Tips on using brakes on a unicycle?

I’ve had brakes on both my 26 and 36 but I’ve yet to really use it. I’ve been very interested in how there are a few videos of unicyclists taking their feet off and leaning back and braking and putting their foot back on when it’s almost at a complete stop. Looks pretty cool. But I’m wondering if that’s something you have to do if you have to brake suddenly? Or is it just for show?

I was wondering how long it took you to comfortably use your brakes (for those that do have brakes) on your unicycle? I’m learning it mostly for short cranks or thoughts on a thrill seeker’s day going down a steep slope and not holding back.

I still have issues with it. I hear some of you can stop on a dime or so to say. I can stop on a dime, but I’d be dead too :smiley:

That’s to say that braking on a unicycle is way more scarier than on a bike because there’s this weird shift of control on my feet and the whole unicycle lunges forward, trying to throw me off. Because of that, I barely used the brakes and I feel like it’s a big waste since it’s there.

Can you use your brakes to stop suddenly as fast as you can if a car or other obstacle came up very close ahead?

Any neat tricks and tips? I’ve yet to bleed the brakes on one of my unicycle but I was wondering if it’s necessary or is it something I want but should try to work on my skills on braking instead.

I had the hang of braking by the end of my first ride with them. It’s not hard, just go easy when learning so you don’t end up in front of the wheel (which will be shortly followed by your face on top of the pavement). That was with Maggies though which can be a bit grabby combared to cable brakes or disks.

Corbins no-foot-braking is super human. I doubt that many people can actually do that, but maybe I’ve been doing it wrong.

Unless your brake lever is super spongy (squeezes all the way in and bottoms out without fully braking) there is no need to bleed your brakes.

Between using both your feet and your brake, you can stop pretty damn fast. I’ve had to stop plenty of times on the trail due to the public gawking at the guy riding on a unicycle.

The brake I didn’t bleed yet, it’s the disk brake that comes with the oracles. They come a bit strong in the sense that when I apply it with a bit of pressure, it’s enough to almost lock the wheel. Is that how it’s suppose to be? I would imagine that be very dangerous if the wrong pressure be applied and I was going fast. I haven’t tried it while riding, a bit afraid of being thrown off the front suddenly, it’s quite sensitive. The one on my 26er has been accidentally bled by me, it’s a bit less sensitive, but I’ve yet to really try it on the 26 since I haven’t gone down any real steep hills at top speeds not to mention I got 150mm on it.

You mean the one I mentioned where they take their foot off while going, lean back, and brake and put their foot back on?

Yeah but that’s the scary part for me. I find it very hard to adjust to the sudden shift in power. Like my foot is like “okay you need X power to brake this uni” but while applying the brake, there’s a power shift between the braking in my foot and the disk brake. A bit of a power play between the foot and the hand brake at this point. I guess I’ll practice some more.

You will really notice them when you take on a super steep hill. They smooth out the transition between vertical pedals and horizontal pedals. When first training with them, just use it lightly so you can get the feel for how they smooth out the jerkyness. This also lets you avoid accidentally cranking too hard on your brake and launching yourself.

You can also try riding slowly down a steel slope. As you ride down, every rev or so alternate between braking and not braking. This will really make you notice how much work the brake actually does instead of your legs. It will also help you know how much pressure to apply to your brake, and do it quickly.

Answered in order.

Bleeding a brake will make it firmer (stop harder). You got air in the line of your other brake that doesn’t stop as suddenly, and it’s the one that needs bled. It sounds like the brake on your Oracle is fine, and the one on your 26er needs to be bled.

Yeah, the no foot braking I believe is Corbin.

Yep, doing is the best way to learn.

Dane brings up a good point, you don’t have to go out and kill it on the first try either. Don’t try braking hard, just feather it until you notice a bit of resistance. Keep upping the resistance as you get used to it.

Ah sorry I’m new on having to deal with brakes that have to be bled, I misunderstood it. Thanks for clearing it up. I wasn’t sure which was the more preferable brake, the sensitive, firm braking or the one that requires almost a full squeeze on the brake to come to a complete stop.

I’ll try to find a nice place to try this. Maybe on the 26er instead of the 36 due to the possible fall. It would be a great day when I can brake whenever I want without having the fear of launching myself to my death haha.


If bleeding a brake makes it firmer and more sensitive to stop harder, when should you consider doing the opposite and what is the opposite of bleeding a brake to make it give you a smoother, gradual stop called?

I think lever sensitivity is purely rider preference. Some people like to just barely apply pressure to a brake to get stopping power out.

Others prefer to ride where even if they pulled full on the lever, the wheel couldn’t actually be stopped completely.

If you knew the maximum amount of braking pressure you would ever need for your riding style, the second one would seem to be best. You’d fine tune it so that by pulling full on the brake would hit your max pressure you decided on.

I have yet to have brakes on one of my unicycles, but from discussions with riders who do, brakes are more about introducing a drag that will compensate for the hill you’re descending. The steeper the hill, the more drag you need, so that your legs can concentrate on controlling the uni. They shouldn’t be looked at as brakes as we know them on other moving machines (bikes, cars, scooters and so on). Which doesn’t mean they can’t be used that way though.

When braking I lean back and pull upwards on the grip handle while using my middle two fingers to squeeze the brake lever.

Exactly. If you think of brakes like a bike, where you can use them to stop in an emergency, you’re wrong. You will crash if you use them like a bike. Also keep in mind that bikes can brake, and skid. For the most-part, if you skid on a uni, you crash.

Think of it like this. When going downhill, you’re doing all braking with legs. As you introduce brake, you do less with legs, and smooth out the riding. This allows you better control of the uni and potential for HIGHER speeds than if you didn’t have a brake. Since at those higher speeds you would have had a lot of trouble controlling AND braking with your legs.

For most people, it takes a while to grasp the idea of braking translating to faster speeds downhill. That’s usually because all their braking knowledge is car and bike related.

Let’s see. I’ve had a unicycle with a brake on it (Coker Deluxe) since summer 2002. That would be about 11.5 years and counting. Suffice it to say I’m not the best authority on unicycle braking.

The brake’s main function is to help maintain control down steep hills, and to take some of the strain off while going down less-steep hills. It can also be handy for bringing a 36" wheel to a stop, but again usually used lightly. As a beginner, I would recommend for you to keep your brake settings light.

Also, if you’re using rim brakes, make sure your wheel is as true as possible, and that your spokes are at about the proper tension. You want your brake pads to make a solid contact and move along the rim as smooth as possible. If your wheel isn’t true, it will make braking jumpy, especially with hydraulic rim brakes. The older style pull brakes will kind of push out of the way and won’t be so jumpy.

CORRECTION… I was out on my MUni today and I noticed that I only use the ONE middle finger to squeeze the brake lever while pulling upwards on the grip handle with my other three fingers.

:stuck_out_tongue: yeah that’s what I was thinking when I was braking with the uni. I thought of it more like braking sorta similar to the bike but of course it’s one wheel. I’ll try your tips. I’m not riding for a few days due to a knee pain that I don’t want to make worse, I got it from trying to learn how to free mount on different street slopes with the handlebar for 3 hours straight, but I’ll try the tips you guys say as soon as I’m healed, can’t wait!

I’m looking around for some good unicycle videos that have a good demonstration of using brakes, if you guys ever happen to cross one, show me please. I definitely want to learn that Corbin no-foot-brake technique that Killian brought up. For the new unicyclists or anyone wondering what it is, here’s a good video of that technique:

This video was introduced to me by giocologgi

No foot brake at 5:24 mark
But it’s a great overall watch.

Well said. I use it only on downhills. It keeps my RPM steady, which makes longer rides easier. That’s the main purpose; I use it to compensate for hills, especially on bigger wheels like the 29 or 36. On my 24 muni I only use it on REALLY steep rocky sections to ease my knees and legs and to allow me to concentrate on my line instead of on the steepness of the grade.

I’d say for the kind of riding I do a brake on the 24 is a nice to have, but not necessary. I wouldn’t want to be without a brake on my 36, though it would certainly be doable.

Oh yeah, a brake also allows you to run shorter cranks than would be comfortable without one.

On my Coker, I use the brake every time I dismount. In my experience, if you don’t slow down substantially before stopping (assuming a rear dismount), that wheel can really go flying when you step off. With the brake, I don’t have to slow down that much. I just come rolling up to where I want to stop, lean back, hit the brake, and step off. No flying wheel, no possible damage to surrounding objects. And, it makes you really look like you know what you’re doing. (If there are people standing around, like at a crosswalk, they’re usually pretty impressed.)

I am experimenting with safe braking on my 29" road unicycle, equipped with a shadow handle and Magura rim brakes. I’m riding faster on the 29", doing it in traffic, and am hoping to avoid ugly UPDs. We have nice bike lanes in my neighborhood, so chances are I won’t be run over after falling.

Anyway, my best current conception of braking on the above unicycle is:
–Place both hands on the bar ends.
–Reach out with the pinkie of one or the other hand to operate the brake lever (has a starfighter extension).

By using one of my pinkies, I limit the amount of force I can exert on the brake. Also, I have the other fingers firmly on the bar ends. This is important, I think, because braking causing the touring handle to be driven down to the ground, and a compensation must be made by pulling back/up on the handle. This pulling-back may need to be done with sufficient force, hence having both hands on the bar ends. If only one hand were on one of the bar ends, pulling back could possibly cause the unicycle to shift sideways.

One of my next rides is going to be on the soft grass in the park near my house, practicing extreme braking conditions on the 29". I have to be careful not just when applying the brake, but when releasing the brake. The sudden release of brake pressure can also cause a UPD. Practicing an incremental letting-up of brake pressure may be important.

My shadow handle has not been cut; it sticks out pretty far, but so far I like the leverage this gives me at the bar ends.

One of the problems with brakes is: you normally don’t need them, but when you do need them, you may not have practiced using them enough. Time to practice braking.

Maybe take a look at the comments from Pierrox, Dane M, and John Foss on the previous page of this thread. Most seem to agree that “when you do need them,” as you say, isn’t the time to be using a brake.

Not an expert myself but I only use a brake for muni, as a drag brake on steep descents to take some pressure off my feet and let them do the more delicate business of staying upright. On my 700c road uni I just use the pedals and can stop on a dime whenever I need to from any speed.

I’ve gotten a lot better with my brakes. I have 165 mm on my 26" Oregon and really dont need them but it certainly makes the steep downhill feel less jerky, faster because you can now pedal into it instead of constant back pedal pressure. Therefore, much less energy wasted.
The 36er is a whole different beast. Without the brakes I havent the balls to go down the hills that I now do. It just simply allows me to have more confidence in attacking a hill. But, never the less, i never take the brakes, or my legs for granted and stay fully focused, because the split moment that i dont, i know i will have to bail out. Steep down hills and bailing out can be pretty slippery and intense on the 36er. Im sure tumbling down a ledge or ravine wont be fun either. Certainly my wife wont think so.
Yes, definitely feather them to get the feel for them. They are such a pleasure and i wouldn’t do without them now. Different from what I believed before, of not needing them.
Yes, yes— they are good, get used to them they are your friends. Friends that pushes you to ride higher, faster, braver as you go flying down.

I have been thinking about this. I have a 36" and have mounted short cranks (well 100 mm is short for me) and feel that stopping suddenly is an issue. I have a Magura rim brake and use it frequently to conserve energy during a decent. I apply the brake very gently until the handle goes no further at which point i can still cycle normally going downhill. So the brake is tuned to only aide lightly. Nevertheless it is still hard to apply when somebody crosses the street or some similar situation and i have to brake suddenly. Is this something one learns over time doing a lot of muni style riding with continuos brake action or is there some trick involved tuning the brake lever?