Interesting Phenomena Climbing Hills. Any Input?

Earlier this week I sliced my index finger to the bone on a glass shard. (Not unicycling related. Well I did not let a little thing like a useless index finger on my right hand stop me from my Friday morning MUni ride.

I did experience an interesting phenomena while climbing hills. Usually on steep hills I have always pulled up hard on the saddle handle to get more leverage. Well, with the use of only three fingers I could not pull up nearly as hard as I usually do. This came to show when riding up and over rock outcrops from 15 to 45 centimeters (7 to 18 in) that I usually ride up quite easily. Today quite a few times the unicycle would fly out behind me because I just couldn’t hold on to the the handle hard enough to counter the extreme weight applied on the front pedal. However when climbing hills that are borderline for me I was amazed at how easy I climbed them! This got me to thinking that all that advice that we get on pulling up hard on the saddle handle might not be the best advice.

I still pulled up on the handle but just not as hard as I usually do. Keep in mind that I have been a serious and frequent rider now for four years and I don’t have much of a learning curve now. So it is not as if I improved since my last weeks ride.

Any thoughts or similair experiences?


I find it has to be a pretty extremely steep hill before you need to pull on the handle to ride up a smooth slope. With the low gearing of a (normal direct-drive) unicycle the weight of your body when standing on the pedal is enough to climb most hills. I tend to keep my hand on the handle anyway, but even on the steepest road hill I regularly ride up (about 1:5, or 20%) it’s mostly just to hold the saddle still while I’m standing up - in fact I think I often LEAN on the handle rather than pulling on it while climbing. If I’m on my 36er and feeling tired I’ll sometimes ride that hill in “half-revs” rather than pedalling smoothly - then I do need to pull on the saddle to accelerate from each near-still-stand, but usually I reckon I could ride up that hill hands-free (although I’ve not tried it).

On rough or rocky climbs it’s a different matter - much easier to keep your feet on the pedals if you pull up slightly I reckon. In fact, the only time I really let go of the handle while riding muni is when crossing really slippery sections of mud or ice, when the extra arm for balancing comes in handy.


I’m not very good at climbing hills, the effort required is certainly taxing on the lungs and legs. I wanted to mention a couple of things and touch on one that Rob mentioned.

I find that when I really pull up hard I then apply equally more pressure on the pedals… duh … yeah :slight_smile: Only problem is that the energy required to maintain this is through the roof and find myself tiring much faster. Because of this I try not to pull to hard on the handle. I also try to stay seated as much as possible as I have the same problem with standing up, that of using too much energy and blowing my legs or lungs out. Clearly more practice and better fitness are key to managing this better. Due to my trying to conserve energy when tackling hills I tend to ride really slowly uphill, even on moderate hills, and usually without holding the handle. The emphasis for me is maintaining balance rather than powering up the hill. As long as I maintain my balance and keep going forward 1 pedal stroke at a time, the distance uphill will get eaten up. This is clearly not the fastest way of doing things, but for me the most energy efficient way of doing it.

One thing that Rob mentioned is leaning on the handle. Over the last month or so I have been consciously trying to push/lean on the handle as that tends to bring the Uni’s center of gravity a little more forward up the hill and also forces you to sit a little straighter and less hunched . I have found the ride is a little easier, but for now a little hard to maintain for any distance, again some more practice would probably help along with more fitness. My hill climbing exploits are not really helped by the extra weight I carry around my midriff :slight_smile:


Thanks for the answers guys.

I have actually never thought of or heard of leaning on the handle before when climbing hills. (I do this to relieve but pain on long road trips.)

Maybe I should have made myself more clear. I am talking about tough hills with lots of rocks and some scree on them. They are not technical but pretty rough (bympy). Hopping is not required but the rocks really slow you down. They ae not long prolonged climbs but 20 to 50 meters with a very steep incline. These are borderline hills that I just barely climb. However with the cut finger I was able to power up them no problem!

All the literature always says to pull up like crazy on the saddle handle to get more leverage. I am now wondering if this is really true?


Just thinking out loud so to speak … Could it be that the reason you managed to ride easier with the cut finger is that you had something else to concentrate on / think about ? Thought emphasis on not hurting your finger more, or pain concentration on the finger leading you to do the actual riding more on instinct/subconsciously ? Thinking always tends to get in the way when riding … well for me anyway :smiley: If I’m thinking it, it’s either to late or it’s going to make myself second guess what I’m doing. I’ve usually had my best climbs, be it up a long hill or a short burst up some technical piece, when I’m out of breath just concentrating on 1m ahead of me only thinking about taking my next breath…

I agree it’s definitely easier on stuff like that if you pull up on the handle.

Just out of interest, I rode up that 1:5 road climb I mentioned on my way home last night. I could ride up it without holding the saddle, but it’s much easier with a hand on the handle to stop it slipping back between my legs when standing on the pedals. There’s a similarly steep slope of rough grass from the top of that road up to the track across the moor, but I couldn’t ride that without pulling on the handle - it took more than my weight to keep the wheel moving on that surface. All this was on a 26x3 muni with 150s.


Rob has it right. You should only pull on the handle if you need more downward force on the pedal than your body weight (or probably: more than 80% of your body weight, since maybe 10% is still on the seat, and 10% on the other pedal). Just pulling up the handle indiscriminately thinking that it gives you more leverage doesn’t make sense at all. If the counterforce of that seat-pulling force is not going into the front pedal, it gets wasted to the rear pedal and/or seat, and those get you nowhere. It only tires you.

This is probably what the OP now experienced. Less pulling on the seat handle (i.e. omitting the pulling that is not needed) gets you further or easier up the hill because you don’t wear yourself out unneccessarily. So hooray for cut fingers :slight_smile:

Interesting thread…I never grab the seat except to hop (which I don’t do much). Always feel like I want my arms free for balancing. I have tried to grab the seat but it never felt comfortable or purposeful. There are definitely times though when I NEED just that extra little bit of power to get over something and I am going to try to employ this technique. :sunglasses: