To brake or not to brake

As I am getting more confident about getting out on the trails, I am getting closer to making the very exciting purchase of a mountain unicycle. After much research and deliberation, I finally decided on a Nimbus Oracle 26". Then, a local rider discouraged me from getting a Muni with a brake. His reasoning is that for the type of Muni riding I want to do, a brake would not be necessary, and is just one more thing to break.

My goal is to get out and simply ride trails. The trails I think I will enjoy most will be moderately technical at times, and quite hilly (I am in the mountains after all). I don’t have any interest (yet) in anything that is technically extreme. Some occasional hopping would be nice once I learn it for small obstacles and creek crossings. but, all in all, I want to get out and ride. Probably in the neighborhood of 5-7 miles at a time. Maybe more if my conditioning allows it.

Thanks for any advice on this subject!

All the high end unicycles seem to come with brakes nowadays. There isn’t really much risk of damaging them under most riding conditions, and they can come in handy for the longer and steeper descents.

Having said that don’t expect it to be useful right away, using a brake on a unicycle, especially off-road has a learning curve, just like any other uni skill.

I would avoid using the brake for the first little while to avoid adding too many variables to adjust to at once. Once you have the off-roading basics figured out is a good time to learn to use the brake on the terrain you have already mastered.

If you feel like you would eventually like to have a brake but are concerned with breaking it before you are ready to use it you can remove it from the unicycle until you feel ready.

So my advice is if you are in the market for a high end MUni you don’t really have much of a choice, and getting the brake with the unicycle is generally cheaper than adding one after the fact.

There’s no real disadvantage to having a brake (weighs a bit more but negligible).

So it’s really only a cost thing. For the first while you won’t need it, so you could get by saving the money now and buying the brake later when you’re better, say in 6 months to a year.

But espcially if you get a good deal then why not? So you may not be ready to use the brake immediately but at any time it will already be there.

Just fo reference: my first muni did not come with a brake and I rode a lot without one. I finally was seeing that it was inconvenient going down super-steep grades (kills the thighs) and installed one and could use it right away (ah, the relief for the legs!). But I don’t think I would have used it for 3-6 months if it had come with one.

Yeah, like saskatchewanian said above, you might consider removing it at the beginning if you don’t think you’d be using it.

So you may not need it yet, but there’s no reason not to buy a muni with a brake and grow into it.

Go for the brake. You probably won’t use it right away but with the terrain you describe you’re most likely going to eventually want one. Braking downhill saves your energy for climbing. Yeah, a brake is one more thing to maintain and deal with if it breaks but they’re worth it if your trails are steep. Plus, it’s your first muni. If your first muni has a brake you’ll naturally mess around with it and try to get used to using it. It’ll become second nature in no time. The 26 Oracle is a nice uni!

Compare the components and other specs. It might not be the same MUni without a brake. Look at how much it would be to retrofit if it is even possible. Look at the two Nimbus 26" offerings, Oracle with brake and plain Nimbus without. The Oracle is nearly 2x the price but weighs less. The frame is the big difference. Its more than just the brake. Is it worth it to you to get a lighter MUni? The brake is just a piece in the package.

This is what I did. I haven’t hit any hills that I felt I needed a brake yet, but I have had some UPDs that might have broke something. When I feel my skill level has increased to try bigger hills and my UPDs are less I’ll put it back on and learn to use it.

I agree with saskatchewanian.

Here is my $.02, from my experience.
Following my first 20" learner, my first muni came from the Trading Post (a Nimbus 26"), and had a rim brake. I really didn’t think all that hard about needing it or not, it was there, so great, may as well use it. As mentioned, it took a while to get used to it, and to learn how to use it. After that, I really liked it, and use it a lot. My other subsequent unicycles (KH24, G32) have brakes, and I use the brake all the time. I think it helps with control, and it lets me attempt places I would hesitate to try without it. That said, I do find that as I get better, I seem to need it less (my legs are stronger, my technique improves). But I’m glad it’s there, and would prefer not to ride without it.
(Again, my personal opinion, YMMV.)

No brake needed…

Sounds like you’re searching for others to tell you what you want to hear, not necessarily what is best for you.

The brake will not make you a better rider. Even riding extreme terrain is complicate by the brake.

Yes, I have a brake on most of my unicycles. Most advanced and extreme unicyclist have a brake on what they ride. I use my brake for specific purposes only to allow me to do specific things at increased speed and increased risk.

Trust your local rider, you don’t NEED a brake. You will only WANT a brake.


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Braking is a technique. There are a lot of techniques in unicycling, and not all of them are used by all riders. Learning the technique of braking has taken me a lot of time, and I still don’t consider myself that good at it. There are many hills I would not feel comfortable riding down if it weren’t for the brake, and a few hills I would not be able to ride down, at all, without a brake.

I agree with other posters: If you’re still a relative beginner, you’re not going to be using the brake any time soon. I recall a humorous post in which the brake was referred to as an “instant UPD lever.” Practice using the brake on terrain you’re comfortable UPDing on, such as soft grass. I think the secret to braking is getting the isometric balance between feathering the brake and pulling backward on the seat/handle. The challenge, there, is to, with the same hand, exercise independent control over the pulling-back force and the braking-force (which causes the seat to lurch forward). I’ve experimented a lot with bar-end-adjustment and hand placement for braking.

I find it fun learning new techniques and modifying those techniques. I suggest you get a brake, and learn how to use it. Good luck!

I have a qu-ax 36" which did not come with a brake. A year later i got a rim brake, a different saddle, different cranks, different pedals, a different tire and fitted a T-bar. I did not buy everything at once but started tweaking as soon as i started riding it. Total cost easily exceeds the more expensive fully fitted models.

I also have a KH26 inch muni and started this too without the brake. Two months later i got a disk brake and different pedals. I have to say that i am very pleased the KH models performs. Its very light and twists and turns easily.

In both cases i did not know in advance what i wanted and got advice on forums like you did and decided based on price which seems steep at first.

Now that i am a regular user i wish i got one with all the options since it would have been much cheaper. In addition to the extra cost i paid shipping cost on each item. On the plus side tweaking your exsiting uni probably dampens the inevitable thirst for new ones (your sig “One is enough” could not be farther from the truth).

So my advice is to at least buy a muni with the option to fit a disk brake. This also holds for the 36". I am not disappointed in the rim brake, but do love the disk brake on steep descents.

Okay, another thought. When I first started riding muni about a year ago I HATED climbs. I sought out flat trails which left me with two trail options in my area because, like you, I live in the mountains. I thought all I wanted to do was a few miles on easy trails once or twice a week. Fast forward a year. I have a muni with handlebars and a brake (a local rider convinced me to get both, lol). I’m now averaging about 25 miles of muni a week, with about 4000 feet of climbing/week, most of which is ridden and not hiked. I freaking LOVE climbing and I feel like I’ve become a decent climber thanks to my brake because it helps me conserve energy on the downhills. I’m not having to use muscle power to slow myself down and I can use the downhill segments as a recharge. These same segments kill my crappy knees when I ride them on my brakeless uni and then I need a few days of recovery time. I think it’s a disservice to discourage beginners from using a brake. Yes, there’s a technique to braking but if somebody has figured out how to ride a unicycle a reasonable distance then it’s probably safe to assume they can figure out how to slow it down with a brake with a bit of practice.

It sounds to me like you want to tackle the hills and not stay on flat trails. You might not even have the option of flat trails in your area. I’d go for the brake.

I was a total beginner when I started riding with a brake. It’s been almost a year and I just finally killed the brake. I crashed the uni into a rock last Wednesday and trashed the oil reservoir that hangs down on the Tektro brake. It immediately began hemorrhaging oil. I dropped it off at the LBS and they’re putting a new brake on this weekend. It worked well for the year I used it, even though I abused the crap out of it. That poor little brake saved my knees and made muni more enjoyable for me. Totally worth it’s replacement cost, IMO.

I am just getting back on the Unicycle after 30 years of not riding. I rode my very old 24" Norco a few weeks ago and decided this would be my new exercise regime. I bought a Numbus 26" Oracle with the disk brake as my old Norco was in pretty bad shape.

From the reading on here and my recollection of the stress on the knees and thighs from long downhill slopes I wanted the relief on my 45 year old knees. I will get on to some trails this summer but I will probably not jumping off logs… I don’t need the brake, I want it.

If you want it and can afford it. Get what you want with the brake now. The 26" Oracle is a slick machine. You will love it.


Brake lever adjustment tip

If you do end up with a brake (and I hope you do), here’s a little tip that may make the lever last a little longer.

Most levers have either one or two bolts that clamp it to the under-saddle mount. Do not tighten these to the point where the lever does not move/rotate at all. Instead keep it just tight enough so it stays in place during braking but can move in the event it gets hit by something during a UPD.

Then find a hard flat surface such as a sidewalk or deck. With the uni upright gently lower the front of the saddle so it touches the ground. The saddle bumper should contact the ground, not the brake lever. Make sure the brake lever is tucked in at least a couple millimeters away.

As a previous poster said: you don’t need a brake but you will want a brake. That’s very true especially with larger wheel sizes like a 36".

Wow, I freaking love this forum! Thanks for the all extremely helpful feedback and advice. The jury is in, and it seems clear that getting the oracle is the best way to go, whether I use the brake at first or not. It is true that I do “want” it, and may not “need” it, but I think my knees will thank me in the end. And, I think it’s also is true that what I think I am capable of today will probably change as I continue to ride and improve.

Ya hoo! here I come! Now the question is whether I can wait to see if the 26 Oracle ever goes on sale

I keep an eye on the special offers page for the weekly bargains.
The 26" Oracle was on offer until Thursday last week on the UK website £350 (appx $500)

An Email to the UK shop might be worth a try.