idling and wheel sizes

I’m new to unicycling, and i’ve been doing a lot of reading. Idling comes up constantly, but i really don’t know what it is, or most of the other basic tricks i hear a lot (one-footed idling, assorted other one-footed skills, gliding, etc), and i would appreciate simple explanations.

Also, are wheel sizes (20", 24", 26", 28", etc.) the measurements from the outside of the rim to the outside of the rim on the opposite side?

Hi, welcome to the sport.

First, the wheel sizes. The simple answer is that a 20 inch wheel is 20 inches in diameter; a 24 inch wheel is 24 inches in diameter, and so on. That means 24 inches across, from the outer edge of the tyre to the outer edge of the tyre.

However, it’s not quite that simple. If you buy a standard 24 inch unicycle, with a fairly average tyre on it, then it will be 24 inches across. If you take that tyre off and put a big fat off road tyre on it, then the actual diameter will increase, but it will still be referred to as a 24.

So, think of the wheel size as ‘nominal’ or approximate. It is a guide.

As a general guide:

12 inch and 16 inch wheels are mainly for children, or very small adults, unless you particularly want a small wheel for some special reason.

20 inch is a good beginner’s size. It’s easy to learn on. It’s light and manoeuvreable.

24 inch is a good all round size. You can learn on one. It’s a bit faster than a 20, and it will roll over rough ground better.

A 24 with a very fat tyre (3 inch section) is effectively 26 inches in diameter, and very good for off road use.

A 26 is good for off road, but a bit less manoeuvreable than a 24.

A 28 is good for road use, and covering distance.

Put a fat tyre on a 28 and you get a 29, which is good for going fast over rough ground.

A Coker is a 36 inch tyre (made by the Coker Tire Company) and a Coker is very big, very fast, great fun, and is good at covering long distances and rough ground as long as it’s not too hilly.

Idling: This is one of the vital skills for a good safe rider. It’s a way of staying in one place without having to dismount. The rider’s head stays still, and the wheel passes a short distance forwards and backwards beneath him/her. Imagine a pendulum.

Idling takes a bit of time to learn. There are threads giving lots of advice. Use the search facility in this forum to find those threads. If you can’t get on with that, ask again, and someone will give you whatever advice you need.

Idling on a 20 or 24 is pretty easy, once you have the skill. As the wheel size increases, idling becomes more demanding. Idling a 28 requires care, and idling a Coker is hard work.

Later, you may want to experiment with different length cranks. Short cranks make the unicycle faster, but less controllable. idling on short cranks is harder work. very long cranks (170mm or more) also make it a bit harder. Your first unicycle will almost certainly have 125mm cranks or 150mm cranks. (125 on a 20, 150 on a 24.) These are the ‘right size’ for general use, and learning.

Although idling is an invaluable skill, and you might be interested in learning it right away, there are a bunch of other skills that are also important, but less exciting, or obvious. The unicycle skill levels were developed as a rough guide on the order in which skills are easily learned.

Skill levels are explained here:


I have an integrated description of most of the skills at:


Search or ask questions here for any skill you don’t understand.

I know we’ve had this discussion before about skill levels… but…

The official skill levels no doubt serve a useful purpose in that they provide a structure for people who want to develop their unicycling in one particular direction: freestyle. On the whole, the skill levels give an indication of which skills are easier or harder to learn.

On the other hand, unicycling is such an individual and eccentric sport that I find it hard to reconcile the individualist mindset of the typical unicyclist with the apparent need to have some sort of ‘official’ validation of one’s ability.

But that’s a philosophical or psychological discussion. The thread started with queries relating to learning ‘basics’ like idling.

I like to differentiate between ‘skills’ and ‘tricks’.

To illustrate: freemounting, riding in a straight line, turning a corner, and stopping under control are ‘skills’; doing a kick up mount, and riding one footed in a circle would be ‘tricks’.

As I see it, ‘skills’ are things which would help any unicyclist, whether (s)he prefers MUni, cross country, trials, freestyle, touring, hockey… whatever aspect of unicycling appeals most.

All unicyclists benefit from being able to do the following confidently:
Ride forwards
Turn in each direction
Stop under control and dismount

Once a unicyclist can do these things, it’s simply a matter of improvement. I rode for 15 years with no other skills.

The next stage for a keen unicyclist would be to learn:
to idle (ideally with either foot down)
to reverse for short distances

A unicyclist who can mount, ride, turn, idle, reverse out of a tight spot, ride on, then stop and dismount is in a position to develop his/her riding in whatever direction (s)he chooses.

Hopping may be the next ‘skill’ as many people use this to get over small obstacles without dismounting. Likewise, most unicyclists would benefit from being able to ride down small drops (kerbs etc.).

After that, anything else is a ‘trick’ rather than a ‘skill’, to my mind.

I’m not saying this to denigrate the skill levels, or to denigrate tricks. It’s just that a complete beginner (such as mequauni, who started the thread) might be misled into thinking that it is ‘important’ to learn, say, one footed riding, or one footed idling, or 5 sorts of freemount. It isn’t important, it’s just fun… which is important as an end in itself.

I keep reading rumours of a set of skill levels being developed for other disciplines. On the one hand, it would be interesting to read the list; on the other hand, I don’t see how it could be quantified or assessed. I think it would be helpful for beginners to have some idea of what would be the best order to learn skills. I’m not sure it would be a good idea to have people dropping off 6 foot walls in the hope of winning a certificate.

Thank you Mike for two excellent posts. I agree with both your assessment of wheel sizes and the difference of skills and tricks.
If you plan on buying a unicycle (Mequauni, not Mike), be prepared to buy at least two. The first one is good for learning the basics on, and after you know what you’re doing and have decided on what type of riding (or types of riding) you plan on doing, you can decide what size of wheel to get for a higher quality uni. The most common are 20" and 24". It’s hard to confuse the two after seeing them next to each other.
And speaking of seeing, the best way to know what the skills and tricks are is to see an actual unicyclist performing these tricks. When that’s not an option, looking at the videos on might work. Anyone have links to videos of some standard skills in the albums?

In the end it is important to have fun. If you can have fun with a few skills, great! I like learning new skills, or tricks, whatever you want to call them, because I’m greedy.

The skill levels don’t just apply to freestyle. My personal opinion is that it is easiest to learn skills on a smooth level surface with a 20" unicycle. These are usually termed freestyle unicycles, but maybe the trials and Muniers will just start calling them trainers.

Skill level skills are a progression of skills. In general you should learn skills in the order listed in the levels, but of course everyone will find that they have certain areas they learn faster than average. You can also learn a skill by just practicing it over and over until you get it. But the skill levels can tell you a lot about why you might be having a problem learning a skill. For instance, if you can’t idle or go backward, have you been able to ride forward, stop, go back 1/2 rev and then continue forward? If you can’t do seat out, can you ride with your stomach on the seat?

If you have no problem learning a skill, the levels are probably useless for you. If you don’t care about learning new skills, they are also useless. If you have seen someone gliding down a street for 100 yards, and you think that is cool and want to do it, the skill levels might be interesting to you, not necessarily to pass, but as a guide on how to get there.

Once you learn something on a 20", it will be relatively simple to translate that to another unicycle size or type.

They’re all skills. I don’t do tricks.

There is no trickery involved in doing any of the unicycle skills. There is no trickery involved in doing a kick up mount or riding one footed in a circle.

Calling it a trick makes it seem like there is some sort of trickery going on. Magicians do tricks. Unicyclists do skills. A magician doing a trick that involves slight of hand is doing something tricky even though the manipulation may require great skill. If you know the “trick” the magicians slight of hand trick or illusion isn’t as impressive. Somehow I don’t think we’ll ever have a “masked unicyclist” going on a Fox TV special revealing the tricks behind the unicycling skills because there are no tricks.

I would also differ with your opinion that learning the “advanced” skills doesn’t improve your overall riding. I firmly believe that learning freestyle skills like seat in back, seat on side, one footed, wheel walking, backwards circle, etc. improve your muni skills even though you’ll never do something like seat on side during a muni ride. Learning how to balance and control the unicycle while it is held in different positions improves your balance, improves your overall riding, and improves your muni riding.

I agree with John that there isn’t such thing as a trick on a unicycle. I think skills should be seperated into potentially useful skills and cool skills. For example, a cool skill would be to wheelwalk with one’s hands, it ain’t useful but it’s cool. A potentially useful skill is gliding, although it’s also cool. I also think wheelwalking and onefooted wheelwalking are potentially useful because they lead to gliding, and they teach you to balance only with your hands instead of your hips.
I also disagree that one should follow the skill levels to learn new skills. For example, I can wheelwalk onefooted a figure eight (a level 9 or 10 skill) but I sure as heck can’t sideride or hand wheelwalk. I also was very capable of chestriding long before I could ride seat out in front. I’ve learned almost all of my skills by usefulness. I only got into wheelwalking to learn to glide, and one foot wheelwalking was just part of the bill. Unless you want to compete in UNICON, the skill levels need only be a source of ideas and inspiration. And as always the true goal is to have fun.

Pride in something hard earned is not a sin-It’s an entitlement.

probably not
having mentioned it tho, i’m sure someone will try
pics please?

if u dont like the term ‘tricks’ as it’s currently used, please suggest a new term
suggesting a trick is only a trick if it involves trickery is taking language on a bit of a holiday and is getting unnervingly close to a discussion on faggots i recently had with sendhair

shouldn’t we be out practising?


I like the distinction between a “skill” and a “trick”. Since there is no trickery involved in “tricks”, maybe “stunt” would be a better word than “trick”? Whatever it’s called, I like the distinction. As Mikefule pointed out, there are more basic skills (e.g. freemount, ride, turn) and more advanced skills (e.g. idling, hopping). The distinction is of course somewhat gray, for example, hopping with seat out front is (in my mind) largely a “stunt”, but it would be useful as a “skill” for clearing larger obstacles.

Mikefule, two comments on your ordering of skills:

I would put learning hopping (or some other manner of getting up / down / over small bumps) earlier on the list than reverse, because almost any ride (past ones practice area) is going to require the ability to handle small bumps; whereas I find that reverse is rarely needed.

I’d say that whether idling is desirable earlier or later than “hopping” depends: if, on ones typically rides, bumps are a bigger obstacle than waiting for traffic, then I’d say “hopping” is a more useful skill than is idling, otherwise the reverse is true. I sure wish I’d learned hopping earlier - I can idle (even one-footed) nearly indefinitely, but I can’t yet ride around in town without dismounting everytime I come to a significant curb or step; arg! (I am, finally, working on the hopping now).

Curious note: when you master idling, you are (at least) very close to being able to “reverse for short distances”.

Well, you never know when you will get trapped in a long thin hallway, so thin you could not turn your handy unicycle around. The exit is in one direction. One foot is broken badly, the opposite crank is missing. Any vibration from hopping on your good foot would make the ceiling fall. Crawling would get you to the exit too slowly to help. You must side ride out of there!

Whatever you call it, skill or trick, I can cross that dangerous situation off my list once I learn to side ride.

I agree and would tend to stay away from “tricks” but I really liked Mikefule’s set of basic skills. As I read this I thought of “Go” vs. “Show”. I’m still working on my “Go” skills. For me that set of go skills cited by Mikefule makes a pretty good level of competency. It’s a foundation applicable to all unicycling.


The foray into the definition of ‘tricks’ was mere semantics. In my local dialect of the English language, it is legitimate to refer to something as a ‘trick’ if it is a clever, entertaining, amusing set piece, regardless of whether it contains an element of deception or trickery. Dialects of English from elsewhere may legitimately restrict the use of the word ‘trick’ to cases where there is ‘trickery’.

The important distinction between the two concepts: foundation skills and stunts; go and show; basic competencies and advanced skills - call them what you will - is what I was trying to emphasise.

I doubt that anyone here strongly disagrees with the statement, “Freemounting is an essential skill for any unicyclist wishing to advance in any discipline of the sport.”

I doubt that anyone here strongly agrees with the parallel statement, “Backwards wheel walking is an essential skill for any unicyclist wishing to advance in any discipline of the sport.”

Once this distinction is drawn, then it is fair to debate which skills fall into the first category, and which fall into the second. I put mounting, riding, turning, stopping in the first category, and idling, reversing just that little bit further along the spectrum. They are not ‘essential’ but they are ‘generally useful’; they are not ‘stunts’ or ‘tricks’, but they are perhaps the first small steps in that general direction.

I don’t think I ever suggested that learning advanced (or even intermediate) freestyle skills offers no benefits in other disciplines. If I did, then it was clumsy use of language on my part, as that has never been my opinion. Of course, any skill which requires fine control of the unicycle will tend to increase the unicyclist’s general level of ability, confidence, and enjoyment. My ability to idle one footed has greatly increased my confidence and skill in normal idling, for example.

I have no complaint about the Skill Levels, except my general point that I don’t understand the need for ‘official certification’ in such an individualistic sport - and I accept that it’s each to his/her own. No doubt many of you think I’m a bit weird riding mile after mile until it hurts. I am. :wink:

But whilst I have no ‘complaint’, I did think it was worth making the point that the Skill Levels are only one approach to developing a skill set, and that whilst they are progressive, well thought out, and no doubt fun, the Skill Levels are geared more towards freestyle than towards, say, MUni, touring, racing, hockey, or trials.


What do you guys reckon to the value of practicing these compared to the value of practicing an equal amount of muni?

i.e. while it makes sense that learning to idle one footed or seat in back, will improve muni and genaral riding ability, will it be more or less valuable than an equal amount of time spent muni-ing or riding?

The only thing I would object to is the definitions used. When you say one thing is a ‘skill’ and something else isn’t, that diminishes, in my mind the importance of the ‘something else’. If someone invests the time to learn a skill, it is important ‘to them’, and I would refrain from giving advice that said this is important, and this isn’t.

But there isn’t anything incorrect or wrong with saying: you don’t need to be able to wheel walk to have fun, or ride a coker. Certainly no one needs to pass a skill level to feel self worth. I’m still officially level 0.

Although I have never done it, an important skill to me is ‘Mike riding his coker’. If you didn’t write about your adventures, that wouldn’t be an important one for me, but your eloquence in describing your progress makes it important, and in fact you make it a skill by doing it.

Oh boy! More semantics. I had spotted one of these possibilities and had hoped it would slip through…

Yes, my choice of the labels, “skill” and “trick” could be taken to imply that a “trick” (stunt, or whatever) doesn’t require skill. Interpreting it this way would be a little unfair, as the statement (for example) “wheel walking backwards does not require skill,” is clearly arrant nonsense.

So the choice is between adjusting the labels, or relying on people to interpret them fairly. Given that I was not aiming to set up a new and permanent system, I didn’t put too much thought into the exact choice of labels.

Much as I enjoy semantics (if “semantics” is the correct word) I wouldn’t want to get too tied up with this. The distinction is between what might reasonably be termed, “core skills”, and “specialist skills”.

Using thse labels, core skills would be (e.g.) freemount, ride, turn, idle, and dismount. The wider term, “specialist skills” could then apply to specialist freestyle skills (e.g. backwards wheel walking); specialist MUni skills (e.g. downhill gliding); and specialist trials skills (e.g. jump seat out in front onto a 2 foot obstacle).

This would not exclude the possibility that learning specialist skills in one discipline might help in another. Nevertheless, there will be few occasions when the MUniist (qua MUniist) needs to backwards wheel walk, or the freestyler (qua freestyler) needs to glide downhill.

Applying these labels to the current set of Skill Levels might suggest that the emphasis of the higher Skill Levels is on specialist freestyle skills, rather than on specialist MUni skills (etc.).

Now the second bit of semantics: the word “important”. Philosophically, we could argue whether anything at all is important. A case could be made that honesty, or kindness, is important. A case could be made that nothing is important except if someone decides to treat it as important. So some things might have objective importance (honesty, kindness), some things, or everything, might only be subjectively important. I tend to the view that importance is a purely human concept. Importance is attributed to things by humans. Let’s not go further into this in this forum.

Be that as it may (and I’ve wandered off topic a bit!), there are few people who would argue that unicycling is important except in the very limited sense that it is important to those people who enjoy doing it, or who make their living from manufacturing or selling unicycling equipment or performing on it.

In my earlier argument, I was using “important” (and/or words of broadly similar meaning) in the sense of “of general importance to the unicyclist”. Better words might be “basic”, “fundamental”, “core”, etc.

In the wider sense, the only thing about unicycling which is important to all of us is that we enjoy it. In this sense, the ability to achieve one’s own objectives is what is important. It is important to some that they can ride one footed in a figure of 8; it is important to others that they can leap lemming-like from tall buildings; it is important to others that they can ride 50 miles in a day.

This is all getting a bit autoproctological. Let’s move on.

A much more interesting question. I suspect that the best way to become a good MUniist is to do lots of MUni riding, pushing your limits, but developing your skills progressively. Falling off lots only teaches you to fall off. Staying on all the time means you’re not trying hard enough.

Learning sophisticated skills will help with general unicycle control, and make you a better MUniist, but only lots of MUni will teach you to read a trail, pick a route, time your rush at an obstacle…

I should have put a smiley or two in my post about “trick” vs. “skill”. I didn’t mean that post to be critical.

In any event, the battle is already lost in the war against the use of the word “trick” to refer to unicycling skills. The BMXers use the word “trick” and the general population has latched on to the use of the word “trick” also. For example see where they describe all the specialized skills as tricks. Sigh…

I do like the distinction between core skills and advanced skills. Getting solid in the core skills is important to becoming a solid rider.

When you label a bag of marbles ‘a’, and I label it ‘b’, that is semantics. When you open up the bag and find a quality by which you can separate the marbles into two groups, that is not semantics, that is a judgement. If you label one group ‘a’ and the other group ‘b’, that leads to confusion, not because of semantics, because of the private definitions chosen and the application of common words to encompass specific meaning.

When you say ‘marbles,’ what are you really trying to say? And why did you choose ‘A’ and ‘B’? Are you sure that these letters would be the best options, because…
Okay, that’s enough.:smiley: