Trials, Flatland, and Street...

Why we do it, and what it is, or something like that. This chart was Dan Heaton’s idea which I basically stole from him and made definitions for each section. They are my ideas so blame me, but I did get feedback from from Dan so they are more revised then just words off the top of my head. Although it could still be seen as a rough draft kind of thing depending on how you see it compared to your own definition. The title seems to take on more then it should, which it does, but this could possibly be added to something extensive enough to explain the actual ideologies behind these styles. I would not imagine I could actually get across a whole ideology in a sentence. But I’m looking for feedback here, for a/each particular definition, or the whole thing.

That looks like something Kris Holm showed me once, but I don’t know where it originated. The descriptions of each section seem kind of long, but they do well to explain the philosophy of each.

So where to people think we should go with this? There may be no better way to promote these emerging riding disciplines than by setting up competitions.

Trials: We have that, and it seems popular among riders, though less popular among organizers, as it’s probably the most dangerous competition event. Organizers don’t like people getting hurt.

Flatland: We have a competition event called Open-X, which is basically this. It’s like our Freestyle events, but without the theatrical intent. It’s more about the tricks and the art within them. But Open-X has so far not been real successful.

Street: This is perhaps where our Open-X event should go. Out of the flat gym, and into a place with obstacles. A combination of tricks with obstacles, to open up the options of what can be done.

To me, Street is a very generic name. It works among people who know what it is, but it might need a different or longer name when being described to people unfamiliar with the various different types of unicycling. Street Freestyle? I don’t know.

i love venn diagrams. Venn diagrams for president in 2004!

In the specific context of unicycling events this may be true because unicycling as adventure sport is new to organized competition; that said, it is probably among the safest types of competitions of its type- certainly far safer than organizing events such as BMX street comps or Cross-country or especially downhill mountain bike races.

If trials is less popular among organizers, I think it’s probably because trials is a lot of work to set up and there are few people with the expertise/motivation to do so. In the bike world you would always have a dedicated organizer (or a few organizers) to organize a trials event, which would be set up to last an entire day and would represent the only competition riders entered that day.

At major unicycling events thus far, trials has been slotted in conjunction with other MUni events, each of which should ideally take up an entire day to themselvs. If we told a bike organizer that we were going to organize a cross-country, downhill, uphill and trials competition and expect to have everyone compete in all events in one day, they’d think we were crazy! If there’s a problem, it’s with this model of organizing MUni events, not trials itself.


Re: Trials, Flatland, and Street…

Cool that you’re doing this- I think it’s important to define the styles of riding that we’re doing. However, I don’t think it’s good to include anything to do with “flow” in the definitions. Having good lines flow, whether it’s for freestyle or trials or street or anything else, is pretty much a universal objective for good riding. However, it doesn’t define the riding style; for example there are lots of street freestyle moves that have no flow to them but still are street freestyle moves.

Here’s some definitions I made up for different styles of riding:

  1. Cross-Country: Cross-country involves riding on offroad terrain that has a relatively low standard of technical difficulty. Challenge is a function of distance, speed and vertical gain or loss during a ride.

  2. Freeriding. Freeriding is similar to cross-country riding but on terrain that has a high degree of technical challenge. Challenge is a function of endurance and terrain difficulty.

  3. Trials: Trials involves riding over obstacles of any sort, either in natural terrain or in an urban environment, where the challenge is purely a function of technical difficulty over short distances. Riding techniques are employed purely as a means to negotiate obstacles. Challenge is purely a function of terrain difficulty.

  4. Street Freestyle. Street Freestyle combines Trials and Flatland Freestyle challenges. Done primarily in an urban environment, the objective is not purely to ride over obstacles, but rather to use obstacles as props to set up Freestyle moves. Challenge is a function of both technique and terrain. In this respect it is fundamentally different than other types of rough terrain unicycling because it is the only type where challenge relates to riding style.

  5. Flatland Freestyle. The objective of flatland freestyle is to perform technically difficult riding manouvers on uniform, easy terrain. Challenge is purely a function of technique, not terrain.

All of these can be quantified in terms of some combination of 3 end-members: endurance, terrain difficulty and technique.

Below is a tertiary diagram that shows this graphically. Tertiary diagrams show 3 elements as end-members. Anything graphed in the middle is a combination of these 3 end-members, proportional to how close they are to each end member.

This diagram defines road, trials, and freestyle as “pure” end members whose difficulty is purely a function of endurance, terrain and technique respectively. Freeriding, street-freestyle and cross-country are in the middle of the tertiary diagram as combinations of these end members.


Very nice, and complete.

The word “flow” was majorly in reference to “style” which I should have noted (thanks for pointing it out). In general the idea was that the goal of trials was above all the intent to get from one point to another over any number or kinds of obstacles, whereas with street and flatland, there is an intent to create a “flow” equal with the intent to complete a trick (thinking about style in referance to riding). Dan basically boiled this down to eliminating pre-hops, which trials is often full of, and is not detrimental to the goal to have. But they are to the goal of flatland and street which is based around the “flowingness” or “style” of the overall sequence. About this, if you want to reword anything in the venn diagram (thanks obie), or make any suggestions to the wording I’d appreciate it. Although I’ll try and change it anyway to be more descriptive of that aspect.

Also, I think what seperates these two sets of diagrams and definitions is that one is based around the definition of the mindset and the other about the techinical definition. Seperated I think by how I used the word “ideology”, but just to note that I don’t think they can be compared as equals. The overall objective was an explanation of street and flatland, two styles that are not as well known as others, so I’ll keep talking to Dan about this but I’d really appreciate your input on the subject. Especially if you see anything immediately that could be changed to better the description. Thanks for the feedback.

Oddly enough, at least in the UK some of the early mountain bike events had people riding trials, downhill and cross country sections all in one event, on the same bike. You sometimes meet old mountain bikers who look really like cross country riders, but can do random trials tricks as well.


I think Kris’ diagram is more concise and gives a better description of these types of riding. Trials and flatland riding are reasonably facile to tell apart - the grey area comes in the form of street riding.

To me ‘street’ unicycling is very much about style and doing tricks for tricks’ sake. For example doing a shifty down a 4-stair is functionally equivalent to jumping straight down but it looks way cooler - its got style and hence is a ‘street’ move. Similarly the seat-whip/uni-flip doesn’t really achieve anything of value in a trials sense (its just a crank-grab variation), but it sure looks cool. Again seat-whip is a street trick.

Just my 2c

no sig’


Street = Doing tricks while doing trials*.

You can focus on terrain and technique alone (standard skill + trials) or you can focus on making it look cool too (freestyle + trials). Both variations fall under the street category because they’re done while riding in an urban environment using the props you find there.

*) I don’t remember who I’ve stolen this definition from. If you read this step up and take the credit if you want.

This is a cool discussion.

I stand corrected. It stands out in “traditional” unicycle conventions as more likely to be a source of injuries, but is still far safer than most other “extreme” sports.

This is true also. Of course, when you look at the rest of the typical large uni convention, you’ll find everything else crammed into far too little time as well. We just don’t have the time to do all the fun stuff we’d like.

But track racing and the artistic events are the older, more traditional ingredients of these conventions, while MUni and Trials are the newcomers. Despite their swiftly growing popularity, they are still thought of as “side” events in terms of USA and IUF-type competitions, and their usual organizers.

Track racing has experienced little growth, and barely exists outside the competitions themselves. Artistic is similar, though easier to set up and do on a small scale between big conventions. But both these areas of the sport are growing slowly, if at all, while MUni and Trials are exploding by comparison. People are doing both these activities all the time, in more and more places.

I would prefer to keep all unicycling types together at the big convntions, but for this to work, crowded schedules will probably always be a necessary evil. MUni and Trials events can hopefully be given their due amount of time, and organizers be found to make sure those events are set up with as much detail and preparation as the other events.

Or MUni and Trials events can be held separately. This is already being done in many places, but these are mostly local, and not connected to national or world-title events. If done separately they can have more time devoted to them, but I think we would all lose out on the cross-pollination we get when riders of all types get together.