remember responding to some other guy that was having mounting challenges…maybe since I was thinking clearly then and I’m not now, I should go find my old post and add some of that here, instead of trying to re-create what I said before.” So off I went into search land, and I did in fact find the post. Then realized it was written to you. I refer you again to Points #3 and #4. :wink:

One other thought to that point, I’m not sure the kind of roads and terrain near where you live, but you might try devoting some coker sessions to particular goals. I mentioned the mounting one previously, but for hills, maybe you could find a decent hill with some variable pitches and someplace at the bottom for mounting self-assist (so you don’t burn your energy on that). Just go and take a few runs at the hill, with rest in between, so you can just focus on climbing technique. Then on a different day, go out the country or someplace where you can get in 15 miles or so on relatively flat, isolated roads w/o intersections and bozos. Just to get the saddle time and the spinning practice. Focus on each separately, and perhaps they’ll come together better on routes like your ride to work that have all those elements.

But most of all, keep riding that thing. There is a distance rider in you…that is clear. He just needs some more miles before he’ll take over.

Good Luck!


Hey Don, Tom, Joe, Unidog, Underdog…

you guys are indeed inspirations!

Don, you temptor…“Ride the Lobster”?! That’d definitely be some Coker goal, wouldn’t it?!

BTW, glad to hear that the Gazelle is still behaving itself for your daughter. :slight_smile:

I find that setting goals that are just barely within the realm of possible to be incredibly motivating.

Just commit to “ride the lobster” and then you’ll find yourself performing the actions that will get you there.

It’s true Erin…you know this in your heart. If you’re unconvinced, come down to Seattle and hang with us for a couple days. Miles and I both have Cokers set up to rock in the “short and stubby lifestyle”, and you can absolutely get some miles in out here w/o a lot of interference. Try a new Nimbus that’s set up for a shorter person. Miles rides it comfortably, and I think you still have the edge on him size wize (although not for long). We have some great routes, much fun.

Plus when you get sick of us, there is muni at St. Ed’s as you know, riding Harper’s Blueshift, all that jazz.


Mounting uphill can be annoying. One trick that a lot of riders do is to either mount perpendicular to the road, or to turn around and mount going down the hill first and then turn around. This seems to help me a lot on some of the steeper hills I encounter.

Tom, I remember your previous advise to me very well and think about it just about every time I ride the 36. I have yet to develop any consistancy and some days are better than others. I like your idea of focusing on one aspect at a time. I sorta take a similar approach to practicing in general. I just need to narrow it down a bit more.

You’re right about that. Before I became obsessed with unicycling, road biking was my life. I spent my whole year training for and riding in century rides, typically those charity rides like MS150s and such. I definitely want to be able to do miles on the uni. I have hardly touched my bike in the 2 1/2 years since I started to uni. Every time I go out to the garage and look at the row of bikes hanging from hooks and the row of unis hanging from hooks, my eyes always seem to focus on the unis. Poor, poor neglected bikes.

As has been discussed at length, it sounds like mounts are the key for you. There’s definitely a big difference between riding to work on something you don’t have to think about mounting, and something where the mount may cause big problems.

Not to say I don’t have to think about mounting mine, but I’m not worried about it. I’ve had a 45" big wheel since 1982, so a Coker was never a mounting issue. When I first attempted the 8 mile ride to my work, my knee gave out on the way home (sometimes it wears out from overuse) and it took me a while to build the confidence to do the ride again. I did a lot of bike commutes to get my knees into the swing of longer rides.

Unfortunately my office closed, and now work is at home. My mileage has suffered greatly and my weight has increased. :frowning:

For mounts, I’m sure there’s been a lot written but I’ll briefly describe how I do it in case there are any differences. I walk several steps to build momentum, and jump up as the pedal is coming up toward rear horizontal. While jumping up the wheel is not moving, but my body continues its forward motion with the intertia that was already there.

The key is getting up there reasonably centered over the wheel. I was very aware of this yesterday as I did lots of starts and stops on a dirt semi-trail with lots of rocks in it, and 125mm cranks. I tried to concentrate carefully on jumping up in line with the bottom of the wheel, so I wouldn’t have to make any big corrections to get going.

Anyway, when you get up there, make sure you don’t stop yourself directly above the wheel. That will make it harder to keep going, especially if you stop a little short (you’ll have to backpedal). You need to get a little ahead of top dead center and start pedaling immediately. At the same time, if you need to make any side corrections these can be done in the form of a little twist to the left or right, just before you start rolling.

As you practice more, it will be easier to tell which direction you need to twist for a smooth start. Also, try to minimize arm motion when you’re practicing. This will help you gauge your improvement. If you can do it without flailing, the control is getting better!

I used to be a motorcycle instructor. One of the most overlooked aspects of safe motorcycle riding is getting the starts and stops down. I would drill my students on those until they got sick of them. If you’re not good at starts and stops, you’re much more likely to drop the bike. You can apply some of this to the 36er, if you want to dedicate some time just to mounts. See how many you can do in a row. Track your progress as a percentage, based on how many successful mounts you make in each 10 attempts. This is a good way to practice dismounts as well, as they’re part of the process.

Last but least, consider your crank length. 125 is great (for me) for relatively flat riding. Now I’m using them on some trails & things, but I’ll still go back to the 140s for the San Francisco tour this fall (steep hills!). If you’re not using 140s or longer, consider trading up, at least until you get the mounts more solid. 150s are great for learning. For me, anything longer is only good for major hills (or multiple knee surgeries).

advice taken: I have been learning to freemount my Coker for 4 years! and I still don’t make it! but I won’t give up :o
edit: last year I used john foss method and it worked … until I broke my toe

almoost every post is by some old guy. its hillarious. no kids at all.