How to turn an Artistic Bike

Hello All,

Okay, it’s not really an artistic bike. It’s a plain old two wheeler with a freewheel and hand brakes. But I want to ride it like an artistic bike. And I want to ride it well. I’ve pretty much got the forward-backward balance down, using a combination of pedal torque and rear brake. So now I usually just lose it to the side.

So how do you turn one of these puppies (when the front wheel is 2 or 3 feet in the air)? As in turn to help keep balance, and then eventually be able to turn enough ride circles and figure 8s. Physics input is welcome, if you really know your stuff. Otherwise, just tell me what to do with my body to make it happen.

Chris Reeder
Pullman, Washington

This might be the wrong place to ask about b*kes. You might even get to the ignore list of some people. Well, probably not. But you really should try some BMX forums around there somewhere. Ignore lists, here I come. I’ve read some BMX forums too but I can’t remember any names. The language might be quite a shock (not for the faint hearted when there’s thirteen year old people around) but I’m sure you can take it.

Hi Chris,

I’m sure the unibiker will pipe in sometime, as he is very good a riding wheelies on bikes. I think he has rode for 40 miles non-stop before.

Most artistics bikes have a fixed gear and low gearing, probably 1:1 ratio. Plus, I think people like to sit on the handlebars or head tube and ride them like a giraffe unicycle.

About turning… I think you just have to lean or adjust your weight side to side to corrrect your side to side balance.

Do you ever ride unicyles anymore, or did you sell them all when you switched hobbies?

later… Mojoe


I sold all the unis a couple years ago when I caught the bicycling bug (the first time). I met a kid in town named Brendan with a splined-crank trials uni, though. I want to go ride with him sometime, and spend a little time on one again.


I went to artistic bike “school.” Really. To ride indoors, you have to be able to steer the bike so you don’t keep hitting walls. To do the actual sport, you have to be able to fit in an 8 meter wide circle.

Having the right kind of seat helps. The seats on the typical artistic bike are probably better to work with than regular bike seats for this.

Two things you do:

  1. Twist upper body in the direction of the turn. If you are turning left, point your right arm more or less straight ahead, and your left arm toward the rear. Facing your upper body in the intended direction helps position your body to make the bike turn.

  2. Sit crooked on the seat. Since in artistic bicycling you go round and round, positioning yourself for a constant turn makes sense. So I was taught to sit with one cheek off the edge of the seat. This puts the bike at a natural lean to the side, and helps it keep turning.

Hey. As long as the bike is up on one wheel, it’s not off topic :smiley:

In my book Chris can post on any topic he likes… the inventor of the Reeder handle, and the first guy AFAIK to widen a Coker hub!

What exactly is artistic bike riding? Is there a link someone could point me to?

Don’t forget… He was the first guy to break a Profile crank too. And you know, those Yuni frames sure do look a lot like Chris’ “Ears Frame” from a couple years ago. Hmmmm…

Welcome back Chris…


thanks a lot for your uni handles Mr. reeder!

John Foss has a picture of an artistic bicycle on his web page
The Garage Page - Special Bicycles

Google will also find you many good links about artistic bicycling. Here’s the top link for “artistic bicycling”

Somewhere there has got to be a site with artistic bicycling videos.

ive always wanted one of those.i have a nice profile shot of one.notice the fork has no rake.


Ooops! I didn’t know it was him. I thought it was some one who had got lost on to the wrong forum.

I knew you’d have some good input on this, John. Sooooooo, to make a left turn, say, I should:

a. twist my upper body to the left
b. hang my right cheek off the seat

Yeah, easier said than done:D

What about handlebars, do they need to do anything?
Then at some point do you just have to pedal like mad (when you feel like you’re about to fall over)?

I am making a little progress. I can turn five or ten degrees on purpose before I lose it. I also got a new back wheel yesterday. (rim brakes on old crummy bent wheel == bad.) So I’m in heaven now-- smooooooth braking, comparatively. When I get good, the front wheel’s coming off!



I’m a little late (where does the time go?), but here’s my two cents.

I don’t think a bike with a freewheel can be ridden with the same precision as that of an artistic bike. I’ve never ridden an artistic bike (and my riding isn’t very artistic) but I’ll try to give you an idea of what works for me. John is obviously the expert to take advice from, but it seems like there is a steering difference between a freewheel and a locked hub, since you don’t have the benefit of being able to weight the pedals for balance assistance as with a unicycle. This limits the turning radius quite a bit (at least for me). I can’t turn tighter than 4 or 5 meters. Like anything that takes a long time to learn (and I’m still learning) it’s not easy to explain. Feel free to ask questions if something doesn’t make sense.

Basically, I use body lean (including moving around on the seat) as a course adjustment, handlebar/frame (side-to-side) movement as a medium adjustment, and handlebar turning as a fine adjustment. Even without a front fork, bar turning provides enough body twist to make minor corrections. Starting into a turn, I turn the bars and lean the frame slightly in the opposite direction of the turn. As with any counter-steering, this causes my body to lean into the turn. I then turn the bars in the direction of the lean and also lean the frame into the turn. Leaning the frame consists of pushing sideways on the bars as opposed to turning them. This provides the affect of twisting, which John mentioned. The correct combination of body and frame lean, along with handlebar turning will keep the bike in a controlled turn.

To straighten out of the turn, reverse the process. Turn the bars and lean the frame further into the turn. Centrifugal force causes your body weight to lean to the outside, starting the process of straightening up. Then bring the frame back up and turn the bars back to the forward position. At any point in the turn, or while going straight, turning the bars or moving them side-to-side, will help you to fine tune the balance. The hardest part is learning to feel which way you need to correct before you need to make a major correction.

It’s very easy to over-compensate, especially when you’re not sure which input will make the desired correction. Try to start your turning practice in an area where you can ride large circles, then reduce them gradually. Since you’re comfortable with the forward and backward balance, you have the benefit of being able to learn the turning at higher speeds, which will make everything more stable and cause less difficulty with over-correcting.

Steering is easier behind the balance point, where you’re pushing the wheel instead of leading it. You might try practicing on a slight downhill if you’re comfortable with the brakes.

Low tire pressure (especially with knobby tires) causes the frame to fall sideways without turning. The same problem exists when riding on grass or other soft surfaces. High pressure road tires work best.

Seat position – I have much more steering control with the seat lower and further forward than usual. The standard theory that you should be able to almost straighten your leg while pedaling doesn’t mesh well with steering on one wheel. For me, better steering is worth the power loss.

Riding in the wind will aggravate the learning process. It takes very little wind to screw up the steering (unless you remove the forks, which I don’t recommend). If you figure out how to compensate for it, please let me know. If there is enough wind to blow the front end in a different direction than I need to steer, I either have to turn with the wind, drop the front end, or crash, since fighting the wind requires leaning in the opposite direction of the way the bike is being blown. This can lead to a quick face plant. This isn’t much of a problem without the forks, but when you have to make a surprise stop (as I experienced with a wheel seizure), it’s a big problem.

If this becomes a lasting addiction (as it has with this old man) you’ll reach a point where your riding time or distance becomes limited by loss of brake control due to hand fatigue. That will be the time to install a second brake, to be operated by the other hand. This is the most beneficial modification I have made. My max distance was limited to about 13 miles before I decided to add a second brake. My first test ride was stopped by a cop after 16 miles. The inexpensive ticket was a comical end to the ride. Riding time is now limited by butt pain/numbness (if it’s not windy, that is).

Have fun, and keep us posted on your progress.

I’d be surprised if it weren’t possible to use two brake levers with one Magura rim brake.


Lots of useful input.

<I don’t think a bike with a freewheel can be ridden with the
<same precision as that of an artistic bike

That’s okay. If I could turn in a traffic lane or two that would be good enough.

<and handlebar turning as a fine adjustment

Does your cycle still have a functional headset, or is it welded solid?

<Low tire pressure (especially with knobby tires) causes the
<frame to fall sideways without turning. The same problem
<exists when riding on grass or other soft surfaces. High
<pressure road tires work best.

Oops, time to up the tire pressure. I’ve been running only about 40psi in a 26x2.2 knobby. I previously had a slick on the back, but after skidding out on wet grass I thought differently. May have to try the slick again, if I can forego the downhill grassy slopes for a while. It’s so cool feeling like you’re leaned WAY over as you slowly come down a hill. But when I lose it over the front going downhill, it sure comes down hard! (rigid bike with Gazz 2.6 up front to soften landings a bit.)


Jeff, love the pics!

The one labeled
“Brake Gliding on motorized MUni with training wheel.” at is the whole reason I’m doing this on a bike. After giving up unicycles, then bicycles, as hobbies, I had a motorcycle or two for a year, and never could get wheelies down. (Burnouts were another story. See ) I finally gave up and sold the motorcycles. I did later get it figured out on a quad, and now somewhat with a bicycle, except that I can’t turn very well. Once I can do circle wheelies on the bicycle, the motorcycle bug is going to bite again! :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:


Jeff, do you hop on that thing, too?

And shift gears? Thumb shifters or grip shifters?

Hi Cris. I also didn’t notice who was asking the question when I originally answered. Yes to the above. The butt cheek thing may apply less depending on your seat, and just how much turning you want to do. I’m sure it’s more effective for riding in circles than just to make a right or left turn.

Handlebar position doesn’t matter on my “real” artistic bike. The front end is fairly balanced; it doesn’t flop to one side. You can spin it if you want. But you do have to watch out for your toes hitting into the front tire as you pedal. This is true at all times, due to the extremely short wheelbase of the bike.

The short wheelbase also makes riding the wheelie easier than on a longer-framed bike. You aren’t as tilted back from the normal riding position when balanced on the back wheel.

Naturally, taking off the front wheel will make the bike easier to handle in a wheelie. But take off the fork too, so you don’t wreck it. Then put a guard under the front chainring and you’re ready to crank out the miles…


I tried two cables on one brake. The levers didn’t have very good feel. One lever would have no cable tension when the other was pulling. Two different assemblies work much better for me, even though the factory brake is more touchy than the add-on. I tried the same thing with the disc. Still didn’t like the feel. But it works good as a drag brake for the downhills.


I’m currently using a fork and front wheel, since I haven’t found a safe riding area. When I run without the forks, I use a fork tube, cut just below the bottom bearing, so the bars will still turn smoothly. It has less affect without the front wheel, but still offers me a little fine tuning.

If you use a slick, it needs to be rounded. The flat slicks with square edges don’t work well. Neither do tires with a center ridge. To keep the turning characteristics consistent at different lean angles, a consistent round contact surface is best. The same goes for motorcycles, unless you set up a motorized front wheel, in which case a low pressure knobby allows the rear wheel to move from side to side as the bars are turned. This provides a wider side-to-side balance envelope, but only if the front wheel is spinning fast.

I don’t do any hopping on the unibike. I already have troubles with wheel and tire failure. At 180 lbs, I don’t even hop much on unicycles. After trashing two sets of cranks, I decided I could do more riding and less wrenching if I cut down on the vehicle torture.

I do a lot of shifting. I like the friction type thumb shifters, since they can be fine tuned while riding, require very little maintenance, and provide better feedback of shift timing. Index shifters may or may not shift on the same day that you push the lever. Actually downshifting is fine, but upshifting (where the timing is more critical) often hangs for a revolution or two.