Intro and Build/Buy advice needed

Hello lovely forum people! How about I start with a quick intro. I’m Jeff. I’m not really a unicyclist, yet. I had and rode one about 25 years ago, so I’m pretty confident I want to jump back in full steam ahead. I also do a good bit of other strange/balance/circusy type things like slackline / slack rope, hand balancing, juggling etc.

Anyway, my immediate goals are

  1. Acquire, probably buy but maybe build, a basic 20-24" uni just to get back in the saddle and hone basic skills. I’ll call this my “learner” although I will keep it and probably ride it fairly often for a long time.
  2. Build a 3 wheel giraffe. I definitely prefer to build this one, for personal reasons. Maybe I’ll just buy the club, but I’d rather not.

Eventually I’d like a big wheel too. Maybe a commercial 36, maybe a diy frame with commercial parts. Maybe I’ll go full nuts and build something bigger. Wheel see. (warning, I love terrible puns)

So how about some advice from you experts on the “learner” and 3 wheeler?

First, for a relative beginner, should I really learn a chain giraffe before the 3 wheeler, or is it reasonable for a first giraffe to be a 3 wheeler?

It seems to me there is a fair possibility of a little bit of modularity.
Say I buy a <$200 20" like maybe a Schwinn or club freestyle. I could build my own 3 wheeler based around the 20" wheel, cranks, pedals hubs etc. Basically I would just need to build the frame, 2 wheels, and a seat. I do not mind swapping parts.

I’m also a little torn, I think I’d rather my “learner” be a 24, but I would like to at least be able to try to coax my very short teenage daughter on to it, and she has a 25.5" inseam. Also, for modularity with a 3 wheeler, I think it will have to be 20", as 3x24" seems excessive.

For building the 3 wheeler, I am not a super fabricator, but relatively handy with plenty of tools, and with skilled friends. Cheap is the goal. I’m not sure on the frame, but probably just mild steel, maybe 1" square? I’ve read of people making bike frames from EMT conduit, so I may try that route. This frame doesn’t have to be forever, if it’s relatively cheap I expect to learn on the build details of v1.0, and would hate to scrap quality materials just because a redesign proves necessary. I am not a welder, but have a friend who is. If using something as cheap as conduit, I might even just slap together a proof of concept with JB weld to make sure I get all the dimensions right before asking him to fire up the welder. Any thoughts on frame materials, square vs. round, emt vs whatever?

I watched a video of Tom Miller, and it looked like he was using steel square, which he just hammered flat for a drop out for the bottom wheel. Seems simple enough, at this stage of planning at least. I haven’t seen closeups of any of his multi-wheels to see how he does the other wheels though.

For the top wheel, I guess it’d be just like any other uni, just with the bearing holders welded to the upper and lower frame?

I’m not really clear on how to do the middle wheel though. Any thoughts? Same as the top?

It looks like I could try to replicate the club 3 wheeler by welding bearing holders onto individual frame sections.

I know I just threw a lot at ya’ll, but figured this was the place to ask for help and inspiration. please share any ideas, advice, especially any pictures of homemade 3 wheelers.

Um, maybe I missed the obvious consumer version. Can you turn the club 3 wheeler into a standard 20" uni just by putting on bearing holders instead of the bottom 2/3 of the frame?

Hi Jeffro and welcome. I like your attitude. If you rode a unicycle 25 years ago then you’re still a unicyclist. I’m sure it will come back quickly.

Buying a ready-to-ride 20" to get started again sounds good. My first unicycle was a <$100 Avenir from Amazon. I learned on it and still ride it a lot and nothing has broken yet. It might not stand up so well with reckless kids on it but it seems ok for a semi-responsible more-or-less adult. One advantage for a potential builder is that it will keep you thinking about possible failure modes as you’re riding! Some people complain about the seat that comes with it but I guess I’m a numbnuts since it hasn’t bothered me.

Having a few build projects in the not-even-really-started phase myself, I tend to think there’s a certain amount of “if you have to ask” factor to it. Which ever route you go with, you’ll have to resolve countless little issues on your own on the way.

About the only thing I know about giraffe unicycles is that the frames apparently take a lot more stress than you might guess and they seem to wind up (so to speak) getting a permanent bend or twist eventually. As much as I enjoy working with conduit and love the grunge factor, 4130 is damned cheap these days and might be a better call. As a plus, it saves you from having to strip the galvanizing off the conduit or otherwise finding a way to keep yourself and your friend from being poisoned by the zinc when you weld it.

For the middle wheel of a three-wheeler, I’d suggest considering a rescued front bmx wheel. You’d just need to provide a vertical slot on either side for it then.

That might be best directed to, or maybe (A lot of their design and development seems to go down in the UK.) They ought to be able to tell you that right off.

Good luck with the riding and building!

Thanks for the input Eddie.
BTW, I’m just a couple hours east of you in Greenville NC :slight_smile:

I did get a message back for The club 3 wheeler can be ridden as either a 1 or 2 wheel cycle with no problems. They suggested not to do the reverse, ie building the standard club 20" into a 3 wheeler due to bearing mounts being stamped instead of machined. As an alternative they suggested the Nimbus II would be a good base to later build up to a 3 wheeler.

So that is one route I could take I guess, but I really do want to build at least most of the 3 wheeler, and the nimbus II is over what I want to pay for the single even if I built the lower 2/3 to add on to it.

I’m now considering the Torker LX. As my “learner” and building an extension to turn it into a 3 wheeler. Basically the plan would be fork extenstions with a 40 mm bearing assembly welded to the top to fit the Torker. Middle and bottom wheel could be salvaged BMX, drop out on the bottom, TBD in the middle.