I want an epic touring experience!

What I want to do: Ride my ungeared 29" Nimbus the entire length of the NCR and York Heritage trails, from Ashland, MD to York, PA and back - a total of about 85 miles (or 136 km). I would like to accomplish this in one day. The terrain is a flat limestone gravel road.

A little background on my uni abilities: I’ve only been unicycling for a few months now, and while I’m very comfortable on my 24" MUni, I’m still getting used to my 29er. I can ride it well enough, but I’m still trying to find a comfortable cadence. I was able to freemount it consistently enough before installing the T7 and adjusting my saddle angle; now that ability is a bit sketchy, but I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before I reach my former proficiency.

As far a distance riding goes, I am very much a novice. The longest I’ve ever gone is 15 miles, and while I was sore and exhausted afterwards, I was surprised to feel confident that I COULD have done a little bit more. It was a slow trip - I only averaged about 6.5 mph, so I spent 2.5 hours in the saddle and another half hour in breaks. I think that this is due to the gravelly terrain, my undeveloped fitness, my lack of familiarity with the unicycle, and my habit of riding with my arches over the pedals (which is due to my lack of familiarity) rather than the balls of my feet. I’m also riding 125mm cranks, and I think that I may switch to 114s when I feel more confident with my uni. I hope to raise my average speed to at least 8 mph eventually.

My question for the distance/touring unicyclists out there is: How should I build my endurance up? My plan is to do two long rides every week, and to start I’ll only be repeating my 15-mile trip. After I get used to the 15 miles, should I increase my training distance by 5 miles? 10? 15? I’m not sure what is considered a reasonable buildup.

I’m thinking that I’m going to stick to 15 miles for a few weeks, then increase it to 20, 30, 40, 60, and finally the entire 85 mile trip. Does this seem reasonable, or am I being too ambitious about it? (Or am I not ambitious enough?)

I’d like to complete this epic journey before winter, so I have about six months in which to train. I think that this is a reasonable time frame.

Any advice is greatly appreciated!

If you’re willing to do two decent rides a week then you should easily be able to do that distance by mid/late summer.

If I’m doing something hard, I typically do up to half the distance, or slightly more as the maximum of my training rides.

How far from work do you live? Is there any chance you could commute to work on the uni, that’s an easy way to get training rides in.

One thing worth doing, as well as building up like you say (which is a good way to do things), is doing two long rides on consecutive days, then later doing the same two rides, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, with a long lunch break.

In terms of how fast to build up, I find it really useful to have bail out points on my rides, that way I can plan a ride way longer than is sensible, but say going past a train station / bus stop, or doing two loops from my house or something, so if I’m really screwed I can just head home. It means you can push yourself hard, but stop if you feel you’re going to get injured.


As with any training program, you will want to progress as fast as you feel comfortable doing. If adding 5 miles the next week is good, then do it. If you feel you can do more, then do it. Overall, listen to your body. It will tell you if you can go longer, or need to turn back after a few miles.

As far as getting fit, my advice is to train on hills. I know it sounds odd, but it works. I would train in hills once, MAYBE twice a week. Find a good size hill, and try to ride up it. Its ok if you have to walk up the hill the first few times. After a while, you will find yourself able to get to the top of the hill and still able to breathe ok. As your fitness improves, you will find your cadence will get stronger as well.

These are the same rules as running a marathon. Don’t over do it and burn yourself out. Just take your time and you will find your fitness and cadence will improve quickly, if you play it smart.

…and 6 months may be pushing it a bit, considering you are fairly new to distance unicycling.

and I just saw you are in Baltimore…I am moving within a couple of weeks to that area. Maybe we can get some rides in together, I ride a 29er for now.

Keep in mind that 85 miles is going to be harder to do on the surface you are describing. Gravel roads take more energy to unicycle on than paved roads, so make sure that you take that into consideration.

It took me a while to work up to as much as 75 miles on a paved surface, but here is how I progressed with my ungeared 29er:

  1. short rides with the unicycle (5 miles)
  2. 10 miles experimenting with bike shorts and seat configs.
  3. 26 miles unicycling to a friends place and back.

I did #3 about 4 times in a month and saddle soreness started taking longer to kick in every time I did it, which is good. I also learned how great camel baks were and what tools to bring. It helps to have a destination in mind when you are training so you go somewhere interesting and take a break and then unicycle back.

After doing that a bunch I ended up getting a Coker and I never really did anything more than 35 miles on my ungeared 29er. I would definitely recommend using cranks no longer than 114mm for your ride though.

On my coker I then started doing 50, 60, 75, 80, 100 mile rides.

Make sure to train on gravel roads and find a seat set up that is comfy for you. A good place to train would be the C&O canal, it is flat crushed stone and I was just on it last weekend(it is quite nice near Great Falls). It might be a little easier to roll on than the gravel road you will be riding on though.

85 miles on an ungeared 29er on a gravel road in 1 day sounds challenging… even to an experienced distance rider, so you will have to be sure you train a lot otherwise you could end up with significant joint pain.

Other areas to work on while training:

  1. Spinning efficiency and speed. The more efficient and the faster you pedal the less time your total trip will take and the less saddle pain you will get. If you wobble a lot make sure to try and correct that and try using the handle to help counterbalance this somewhat. It is all about efficiency.
  2. Hills (as someone else mentioned)

85 miles of flat on a 29er with 125mm cranks does not sound like fun. 8MPH rolling speed for 85 miles sounds pretty brutal. Here’s some advice:

One of the truths about distance rides is that the faster you go, the easier they are. I’ve done centuries alone on my bike in 7 hours, and I’ve done centuries riding with slower friends that took 12 hours–the 7 hour ride is a lot easier. The same applies even more to unicycles; I measure the difficulty of rides not in mileage but in time elapsed. If you’re going to average 8MPH on the unicycle, that means you’ll have over 10 hours of saddle time, and the ride will probably take 12+ hours total; start at 8:00 AM and finish after dark (if you attempt it in the autumn). That’s a tough day.

I would recommend that you set a training goal of 10MPH cruising speed, and a ride goal of finishing within the daylight hours. 10MPH cruising speed is totally doable on a 29er, but you’ll need to work on your foot speed, and shorten your cranks.

I would recommend for your two weekly rides, to do alternating speed and distance workouts. Start with a workout specifically for foot speed by timing yourself on an uninterrupted interval for a moderate distance (2-3 miles, perhaps). Use a track, or a stretch of straight road, or ideally a stretch of the path you’ll actually be riding your 85 miles on. On a speed day, try the stretch in both directions several times, and concentrate on going as fast as you can. Once you’ve set a baseline time, set a goal of reducing that time by 20%.

Alternate that kind of workout with a distance workout, where you gradually increase your saddle time and distance ridden. You can start increasing this right from the beginning; go for 20MPH on your next ride.

Once you’re comfortable with your 125mm cranks, shorten them. I think your goal for a flat 85 mile ride should be to get to 100mm cranks. Each time you shorten your cranks, your speed will increase, your control will decrease, and your level of effort will go up. After practice, you can regain the control and not work significantly harder. You’ll see the speed differential in your timed intervals.

Good luck!