Hills easier on a unicycle than on a bike?

Today I rode to my former place of work. The path is a .5 mile fire road with a long, gradual incline. It is certainly not a steep hill, but you can feel it in your legs. I used to ride my 20-pound mountain bike every day to work and it was very tiring. Then I got a single-speed 16-pound cyclocross bike and it was slightly easier but still got my heart rate up. I hated riding to work (but loved riding downhill home!), and I was in really good shape

Today on my 26" lightweight unicycle with 2.0" tires, I managed to make it up at least half the hill without much difficulty, and my cardio-respiratory endurance is horrible compared to what it used to be. It got me thinking, because my unicycle is significantly lighter than my prior modes of transportation, is it possible unicycles are easier to ride up hill than on a heavier bike? Of course the balancing adds difficulty, but assuming you’re riding ability is top notch, does our single wheel make these long, slow climbs easier? Has anyone experienced this?

Quite a few people experience this :smiley: Not only is the weight an advantage, but the fact we are on such a low gear must help too. Maybe the posture makes it better too?

Look on any write-up of a uni-rider entering a big bike race and there’ll always be a line saying ‘Of course on the first hill I took the lead, but then they all laughed at me when things went downhill’ Or similar :smiley:

Since mountain and road bikes have very low gearing available, for hill climbing the two-wheelers have it easier than we do for sure. However, since unis have no low gearing - at least not yet - we can often pass bikes on steeper sections since they are pedaling fairly fast but moving slow while in low gear. For me personally, I love hill climbing in good old 1:1 as it provides such a great workout that I wouldn’t want to trade it for a low gear. :slight_smile:

To be honest I didn’t think bike gearing went ‘lower’ than 1:1… But now I think about it obviously it does :smiley:

I still find my 29er WAYY easier to climb any hill than a bike, but I find everything hard on a bike because I’ve not ridden one properly for about 10 years…

Hill climbing is one of my favorite things to do on a uni (even if I’m not very good at it :o). It’s one of those weird things that makes me wish I was somewhere’s else while I’m doing it, but wanting to do it all over again once I’m at the top. Strange.

Uni’s are geared very high compared to our bcycling counterparts. People riding up hills on bkes will end up doing more revolutions which I assume is why it’s more tiring.

The day that a Schlumpf with a down gear became available, I’d sell my children, house, vehicle, whatever I had to to get one. That’d be the bee’s knees and even better than a 1:1.3. Sadly, it sounds like any mention of a hub other than the 1:1.5 is taboo.

Oh good. So I’m not crazy. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it due to the euphoric high I got from getting up most of the hill. It’s definitely a good workout. I’m building a stronger, lighter wheel so hopefully that will make the hills even more fun!

For a given climb and a given rider, given appropriate gearing, the bike will either be faster, take less effort, or both. But, the difference between unis and bikes is smallest when climbing hills. My hand-wave at it is that on a pure hill climb, I’m 20% faster on bike. Or, I can go at about the same speed and relax more. Note that your uni is in a 1:1 gear, which is pretty low by bike standards. Your single speed is probably 2:1 which will take more effort on the same hill (but get up it faster).

When riding uni in a group of mountain bikes, I’ll routinely drop most of them on the climbs, but that’s because I’m a stronger rider and I’m trying harder. If I were on a bike and trying the same amount, I’d be faster.

This is not generally true. Unis are geared lower than road bikes or most hybrids. 1:1 is a very low bike gear; if you have a bike with a gear that low, just put it in that gear and try riding around. (It’s annoying! Partly because the cranks are long.)

Mountain bikes and touring bikes can have lower gears than that, but most bikes don’t.

It’s not taboo, it’s just silly. Any advantage you’d get out of gearing it down would be lost by adding the slop and the 2.5 pounds.

Riding up a super steep hill like Fargo’s 33% grade, is much harder on a unicycle, plus you have to deal with balance in the most extreme sense. Lacking a low gear also requires a great deal more stamina and overall endurance. Having climbed this hill successfully several times, I’ve noticed that most two wheelers use “granny gear” and some even have ultra low customized gearing, so it is a almost a cake walk compared to a uni. And still, quite a few bikers fail, and mostly because they lack the technique, not necessarily the strength and endurance. But there are also a select few who have made it to the top on fixie bikes in a fairly high gear.

Shows you what I know. :o I mostly assumed since I always kick my buddy’s ass on hills and he seems to be peddling his brains out.

You can figure out his gear ratio by dividing the number of teeth on the front chainring by the number of teeth on the largest rear cog (or whichever one he’s using). A typical casual road bike triple will be something like 52/42/30 on the front and 12-25 on the rear, so about 1.2:1 for the lowest gear. (A racing bike will be more like 53/39 and 11-21 or even 11-19, so about 2:1 for the lowest gear). Mountain bikes will sometimes have a smaller granny chainring, and I’ve seen rear cogs up to 48 teeth (Surly Long Haul Trucker), but those aren’t that common except for special-purpose bikes. Probably the typically lowest gear on a mountain bike will be 24x36, 1:1.5.


I always respect your analyses and comments but in this case you omitted the diameter of the wheel which is an additional concatenated gear component in the drive train. Bikes are usually turning 27" diameter wheels and we frequently turn 36" diameter wheels.

Certainly that’s true; the gear ratio needs to be multiplied by the wheel size. (And 36" wheels are harder to climb with just because of the rotating weight).

In my area there are very few sustained climbs, it’s mostly up and downs. Hill climbing is far easier on a bike in that type of environment because the bike can use the speed generated going downhill to blast through the beginning of each climb with no effort at all.

I wonder to what degree technique is a factor in terms of “jumping” on the pedals. I am neither an expert bicyclist nor unicyclist but I recall from riding an upright bicycle uphill that you can alternate left-down pedal position to right-down pedal position with a jumping motion. In contrast this isn’t possible on a recumbent bicycle where it’s just leg strength getting you up without the gravity assist. I notice in the unicycle hill climbing videos that I’ve watched that it’s generally going from left foot forward horizontal position to right foot forward horizontal position with a pause in between without a pronounced bounce. What about trying the vertical pedal position that’s natural for an upright bike? Would that be less effort? This is the technique I have to employ riding my freewheel unicycles uphill. I climb pretty well on short cranks although my physical conditioning is a limiting factor.

I’m not exactly understanding what you’re proposing; vertical pedal position is a major loser on unicycles, because you can’t push down from there.

Climbing steep hills on a bike, I do lean the bike and my weight more than I do on the unicycle. I’ll put as much of my weight as I can on one pedal, then transfer it over to the other pedal. Some of that happens on a uni, but not as much because you can’t counter-balance the weight by rocking the cycle. The thing I focus on is make sure I get the crank far enough through the dead spot that I can take the next half-rev. The uni wobbles back and forth during that process, but less than a bike when you’re standing on the pedals.

For short climbs, sometimes going fast and smooth works, but once it gets long enough that you can’t burst up it, technique comes more into play.

Why don’t bicyclists stop their pedals at the horizontal position going uphill like unicyclists normally do? I’m just wondering if you can use gravity on the down pedal by bouncing up and “free falling” when the pedal is in the 12 to 3 o’clock position. I’m not sure if there’s an objective way to see if there’s any benefit to this on a fixed wheel unicycle but maybe a video would help to demonstrate what I’m asking. I’ll see what I can do.

Some months ago I’ve been invited to a chrono-uphill, with only amateur/pro road-bikers. One of them won the “Giro d’Italia” twice…(the most important italian pro cycling race).

Being the only unicyclist, I was representing all of us, so I’ve tried to do my best…
Here’s the video, you can see me in the fist 2 minutes…http://www.ultimokm.net/visualizza_gara.php?idgara=1070

I’ve done it with my 29" schlumpf (never used the high gear during the race) with 137 mm cranks.
It was 4,5 km long; 650 mt elevation gain; avg incline 8%, max 17%.
My AVG HR during the race was 183 bpm…
The winner finished the race in 13’, I’ve completed it in 22’, beating some of the bikers.:slight_smile: (unfortunately the last 1,5 km was almost flat, so I’ve lost a lot of seconds in the last part… :angry: ).

Often when I ride I pass bikers during uphill, but when they are fit, they ride a road bike, they’re pushing 100%… They go faster…

:sunglasses: But… friends… we are cooler! This is sure! :sunglasses:

Great job, giocologgi, way to make us look good! Great video, you got some nice footage in there!

183bpm!!! Damn!!