I’d like to be able to get my cadence a bit higher. I think I can now do about 100 rpm for some time but I’d like to be able to do something like 150 rpm for some distance.
So, any tips? Especially guys like cyberbellum who have been biker’s before. I’ve already noticed that my cadence on bike has improved quite a bit after starting to uni, but I’d like more speed on the uni too. Should I just ride a lot of up- and downhills to build a little more muscle? Or should I just wait and see what happens while I ride more?
Assuming you have a bike, set it up to be a fixed gear (Sheldon Brown’s site has great instructions). Use a smallish gear - 44X19 or 42X18 are good (equivalent to a 64" diameter unicycle wheel) and cleats/straps or clipless pedals. Once you figure out how to get on and ride without crashing on the turns, try to outsprint your friends on downhills. You’ll get a good spin.
I used to do this for winter training. I had to spin around 210 rpm to do it, but I managed to routinely outsprint my lesser friends sprinting with 53X12s (equivalent to a 121" wheel). The only reason I was able to hit 40 mph with that little gear was the steep hill and lots of practice, otherwise I would have grenaded my knees.
Ok, so what goes on when you spin high cadences?
Conciously pulling up your knee on the back of the stroke becomes critical. Think high-stepping. If you don’t the pedal has to shove your leg up on the back stroke which makes the bike shudder and you bounce around a lot. The muscle that performs this maneuver is on the front of the thigh, near your hip on the outside. Put your hand on that spot and raise your knee high while standing and you’ll feel it. If you see this muscle overdeveloped on a bike racer it’s a good indication that he’s got a sprint.
At very high cadences your knees start to come apart. Right after the top of the stroke your pedal pulls your lower leg down while your thighs are still moving up, which separates your thigh bone from your lower leg bones. It’s noticable, and very scary. This fear makes your legs quick. It develops reflexes within the leg to push the knee down rapidly after the top of the stroke. The key muscle here is the hamstring on the back of your leg, with some help from the quads. The stabilizing muscles you’ve built up around your knee from unicycling will help a lot.
Set your seat a little higher, put the pedal spindle under the ball of your foot and use your ankles more. “Twiddle” the pedals in round circles instead of stomping them. Visualize the roundness of the motion and make your toes follow. It might take a few months to get into the zone, but when you do you can make fast, round, sycnronized circles without the pedals.
On the fixed gear, ride as fast as you can without bouncing or rocking your hips. Stay at that speed and get used to the motion. An hour or two at this speed is excellent. When you can up the speed without rocking, do so. Needless to say, proper bike fit, a good seat and quality cycling shorts are essentials, otherwise this is a grinding torture.
Ok, enough about bikes.
I made one ride last night of over 600 feet on my 24" yuni! That fat hookworm tire is SOOO nice!!
I’m having trouble riding faster than 90 rpm myself, but only because my balance is still precarious. On a typical ride my cadence ranges between -10 and 120 rpm, and I wander all over the parking lane (25 feet wide). I can now manage a few wide sweeping turns, and twice I threaded my way through a 10 foot gap between a brand new Mercedes and a 6" diameter steel post. Without seriously damaging either one! Whoo Hoo!!
(Perhaps it’s just the holiday, but it seems like no one wants to park where I’m practicing anymore… I’d like to think they are being polite and giving me some room, but it’s more likely that they’re concerned about the old fat guy who wobbles dangerously close to their cars with a strange looking metal object. )
I’ve been trying to get my spinning a bit rounder for a while. Unicycling might have something to do with this. I think it has helped on the higher cadence on my bike. I probably can’t go for clipless pedals since I haven’t got the money for shoes and pedals right now. I usually like to ride on a bit rougher ground with my bike(MTB), but I think I might give a go for the fixed gear. It sounds fun. I’ll see what happens.
I’ve never ridden a fixed gear bicycle but I’m pretty sure that one-foot riding on the uni has helped my cadence by improving the circularity of my stroke. It forces the pedaling leg to lift itself on the backstroke rather than have the other leg lift it. It’s important to develop both sides.
Also watching races at NAUCC helped my mind see what a fast cadence looks like.
Most of the time, however, I personally don’t work on cadence, more instead on control and slower riding.
I think the simple answer is to ride miles and miles and miles and miles.
On a unicycle, your realistic forward speed is limited by your ability to recover from a ‘trip’. By ‘trip’ I mean that the uni starts to tip forwards, usually because something has slowed down the wheel. So the wheel hits an obstacle, slows down ever so slightly, momentum makes the frame and rider tip forwards, and the rider has to accelerate the wheel to regain control.
The nearer you are to your maximum possible speed, the less margin for error you have. The uni only needs to ‘trip’ very slightly and you don’t have enough in reserve to accelerate out of it. Secondly, because you are going faster, things happen faster, and you have less time to react.
But if you ride miles and miles and miles, you develop a smoother pedal action and you feel more at home on the uni. You also learn to read the ground ahead of you better, and adjust your weight and balance in anticipation. So that reduces the likelihood of a trip, and increases your ability to pedal out of one.
Until you have the confidence to accelerate out of a trip, you will always hold back a bit - especially on a bigger wheel.
Yes, muscular development and spinning practice will help, of course. However, I imagine that most unicyclists seldom ride the distances that need this. Just get confident on the wheel and you will be able to go faster for longer.
As with all aspects of unicycling, my philosophy is that you should learn not to fall off. The more circumstances there are in which you don’t fall off, the better your riding becomes.
I agree with mike, except I also think a limit is lateral wobble from pedalling a uni too fast. I do uni b-ball, and most races with friends on my trials uni, and the bigger limit is my wheel wanting to wobble, not my ability to recover from a trip. When I raced people at a camp I went to, the reseon I did well in the sprints (read: basically won) was because I was in control of my wobble, while others were getting really high rpms, but they’d eventually fall because of their wobble. Basically, I left myself a bit of safety room in my wobble, while others went all-out. The wobble is less noticeable on larger wheels and with shorter cranks w/ a zero q-factor.
I recall watching Joe Rowing go for broke on an onza trials uni in London. With the long cranks it was a most comical experience, legs flying all over the place, the whole thing wobbling side to side dramatically until he lost it and came off running. Those things definitely aren’t designed for speed…
I can get a cadence of 160 - 170 (averaged over a one minute count) on my 20" but only about 140 on my 28/29". Both with 125 mm cranks. I have experienced that one of the things that keeps my cadence down is fear of falling. I once lost it on my 29-er going about 22 km/h and NEARLY did a big faceplant on tarmac. On the 20" I’m sure I could run it out even at 180 rpm (which I can’t do yet except maybe in bursts).
So the advice to get cadence higher would seem to use a smaller wheel. But that contrasts with what seems your actual motive: higher speed. If you are at 100 rpm now I say keep practicing. Like cyberbellum said: circular strokes (with smooth power delivery), and ankling. The way I implement the latter is to try and make my thighs move less, and my ankles figured out what to do themselves.
I’m sure you can up that 100 significantly. Consider a helmet and gloves / wrist protectors.
I don’t think high cadence (on a regular uni) is a power issue, so uphills won’t help.
I’m using Crazy Creek wist pads and I jsut bought a Bell X-Ray helmet today(I highly recommend this, it’s really comfortable). Also knee pads, and if I know it’s going to be slippery, I also wear elbow pads.
Well, it probably isn’t a power issue for me too much (I used to play volleyball, and because I’m short I had to be able to jump high). So I it’s probably practice-practice-practice for me.
edit. And I can do higher cadence than 100 rpm, probably 130-140 rpm for a while but I’d like to be able to ride longer distances with cadence like this.
First: wheel wobble. The ways to eliminate this are: ride miles and miles, get shorter cranks, ride miles and miles, have a bigger wheel, and ride miles and miles. I never ever notice wheel wobble on any of my unis at high speed. I used to have problems on the 26 with 170s - so much so that I reverted to 150mm cranks. But then, I’m a short-legged midget.
Second: power. I really don’t think that power or strength are issues on the flat on any normal uni set up. On a 24 with (say) 125mm cranks, your foot movement:ground speed ratio is about the same as on a bicycle in a 27 inch gear. That’s say, a 700 c road bike with a 1:1 gear ratio. It isn’t power you need, it’s coordination, nerve, and stamina. So substantial muscular development might be a bad thing.
In fact, sometimes I find I ride faster up a slight hill than on the flat. As the Vogon guard nearly said, “Resistance is useful”. Going uphill, there is no doubt which way you’ll fall if you UPD. The set up is more stable. You have something against which to push, so your legs don’t flail wildly.
Me three. Don’t let short legs hold you back though!
I think the most useful thing I found for maintaining a high cadence is to stay relaxed. Keep your upper body as still as possible and let the wheel spin under you. If you’re too tense you will not be able to correct your balance as quickly and end up using even more energy to compensate. Do not fight with your unicycle especially downhill- just let it spin and look well ahead.
Oh, another thing that is nice to have is a big platform pedals for stability.
If you want to go faster, ditch the safety gear, it’s only slowing you down. All those pads must weigh a ton, and they surely contribute to wind resistance. Try dangling some raw meat from your unicycle, and ride like the wind while savage hounds nip at your heels, surely this will increase your cadence.