I’ve been riding for 11 months now, and I’m ready to occasionally trade in my bike commute for a unicycle commute. For the seasoned commuters out there, is there any advice or warning before I give this a go?
I’m gonna take my 27.5er and ride exclusively on multi-use pathways. So I’ll have to navigate thru bumpy asphalt, pedestrians, and cyclists. I think I’m ready now because I can actually turn my head and shoulder check while riding straight, which is a must have skill while cycling, and one I’ve become comfortable doing on the unicycle recently.
I’d say just bring a few tools and patches in a saddle bag or something as commuting probably means you’re gonna be a ways away from home if something loosens up or breaks. On the other hand, if you have had the uni a while and trust it just go for it, that has served me well plenty of times before.
I’m a big proponent of route familiarization. It might not relate to this commute but can always be useful at later dates for other commutes (grocery, liquor store, smoothie shop). By this is mean think of the major issues the route could pose vs another route. For instance:
-lack of bike path
-how busy is the road
-how many traffic lights one way vs another. How long are those traffic lights normally? Are you approaching from a direction with a favorable light length to avoid having to stop and start a bunch? Is there anything I can hold onto while stopped at light?
-What are some last second/in the moment changes I can make in the event of an emergency? For instance, part of my commute involves getting across a road that is reliant on cars not being there otherwise I have to get off and wait (which is annoying). I’ve learned I can hook a left to avoid the light, ride in a bike lane, ride to a central turning lane, and then move across the road to another bike lane when it’s safe.
It sounds really esoteric and specific but the knowledge of these little things are sometimes the difference between “I feel comfortable riding there” vs “Oh forget it, I’ll take the car because that one area is really annoying”
Unicycling is a lot about building confidence and if you can be confident in your route knowledge as well as your abilities, it can help you feel more comfortable commuting more and more to different locations.
Assuming that it wasn’t creepy to look into your location and notice you’re in the Boston area I can say that dealing with the bustle of the Chuck path/esplanade, Alewife bike path near Somerville, and I think they’re even extending the path near Fresh Pond, certainly is a bit easier without dealing with the traffic and fast moving cars on the narrow roads.
Obviously more lights as you approach intersections in Watertown, Cambridge, major Squares and stuff but also plenty of light posts, telephone poles, fences, walls, parked cars to help get on if needed. Also plenty of people staring at you so hopefully you don’t get stage fright like I do and have to run away to an abandoned alley to remount after crossing a road.
Can confirm. I sold all my bikes at the start of covid and now get around exclusively on a 29" and can manage 14-16kmh average on it with 100mm cranks. So it’s a bit slower than the bike but much more portable.
Since you already bone commute, how far is your ride? What is the terrain like? What is your weather like where you are (ie snow in winter)? I rode last winter with some transit mixed in to skip the on road sections and just use the bike baths.
Do you have any specific questions your looking for answers too? Also the more you ride the faster you’ll get.
Do you ride in Boston? I’m mostly riding along Charles River bike path from one end of Cambridge to the other. Sometimes I cross over to the Boston side for a bit of variety. Going on the road is a whole nother level (and a bit quicker, but its thru mass ave Havard Sq–Central), I’ve done it once or twice, but for now I don’t think I can start a long work day riding on the road.
I’d like to also point out that there are always small things that I never anticipated when unicycle commuting. It’s exhausting to plan for some of these things, sometimes down to if the shoes you wear will be consistent because sole length could influence overall seat height. If you’re wearing a backpack, how heavy is it? Are you comfortable riding with it? Does it shift around as you ride? Will it affect your balance?
I don’t ride in Boston anymore as I no longer live there but if you’re just going on the Chuck path for a bit then just be aware of how long it takes to get from A to B and plan accordingly. The beauty of the Chuck path is you’re either going directly into a headwind or have a nice tailwind. Or somehow always just a headwind. Some of those roads have some gnarly potholes and cars love running yellow lights but you probably already know that. However, cars seem to have a 50/50 chance of either continuing on business as usual or being so confused as to whether or not you (the unicycler) will disrupt the entire flow of the entire road that they come to a complete stop, obey all stop signs, and usually give you right of way as if they were the deer and you were the headlights.
It can actually get really annoying if you already calculated ten steps ahead as to how fast you can ride to make a light, what zigzag pattern you’ll make for a quick U-turn or to go around a car, or are trying to idle to obey a stop sign.
That’s a very god point about cars being confused as to how to treat a unicyclist. I find it nice when they just go and get out of my way rather than stopping and by then I’m idling and waving them on or just continuing and they realize I’m not going super fast and then go and stop and it’s a standstill for everyone and ruins the flow. I’ve started just sending it and seems to be working well, not nearly as many awkward moments deciding who should go.
@johnsjaunts & @Unigoof, thanks for the tips. For the very few times I’ve unicycled on the road (each time for one block at most), cars gave me all the room they could, sometimes all the way in the opposite lane. You’d never get that much space from cars if you were on a bike. That said I’m staying to bike/ped paths for now. Freemounting at lights and dealing with bike-lane dangers (dooring, cars parked in bike lane, cars right hooking) is a bit too much for me to handle on one wheel.
Used to commute to work exclusively on 2 wheels for the last 2 decades. Now I commute via 36" geared unicycle. I did try a 29" early on and it can be viable but a 36" is much better for speed. Most people have covered all the important parts.
Intersections are probably the trickiest part and until you get a feel for the timing of the traffic lights look for poles. Every intersection has a pole you can grab and hold on to. Press the pedestrian button if it has one. You don’t want to be free mounting at intersections unless you have over 98% success rate. Even still I prefer to hold on and have a breather and if you do come off before it you can use poles to mount effortlessly.
Riding with traffic is quite similar to riding a bike and requires good nerves to have cars whizzing past you. Yes you do stand out more on a unicycle but there’s still car drivers that just don’t care and last week I had a truck pass me with less then one foot of clearance. In saying that you want to ride predictably. Preferably with the traffic and use your arms to indicate when you are turning.
I commute also. Strava says about 800 miles so far this year. It’s 2 miles to the office, but I usually add a mile or two to have a ride time of 20 minutes minimum.
I ride a 29" and it works great for me, just fitting in my small rental office. I use a backpack with my computer and lunch in it. I have a water bottle in the rack on my handle. I have a few red flashers on the back - on my helmet, backpack, and unicycle frame. My daughter gave me lights for the wheel, but they are only seen from the side. I have a NiteRider light on the front because my 62-year-old eyes aren’t so good at night. It’s a great, bright light and warns when the battery is getting low. I also have a small white flasher light on the front. At night, I wear a yellow vest with reflective patches on it. Yet, the backpack covers most of it in the rear.
There aren’t any bike paths on my route unless I go out of the way, so I’m on the road with cars. I ride side streets as much as possible to avoid traffic. After seeing many drivers go past me while looking at their phones, I made a change. Recently, I have started riding on the left side, therefore opposing the cars, for much of the ride. That way I can see the cars coming and jump off if they are too close. No, I haven’t had to do that yet, but it gives me peace of mind. Some cars seem to not see me until they are very close. One problem with riding on that side is that cars turning onto the road aren’t looking for a cyclist coming in their lane.
Finally, I occasionally get the car honk that can startle me. I know that most times the driver is just honking to kind of say “Cool”, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why they think it’s a good idea.
I get a lot of honks too but most of the time I’m riding sidewalk or subdivisions so no real danger there. Usually there’s a few people in the car that’s honking and they are all waving and kind of freaking out so I can see how it would be a little unnerving if your close to one of those dangermobiles.
Well folks I did it! Today was urban bike path only with lots of stop lights and crossings. 6 mi in one hour. Thanks for all the advice. Three things caught me by surprise.
The amount of walking I’d be doing. I can free mount 85% of the time and it takes focus. There’s a stretch of bike paths with multiple lights in a row. Mounting was a bit of a gamble since I might have to dismount quite soon, so I ended up walking those few blocks. There were no good fence/posts to hold myself up there.
Free mounting in bike/ped traffic is stressful. Each time I had to do a few shoulder checks to make sure no one is approaching behind me, or wait for them to pass first.
The kind of rough asphalt that will make you mildy annoyed on two wheels will make you sweat like a pig on a unicycle. Some parts were like a muni ride, and that kinda rise in heart rate is not something I want on a commute. So I’ll try and see if I can find a detour to avoid those.