Protective gear and the image iof unicycling


One thing that bothers me a bit about protective gear, other than it being uncomfortable,
is that when non-unicyclists see unicyclists riding around in full armor, especially wearing
a helmet, is that it creates, or reinforces, an impression that unicycling is dangerous.

In Japan, an important idea we have been pushng in promoting the sport is that unicycling
is safe – safer than bicycles, skates, roller blades, skateboards, etc. The heavy armor
can create the opposite impression. I am not opposed to protective gear, and am convinced
that it is essential for such activities as Cokering in traffic, but I do have reservations about e$B#f#u#le(Bl
gear for every kind of unicycling, especially kids in schoolyards – there hundreds of thousands
of them in Japan.

John Foss and the others who support protective gear, are you saying that helmets etc.
should always be worn for any kind of unicycling? Maybe someone can draw up a list of
priorities by kind of uicycling activity.

Stay on top, Jack Halpern
Executive Director for International Development
International Unicycling Federation, Inc.

Re: Protective gear and the image iof unicycling

I used to think as you. But there are two parts to this. First part, the cultural views of safety gear vary from country to country. It’s a lot more socially acceptable in the US, for example, than I believe it to be in Japan or other countries that have less problems with liability. To that end, yes, the safety gear makes the sport look dangerous.

In this country, for many years I also portrayed unicycling as so much safer than it looked. Then, suddenly, I realized that wasn’t what the press wanted to hear.

Human psychology. People are drawn to what’s interesting, controversial, risky, exciting. I believe the main reason why mountain unicycling is getting the unprecented amount of press it is, is that it’s extreme and appears dangerous.

To me, looking dangerous is still quite a bit better than looking circusy. In Japan I’m sure it’s different, as bike helmet use is probably a lot less common, and unicycles are very common at the elementary schools. Without any safety gear or even shoes, based on the one school I visited many years ago.

We already have, informally, in the recent threads on safety. Please give them a more thorough read.

But those choices of when to wear the stuff can also be balanced against common ideas of helmet usage in a given country. In Japan I assume many millions of commuters ride bikes to the train station every day, but without helmets or other safety gear. So it would be more ‘typical’ for a unicycle commuter in Japan to not wear one. I would though, because that’s what I’m used to. Fortunately I look like a gaijin anyway, so it doesn’t matter much.

I hope that makes sense.

I’ve been thinking recently about choice in relation to protective gear.

I think most of us believe that ultimatley it is down to the individual to decide whether he/she wants to pad up.

However, when I look at the skating situation in England, where virtually none of the skateboarders wear protection, I wonder whether they are making a genuine choice.

Most skaters are young and heavily influenced by their peers, in their culture it is considered wimpy and uncool to wear pads.

Youth and peer group pressure is not conducive to making a genuine choice, I would argue that in those conditions there is no real choice.

Unicycling is relativly new (at least where street riding, Muni etc are concerned) and its culture is being developed as we speak.

I would prefer to see a culture which condones the use of pads, because I believe that that will be conducive to enabling individuals to make genuine choice over whether or not to wear pads.

A parallel situation existed with bicycle helmets, at first you were considered a bit of a wierdo if you wore one.

Now we have a situation were helmets are commonplace and you can choose to wear one without feeling that you look silly, equally you can choose not to wear one.

Re: Protective gear and the image iof unicycling

Unicycling without relevant protective gear is not safe at all.
Small children seldom get injured despite the frequent falling.
But it does not mean it is safe than the bike or skating.

Unicycling is a perfect sports. And Promoting unicycling is good.
But I think saying unicyciling is safe is misleading the people in wrong direction though.

I think it is better that we have the concept that unicycling
is safe only with good pretection gear. And I believe promoting wearing
protective gear is as much important issue as promoting the unicycling


I figure that the history of unicycling has a little to do with this topic. Essentially unicycling has been an indoor, smooth, resilient-floor sport. Even in freestyle, though, I hear of young kids having multiple surgeries on their wrists because of falls, and there are pictures and testimonials on the Internet and other places of people who suffer life-long disability to varying degrees due to falls off giraffes.

The recent emergence of unicycling long distances on paved roads in traffic, in all weather, off of picnic tables, through log piles and rock gardens, and the like, necessitates a new perspective.

Moreover, promoting unicycling as a sport means taking it seriously as a sport. I really don’t think selling unicycling as “safer” is all that great if the listener is supposed to infer that it is risk-free and has no safety considerations. It’s far more truthful, responsible, and respectful of the sport to say that it has risks, list what they are, and discuss the issues involved with minimizing them. Like any other sport.

I rode many miles as a kid on a bicycle with no helmet. Although I never hit my head in a crash (I had many), and I did hit my head in a fall while hiking in the woods, I wish that I had worn one and I wear one now. The rest of the pads are there because I got scraped up so much as a kid and don’t enjoy it anymore.

I make my personal choice. I really don’t care what conclusions people come to about the safety of unicycling in general when they see me coming down the mountainside with pads on.

I don’t see any basis to claim that unicycling is safer than rollerblading, or ice skates, or bicycling. It simply isn’t. If you wanted to come up with statistics to prove so, I doubt that you could develop a meaningful basis of comparison (accidents per mile travelled? no).

This issue reminds me of the old days of ice hockey when players were “macho” and wouldn’t wear helmets or other head protection (even the goalies!). Gradually things have changed for the better, mostly because of skilled players who insisted on breaking the stereotype and protecting themselves.

There sure have been a lot of threads on this subject. From what I can gather from all of it is there are a majority of cautious riders and a few not so inclined. But the majority isn’t saying “Always wear a helmet”. I think they are saying do what you want, just realize the risk you are taking.

Some of the reasoning I have seen shows no limit on how far it can be taken. If a unicyclist had died from a head bashing, the question might have become “well have any white shirted unicyclists died?”

Safety is a decision, a state of mind, it isn’t a piece of equipment. Let me explain. Once, a long time ago, I decided one day that if I didn’t draw blood daily, or weekly, I wasn’t taking enough risk. I actually believe this. Naturally I drew blood. With this state of mind, no amount of reasoning will make you think of safety.

I have a simple, usually followed rule: wear a helmet when outside, or inside trying a new trick that I don’t know how to fall out of, and land on my feet. The main reason for the rule is that I don’t want some kid to see me riding without one and think it is safe. Kids learn by example, and I want to provide at least one example of what I think is safe.

A few months ago I went to Seattle’s famous Gasworks Park with a few of the local geezers, um and john_childs. I somehow didn’t have my protection, due I think to the fact that I was moving and stuff was scattered everywhere. Did I ride? Yes! harper even talked me into trying to wheel walk on some wall of concrete. I survived and I didn’t get scraped up, or worse. But I did realize the risk. I didn’t say I’ll be fine, there is no risk. I knew the possiblities and I did it.

Just realize the risk, make your own decision and try not to mislead anyone else in their decision making.

Here’s a weird one: Today, down my block, a road sign fell down into the road. This was an eight foot high post with one of those dimond shaped metal signs on top and a square one in the middle. It was just resting in the street with the side point of the diamond touching the street. I have walked by that point twice in the last day. Yet I never wear a helmet when I walk, nor do I plan to. Had I been unlucky, a helmet would probably have saved my head being cut in two. This just goes to show that I should only unicycle in my dangerous neighborhood.

Good points, all. At the risk of being less articulate than my forebearers on this thread, I’ll net my view on the original assertion: when I see a bicyclist riding without a helmet and a unicyclist riding with one, I don’t jump to the conclusion that bicycling is safer. I jump to the conclusion that the bicyclist is less intelligent.


If I would not feel some danger in unicycling I would not do it at all. Still I wear the complete gear. The choice is dictated by liking more the pleasure than pain. Besides ,over 40 years of dealing with battered human bodies gives me sense of perspective.
Being 67 yo. I fall very rarely, but when it happens I have no control of the outcome. Because of armor ,there is only big bang and happy me getting up.Cherrio!!!:smiley:

Whilst another thread is dicussing the usefulness/necessity of helmets, I was wondering which helmet?

Bike helmets are more styled for the position you ride a bike, i.e. your back at a forwards angle, your head looking up (forwards).

Skater helmets however, are more like a half-bowl, and from what I have seen of both, the skater helmet seems to offer more protection to the lower part of the back of the head, not that I particularly want to test the effectiveness of either in a real situation.

I do not yet have a helmet, but once I become better and more adventurous (once I leave the safety of the car park at the back of the supermarket :slight_smile: ), I will be buying one the two sorts.

Anybody got any particular preferences?


I agree! I see skaters out all of the time, and even my mate who ride dirt bikes, never wear armour!

They dont think that because I wear armour on my Trials, I am wimpy, but that if I need full leg pads, wrist gaurds and gloves, I must be pritty good, and do some pritty good stuff in order to need it, and so of respect the fact!



this harks back to the oft quoted ‘the helmet law sucks! let those who ride decide.’
and we know of the many reasons why that idea didn’t fly
if the injured, unhelmeted rider takes recourse to publicly funded services at the time of his/her injury, the decision to protect or not impacts on more lives than just that of the individual

the price we pay for not living on phil’s island

I’ve got both. I like the solidity of the skate helmet i.e. if I, or someone else drops it on the ground it won’t be compromised in the way that a bike helmet might; also, as you say, it covers the back of the head better.
However, it’s summer over here and presently I’m using the bike helmet exclusively as it’s better in the heat.
One issue, which I’m not qualified to comment on, is the different ways each helmet protects in an impact i.e. the bike helmet is designed to break apart whilst the skate helmet cushions with foam- does anyone know which is the most effective method?
For myself, I bought both to try and decide which is best and have come to the conclusion that it’s best to have both- the bike helmet for hot sunny days of multiple hours riding, and the skate for occasions where you just want to stick a helmet in the rucksack and use only when you get to some rough dangerous off road/trials stuff.

That’s great. In relation to the issuses of choice I mentioned earlier you’re doing a fantastic job cos these skaters are seeing as cool, and respecting, someone who’s padded up.

From there they can start to question their own actions in not wearing pads and maybe some of them decide that they do respect their own bodies enough to think about protecting it.

Once a significant minority start to pad up, the rest are in a situation where they can make a genuine choice about whether or not to do so.

I seem to recall the difference being what kind of impacts they’re supposed to protect against. Skate helmets stop you tearing your head to pieces by sliding across the ground; “skid lids”. Bike helmets are more like ablative armour that takes the shock instead of your head in a single large impact. They’d probably destroy themselves quickly if you slide on them, but they provide more protection for a single collision than a skid-lid.

As for protection at the back of the head, don’t bike helmets stick out further to ensure it hits the ground before your head does? It won’t help you if you’re about to land on an uneven surface or kerb, but on the road it will.


Well that’s nice and prejudiced of you :roll_eyes: You seem to be ignoring the fact that there are no peer reviewed, whole population studies which prove that a helmet is beneficial to a cyclist, but some do show slight negative effects. The whole helmet debate is very emotive and really isn’t helped by insulting cyclists who do not conform to your own view (like life in general really).

I do wear a helmet, both on the bike (on and off road) and the unicycle (off road), but the first is mainly through force of habit and the second is through personal risk assessment. Many road cyclists don’t wear helmets, what’s the point? They’re only designed to protect from impacts below about 14mph, how many cars travel at that speed? Assuming that everyone should wear a helmet when cycling just shows that you have conformed to the inaccurate view that cycling is dangerous.

Anyway, helmetted or helmetless…

Have fun!


Yep, that’s the bit which adds considerably to the risk of neck injuries as it gives that nice extra bit of leverage. My helmet is like that, I’d prefer something more like a skate helmet (more rounded at the back), but they normally have fewer vents so my head would overheat. I might melt a few circuits or blow a valve:p

Have (cool headed) fun!


The trouble with that argument is that the section of the population doing active sports that may require a helmet (legally or optionally) are generally the section that lead a more active and healthy lifestyle which makes them less of a drain on health services. Yes, they may have the odd broken bone, sprained ankle etc. but what is the cost of fixing that compared to the long term treatment of heart disease caused by an inactive lifestyle?

Oi! I live here too you know, and I’m sure I noticed one or two other peope on my way to work this morning:) Or did someone crown Phil during my absence (don’t do it Phil, you’re worth more than that useless bunch!).

Sorry, I’d better go and calm down, three consecutive posts on helmets and a dig at the useless UK monarchy, both things I get rather animated about;)

Have (active and healthy) fun!


And some of them die needlessly because of that. Even the pro racers are not immune. A Cofidis rider died earlier this year during the Paris-Nice race. The crash was on a flat area and the speed was low for pro racing standards. The team doctor commented that a helmet would have almost certainly saved his life. It is very sad. He was a possible podium contender (or at least a potential top 10 finisher) in the Tour de France. article about the crash

We each have a choice: do we choose to wear a helmet, or other gear?

Do we have any right to comment on whether others wear protective gear?

Yes, if we care about our fellow riders, and simply want to give them the benefit of our experience.

No, if we want to impose our views on them… unless their choice directly affects us:

(1) If they don’t wear protective gear, might this lead to high profile injuries, and a call for compulsory helmet wearing, or even a ban on unicycling? I believe in some jurisdictions, bicyclists are already obliged to wear helmets; I guess these laws would apply equally to unicyclists. Specific legislation for compulsory helmets for unicyclists is unlikely. Unicycling is such a minority sport that a call for a ban on the sport is also unlikely. So I’m not too worried about the possible legislative consequences of some unicyclists not wearing helmets.

(2) The cost to the tax payer. This is a difficult one. A serious head injury can cost the tax payer many thousands of Pounds/Dollars. But as someone pointed out, physical activity is good for your health and therefore saves the tax payer money.

Our biggest killers are (in only rough order): heart disease (made more likely by lack of exercise); smoking related illnesses (another argument entirely! And not for this forum); and road traffic accidents. I have sought medical attention only once for a unicycle-related injury, and that was (is!) a minor one. There are many long term patients with more serious self-inflicted or lifestyle-related injuries and disease.

But… we’d have all the health benefits of unicycling irrespective of whether we wear helmets, so the question becomes: would there be fewer unicyclists if helmet wearing was compulsory? The answer is ‘probably’, but those we lost would be mainly the type of person who buys it, tries it and then leaves it in the shed for 20 years. So the effect would be minimal: they wouldn’t get much health benefit from unicycling, but they wouldn’t be at great risk either.

(3) The effect on our image, collectively. Does our image matter?

Yes, in that we all prefer to be treated as skilled practitioners, rather than “just clowns”. (Even the clowns are skilled practitioners.)

Yes in that we all dislike being ridiculed or abused by the public.

Yes, if we accept that recruitment to the sport is a Good Thing.

So, is recruitment to the sport a Good Thing?

Yes, within certain limits.

I suspect we all cherish the fact that we have a minority sport.

If the sport got too big, it would change: prices would go up, and the market would become fashion driven, with overdesigned overpriced equipment dominating, and good quality reasonably priced stuff being driven from the shops (compare bicycling, motorcycling, scuba diving… etc.).

If the sport got too big, it might attract the attention of the legislators, with access bans, enforcement of no riding zones, and so on.

But if we never recruit, the present market for equipment would decline. We’d be back to a few cheap basic models, and a few very expensive custom made models. There’d be fewer people to ride with.

So, I guess a gradual but steady recruitment to the sport would be a Good Thing.

So, does the wearing of helmets improve the image of the sport, from a recruitment point of view?

Yes, in that it is fashionable to wear all the gear, even if you have no idea (compare bicycling, motorcycling, kayaking, scuba diving…).

No, if your community generally regards the wearing of safety equipment as ‘nerdy’.

I think the reality is that for every 100 people who buy their first unicycle, only 10 - 20 ever ride more than a few yards, or keep at it for more than a few weeks.

Of those 10 - 20, I suspect that most get the uni out occasionally and ride for half an hour or so.

Only a few of us actually take up unicycling as a sport in its own right, choosing to concentrate on MUni, or trials, or speed, or distance, or whatever. We are the minority.

And those of us within this minority probably care enough about our sport to make the right decision about safety equipment. And that decision will be slightly different for each rider.

So, I wear a helmet except when performing. I wear gloves (or wristguards! ahem!) except when performing. I sometimes wear other pads, but seldom. My choice. I’m neither right nor wrong, and I doubt that my choice directly affects any of you. Each to his or her own.

Mountain bike helmets are more comfortable and lighter than the skate helmets. Mountain bike helmets tend to protect more of the head (especially the back of the head) than the road cycling helmets.

Two helmets that I like for good head coverage (including the back of the head) are the Giro Semi and Giro Xen. They both have more coverage for the back of the head than any other MTB helmet that I know of, except for the full face varieties. The Xen is rather spendy at about $159. The Semi is more reasonable at $50 to $60. Hopefully the extended head coverage of the Xen will make its way to less expensive helmets in the Giro line next year.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has info on helmets. Here is their take on skate helmets Skate helmets are designed to take multiple hits while bike helmets are designed to take a single hit. Skate helmets are also heavier than the bike helmets.

The helmets that I use are a Giro Semi and a Schwinn Typhoon 1.0 MTB helmet. I prefer helmets that have the foam molded in with the plastic shell rather than having the shell glued on the foam. This is known as in shell molding. It’s more durable than the glue on shell, but is also more expensive. In shell molding is usually found on helmets that are $50 and up.