Learning to commute via unicycle

Hi all!

I’m a regular bicycle commuter, and I’m considering converting to unicycle commuting. I’ve come to notice a lot of limitations with a transportation method involving two wheels. I’d appreciate some advice.

There’s a few things I’m hoping unicycling will improve and accomplish. Since I’m a student at a college in the city, space is limited and bike theft is common. Theoretically, I could take a unicycle with me, versus locking it in sparsely located secure bicycle cages. The portability would mean I can hop on and off on demand, greatly reducing travel time across campus. It’d also fit in my car or public transit without a problem. It’d be a big improvement over a bulky and cumbersome bicycle. I also have a crazy plan to hold a 6 cell maglite as a bike light and to see the road when riding at night.

My concerns are that I’m still very new and haven’t mastered mounting, I can’t control my direction very well, I cover distance really slowly, and a bunch of other unicycle newbie problems. I’m thinking that, with enough practice, I should overcome these. I’m also worried that, while short rides will be no problem, 5-10 mile rides will start to take significantly longer than on a bike. I regularly bike at more than 20 mph, I think that’s pretty fast, but I’m not sure how fast I can go on a unicycle.

I’m considering a 29" road unicycle, something like these:

So, are my goals reasonable? Are the problems way too severe?

And thanks for reading!

Don’t carry a six-cell MagLite. Get a lightweight, high-lumen, LED flashlight, helmet light, or bike light. I have a 180 lumen LED flashlight that I bought for $20 that uses three AA cells and is WAY brighter than a MagLite.

I commuted 5 miles each way, 10 miles round trip, on a 36 for years. It took me 40 minutes one way and that was with 9 traffic signals and 11 stop signs. I wore a backpack for my lunch and clothes and attached a water bottle cage to the seat post with hose clamps.

I unicycle around campus all the time and it’s great because I can carry it around and toss it in my car easily. I usually go about twice as fast as I would if I was walking. You will never be able to get somewhere on a unicycle as fast as you could on a bike unless it’s all uphill. But if you’re okay with that unicycling is a lot more fun and it’s a great way to get around.

Freemounting and directional control will come pretty fast if you start commuting. The first few weeks you will probably have a hard time but after that you will be fine. A lot of riders struggle to go any sort of distance at first but once you get past the point where your legs feel like jello after a 3 minute ride it’s a real blast.

A 29 inch wheel seems like a pretty logical choice. A 36er is starting to get almost as bulky as a bike so it wouldn’t be easy to carry around. All of the ones you listed are good quality although the $360 one is probably the best bang for your buck. You could also go with a smaller wheel but obviously the smaller you go the slower you go as well. With a 29er and some short cranks you could probably average 10mph if you practiced.

Thanks for your response.

I’m currently using an LED flashlight with three AAA batteries, but the lifetime is fairly short and I’m changing the batteries every week or the light dies midway on my commutes. How long does yours last?

And, when you’re at a red light, do you stay on or dismount your unicycle?

Thanks for responding.

I understand unicycling isn’t as fast, and as long as it’s not too much slower, I’m ok with the time tradeoff. And I’ll need to practice more before I can trust myself commuting with it, but I’ll get there eventually!

Regarding the unicycles, what’s the difference between the $360 “regular” one and the $190 “retro”? Seems to me like it’s the frame style.

Hi Ray,

Welcome to the forum and unicycling.

It’s interesting to hear a bicyclist see the advantages of commuting by unicycle. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a bicyclist that thought it was practical. In fact a co-worker that takes the same bus I do said he couldn’t understand why I would choose to ride one leg of my trip for just over an hour instead of taking a 40 minute bus ride. For me, it works out great. I can combine my commute and exercise time. Besides, I love riding my unicycle.

I just started commuting one way a few weeks ago. I take my 29er on the bus and sit in the priority seating area. So far I haven’t had a problem with the bus driver or other passengers. If the bus does fill with people that need the priority seats I’ll gladly move. It hasn’t happened so far but I’m sure if I was getting on during rush hour it could.

My route is pretty easy. I found one where I can ride on a sidewalk, bike path and then streets without many stop lights. There are three. If I don’t make the light I get off but would really like to learn how to hop. Sometimes I can figure out whether the light is about to change and adjust my riding accordingly. At one light, cars on the other side turn right just before the light changes for my side of traffic. Small clues like that can help keep you on the wheel.

When I ride through the neighborhood I stick to roads that don’t have lights or as much traffic. I do cross a few busy streets and have gotten pretty good at looking and listening for traffic coming. I slow or speed up accordingly. I’d say I have to dismount/mount about three or four times during my 8 mile one way commute.

I tried a different route with less miles but it put me downtown with lots of lights and traffic. I guess I’m so new at this commuting thing that I couldn’t cope so I gave that one up. Heck I don’t even like riding my bike downtown. Maybe I’ll get back to it when I finally learn to hop.

So after a year of experience riding a 29er with 125mm cranks I can ride my 8 mile one way commute in 1 hour and 8 minutes total time, averaging 7.5 mph while in the saddle. That also includes a long gradual climb up a hill. Next week I’m going to switch to 110mm cranks in the hopes of increasing my speed a bit.

I haven’t ridden in the dark yet. I do have a Nighrider 750 that I could use if I choose to do that.

Oh and I did Harper’s commute last weekend. It’s ok but lots of lights.

The retro unicycle is not as strong as the nimbus ones. The cheaper one is named retro because it’s been designed to look like the old Schwinns from sometime around the 1960s through 80s.

The biggest difference is that the retro has a square tapered hub which is significantly weaker than the “ISIS” splined hub of the nimbus. (ISIS stands for International Splined Interface Standard or something along those lines, it has nothing to do with the middle east in this case.)

The frame is also a difference, although that’s not as important. Also the nimbus saddle will be better although I haven’t tried a Schwinn one so I don’t know how much exactly. The nimbus should be lighter, according to UDC the difference is 14 lb vs 17 lb.

For road riding the strength isn’t a huge issue and you’d be completely fine with the Schwinn but if you ever want to learn to hop or go off road you’ll eventually start breaking stuff on the retro but you’re unlikely to damage the nimbus.

Also if you ever decide you want to add a brake you can add one to the nimbus easily whereas there aren’t off the shelf parts that will work for the retro.

They are both decent for the price, I wouldn’t worry too much about picking one over the other.

Thanks for clearing things up. I’m used to bicycle terminology, so all I could from tell reading is, for example, that ISIS is a different system. One more thing, the “commuter special” Nimbus has a disc hub. Do you mind explaining what a disc hub is? Thank you beforehand.

The big plus I see with unicycling is the portability, which means a lot of secondary benefits. I often move between classes, offices, and various locations on my school’s campus. Bike parking deficiencies mean it’s not convenient to just park in front of my destination. Security concerns confine my parking strictly to bike cages, but they’re few and far in between.

Buses around here also have a frustrating tendency of having a full bike rack. The next bus isn’t guaranteed to have an open spot, either.

There’s some downsides, I admit, but the major one that I can think of is the speed versus a bike, which I’m still a bit on the fence about.

I’m lucky that we have a limited access bike room where I work. We still lock up our bikes (and unicycle) in that room because bike theft is getting pretty bad around here.

Are you sure that you can take your unicycle into buildings and on the bus with you?

Oh and you don’t need a disc hub unless you intend to put a disc brake on your unicycle. I have one on mine but I don’t use it much because I haven’t gotten use to it and don’t ride down very many steep hills.

Haven’t ask or tried, but I don’t see why not. A lot of people at my school skateboard around, although I admit skateboards use less space than a unicycle.

I don’t think it’ll be an issue. As you know I’ve been doing this with my 24 inch MUni at school for a couple years :wink: I think a 29 inch is still quite portable.

By the way, I forgot to tell you: if you want to try before you buy, there’s a 1/2 bike 1/2 unicycle shop in Campbell called Silva Cycles. Call and ask if they have a 29er in stock.

Plus, I’m pretty sure you can buy any unicycle from them for the same price (or sometimes less) than you’d get on unicycle.com. And you get their great service checking up on all the parts and giving you advice.

The disc hub is a mounting spot for a rotor on the wheel so you can add a disc brake easily. If you want to add a disc brake to a unicycle that doesn’t have a disc hub you need to either install one or switch to a set of cranks that has a mounting spot. Pretty much the only common cranks that have a mount for a rotor are KH spirits which are quite expensive.

Yes, you don’t need a (future) disc brake unless your commute has steep hills. The most sensible choice of the three you provided is the Nimbus Commuter.

Avoid the Schwinn. Unicycle.com is proving the old adage that “Schwinn unicycles can’t be killed” by not letting the brand die. Nostalgia is great, but the big drawback of the Schwinn design is the frame-post interface. that unicycle has exactly 4 seat heights, each 1" apart. No serious cyclist should limit themselves to 1" increments. You can drill more holes, giving you 1/2" increments, but that’s still a big limitation on seat height choice.

However, for a commuting uni, you don’t need an ISIS hub; cotterless/square taper is fine. ISIS is much stronger, but unless you do lots of hopping or drops, it’s not likely to matter.

Lastly, whichever uni you buy, you’re going to want to put shorter cranks on it. Not necessarily right away, but as your riding confidence improves. For a beginner, 150mm cranks will be good. But they’re slow. Eventually you’ll be using much shorter ones, like 100mm.

I broke a square taper hub, just by riding it for a couple of years. That said, I guess it must have taken a couple thousands of kilometres.

In a way it was very satisfying accomplishment.

Wait, you just said that he doesn’t need it but then you say that it’s the most sensible choice. Did I miss read what you’re saying here?

Yep it might be not needed now, but John knows unicyclists… I bet he’ll not stop on commuting once he gets the decend 29er. That’s why I vote for Nimbus as well.

And getting back to commute… I have 10km one way commute done by bike 4 times a week and by uni once a week. I have 7 traffic lights and numerous crossings on the way as I pass the downtown. I could avoid 2 biggest crossings by changing the route but for some reason I don’t like the other one as it is not so continuous (you need to get through some gravel under the bridge, then you got out on sidewalks etc). That is why I adapted quickly my bike route to the one used currently and like a year ago (after about 4 years of doing this route daily) I started also unicycling this way. This means getting through traffic jam, but I still prefer it somehow.
One good thing is that you learn your way, so that you know what to expect from the road. Then you have more attention that you can give to the drivers and pedestrians around.
Also I think now the most limiting factor for me is traffic (lights, stops etc). I got to the situation when on road bike I’m doing the route in 30 minutes and I can get it down to 35 minutes on my uni (G26).

A G26 is tempting. Great size to take on the bus. Not sure I could handle a geared unicycle though. Voocash what kind of 26er do you have?

It’s a KH mostly :slight_smile:
I think both 26er and 29er are good sizes for portability (and 650b in between as well).
Mine looked like this today:

I’d like a rim size that’s compatible with road bikes, such as 700c or 27", so I can easily get replacement tubes or install puncture resistant tires. What’s 700c versus 29"? I keep finding inconclusive or conflicting information, but it seems like 29" is a road bike rim size.