need hill climbing advice

I have never been riding with another unicyclist so I have many questions. When clinbing hills over 18% grade, What size wheels and cranks should I expect to be using. My 700c with 170mm cranks is very hard to climb these. On a 26 inch with 170’s it is easier but the tire only goes to 65psi and 80psi seems to be the minimum. Am I just an old guy 50 pounds overweight and out of shape? Are other people climbing up these types of hills easily? If so how are you doing it. What should I expect to be climbing on my coker with 170mm cranks? When other riders go for a hill climbing rides, are people going for 7-10 mile rides or more than that? Do riders use brakes on unicycles other than their cokers. Is going down >18% grade without a brake standard or foolish? THANKS FOR THE ADVICE


Be patient man, you only posted just a few minuets ago.

Anyways, I am experienced with riding hills on a trials, basic 20" and a coker.

Having long cranks will give more leverage to each pedal, so you’ll get more power to get up those hills. With shorter cranks, you can go faster, but you’ll have less leverage in the pedal to get you up the steeper hills.

Its possible your out of shape a little, but keep unicycling and that will change. =p

Also, when im riding up a hill, and once it gets hard for me, I put weight down on the saddle with my hand, or both hands, and lean forward a little more, then I really start to pedal. That always gets me up the harder stretches. I’m almost standing up when pedaling, but only a few hills around here have me doing that to get up them.

170s seem huge, I have never ridden with that size, so I cant tell you how they feel. My coker has 152s and that is good enough for me to get up the hills, and down.

Almost all my rides are as long as you have mentioned, usually a lot longer. One of my routes, the first 5 miles is a long hill, then a quarter mile stretch of flat, followed by 2 more miles of a even steeper hill. Its a good route to train on.

And lastly, I don’t use break on any of my unis, I haven’t had the need to, even on the steep steep stuff.

EDIT: Welcome to the forums!!! =p

I’m a hill-climber. On my 36er, I’ve only used 150s which climb OK, and now I have 125s, but they make the hills harder (duh!).

I’ve had the best success w/KH29 uni (29" wheel), Big Apple 2.0 tire (maybe 45PSI) and 165mm cranks. The races I’ve done have not averaged 18% grade, but many of my training hills are over 20%. The uni record on Mt. Washington was set with 29" wheel/165 cranks, as well, by Mike Tierney in 2005. He beat 200 bikers.

Obviously the lighter everything is, the better, including you, the rider. I’m 5’6", 150ish lbs, and the KH29 is around 14 lbs. I’ve participated in several hillclimb bike races, which are linked down below in my sig line.

How long have you been riding, how hard are you riding, and what kind of physical condition are you in? Hill climbing in my opinion is definetely a workout, I have been practicing on some steep grades both on road and off trying to build endurance and it is helping my overall riding but I am nowhere near where I want to be yet but I am gaining ground and it has taken a while. As for the 7-10 mile rides…the answer is yes. I take my dog out 5-6 nights a week and do 4-6 miles on my 36er but it is all flat ground, on the weekends (hopefully at least 1 day) I have been training primarily on hill climbing in preporation for America’s most Beautiful Ride
which is 72 miles around Lake Tahoe and those hills kicked my arse last year and I only made approx 32 miles but this year I am on a mission to make the full 72, hills and all.
Find a LONG hill with a medium grade and start off with maybe your 170 cranks and as you make the hill consistently drop to 150 cranks and try again then maybe try a steeper longer hill or drop to 125 cranks, for me hill climbing off road will kick my butt long before on the street, so try longer rides and find some long hills and make a circle ride up and down the hill til you cant go no more and if possible ride with someone else either uni or bike, i think riding with others pushes you more to not give up.
Good luck

Cranks aren’t your problem. You’re using super long cranks, you should be able to get up almost any road hill in the world on those.

Going up Arthur’s Pass in New Zealand, with Ken Looi and Roger Davies. This is a sustained 1 in 6 gradient (I think about 18%?) for a few miles. I cranked up it slowly, with 150s on my 29er and just scraped through. Roger went up on 150s on a coker. Ken climbed the last section, which was one of the steepest bits, entirely on 114 cranks. This was at the end of a 50 mile day.

Almost always (at least on road), if you can’t get up a hill, it’s because of too much pie and not enough muscle, and the cure is to get fitter and stronger. That’s why Roger and Ken could get up there faster than me, nothing to do with equipment. Darn them.

As for brakes, I ride brakes on my Schlumpf (45" equivalent diameter wheel), but most of the coker riders on the SINZ tour were riding down stuff as steep as you describe without brakes. Brakes are mostly for going nutty fast on downhills and knowing that you don’t have to keep in control, because you have a brake to slow you down if need be. I don’t like riding down steep hills without a brake in high gear, cos it’s really easy to get out of control.

You should for sure find other unicyclists to ride with, it makes a real difference to what you believe is possible, and what you’ll have a go at.


Thanks Joe,

I tend to use shorter cranks than most people (I have short legs though:D). On a Coker, most of my general riding would be on 110mm or 114mm cranks. That works well where I live, which is quite hilly.

On more sustained hilly terrain like on the Alps Unitour (, I found 125mm cranks better. I recall quite a few 10-20% gradients that kept on going and going!

On not so steep stuff the trick is to keep your cadence high and just let the momentum carry you up.

For climbing really steep stuff (say 15% or more) the trick is to stay relaxed and ‘float’ your way to the top. You’ll waste energy if your upper body is tense, or if both your legs and arms/head/upper body are tense. Only the leg that’s pushing down should be tense, and it should relax as soon as it goes into the upstroke. You can get up just about anything by ‘floating’ your way to the top. Also alternating from sitting and standing position helps you keep the lactic acid from building up.

During this years SINZ tour ( on my first attempt riding up Baldwin St (the worlds steepest street) I was so tense that I fell off a meter from the top. My legs had turned to jelly from the lactate build up- it was like doing the 100m sprint for 800m. On my second attempt, I stayed relaxed and just ‘floated’ my way up. Easy peasy if you don’t go anaerobic ;).

Ken Looi

Here’s Tony floating up Baldwin St:

OK, wow. That’s a steep road. It’s 800m long - what’s the vertical gain? That’s awesome. I’d love to train on that thing.

I’m still not a very good climber. I’ve tried to analyze it and I think that I still rely a whole lot on momentum and if I lose said momentum, I’m hosed. I’ve got one hill that’s fairly steep but short and I actually find it a little easier on my 29 w/150s than on my 24 w/150s. I think it’s because I cover more ground per rev and thus my momentum stays a little higher. If I lose my cadence and the pedals hesitate then sometime I just stall out and I end up walking the rest of the hill. Embarrasing. I still need to really focus on hill climbing. I can’t wait until it comes more naturally. Practice, practice, practice.

Ride, ride and ofter that ride more :wink: you’ll get stronger and lose weight at the same time.

When riding up really steep hills, do you go straight up or zig zag back and forth? Straight up seems easier to me, than constantly changing directions and grades. What do the hill climbing experts say?

Dunno if it’s 800m long, what I was trying to do was compare a sprint with something that is slightly more aerobic.
Baldwin St I think is probably closer to 400m long. Only the second half is hilly. The peak gradient is about 35%.

Being able to get out of the saddle and stay in balance has helped me. Learning to ride with the seat in front helped a lot --even practicing on the flats helped on the hills. Really lean forward, and don’t let your knees stick out sideways, cowboy style.
I’m even older than you; I get to give worthless advice all I want. Just ignore it, let me mutter to myself off in a corner, and we’ll all be happy.

35% - yummy.

If distance is 400m. then virtical rise is 139.9 m.

You’re using 35% as the average grade. It’s not, it’s the peak grade.

im sure we have a steeper road over here. i went on it today and it was horrendus.

how do i measure it to tell what the steepness is?

On klass bills site i think he tells you how to make a clinometer.

I wanted to resurrect this old thread because I have not seen climbing discussed recently. I am a beginner and I got a piece of advice that I wanted to pass along to other beginners. :slight_smile:

The completely trivial trick for climbing up steep roads is to grab the seat and pull yourself into the seat as you pedal. I have a paved trail in the neighborhood I tried to go up and was having no luck–I would just push myself out of the seat and off the unicycle. When I ran across this bit of advice, GRAB THE SEAT, I tried it and got up the hill the first time. Now I can cruise up much steeper hills–it leaves me exhausted but I do not fall off the unicycle.:smiley:

All of you experienced riders probably learned this trick years ago, but it was new to me.

w00t! Seat, handlebar, whatever gets the job done. :slight_smile:

Anything to get more than body weight onto the pedals!