Sore legs

I’ve been mainly road cycling the past year (put in about 6000 miles last year). Recently picked up my 29er again to change things up a bit. What is so different about the unicycling movement (compared to road bike) that my thighs get crippling sore after a few small hills (delayed onset soreness a few days after riding). I can ride on flat with no soreness, but add a few small hills and I pay dearly for it (I’m not even really pushing myself hard on the hills). Is there anyway to start riding again without going through this?

I’d say it is mostly a combination of gearing and crank length. When hill climbing on a bike you can gear down to the ideal cadence and the crank length is normally much longer on the bike. On a uni you have to pedal much slower and push much harder then on a bike. You are doing close to the same amount of work on both but the slower cadence and shorter cranks puts much more stress on the legs. Then add in a little force on the up stroke of the pedal to maintain balance forward and back and the whole thing is just not as efficient for hill climbing.

In my not so humble opinion it is going down that is hard for some muscles (if you do not use a brake)

Just practice, and it will go away. There are no secret tricks :roll_eyes:

As for why it’s different from bikes: seat tube angle (on a bike, the cranks are slightly in front of your butt.), Crank length and lack of gearing should be a good explanation.

I guess I’ll just keep beating myself up for another week, then I think I’ll be out of the woods. When I was 40 it wasn’t so bad, maybe a 3 or 4 days, now that I’m almost 50 it seems to take twice as long. Of course I’ll never learn to stop riding…

Thanks for the replies.

I would not put any blame on age. I’m 70 and have not really noticed any difference in soreness or gaining strength from when I was 20. This study seems to agree with what I have experienced.

lateral and back-pressure

Agree with the previous posts. In addition I think when cycling, as you don’t have to balance and have a freewheel so there’s no back-pressure, you basic only have “optimal” use of the muscles which means the big muscles (thigh, butt and calves) do almost all the work. This is efficient in biking. But the other smaller muscles handling lateral and back-pressure do not get much training on a bike, even when pushing really hard and high watts.

On the unicycle there is almost always unexpected lateral and back pressure as you have to constantly react and adjust to stay balanced. As mentioned above the “downhill” part is what most causes muscles soreness (i.e. small tears). Even if you’re not riding downhill, when riding a unicycle uphill you will still have back pressure. I would guess that if your big muscles are strong from cycling then you can can push forward hard, but the muscles for the back pressure are comparatively weak and this tear fast (it’s the tears that causes soreness and force in the opposite direction causes them most).

As stated above just ride and the muscles will get strong. I just finished a 10-day unicycle trip in the Alps where I rode hard 12 of 14 days (average 1000m (3300ft) uphill vertical and 1000-2000m (3300-6600ft) vertical downhill per day on super-steep technical trails and only had sore muscles on day 4, then after a “unicycle rest day” on day 5 (where I rested by doing similar up/down mileage on the mountain bike), it got much better… and I’m close to your age.

P.S. the Nimbus 26 I bought from you got a lot of use the first 2 years or so in 2015-2017, then sat around as I was riding my 29 and 36. I just revived it with 117/137mm cranks and a Maxxis DHR 26x2.8 tire. Very nice for technical downhill.

I just figured if the downhill was making me sore, it would be my hamstrings right?

On my bike I tend to ride with a slow cadence, I guess on a bike you can be ‘lazy’, the uni keeps you honest, I spin much faster to keep my speed up. So any chance the uni work translates into more cycling power?

@MUCFreerider Glad to hear your still running the 26 Nimbus, I miss it occasionally.

Aside from working lots of smaller, support muscles, I think the unicycle also works your large muscles in different ways. Your cadence is usually faster, and the power is applied a little differently. Also you most likely have shorter cranks on the uni, which is also a small change in what parts of those main muscles are working the hardest.

I don’t, or barely, ride bikes. I’m afraid that if I go on a ride of any distance, I’ll get sucked into the vortex of carefree coasting on downhills, being able to drift off into my thoughts while riding on the flat, etc. It’s tempting…

But I do go back and forth between Road and Muni, with lots of Road and not enough Muni. Muni is quite a bit more of a workout, and also works different muscles, or the same muscles differently.

That is heartening to know! I’m not feeling that way, as my wife and I prepare for a 100k ride in a few weeks; I’m not used to the longer distances. Or the 3000+ feet of riding that ride will include…

Also I noticed something else. Last Friday I did a unicycle show; my first one in a couple of years. I’m very out of practice riding stuff like theHhandlebar Uni, Ultimate Wheel, BC Wheel, Tiny Wheel, even my 6’ Giraffe. Lots of intense practicing in the last few days; my calves were whupped up pretty good! And also my shins, but that’s from pedals, handlebars, etc. whacking into them… Oh, then the next day, my wife and I did a climbing-intensive ride, on the sore calves, and that seemed to make them worse. Hard to tell if it was just the show prep, or also the hard focus on uphill (on my 36") that was working the calves differently. Quads were fine.

Not in my experience. What used to really work my hamstrings was fast riding (high cadence), like training for Track racing. Pedaling 200+ rpm on a 24" wheel works those same muscles very differently. Part of it is holding your feet/legs in those small circles the 125mm cranks make as you pedal as fast as you can. My hamstrings used to be like rocks! Also I remember getting sore in the muscles that lift your foot up. These are the muscles that are just outboard of your shin bones, and are used in ankling as you pedal, and also just keeping up with the high speed pedaling. I don’t get any of that on the 36" (Schlumpf).

If your soreness is related to riding downhill, as people described above, this is really hard on the quads, as you are using them as your “brakes”; working the muscle while it’s being extended, rather than contracted. This apparently does more damage than riding uphill. Either that, or it just seems that way because most of our riding is not downhill. I learned this lesson doing the famous Downieville Downhill (about 4000’ down in about 15 miles) without brakes. I now have a Muni with brakes, but haven’t taken it to Downieville yet…

I’m experiencing something similar (though on a much smaller scale) when riding backward. Just as in downhill breaking, the pressure is applied to the back pedals, with the knees being bent more. Even though it’s using the same muscles, it fells like it’s activating different parts of them (different fibers?).

JimT That’s a pretty interesting study, nice to know I can gain some strength. Thanks for sharing it.

Each of us is a sample group of size N=1 one, and that one is the one that really matters to us, but I sure have noticed a difference myself. 50s are a lot different than 40s were, 40s were very different from 30s, 30s were very different from 20s!

Call me an eternal skeptic :slight_smile: but I’ll always want to pick out what the authors don’t say about a study. And what came to mind right away was the state of fitness of the subjects before the training. Who do you think was in better muscular shape on day 0, the ones averaging 29 years old or the ones with an average age of 65? I’d bet a meal at McDonalds that the old folks gained strength more because their muscle tone wasn’t great to begin with, while the youngsters’ strength gains came more from muscle mass increase–which was only observed for them because of course it gets harder to keep muscle mass, let alone increase it, as we age.

OK, you are the eternal skeptic.:wink:

I remain in awe of how my body rapidly responds to exercise even as I approach 60. I don’t get enough riding and my fitness comes and goes.

As recently as a year ago in my peak fitness times I have often looked down in the shower after a ride and wondered where those powerful young man’s legs had come from.

I was “weedy” as a kid despite my prowess at long distance running and thousands of miles on a bicycle on flat roads. My muscles have never before been at the mass and strength I have achieved in my late 50s riding unicycles up steep hills.

Starting back on your 29er after so long a break will require a learning curve where initially I suspect that you are not putting enough of your weight on the seat.

My butt would have to disagree with you :slight_smile:

The thing about it is I only get sore legs when I ride up hills. So I think it’s more about my legs just not being unicycling shape.

I’m two weeks into it now and am finding a balance between unicycling and cycling. I’m no longer getting sore, today I went and hit one of the big hills that would have ruined me last week, we’ll see how it goes in the next few days.

Thanks for everyones input. I wasn’t sure anyone was still out there in unicyclist land, seems like a ghost town now-a-days.

One legged squats and heel lifts

Try regularly increasing your fitness by doing single leg squats and heel lifts. Add some reverse planks for lower back strength.

I personally find it far easier to do strengthening in short intense sessions than ride 50 or 80 miles for the same workout.

When I’m doing killer gran fondos I’ll have built up to a couple hundred a day on each leg.

Do your exercises before your ride for converting the strengthening to the unicycle.

I’ll also sit in a KH unicycle seat at work to condition my butt calluses.