Tips for Speed

Is there a general method to the madness of a speedy unicyclist? I’m training to do a century (haven’t selected one yet, though), and it got me thinking about speed.
Is there a trick to it, or do you just gain speed as you gain muscle and experience? I expect the latter, but if any one has a few tricks or tips I would greatly appreciate it.
Also, if it makes a difference I’m riding a Coker.

Thanks -Milo

Do you feel comfortable riding faster than you can “run it out” in the event of a UPD? (I don’t). If you are comfortable with hitting that kind of speed, buy a geared hub and use short cranks. If you are not comfortable riding faster than a “run out”, just keep training. Eventually you will find yourself hitting a pace that is limited by your good judgment rather than your physical condition.

Quick Tips:
Get a good handlebar.
Keep both hands on the handlebar and lean slightly forward – this helps prevent the wheel from wobbling back and forth and high speeds and cadences.
Use your break effectively. Be sure that you can grab your brake at any time and use it to slow you down. If you can’t confident to do that, then it is hard to ride fast, since you need a way to slow down.

–corbin (current unicon marathon champion)

I’m also training to do a century. Actually I’m planning to do a century, and trying to fit in good training. I have two weeks left to be prepared. But you mentioned speed. I’m trying to figure out which you’re interested in; speed or completing a century?

In my century attempt, I will not be trying to go fast. That energy will be saved for the second half of the ride, where I might be just trying to ride at all. Tackle each separately. It’s hard to give speed advice when we don’t know where you are. When I was training for Ride The Lobster, my goal was to be able to maintain 15 mph on my ungeared Coker for several miles at a time. Never quite got there, but I could go 12-13 nearly indefinitely. 13 is the speed I would like to maintain in my upcoming century (geared 36"), not including the uphills.

What Corbin said. After a good pair of bike shorts (not a cheap pair), nothing beats a good handlebar setup for long ride comfort. I have the Nimbus Shadow. KH T-bar is also good, but I’m not a fan of the T7.

Ride a lot. Learn how to keep your fuel up. Doing an all-day ride has a lot to do with pacing yourself, and staying fueled and hydrated. Food, water, electrolytes. Don’t keep them up and you will eventually grind to a halt no matter what.

Let us know where you are with speed. Not just top speed, but average over a mile or so.

All good advice above.
Depending on whether you want to ride your century in under 10 hours or you want to sprint faster than 25 mph, you may want slightly different set ups.
I prefer a 36" guni, but a 36" single speed with short cranks can work well too. In my opinion, the 36" guni has a slight edge in the distance races, but not as much of an advantage as many might think. If you want to break the sound barrier then the guni is more of a requirement. Be sure to pack a chute.

If you’re looking to keep a high average speed for a century or other long rides then I highly recommend getting aerobars with elbow rests. They make a huge difference for me. Aside from adding a great deal of stability, they allow me to redistribute weight much better than my shorter aerobars without elbow rests.
For all out sprints I want aerobars (or something that allows me to stretch out in front) but the elbow rests don’t seem to be quite as critical. Although the stability achieved by locking into the elbow rests/aerobars is good when cruising a good clip, when I’m really pushing my envelope I ride a little higher to give my body the ability to react a little more quickly to changes in balance.

I haven’t been trying for any speed records lately but a couple weeks ago, just for fun, I hit 35.5 kmh (just over 22 mph) with my short aerobars and 165 mm cranks. I was out for some trail riding so I didn’t have my 152 mm cranks on. Who knows, I might have made it to 37 kmh with those.

Here’s a pic from last summer with my aerobars with elbow rests. Terry Peterson also has a similar but different setup.


This is how I sprint on my 26.

The foot position is very important. I put my foot so far back, that I can feel I’m putting force on the pedal with my toes. My chest goes forward and I grab the saddle to pull myself down.

Do as much of the pedalling as possible from the ankle. This reduces wobbling and thus allows for a higher top speed. It feels somewhat as if I wanted to needle the ground with my feet like a sewing machine.

Relax yourself into your saddle, all your weight has to go there. You have to muscle through bumps by pulling down on the seat, there’s no margin for balancing.

Downturns are, I need a long distance to stop, probably 8 revolutions (this is a guess, I didn’t count). I never UPDed during a full speed sprint, I don’t think the result would be pretty.

I also don’t always have it in me to do this. To trust all my weight into the saddle and go full speed. Other times it just comes naturally.

Currently I’m sitting in a place where I can average 16 for around 5 miles or so; after that I get worn out and retire down to about 12-13.
I’m not interested in doing the century fast, per se, as in having a high average speed (I’m fairly certain that average speed comes with training), but more so with sprinting.
I’ve been reading threads involving some people’s top speeds on even ungeared unis, and it’s unbelievable. I was mostly curious with their technique. I live in Madison, so I might check out some of the races at NAUCC.

Thanks for the replies. -Milo


Averaging 16 mph on an ungeared uni is very fast.


Dude, if, on a single-speed Coker, you can average 16mph for 5 miles, you’re already in the tip-top echelon of speed riders. And, IMO, some of the more extreme speeds on the speed thread are bunk, especially some of the ss claims.

I second the handlebar suggestion, and recommend the Shadow particularly, with its length and adjustability. With the Shadow, the seat is sort of slung between the front and back and feels a little more forgiving than any setup where the seatpost is directly beneath you. This may be nice for the century.

That’s a relief.

It sounds like the general consensus is that I’ll need a handlebar for a comfortable century. It’s funny, I considered ordering one when I first got my Coker, but I wanted to wait and see what my preference would be after getting comfortable. Sounds like the Shadow is a good choice. I’ll look around, see if there’s any others that would fit my needs.
I’m also considering getting an air saddle. The adjustability seems handy. I have the standard Velo Gel Saddle, and it works, but after about an hour straight on the saddle I start to get uncomfortable and rather numb. I think that’s pretty standard though, and to be expected. I doubt it’ll get any better with a different saddle. Would a new saddle even be worth it?

Thanks. -Milo


I really think that adding a handlebar will do more for saddle comfort than changing your saddle and also strongly discourage you from thinking that an air saddle is the way to go for long road rides. Soft saddles are great for MUni etc, but you want a firm properly shaped saddle for the road to minimize pressure where you don’t want it.

One thing that helped me up my average cruising speed was to do some “wind sprints,” basically going as fast as I could for short bursts which eventually got longer over time.

Once you get more comfortable going faster for those short bursts you get more comfortable riding faster sustained speeds and don’t have to hold yourself bask as much on the downhills.

I like the Shadow, or the T-bar. I think the Shadow gives you more flexibility in length and position.

I’m going to recommend against the air saddle. Those are great for shorter rides, but they equalize the pressure over your entire crotch region, which is not an improvement for long rides. My two favorite saddles for long rides are the Nimbus Gel, or the KH Freeride. I’m still trying to figure out which one I prefer for my upcoming century. The KH has a channel down the center, which is good for keeping pressure off that center area. But it has seams along the top edges, which is where my crotch always gets its little sore spots on really long rides. I’ll switch back to it for this weekend though, after the 54-mile ride I did last week…

The fastest and most comfort with which I’d ever done a century on an Unguni was on a regular seat with plastic handle.

I don’t think it makes nearly as much difference as having short cranks (use the shortest ones you are comfortable with). That helps in terms of crotch comfort.

I’d rather sit on the seatpost than ride an air-saddle, but some people swear by it. I reckon the new KH Slim saddles or the Impact Naomi are the best for distance.

Here are some speed tips I’d ridden up a few years ago:

Good luck for your ride!

I think JF has said that in his track racing days, he would practice prints on a 20 w/ 150’s and ankle weights.

The smaller wheel kept the speed down for UPD’s, the 150’s got him used to that length, and both forced him to pedal so that wobble is reduced.

Ride a lot. Nothing is a substitute for doing lots of it. I can no longer even reach the speed I used to average, because I don’t ride as much as I used to.

Woah! Nope, same setup, just added the weights. That’s a 24" wheel with 125mm cranks. Useful for sprints, probably not useful for much beyond a mile or two of speed/racing. They helped me set records for the 1600m as well as the 100m of their day.

Naturally if you ride with weights you will wobble more, but it may reduce your overall wobble after you take them off. I used to wear them on the way to the track, for warm-up riding, then for four laps as fast as I could. Then leave them on for some 100m runs, but take them off and then do some more. The hard part then was pushing the limit of pedaling speed. You have to know exactly where it is to know if you’re there, which means UPDs.

I don’t recommend doing that with larger wheels, as your UPD speed may be faster than your run-out speed!

Yesterday (the 25th) I installed a bike computer on my uni. Around noon I reached 20.07 km/h during a short sprint with my 26"/100mm setup. In the evening (about 4 hours ago) I tried to reach that speed again and had my first UPD during a sprint.

It was that kind of UPD I wasn’t able to run out.

I caught most of the fall with my (bare) hands. They lost a layer of skin or two, but apparently all the windsurfing scaring pays off. The chafing didn’t penetrate to the flesh, i.e. no blood, no pain. Unlike my left elbow and knee.

It was a very violent crash. Now that I look closer I’m surprised the damage is so minimal.

Ouch! I don’t want to think about what it would be like falling from a 36er sprint badly.
I’ve decided to practice sprints almost exclusively from my 20 or 26". They are crappy, but they’ll do for sprinting.

Oh yah, and wear gloves/wrist guards and a helmet when practicing sprints.

If you feel completely in control you are not pushing your limits.

Well, at least I got it close:p

I think this would be good for boosting general comfort at high speed. Use the same length cranks you usually do on your big wheel, w/ the wheel sized down enough so you can easily run out the UPD’s.