Unicycling and Applied Directon of Energy a.k.a the Efficiency Thread

Morning all, this is just a question to those of you who have done analysis on unicycling, in a scientific way.

The question is: Is unicycling more efficient than walking? Is the energy used differently or spread over more of your body? (legs mainly, but upper body retaining balance).

The reason for this question is I’m using a 6m Roofing Ladder in a trials park I’ve built up in my back garden. When I ride across it there are no problems, its rock solid apart from wieght application. However when I walk across it it oscillates (bends) quite violently. This suggests to me walking places significantly more energy in the vertical direction than riding, at least on a horizontal surface. Has this been proven? And since less energy is wasted by not being applied in the direction of travel, is unicycling at walking pace better than walking?

I’ll start the discussion with an assumption, that since walking is due to friction with the sole of the foot, and this produces a balance of force not soley in the direction of travel (placing the foot on the floor, for example, produces a force downwards on it). However riding a unicycle uses rotational friction, where the only downward force is due to to mass of the system.

Anyone else have any scientific or non-scientific views on this?
Fell free to link to previous threads on the topic.


I would say it is, since it is possible to do a 60 mile ride on uni, but that would be extremely hard on foot. Not just time-wise, but overall energy-wise. For a highly-trained walker, a century would take at least 2.5 days, assuming this is not a Ironman-ish no-sleep torture trial. A highly-trained distance unicyclist could do that in one day. Both would have about the same amount of fatigue at the end, but the walker required rest periods during that time.

A “highly-trained walker” might be someone at the end of a long-distance hiking trail, who is doing 35 miles a day and has been walking for four months.

A skilled walker will put a lot less energy into the vertical. This is mostly a result of training oneself to control calf pressure on the forefoot, coupled with stretching of the hamstrings, calves, and Achilles tendons. In order to do long-distance backpacking, I had to relearn how to walk.

A complicating factor would be the type of ground. On rough ground, a walker could be much more efficient. On smooth ground, the rider would probably win out.

Unfortunately the human body does not obey energy conservation principles on a macro-scale so this becomes very complicated. Example, grab something heavy, hold it out at arm’s length, now you’re not doing any work because work is force x distance and if the weight doesnt move distance is zero, but you’re arms really getting tired isn’t it? Walking requires you to constantly raise and lower your entire body weight, unicycling only requires you to move your legs up and down, and you don’t need to use any muscle force to support your own weight, so unicycling should be more efficient.

Re: Unicycling and Applied Directon of Energy a.k.a the Efficiency Thread

“Loosemoose” <Loosemoose@NoEmail.Message.Poster.at.Unicyclist.com> wrote in
message news:Loosemoose.1qawxk@NoEmail.Message.Poster.at.Unicyclist.com
> Morning all, this is just a question to those of you who have done
> analysis on unicycling, in a scientific way.

Walking does indeed have a variable vertical component, its effect can
easily be seen in that the heads of people bob up and down as they stroll.
Also you may well be walking close to the resonant frequency of the ladder,
in which case oscillations will tend to build up, so the downforce on the
ladder is varying. The force lifting your body up and down is matched by a
force on the ladder. (action/reaction etc etc)
Unicycling, done perfectly on the flat, should have no significant
vertically changing component: what goes up in your left leg, goes down in
your right. Just a steady down force.


As Naomi said, just look at what’s being done to the ladder as you cross it. On the unicycle, an even amount of weight in a (relatively) straight line. Constant force pushing down.

When walking, not only do you go “clomp, clomp, clomp,” bouncing your body up and down, you also move your weight from side to side with each step. At least this is what the ladder feels. Both of those movements, the up-and-down and the side-to-side of foot placement, are what makes your ladder move around.

U-turn’s description of unicyclist vs. “skilled walker” was interesting. In this world I’d say the skilled walkers outnumber the 60-mile unicyclists by at least several million to one. In rural areas of many countries, walking is still the most common form of transportation…