Improving speed


I currently ride a 36” with 100 mm cranks and am training to improve speed. Over a distance of 19 km the average speed is steadily increasing and now is 20-21 km/h or 2:55 min/km on a flat and smooth road/bicycle path. Apart from a few low speed sections I can maintain more or less the same pace. My goal is to improve to average speed to 2:30 min/km.

I am wondering what the best approach is. My max speed is about 27.5 km/h or 2:16 min/km. So there is some room for improvement on the high speed sections which is about 80% of the track. At this pace however I feel that there is very little margin for control and the slightest bump would result in a fall. Another option is to go to 89 mm cranks. I have these on a commuter 26” and high speed is fine as long as you do not want to stop suddenly but control at low speeds is quite tricky.

So what would be the best option, max out with 100 mm or go for 89 mm?

36er With 89s

I have been riding 89mm cranks on my 36 for a little over a year and have been able to increase my average speed considerably. Once I got used to the 89s I felt very comfortable riding with them with no problem. I have been able to get my speed up to about an average of 23-25 km/h during a 10k ride(about 2:40-2:50 minute/km. I would suggest purchasing some 89s and seeing how you like them.

The question here is about one tiny corner of a unicycle total gear ratio chart drawn up by Saskatchewanian a few years ago. You have probably already seen it, and in any case, it probably doesn’t say anything you don’t already know, but just in case…

If your concern is about control, going to shorter cranks may work against that. They will probably be faster, but harder to deal with in emergencies. Do you have a brake? That would help with confidence, and not saying 89mm would not work for you.

Other ways to increase speed/spin are to do intervals, where you ride for a minute as fast as you can, then several minutes slower, to recover. Repeat. Also I think practicing with different wheel sizes can greatly increase your versatility and ability to feel confident as you go faster.

After years of mostly riding a 36" Schlumpf and less Muni riding, which followed a lot more years of mostly riding 24" wheels on track and tons of other places, I lost my high speed spin. This gradually grew to slowing me down on the 36", to the point where I get nervous when going over 15 mph on level ground. I used to be able to go 17 mph on a 24"! So I think I need to get back onto a smaller, lighter wheel, and spend time just cranking it out really fast to build up my confidence again. Still got to get my 'ol 24" repaired after the hub broke at Unicon. Trying to get the bearings off an identical Miyata hub from 1981, but even my bike shop can’t get one of them off without risking splitting the end of the axle…

Hmm… So personally I’m a little behind you in moving to short cranks and going fast: After experimenting with different cranks lengths a lot in the last year and having tried 100s for quite a many months, I now feel very comfortable on my 36 with the 114s, but I have yet to really try and push and work on going fast. I don’t have a reliable speedometer (just my gps phone) but my max seems to be something more like 22-25km/h… (I average around 17km/h for my 14km but is in the city and includes lights and minimum 15 places where I have to stop or slow down, but I would be really happy with your max speed of 27.5 and average of 20-21km/h).

Anyway, back to your question: I think the real question is where are you riding and what are your requirements for control? I commute 14km along the river through the inner city and have to cross a number of high-speed auto traffic roads (without lights I can cross faster, as the lights as waaay long) as well as navigate some high pedestrian areas, so I need a fair but of control (thus, the switch back to 114s with the goal to get so comfortable and controlled on them before trying the 100s more).

My basic feeling would be:
If you have a relatively low traffic and obstacle-free ride and are running a brake, then I think you can try the 89s. Although I’ve never tried 89s I don’t think the shorter cranks should increase the chance of a UPD at high speed, but are only a problem mounting and slow-speed (I find sub 5km/h hard with the 100s and I can’t idle with cranks that short or hop effectively and continue riding reliably… making some progress on it with the 114s).

If your route requires a bit of control, either for traffic or pedestrians, then I would think the best bet would be to first push the 100s as fast as they’ll go.

John’s advice to try going fast on smaller wheels is probably also good although I’ve never done that (I do muni on the 26 and 36 and trials but never try short cranks on the smaller wheels), but I notice that others I ride with who have worked on going fast on 24s are usually able to spin much faster than me. I think it makes sense as a) on a 24 you really really do have to spin really fast if you even want to go a little fast and b) there’s less risk/holdback to spinning fast as your actual speeds rarely get into the “no run out” zone… (plus you’re not as high off the ground as on a 36).

I’d like to add a little more to MUCFreerider on the 24" idea. Yes, if you practice for racing on small wheels, you have to learn a consistent spin that’s very fast. I think it’s over 250 rpm for the 100m race, for example.

So I am reminded that in some of the competition events that are traditionally done on 24", there are always a few people who are competitive on 20" wheels. While the vast majority of unicycle hockey players use 20" wheels, basketball players seem to prefer 24". But there was a guy on one of the top French teams who used a 20", and he was everywhere. Also, at the (first ever) IUF Slalom Finals event, the guy who won for the males, and set a new world record, used a 20". That means he had to pedal even faster!

So what’s my point? If you like riding 20" wheels that could work as well. It helps to have an activity to do other than just plain trying to pedal fast. Play basketball or hockey if available, or maybe chase cars or something. :astonished:

I also thought my usual g26+ rides were slowing down my pedal stroke, but yesterday I tried the same uni but without the geared wheel and I went up to 19.9 km/h which is the fastest speed I ever went on a single speed 26er, especially with 137 cranks.
The last time I went as fast on a unguni was on a 36er with 137 or on a 29er with 110s.
I calculated that yesterday I pedaled at 153rpm which is not enormous but pretty fast for me.
I will soon put the schlumpf hub on a 29+.
If I was able to pedal that fast in high gear on the g29+ I would hit about 35km/h which is impressive, especially when you know that a 14 years old girl was riding that fast at the unicon 10k race on her g29 (about 160 rpm).
Knowing that it’s much harder to pedal fast in high gear, I even don’t know where she found the strength of doing that.

For me the top speed is gained by 100mm but highest average riding speed on the flat the 89mm are best.

Brakes? Don’t they slow you up :wink:


Today I managed to go 1km/h faster, still with the 137’s. (160 rpm)
I know it sounds ridiculous in comparison with what jonn foss used to reach on his 24er, or in comparison with the 250+ rpm of the 100m, but it’s my personal record anyway.
So I think that if riding in high gear makes the rider used to pedal slower, it definitely build legs, at least in my case, cause I have never been able to reach anything close to 160 rpm with 137’s cranks before that.
I am even quite sure I wasn’t able to reach that speed with 110’s the last time I tried.

Two days ago I reached what was my personal record (153rpm)by leaning much forward and pulling hard on the handlebars, and of course by trying to lift my legs rather than pushing downward.
Today I hit 160 rpm once with the same technique, and once without leaning so much forward but pulling/gripping hard the handlebar to concentrate myself on the idea of pedaling the faster I can.
If I try to transpose speed pedaling on my future G29+ in high gear , I’ll rather try the second technique cause leaning very much forward in high gear is dangerous !
I learned that the hard way!

The speeds/rpms possible on a 24" Track uni (125mm cranks) don’t necessarily scale up to bigger wheels, and definitely not into high gear riding. As wheels get bigger, they generally get heavier. Weight doesn’t keep you from pedaling fast, but other factors get in the way, namely control, and possibly wind resistance as speeds increase.

Control is important as you approach your pedaling speed limit. You can’t just pedal at 100% of your maximum rpm, because that doesn’t leave anything left over. You will eventually eat it, even within a 100m sprint. I’ll be posting my Unicon 18 Track pictures in the coming days (others are already available). I got videos of both 100m Sprint Finals, and will point out the little “dips” people make as they’re trying to go faster down the track. When they suddenly lower their head, it’s a correction. It basically indicates they are at their tipping point; the maximum speed they can control.

You aren’t allowed to dismount in most Track races. So in order to win, or even have a time to compare, you have to finish. So your maximum “controlled” riding speed must be a few percent slower than your absolute maximum pedaling speed. Translating that away from the controlled environment of the track, you probably want more of a gap between those two speeds, especially on rough terrain. I marveled at the Downhill Muni racers as they sped away from the start in Beasain, at Unicon 18. Among other things, that track was very bumpy! my “best” speed going down that initial section wasn’t even close to this guy. It’s no wonder that many of the fast riders are wearing full-face helmets these days.

I don’t think wind resistance is a meaningful factor at 24" Track racing speeds; if you hunch yourself over to try to be aerodynamic, you’ll restrict your breathing capacity so it will actually make you slower in anything over 100 meters. What worked for me was a very upright riding posture, that allowed my lungs to get as much air as possible. Also when riding 24", speeds aren’t that high, so you are generally trying to control a very fast spin rather than pushing air.

So as your wheel gets bigger or if you gear up, things change. It takes more power to make quick corrections to your speed, so you have to widen that gap between max. rpms and a controlled cruise. This is magnified by the knowledge that a forward dismount at top speeds on larger wheels is very likely going to end with some sort of falling down. We can usually run out of dismounts at top speed on Track unicycles. If I did the same on a 29", I’m pretty sure I would want to wear much better knee protection and gloves, at minimum. :slight_smile:

I’ll return to this thread when my Unicon 18 Track pix are posted.

Great thread.

I’ve been looking for ways to improve my spinning speed. One obvious way (apart from the most obvious “ride more!”) was to try to spin faster on my bicycle as I ride to work. But it seems like I can’t spin very fast. Don’t know if it’s a physical limitation I’m hitting - on top of the fact that bike can’t be spun as fast since their cranks are in the 170mm region - and if so, what to do.

I’ve read about people riding down hills and slopes to enhance their spin-ability. Any other exercice(s) to suggest?

170mm cranks aren’t too long to spin fast. I think it’s mostly a matter of getting your legs used to the size. Having ridden within a pretty limited range of crank size in recent years, I found myself a lot less flexible when outside of the 140-150mm range. I used to be a lot more comfortable riding fast on pretty much any size cranks.

Also I vividly remember how fast George Peck was. He used 175mm cranks on what I believe was a 26" wheel. I remember not being able to keep up with him (on non-technical dirt) at the 1998 CA Muni Weekend. He was FAAAST.

Aside from crank length, the other thing to experiment with is seat height. The most comfortable height for general riding may not be the fastest for spinning.

For instance, when uni touring or general riding, my leg position is similar to my bike…knees slightly bent. When racing I have a higher cadence with the seat lower. You can absorb bumps, and muscles seem more relaxed in this range of motion.

It is also an anatomical issue.

A 1.60m rider will have a different range of motion to a 1.9m rider on the same set of cranks. The pedaling circle is the same, but the degree of flexion at the hip and knees will vary significantly.

This is true, and may also affect what a person’s optimum seat height (amount of knee bend) is for fast pedaling. I seem to remember running my seats pretty high, but I’m a taller guy.

My Unicon 18 Track photos are online!

This is not an exhaustive collection. Mostly it covers the IUF Slalom and the first-ever Slalom Finals, plus some of the other race finals.

100m Ladies’ Final - The girl in front bobs a couple of times in the early race, but then the leaders seem to get into a groove. One girl does go down hard before the finish though.

100m Men’s Final - Here you see a little bit of bobbing by Mr. Rodler, in the green shorts. and the Japanese rider, in second place, dismounts across the finish line for a DQ.

The rest of my Unicon albums can be reached here.
Our tourist pictures from Spain are here.
As of this moment I haven’t yet uploaded X-Style, Basketball, Group Freestyle and Road Racing…