I bought my first unicycle 10 weeks ago from craigslist for $40. It’s a no-name 24" red unicycle that strongly resembles those selling on Amazon and other online outlets for $75 - $100. I figured that learning to ride can be both destructive and difficult and I figured I’d either drop it to death. I was right, I cracked my tire and destroyed the pedals. I did learn to ride pretty well so far, I can go a fair distance (200 meters maybe) and can go up and down tiny hills and make a few 90 degree turns. My biggest difficulty is freemounting. I’ve successfully gotten up and ridden a couple dozen times, but it takes a lot of tries.
I’m wondering if a smaller wheel unicycle would help me learn to freemount easier. I’d also like to learn to ride on different sizes and just have some fun by changing things up a little bit.
In the past week, a surge of cheaper unicycles hit my local craigslist again, wondering if I should spring for any of these:
Torker LX 20" - $90
Torker CX 16" - $60
Avenir Deluxe 20" - $50
1980s Schwinn - $40
I wouldn’t go for a 16". A 20" may or may not help you freemount better. A 24 is perfectly fine to learn on though.
If you’re still learning and not sure if you want to progress much in the sport, go for the used one. If you’re pretty serious about moving onto other things eventually though, I would go with something like a Nimbus. Even after a lot of abuse and drops you’re not going to destroy a nimbus any time soon. I do understand that’s a big leap in price, but you truly are getting that much more wheel for your money. I would encourage you to keep an eye out on the forums here for a good deal on a used wheel.
Freemounting comes naturally to some and is ridiculously hard for others. It will come with time though.
The LX looks like the best wheel of that bunch depending on how much wear it has, for what it’s worth.
My first unicycle was a 24". My first reliable free-mount was a bit of a cheat, the tire-grab mount. It worked well on the 24". On the 20", I had to reach down too far to do it. Some people really like the tire-grab, others find it disorienting. The tire grab mount allows you to slow down the mount, get your second foot positioned and start riding in a good pedal position.
It took me a long time as a beginner before I could do a textbook static mount, which, IMHO, is pretty complicated, involving the balancing of many different forces. Over time, I gradually raised my seat, and this helped with the static mount.
I do a lot of seat-in-front riding, as well as riding with handlebars. Applying downward pressure on the seat with my hands … has made mounting easier than just relying on balancing the weight of my upper body through my butt and onto the seat.
One of my favorite mounts, prior to learning a static mount, was to start with the first pedal in the 6:00 position, hold onto the seat firmly with one or both hands, then bring the second foot up to the 12:00 position, then ride away. That technique could be performed slowly, and it was pretty safe and easy to bail out of an unsuccessful attempt.
Practicing mounting helps with dismounting. This makes unicycling safer. Beginners are typically focused on “going the distance”, and when they dismount it can be ugly, especially if they’ve ridden past “the point of no return”. If you’re already making it 200 meters, I think it’s time to slow down and spend time working on mounting. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, practice on grass, so you won’t injure yourself falling. I need to follow my own advice and learn a few new mounts.
It’s always time for a 2nd uni. Or if you already have one, for another 2nd uni. It’s always time to add another 2nd uni. Somehow, no matter how many you add, you still only only have one wheel!
Of the choices you listed, the Torker LX is probably the best for many years of use. As for helping you learn to freemount, not a big difference. While a smaller wheel is easier to move (less mass), it’s not a big difference. Unicycling is just hard. My first “regular” unicycle was a 24" (after a Schwinn Giraffe). Many years after that I switched from 24" to 20" for doing tricks.
It had been more than a few days since I rode the uni last as I spent the weekend working the MTB. Somehow, after giving myself time off from practicing the unicycle, I always seem to improve dramatically on my next ride. So after work today, I went out and just made myself practice freemounting. Probably got 6 or 7 successful attempts in an hour where I’m pretty sure I’ve only had a dozen or so successful mounts total so today was huge.
Oops. I did take a nasty fall during my ride today. I’ve been working on riding from one type of surface onto another (it wasn’t part of my mounting practice). I lost traction riding through a patch of thick sand and tumbled onto the asphalt. I wasn’t wearing any safety gear besides a helmet, but I landed in such a specific way that traditional knee/elbow/wrist pads and a helmet wouldn’t have helped at all. Think I bruised a few ribs.
Over the past year, I’ve ridden my 24" muni the most, but I still love my 20". It’s a lot of fun, and I also use it to practice things that might be harder on a larger wheel. I’m the same height as you (we’re not terribly tall), so I tend to gravitate towards the smaller wheels (but I also now ride a 36"), and I can’t imagine not having a 20". It’s great to ride in small spaces too (like in the house on a rainy day), and for parades it’s nice to ride since it’s easy to go slow on, and it’s highly maneuverable. If you can find a relatively inexpensive , used 20" that’s in good condition, I’d get it if you can afford it. You can always patch up that 24" and have both.
That said, there’s a guy in our local club that learned to ride on a 29", so you can use just about anything. It’s all about the practice.
If you want, use a backstop like a curb to get going on the freemount:
Standing on the curb facing out into the street, set your tire against the curb and put the pedal for your dominant foot towards the back, keeping the cranks parallel to the ground. (If you’re not sure which foot is dominant, think of which foot you’re likely to kick something with.)
Step on the back pedal first to set the tire firmly back against the curb. This will keep the unicycle from moving while you try to freemount.
Grab the saddle handle (or the front of the saddle if it doesn’t have a handle), pick up the other foot, place it on the other pedal, and pedal!
It’s gonna take a bit, but if you can ride, you can freemount.
I stuck with a 20" for over 30 years before moving on to other unis, and I can freemount almost anything now on the first try (with the exception of the 36". That took two tries, he, he! ) I can’t know for sure, but that seems to have given me a solid basis for riding just about anything now.
Whatever you pick, the most important thing is to just keep at it and focus on any little improvement, and then try to beat that the next time around.