The paradox at the heart of unicycling.

There are few, if any, practical applications for a unicycle for which it is more appropriate than walking, or a bicycle, or a tricycle. We take an interest in unicycling because it looks like it ought to be impossible, then we find that it’s possible, but difficult.

Eventually, we find it’s quite easy, so we start looking for more and more difficult challenges: distance, speed, obstacles, specific skills, that type of thing.

So, the attraction of unicycling is the difficulty, and when it becomes easy, we search out difficult things to do.

But the other thing we do is upgrade our unicycles to make it easier to do the difficult things: we buy fat tyres to smooth the bumps, or absorb the impact of drops; big wheels to cover more distance more quickly; and longer or shorter cranks to optimise the “gearing”.

Then we go out and look for more difficult things to do on these “more capable” unicycles.

In theory, if it is the difficulty that attracts us, then why don’t we all ride small wheels with narrow solid tyres?

We all “know” the answer, but can anyone explain it without apparent contradicition?

I, for one, don’t seek difficulty, I seek fun. For me it’s more fun to do big drops/skinnies/street tricks, so I get the unicycle that best enables me to do those.

Because of two reasons

1: We are vain, by using large thick tires, it makes things that would be difficult, easy, so we can push the envelope once again, and make and create more, new, difficult things.

2: Too make the things that are difficult more enjoyable, its much more enjoyable to do something very difficult, (Like ride down a bumy, muddy, rooted trail on a 24x3 inch tire, then it is on a 20x2 inch tire. It may decrese difficulty, but then we can just compensate that by going further, and dooing more, making our time and effort more enjoyable.

Its the same with bc wheels, people use platforms instead of pegs because its easier to ride but the platforms allow many more tricks which are harder to do than just riding a pegged bc. So although fat tires make things like trials easier, they also make it possible to do more stuff which is probably harder than doing basic stuff on a skinny solid tire. (thats kind of confusing:) )

I think the reference to vanity is on the nail.

There’s more to it than that, though. Unicycling as I do it (all rolling, no dropping) is dancing with Newton. You can feel the various forces in dynamic balance - the curve that is “just right”, the well timed swoop up the short hill.

On a fat tyre, you see the figures of the dance, rather than the steps.

A similar paradox arises when people set out to row the Atlantic, but in a boat made from the latest high tech carbon fibre. For the cost of all that carbon fibre, they could buy an outboard motor.

I used to ride a 2 stroke 250 cc motorcycle, and got great pleasure from arriving 500 miles from home with camping gear. I never got the same pleasure from my 660cc 4 stroke.

Maybe I’m weird (pauses and waits in vain for cries of denial from the gallery) but I find that less is more when it comes to action sports.

I was going to reply here, but I’m not very good at intelligent posts.


When i ride a unicycle i want to see what’s possible, learning to ride, ride backwards, one footed, soif, wheelwalk, 1ft ww… gliding and so on.

The reason i pgrade my unis, buying new ones (just ordered a onza trials, my 5th unicycle, started riding last fall), is that i don’t want the uni to be the boarder of what’s possible, i want me to be the reason of not beeing able to do something, because i just love to learn things!

And i ride because it’s fun, and i think it’s more of a joy if i don’t have to worry about if my uni is going to break all the time or if i’m not conftible, if i slip from my pedals, if i have to walk home because of a pinch flat, broken hub or crank…

I enjoy the challenge of unicycling.

The less my equipment works against me, the more pure my enjoyment of the activity.

hi mike, as a fellow ‘roller’- I’d like to offer a different perspective.

I don’t feel that i ride unis for the difficulty, for me it’s the ‘feel’ of being on one wheel- that unique constant off-balance that, with experience, you resolve into a fuid smooth ride; the posture- upright and balanced with no need to be reaching for brakes and handlebars.

Also the extreme simplicity of the vehicle- as practical wheeled transport goes, the unicycle is surely as basic as it gets?

And also some practical aspects, for example, i find unicycling up and down steep hills is a way of staying in shape that really holds my attention- running, skipping etc are good, but I just find that I don’t stick with them as I do with unicycling.

Given that I’m going to ride a one-wheeler (for the above reasons), I’m then interested in making that ride comfortable and relatively easy- I want to be able to ride with minimal UPD’s.

While I appreciate the reasons you ride a skinny 28" wheel with 110/102 mm cranks, i personally wouldn’t choose that set-up, one thing all my unis have in common is a fat tyre and longish cranks (eg 24x3 muni and 29-er with 150 cranks)- I’ve dabbled with skinnier tyres and shorter cranks, but I just don’t like my rolling to be disturbed by UPD’s when I go over a pebble.

Of course sometimes I feel like a bit of a challenge, and that’s when I take my comfortable set-up onto some steep/rough off-road terrain, but mainly I’m just into rolling along and enjoying the one-wheel experience.

Re: The paradox at the heart of unicycling.

On an easy trail, it is more fun to ride a cross-country or skinny-tire unicycle than a MUni. But it’s more fun to ride a really difficult trail than to ride an easy trail, no matter what unicycle you’re on, and a hard-core MUni makes it possible to ride increasingly difficult trails.

I’ll add that for me I’m also concerned about equipment “uptime.”
Tire width aside, having a working unicycle is of fundamental importance.

(Of course the counter-argument is that unicycles work against the rider because they are unicycles, so it may be “smarter” to go with a fixy bike instead.)

I like unicycles cos they’re fun to ride. They’re fun to ride in unexpected places. Off road, riding down steep slopes and over rocks and bumps is fun, riding faster is more fun than riding slowly, being able to at least try the whole of a trail is more fun than having to walk bits because your tyre is too narrow or not suitable for the mud. They’re a really fun way to get to very remote places, and having a range of 20 miles out and 20 miles back on a 26" wheel makes it easier to get to remote places than with a much smaller range on a smaller and narrower wheel that would mean a lot more walking.

I think unicycles are just inherently fun and it isn’t just due to the difficulty. A lot of offroad riding, I reckon is easier for an experienced muni rider than for a similarly experienced bike rider, we’ve got easier turning and are usually riding a lot slower, so have a lot more thinking time before an obstacle. But I still like riding unicycles offroad more than bikes.

I also use them as a practical (faster than walking, cheaper than a car, less maintenance than a bike) mode of transport, so having one that goes fast is cool. For my particular commute, it takes me 5 minutes less on a bike, or 10 minutes less in a car, but overall both involve more hassle than a unicycle.

I’m still not sure about the ethics of brakes though!


Yep my thoughts exactly. I stopped MTB’ing ‘cause it was boring me.

I am for similar reasons to what you said about tyres.

BTW Joe how’s the knee?

For me the appeal is doing something that demands total connection. I moved from cars to motorcycles because I feel more connected to the vehicle and the act of riding. (my skill with shifting manual transmissions improved dramatically after I learned motorcycling because I could more easily feel what the bike was doing and I felt more at one with the machine.)

I love bicycles because that connection is more apparent. The vehicle can sometimes feel as if it is an extension of my body, with my nervous system extending into the vehicle, so that I can feel what it feels, and make it do what I need it to do.

I really enjoy this synergy.

The unicycle takes this connection to a deeper level.

Sounds to me like there is a Mikefule Hierarchy of Need here:

First is the basic need to beat the challenge of survival on one wheel.

Second is the need for safety and security in avoiding the UPDs.

Third is the need for adventure.

Fourth is the need for belonging in the uni community where there is no such thing as too many.

Then, a need for well-balanced self actualization.

I see my own progression to better and better unicycles as a response to my need for solid equipment. I haven’t been on a muni very long but I know that the kind of riding I’ve been doing would destroy beginner munis. In the end, my splined hub will save me time and money on hubs and maintenance. My 3" tire will save me money on tubes and rims.

All of these upgrades respond to the demands of trail riding. Honestly, trail riding is not a natural progression for the unicyclist, it is a trancendant advancement for the unicyclist.
Somehow, riding a torker across the grass at the local playground just doesn’t cut it.

Well put.

I didn’t post to argue for one or other point of view, but to see how others might answer the question. I have a MUni with a Gazzaloddi tyre and a metal handle, and I like what it can do. (I’m not using it much at the moment because I have tendonitis in my wrist from too muich fencing, which is why I’ve only written about the 700c recently.) I have a Coker which I enjoy riding off road. Even on the 700c, the fitting of a new tyre of higher quality has improved my riding experience. The choice of a skinny tyre is just because I’m like that.

All of my serious unis have decent quality pinned pedals, they all have cranks optimised for the use to which I put them. I enjoy riding good quality machines, and would upgrade again if I could afford it. I’m not an out and out skinny tyre nut.

But it does seem to me that in certain action sports, including unicycling, we choose to do something difficult, then buy the equipment to make it easier. At the other extreme, there are people who ride ultimate wheels off road.

I’m not being prescriptive. I’m just interested in the psychology.

There are natural obstacles, and imposed ones. If you’ve got a really tough climb or a really gnarly descent you’re trying to clean, those are natural obstacles. You want any advantage you can get until you can overcome them, and the rush of doing it for the first time is part of what makes the sport great.

Trying to do the same thing on a lesser unicycle is an imposed obstacle; it would be harder to do the same descent on a skinny-tire unicycle, but the sense of accomplishment at doing it would not be as great. You’d think, at least to some extent, “why am I bothering with this? I already cleaned it on my MUni.”

I understand your point, which is that using a unicycle at all is something of an imposed obstacle. But the difference between unicycle and not-unicycle is meaningful in a way that the difference between 24x3" unicycle and 29x2" unicycle is not.

I’m not sure I would. I get a big sense of achievement from succeeding on the 700c where I used to struggle on the MUni or Coker. It’s an indicator of my improvement as a rider.

However, there are certain types of trail where there is little fun in riding the 700c. Certain types of obstacle are just irritating, and I’d prefer to have the Coker and blast over them.

I think I get more pleasure from thinking “Look what I can do” than I do from thinking, “Look what this uni can do.”

But the paradox is that I wouldn’t dream of following this demon to the extent of, say, riding a 16 inch wheel everywhere. I think we all find our own optimal level of challenge. My own preferred ride is some medium length fairly easy bits, linking a few sections that are really tricky. I prefer tricky sections (a few hundred metres long) to tricky obstacles.

Further to what Mike said, This year I’ve found that there’s less riding that isn’t possible on a 29er for me now. At BUC, I only had a coker with me, so I borrowed a 29er for the muni ride, which really opened my eyes to how great it is to ride technical muni, flat out on a 29er with short cranks.

Although I guess in a way that’s just tuning for more speed rather than ease of getting over the terrain, the fact it makes it harder isn’t really what it’s about, riding over roots and rocks and down twisty singletracks really fast is about speed and that feeling that you’re constantly pushing the edge of your balancing skill and pushing how fast you’re willing to go.