Todays uphill race.

Here’s a copy of the e-mail I sent out the local juggling club to let them know about my uphill challenge against 3 bicyclists today: -

Wednesdays Big Race!

Wednesday 28 May, meet Union Concourse @ 7.00

As some of you may know, there has recently been some debate over whether a unicycle can beat a bicycle up a steep hill. On the unicycle side of the debate has been me (Dave), and on the bicycle side, everyone

There’s only one way to settle this, and a date has been set.
On Wednesday 28 May four intrepid riders will meet, on a hill of my choice, for a date with destiny.

On bicycles: -

Henry- young, fit and confident (perhaps too
Tom- in his day a superb juggler and man of skill, has
he still got what it takes?
Wil- a rank outsider

and, on the Muni: -

Dave- well known for his outlandish theories and total inability to grasp reality, but occasionally found to be disturbingly right.

Who will triumph in this ultimate endeavour of skill, athleticism and courage?-turn up and find out!

We’re meeting on Sheffield University concourse on Wednesday at 7.00, from there it’s a ten minute walk to the hill. We’re hoping there’ll be some extra people to take photos, hold the finishing tape etc (if you have a camera, bring it along); it’d also be cool to have a few unicyclists for moral support.

Everyone is welcome!

I’m a little nervous as, though I think the Muni can get up a hill faster than cycles there’s always the possibility of mismounts and UPD’s when the pressures on!

It was inspiring to read unilaur’s post on the ‘no hands’ thread: -

me nither
I tryed riding my old bike a little while ago, and oh man was it ever heavy!! i cant go up hills with it AT ALL, it’s SO much easyer to go up with a uni.

Wish me luck!

Re: Todays uphill race.

Best of luck, man!

Raphael Lasar
Matawan, NJ

What kinds of bikes?

What sort of MUni specs?

What’s the hill like? Angle, Length, surface?

Good Luck (It Ain’t Braggin if You Can Do It)!:wink:

Uphill Battle

As long as you start at the bottom of the hill, and not on the flat leading up to it, you should have a decent chance against them. Depending on how fit they are I guess. Not everyone fully takes advantage of a bicycles gears when going up hills, especially if they cant get a decent run up before the hill. Go hard!

Re: Todays uphill race.

i knew there was something beside the name i liked about u…

take as much pressure off yourself as u can, start slow and steady and make sure u ‘get into’ the ride before going for greater speed
u might find your consistency will even out over the race distance and exponentially eat away the lead they got with their lower gearing at the start
take it easy and be ready for a good second half

i will do no such thing
luck, sir, has nothing to do with it!

"Never retreat. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl. "
Benjamin Jowett

Dheers for the advice and support. It’s 5.20 and soon I will depart to meet the cyclists and observers, to take them to the hill.

GILD quote:

Originally posted by onewheeldave
Here’s a copy of the e-mail I sent out the local juggling club to let them know about my uphill challenge against 3 bicyclists today: -
Dave- well known for his outlandish theories and total inability to grasp reality, but occasionally found to be disturbingly right.


i knew there was something beside the name i liked about u…

Cheers Gild!

Memphis Mud

What kinds of bikes?

What sort of MUni specs?

What’s the hill like? Angle, Length, surface?

They’re on racers (I did suggest mountain bikes, but they reckon the light weight of the racer will be beneficial).

Muni is 24x3" with 150mm cranks. It’s been up the hill a good few times; after a ride if I really want to arrive home in a state I finish with this hill.

The hill is your classic Sheffield ‘so ludicrously steep they’ve put a handrail on the side’ type. I can’t estimate lengths, would guess 50-100 feet.

There’s no run up, we’re starting form stationary with one foot on the pedal, the other foot off the ground.

I’ll let you know the outcome.

Go for it! Good luck!

Good luck! I was going to say go out there and practice. Nothing helps more than being familiar with the racecourse.

Depending on the steepness of the hill, a unicycle can have the advantage over the bike. This depends mostly upon two major variables, of course:

  • Gearing of bikes
  • (most importantly) Fitness level of all participants

Sorry guys; I lost decisively.

Got off to a good start, but the cycles were faster by a considerable amount, then I fell off!

It’s a little sad cos’ I really thought there was a little niche where the unicycle could compete with the cycle in a speed race. But you can’t argue with reality.

On the plus side, everyone came back to my place and I showed them some good unicycle clips like the trailer for Kris Holms Bhutan video and some Muni and Coker stuff.

:frowning: Good effort anyway


Well I say jolly well done for even trying. It takes guts to go out on a limb knowing you could have the rug pulled from beneath you.

Better luck next time, because there will be a next time… once you’ve found some older fatter bicyclists who smoke more. ;0)

Or you could get a coker… you’d trash them then! (as long as you’re not old and fat and don’t smoke much ;))

Three cheers for your effort!

In your next challenge level the playing field a bit:

A. All cyclists must ride fixed gear with no hands.


B. Backwards.

somehow i suspect that wont stop u


Well, I’ve had some time to reflect on the race.

My main feeling at the time was surprise that the cycles were so fast up the hill, it’s renewed my respect for the bicycle (apparently it’s the most energy efficient way of getting from a to b, beating walking, motor engines and animals); it’s unfortunate that they’re not nearly as much fun to ride as a unicycle.

I guess the bicycles extra weight and efficicency loss of it’s chain drive is more than offset by it’s higher gearing, ability to pull up on the handlebars and the fact that it goes straight up rather than zig-zagging.

As to the suggestion that a Coker could have won, that’s interesting and those of you with Cokers are in a better position to assess it, so Cokerheads, can you beat a cyclist up a steep hill?
At some point I’m going to tackle the hill on a bicycle (might have been a good idea to do this before I set up the race!) and on my 28"-er, which should give me some idea of what went wrong.

I can usually beat my friends up hills (me coker, them bike), but they are not profesionals and don’t have racing bikes. Cokers can get up hills faster than a MUni, because the momentum carries it upwards nicely. If the hill is too steep, it is easier for a MUni to get up, because of the weight of the coker. If you have a coker (and I guess you don’t by your post but i will say this anyway) find a hill that is just shallow enough to keep up a good speed on a coker. This should slow those evil bikers down and let you go flying on past them!

No,I don’t think it’s likely a coker would have won. Assuming similar fitness levels, a coker would still lose. I can definately ride faster up hills on a bike even though I’m not really used to them at the moment.

I reckon there are three main reasons,

  1. on a (geared) bike you can choose the optimum gear for the particular hill.

Okay, given you had choice of the hill, you could choose a hill that was optimum for your particular setup, so ignoring that one we’ve got two left.

  1. on a unicycle, with the same gearing you just can’t put in as much power. On a bike you can use the power of your upper body pulling on the bars to achieve very high power for a short time, you can’t get the same amount of power by pulling on the seat on a uni.

  2. a unicycle isn’t really 100% efficient as it would seem from the drivetrain, its probably not even as efficient as a good chain drive (>97% efficiency or so), as even a very good rider will be expending extra energy just to keep their forward/backward balance. A very good rider may be able to minimise this, but it’ll still be a factor.

Having said all that, the big advantage unicyclists do have is that they ride unicycles all the time and are probably a bit fitter than your average bicyclist. I’ve often found myself overtaking slow bicyclists on uphills, but when I ride with bicyclists who are about as fit as me I’ve got absolutely no chance. A lot of bikers are lazy and just put it into the granny gear and crawl up the hill on anything from a mild undulation* upwards.


  • mild undulation - a useful word for any uphill less than 100 metres in height (which is probabably a hill). See also “tiny bump”, “what hill”, “almost a slope” etc. Particularly useful thing to say to infuriate people who are riding slowly up it or walking.

4th reason - most bikers who are any good will be using SPD’s or toe clips and getting an extra 30-50% more power.

  • ban them next time !

Leo White

Hi dave

I live in sheffiled and go to the flying teapots circus group as well.

Next time you organise one of these uphill races I would like to take part. It sounds like good fun. Iv’e got a 20x2.5 wheel which is slow on the flat but up very steep hills it can be advantageous. There are some hills in sheffield that I can get up on my unicycle but not on a bike.

I’ve done maybe 650 miles on my N36 since I got it in November '07. (Usually in spurts… 60 miles here, 40 miles there, 30 miles here, and they add up slowly because I don’t ride enough :-P). I hope I can give you a bit of a comparison as to how hillclimbing on the 36 compares to climbing on the bike. (I have maybe 13,000 miles on my bikes since 2006)

Anyway, I’ve recently begun doing hillclimbing on my Coker, as I’ve been climbing with my road bike for a good couple years now; these are methoughts. There’s a hill around where I school that is about a mile long and does a good 500-550 feet of gain, which makes for a ~10/11% grade… steep for a bike. I can get into a tough pace on my bike on that hill and hold 8-8.5, and I average 7.5 up it on my Nimbus 36". I’m very confident that I could beat many road riders (with racing bikes, yes) up that hill, assuming that they can sustain perhaps 85% or less of my max power on that hill. Obviously, if I raced myself on a bike, the bike-me would win, but there are plenty of people weaker and way more who are stronger. If you get in super good shape and find a hill that really, really bites (one where you’re NOT able to sit and spin, because the bikes will win hands down), then you just might be able to compete, and, if you’re a stronger rider than they are, win.

I think it’s about aerobic threshold and the assumption of a long (i.e. 10-minute to an hour) hill that gets the cyclists in the same gear ratio as you. If your aerobic threshold pace on a bike is 15-20% faster than theirs is when you’re both on bikes, you could probably hold pace with them on a unicycle maxed out going up that hill. If you’re stronger than that, then you got 'em!

For reference, my road bike gearing is 39 teeth front, 23 rear (in first gear, which is required on that hill) on a 700c wheel, which makes for a 45.7" equivalent wheel size in cadence-to-ground-distance ratio. However, my bike cranks are 175mm (vs. 125mm on my coker), so, if you cancel that out and normalize to 125mm, it’s like a 45.7*125/175 = 32.7-inch wheel with 125 cranks when you look at it from the perspective of “how far your foot moves, in centimeters” versus “how far the bike moves, in centimeters”.

With my 36" wheel with 125 cranks, I end up in a slightly higher “gear”, but it’s close enough that I can come very close to matching the speed that the same rider (me) would be capable of on my racing bike, and exceeding the sustainable speed of another slightly less fit rider. It would also allow someone more fit than me to leave me in the dust with me on my bike and him/her on my unicycle.

Assume that riders are of equal fitness.

  1. In a sprint, a bike will ALWAYS beat a unicycle, due to the aforementioned instantaneous power advantage (bars)

  2. In long, un-sprintable hill climbs, a unicycle will never actually have the advantage, but can get “close.” The 30-50% more power from clipless pedals on the bike, as with the pulling up on the bars to get sprintmadness, vanish when you the bottleneck in your ability to sustain power is your cardio rather than your sheer muscle. If you’re at your aerobic threshold, you’re not going to go any faster, if at all, if you can pull up with your arms and hamstrings; being able to distribute the load across different muscle groups will take the burn off and allow you to keep it up longer before fatigue, but as far as the instantaneous wattage goes, it won’t help much. So, if you can get a longer hill, you can remove the sprinty advantages a bike offers. Longer, as in, probably a mile or longer, 3/4 at minimum. Once you’re doing that, all you need to do is make sure that you’ve got a grade that is optimum for your wheel size… one where they’ll have to shift into a gear such that their equivalent wheel size from their gear ratio (compensated with crank length) is the same as your wheel. Then you’ll be able to at least hold your ground, but because bikes are more efficient, if you assume that they’re in identical shape, they’ll probably get you after a time.