RE: MUni frame by Steve Howard
I am also testing a Steve Howard MUni. Mine will be up for auction at
UNICON, so you could be its next owner!
I’m going to use Greg Harper’s previous post to help me tell about mine:
> Yesterday, I received a pretty little package on my front
Wow. I never thought you could fit a unicycle into such a small box! The box
was the same height and width as the 3" Gazz tire, and stuck out where the
axle was. Due to the frame design, all the parts fit in the box without
requiring any more space. A seat was not included.
See the completed unicycle:
Is it a beauty or what?
> had 170mm Shimano aluminum bike cranks with the chain ring spider
> machined off by Steve and one of his 27.2mm rail type seat tube
> adapters for a Viscount seat. I believe that the axle/hub is one
> of his stainless steel types.
I believe mine is the same, except for the seat. He offered to send it with
a Viscount, but I told him not to bother as I’d never ride it that way. So
he made a rail adapter for a Miyata seat, and I took one of my hoarded read
Miyata seats from last year, converted it to air, and mounted it up there.
The axle on the unicycle is a cotterless Steve Howard design.
I won’t go into detail about the components, because that’s not what this
cycle is about. We are testing a new type of frame, on a unicycle with a 3"
Gazz tire and 170mm Cranks. The cycle is obviously built up for MUni, so we
are testing it on the trails.
> The bearing clamps are easy to tune by slightly overtightening
> and then releasing until the wheel coasts.
Mine have not slipped so far.
> When pumped up, the wheel and tire ran true and centered in the frame,
> that gorgeous frame.
I have to check the spokes, as they have not been adjusted yet. Doing some
truing is normal for a newly-built wheel after putting some miles on it.
> I had problems with the left crank in that it would not advance far
> enough onto the taper to completely thread the crank nut.
My cranks were fine. I took a 14mm wrench on the first few rides, and
tightened the cranks occasionally (mostly before starting out). Now they
don’t show any more “turn” when I go to tighten them. This is also normal
behavior for newly-installed cranks.
> There is a park close by where I can do 12" hops up and down
> the wall of a wading pool.
My first couple of rides didn’t offer much in the way of drops, but this
past weekend I went down to Santa Cruz and rode in Wilder Ranch with a group
of MUni experts. But let me start from the beginning.
I had seen the Steve Howard frame at MUni Weekend last fall. He brought one
with him, and it looked really cool. I don’t know if that was his first one,
but it had thinner fork legs and a different design on the crown. The
current design has much thicker legs (3/8"?), and a simpler crown design
that uses less metal so it should be lighter.
The three piece frame design is very simple to work with. You put the pieces
together (doesn’t matter which sides the legs go on, and tighten the bearing
holders onto the bearings. Just make sure you put the fork legs on the
bearings before screwing them into the crown. I had to do that part over…
The three piece design allows the possibility of interchangeable parts.
Different length legs will accommodate different-sized wheels. Different
width crowns will work with different tire widths. Riders could mix & match
without having to buy whole new unicycles or frames.
The fork legs attach to the crown with three screws on each side. These
screws use the same size hex wrench (5mm? Sorry, I don’t have it with me) as
the bearing and seat screws. I like it when one tool fits all. The fork
screws have stayed perfectly tight since I assembled it.
The bearings attach with a single screw, which went together like a piece of
cake. Tighten the screw and you’re done! Brett Bymaster and Eric Kvamme
expressed concern that if the bearing works its way out of the frame and the
rider isn’t paying attention, it could potentially break the bottom of the
frame. There is nothing there to hold the bearing in place, which could be
something to consider for future models.
But so far the bearings haven’t moved.
The frame looks way cool. No other unicycle has such a design. I like it! I
imagine that Steve could also, for a price, cut any design into a frame that
a rider wanted. He hasn’t commented on this yet, but I think it might be
cool to have one that says UNI-CYCLONE down the side, for example. I love
the anodized finish. No paint! And I love the lightness of aluminum. You
have to use more material because of the flat-blade design, but it still
only weighs about as much as a regular steel frame.
I pointed out to Steve that the frame’s design will allow twisting as you
ride. A flat-blade design will always allow more twist than one made from
tubing. The only way to resist the twisting is to add more material, making
the frame heavier. But starting with aluminum puts you in a good position,
so you can have a unique-looking frame with basically no weight penalty.
Brett Bymaster suggested that the frame might be prone to cracking after
long-term use, because of the constant left-right twisting it will get,
especially when being pedaled hard. This remains to be seen. I know aluminum
is less resistant to these kinds of repetitive forces than steel.
But let’s quantify this twist. By holding the tire and twisting the seat
side to side, yes there is some twist. Slightly more than with a tubular
frame. But does it twist like a Schwinn or Semcycle Deluxe? Not even close.
So it’s not like riding on a bendy frame.
On to the ride. In a word, “Wheeeeeee!”
But let’s be more specific. On my first ride, I had limited time so I took
it to William Pond Park, near my house. This park has dirt trails along the
American River, but the area is basically flat. I rode the unicycle up &
down the little hills that were there, over some round river rocks, and over
lots of bumps. I stopped and took pictures of the cycle before it got dirty.
It sure does look nice with its red frame and red seat! Plus I was wearing a
T-shirt and helmet in the same color as the frame, and brand new black
gloves with red trim, but didn’t get any pictures of that. Then I proceeded
to get lost on the wrong side of the river (I never ride there because it’s
too flat), and spent the rest of my time riding fast on pavement trying to
find my way back.
My second ride was on the Foresthill Divide Loop trail in the Auburn area.
This is a relatively new trail that I actually helped to build, but I’ve
never ridden on most of it. Brett rode it years ago, and told me it wasn’t
very interesting from a MUni point of view. But I felt like riding something
new. Yup, I think it’s an awesome trail for mountain biking, but doesn’t
offer much in the way of technical. I cruised lots of miles with no
On both of the first two rides, I was very aware of the long cranks. I’ve
been using 150mm cranks since I’ve been riding 26" MUnis. The 170’s are a
lot more work when you’re going fast. But how much of this is because I’m
not used to them? So I reserved judgment. Anyway, that has nothing to do
with the purpose of the test, anyway.
The other thing different for me on this unicycle is the 3" tire. I have a
Roger Davies carbon uni that only fits regular mountain bike tires (and
hence doesn’t get much action anymore), and a DM ATU that only fits a 2.6"
Gazz. This was my first 3" tire. I’ve ridden them before, but not on whole
rides. The first to rides I did were not challenging enough for me to notice
much about the 3" Gazz, except the weight. It is a heavy tire. An
appropriately wide rim on it makes for a fairly heavy wheel.
But then there was the third test ride, which was the first one on what I
would call “appropriate” terrain for the setup. Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz
on Saturday. I got together with Nathan and Beau Hoover, Brett Bymaster,
Bronson Silva, Bruce Bundy, and Eric Kvamme. We did just under 10 miles in
the park, which is criss-crossed with tons of trails. I don’t think we rode
on any of the Wilder trails that were part of the 1999 MUni Weekend. But
there were plenty of technical areas, and some big ups and downs to ride, as
we went from around sea level to around 550’.
When I come and ride in Santa Cruz, I often feel the limitations of my DM.
The trails have more steep spots, more drops, and just plain more variety
than most of the not-too-far trails around Sacramento. Santa Cruz truly is a
paradise for MUni. Here, the Steve Howard MUni was in its element. What I
noticed after riding long sections of drops or rough stuff, was that the
whole trail was basically one notch easier than when it was the last time
I’d ridden it (last November on my 2.6" Gazz DM). Everything was easier!
Nathan brought us to an uphill spot with roots and rocks, saying that the
challenge was to ride up it without hopping. I rode up the easy line, almost
with no problem. That was too easy. So I tackled it again, going straight up
the middle where the bumps were almost like stairs. I still made it. Wow!
We did lots of drops and way lots of bumps. We hopped and pedaled across
streams and through the round rocks on either side. We did not do any drops
over 2’. Brett spent about 10 or 15 minutes trying to hop up a very steep
spot with roots that provided both obstacles and landing points. He never
quite made it, but neither did Bruce. The cycle never complained.
I took pictures on Saturday but I haven’t got those processed yet. There’s a
video clip as well. I’ll let everybody know when they are posted.
I think most of the guys tried the unicycle, and it got positive comments
all around. The only critical comments were the ones mentioned above by
Brett and Eric. The big question was “How much will one, equipped like this,
cost?” Good question. I’m sure an answer will not be far off.
HOW YOU CAN OWN THIS UNICYCLE
When Steve offered to give this one to me, I felt a little guilty. I had
just ordered a new MUni from Unicycle.com, and have wife pressure to deal
with as it is (about 35 unicycles in the garage now). So I thought of the
idea of Brett and I testing it, then showing it off at NAUCC and UNICON,
then using it as a fundraising device to aid the conventions. Proceeds from
the sale will go to help fund the conventions. I don’t know yet if I want to
offer the unicycle also to people who will not be at the conventions. Then
I’ll have to ship it (and it won’t fit the original box with the seat). Ask
me if you’re interested. It will go to the highest bidder!
Stay on top,
John Foss, the Uni-Cyclone
“If people want to truly understand mountain biking, they have to do two
other things: ride a unicycle, and master the trampoline.” – Joe Breeze,
one of the originators of mountain biking, in a conversation with Tim Bustos