Unicyclist fitness and strength vs cyclists and other athletes

Oh, OK, I didn’t realize.

My high school wrestling coach once told us that building strength takes a long time, but that strength also stays with you for a while when you stop training. Endurance, he told us, can be built up quickly, but it also disappears quickly.

Anyway, sounds like your method is working slowly but surely. Still, 3 revolutions is a lot of unassisted riding for you to still be touching the fence, and my suspicion is that if you get away from that fence, you might find that you are already a much better unicyclist than you think, and that falling down is actually a lot less scary when there is no fence or railing in the picture. The unicyclists you mentioned seeing at your practice area can give you better advice than I can, though, since they are actually there in person. Cheers!

The unicyclists I meet once in a while play hockey, and are very good unicyclists. One of them holds a world record for juggling while unicycling. They tell me that I am making good progress.

One thing that I am not satisfied with, is my cadence. On the 20" unicycle my legs do not yet respond as quickly as I would like to balance shifts. This gets progressively worse as my body gets fatigued, and I start to lose control then fall off. When I have more stamina, and fatigue is much less of a factor, I am going to aim away from the wall and keep repeating it.

For me at the moment, this is primarily a challenging cardio exercise, with a balance component thrown in. Weather and scheduling looking good. Should be able to get in a good one wheeled cardio workout today.

Lately I’ve been wondering about this very topic. I’ve been an avid cyclist for years. Last June I became an avid unicyclist riding pretty much everyday and have not been on my bike since at least August. At first unicycling was an awesome workout but after getting more comfortable (weight on seat) I’ve been putting on a few pounds. So yesterday I took the bike out. First off wow do those tires feel small after riding my 36er. And the feeling of being all hunched over!

I knocked out a good ride with some hills, flats, and rollers. What I found for me is the unicycling really helped my leg strength. My computer’s battery was dead so I couldn’t get a really good measure but honestly it felt like I had never been off the bike leg strength wise. Cardio was a different story. Still learning on my 36er, I ride pretty moderate terrain. I typically ride 6-10 miles daily and 20-30 miles Saturday and Sundays. On the bike on one sustained hill climb, I had to stop for a moment. Leg strength was fine but cardio was at the max. (I do ride a fixed gear) On the bike without the need to maintain fore/aft balance I can maintain a much higher sustained effort for a lot longer time, as in hours.

My conclusion after yesterday’s ride:

  1. I need to get out on the bike or run for some good cardio that will transfer to the unicycle.

  2. Unicycling is great for leg strength that transfers to the bike.

  3. Bicycles are really efficient human powered vehicles. It was fun to go fast.

  4. Bicycles can be really boring.

  5. My hands hurt today!

Have a great day,


Is it too fast, too slow, or too erratic? In the beginning stages, my cadence would speed up over the course of 20 feet until I couldn’t sustain it and would UPD. If your cadence is erratic, that probably means you’re using your front to back balance. Lean forward, pedal faster, lean backwards, pedal slower. At this point in your progress, whatever keeps you on the unicycle longer, no matter how sketchy looking or feeling…is probably the right thing.

I agree with song. It might be time to ride away from the wall, rather than parallel to it. Not because you aren’t making progress, but because the wall can be a psychological block. I ditched the wall fairly early-on, because I wanted to learn to self-mount. My first couple mounting techniques were absolute shite and took many hours to learn. But they got the job done, and I didn’t need the wall any more.

Keep practicing!


  1. Unicycle for strength, balance, posture, and fun.

  2. Bicycle for cardio and faster transportation, different kind of coordination.

I never liked being hunched over on a bicycle. I especially despise the road bike riding position. For that reason for a long time I prefered to just hoof it.

Long ago when I tried trials bicycles, like before the 19" wheel and tire combo was invented. This was long before the internet. there was talk of people taking up unicycling, and it dramatically improved their bicycle trials riding ability.

Last practice session, I managed to go at it for the longest time ever! I measured the rail of the wall I use. 120 feet.

Hoping to sneak in a session today, as a few days of rain are predicted according to the weatherman.

My cadence control is my big problem. My legs do not respond as quickly as I want them to in order for me to maintain my balance. I can sense what to do as far as pedal faster or slower, go or stop, etc. but by the time my legs respond it is often too late.

I suppose this will change over time with more practice. I do wonder though, if shorter cranks might help? I am running 137mm. When my legs fail to act quickly enough if the wall is in reach I tap it to keep myself upright and keep going. When I head out to open space my legs don’t react quickly enough and down I go. Sometimes the uni goes flying far away spectacularly.

I am certain that if my legs responded as fast I wanted them to, I would be able to get away from the wall altogether. So I am practicing idling more, hoping that will help me get tuned in.

My ass hurts more as my practice sessions get longer. So I must be putting enough weight on the seat.

As you ride more your brain will get more “attuned” and discover you being too far forward/backward faster.
Which will give your legs more time to react.
Which on the plus side makes for a smoother more efficient ride. A “negative” side effect is experienced riders have to ride longer/faster/hillier terrain to get a good workout:)


Bravo Zulu!

I don’t think this is as simple as cadence control specifically. You are talking about your rate of change of cadence, or your ability to provide bursts of acceleration or deceleration. If you’re going to overanalyse, at least be more specific! I also don’t think it’s important to consider at this stage. If you’re thinking about having to accelerate or decelerate the wheel you’ve probably already fallen. Go by feel and if you feel you need to use your brain, get your brain to listen to your body, enabling you to visualise these feelings when you aren’t riding, ‘for free’, over and over again. Don’t write anything down.

It either might or might not. You’re probably in the sweet spot and stand to undo some of your existing efforts if you change now.

…depriving yourself of a learning opportunity (unless you like walls forever).

…but you’re actually giving your body the opportunity to learn. You’ll have been able to feel what it is like to apply corrective action after you would have touched the wall. The point of no return is further than you think. You touch the wall too soon every time because you don’t know when you need to touch the wall (hint: never).

But you aren’t trying to learn idling!? I can barely idle and I’ve ridden many hundreds of miles over at least ten years dabbling with this sport.

You want to ride in a straight line unsupported, so keep trying that until you can do it. The only important variable is time in the saddle. For you, now, this means number of quality ‘tries’ where one try is mount, ride, fall.

Look up, place your weight in the saddle, back straight, raise your arms (forearms parallel to the deck) and ride to the horizon like a boss. Repeat. Change little. You’ll notice a pattern. Change something and observe how the pattern is affected. Teaching myself how to learn was a big part of this for me.

I shall be the devil’s advocate and call that a good example of the questionable cause fallacy. How do you know it’s not the seat itself? You’re a big guy who can’t ride yet. It will hurt your ass, don’t read anything else into it!

I don’t want to seem rude. I enjoy your posts. I also like helping and seeing people succeed and can’t help feeling that you are in your own way!

When you stop using the wall is like when you stop using diapers. Down the road, it won’t really matter whether you ditched the wall today or in 6 months…assuming you eventually ditch the wall.

Being older and larger is a great reason to exercise more caution. Kids are more comfortable riding at and beyond the point of no return. They fall and don’t hurt themselves. You need to be more careful. Maybe you can try riding into the open on soft grass. You can fall many, many times on grass without injury.

Question: Are you riding both directions along the wall? Do you grab the rail sometimes with your left hand and sometimes with your right?

Get away from that wall! Losing and recovering your balance is the essence of unicycling. If you ride unassisted until you get a tiny bit off-balance, then touch the wall, you are, just as Rich says, depriving yourself of a learning opportunity. I still remember, from my early days of unicycling, being astonished at how many situations it was possible to recover from just by pedaling. Of course, sometimes I pushed my luck too far…

PuebloUNIdo has managed to learn all kinds of skills riding on the grass. I have not, and that may be part of why I wouldn’t recommend it. Yes, it will soften the blow of a fall, but it also makes riding a lot more difficult. If you were riding 100 meters unassisted, I might now recommend riding on the grass or other uneven surface as a way to improve your adaptability, but that’s not your situation yet. If you just make a practice of launching forward across flat open pavement and trying to save yourself from a faceplant by pedaling, -a sink-or-swim approach- I think you would end up learning a lot faster than if you are always hedging your bets.

As far as cranks, if you were using incredibly short ones, I might recommend switching, but for now, I would say just stick with what you are used to. In any case, on a 20" wheel, 137mm or 125mm is sort of the standard for beginners and anyone else not trying to become some sort of freestyle wizard.

That’s not cadence, you’re still in the figuring-it-out stage. Cadence will come later, when you can decide how fast you want to go, and are able to go that speed.

I don’t remember your wheel size, but at this stage, I don’t recommend going shorter. Shorter cranks take more power to push, which will delay the reaction you need, and end you up going faster than you want, if you haven’t already fallen off by then. For now, leverage is your friend.

It’s okay if you still spend a lot of time at the wall; it’s different for kids and teenagers that can bounce up from an unlimited number of dismounts and falls. But treat each dismount as a learning experience. Analyzing why you fell off will help you figure out how to do it a little differently each time.

I don’t know that idling will help with leg reaction speed, but it teaches you the power transfer of changing direction, pedaling past your point of balance (over and over), and is the gateway to freemounting and riding backward (save those for later). Your goal in idling is also to learn the side-to-side motions necessary to keep the wheel under you. Also to not rush it. Idling can be done pretty slowly once you learn how to do it. Performers do it fast and exaggerated, to make it look harder and more sketchy.

Probalby not, yet. But it proves you’re putting enough weight on it to be annoying, and that’s a good thing. :slight_smile:

I’m not a fan of learning on grass; it really depends on the quality of your grass. It tends to be very unpredictable underneath, and more work to push the wheel through it. But in exchange, you get a much friendlier surface to fall down on.

Good question, as it’s important to not take all your support from the same side. This will teach you to basically ride in circles toward that side, and have a much harder time learning to turn the other way…

I am trying to learn idling. I find that it teaches my legs to respond. I also want to develop my static balance. I find that keeping my feet in the 3 and 9 o clock positions feels strange and uncomfortable. I feel he need to get my legs used to it as well as devlop that balance control.

Nice much appreciated response. I am pondering your points carefully. Thanks :smiley:

If I was light and lean and didn’t get gassed so quickly, I would charge out away from the rail a lot more. I do find, that doing so now with legs that are not quite responding as they should, tires me out a lot quicker and bring the practice session to an end much faster. I am trying to increase the time I spend practicing, which is still too short.

I am riding both directions along the wall and both sides. I am not finding going backwards any harder except for controlling the direction. I can feel a slight slope to the wall so I go to both sides of the lacrosse court and try to do an equal amount in every configuration.

I have more than one unicycle, so I am also going to start using a different one each practice session. The different wheel sizes and configurations all feel much different. I find mounting the 24" much harder than the 20".

When my KH 20 was broken, I could only practice a couple of places with a wall and flat ground. My other unicycles were not off road, and would not move on grass and were very uncooperative under my weight. The flat practice areas were snowed in.

Now the I have the KH 20 trials repaired and back in action, I also go to grassy areas where there is a fence and uneven ground. When I started out, I flattened the trials tires, and had to get a high PSI tire on a conventional 20" rim, only good for perfect flat ground. It’s good to be light enough that the trials tire can hold me up. Now I can practice in more places.

I find practicing on rough uneven ground beside a fence beneficial, as it gives a lot more leg feedback. I have gotten up to 2 rotations unassisted away form the wall on grass and gravel, 3 on pavement.

I want to be able to ride on rough surfaces and get as many Muni skills as I can. I like being alone in the wilderness, and from past experience, I do not like riding bicycles in traffic at all. So especially in the beginning I plan on trail riding in secluded areas and picking up the Muni and Trials skills I am capable of learning.

I don’t think I would use a unicycle as a commuter until after I have had years of experience of proper riding ability.

On the wall I try to get my momentum and rhythm, then I turn away from the wall and go as far as I can struggling to stay upright. I find my brain is working overtime to figure out what to do to maintain it.

I think that learning idling is very important. I want to be able to get a good sense of going into and out of that balance point from all directions, and be able to react accordingly to maintain control.

I have been practicing going backwards since the beginning. Sometimes, I found I had to go backwards or fall off, so I found myself just pedaling backwards. I don’t just touch the wall both sides, I go forwards and backwards along the wall.

Once my weight got low enough I could use a 19" trials tire without flattening it, I immediately was practicing on grass and gravel, when there was a fence nearby. The perfect flat practice areas with the much needed fence rail or wall are few and far away. Now I can practice in more places. I find the conventional 20" wheel to be unrideable on anything other than those few perfectly flat surfaces.

I don’t see any reason to stop practicing on rough ground, or riding backwards. I want to be able to ride in control in all directions on rough unpredictable terrain as well as smooth surfaces.

If the mountain and trials fat tire off road unicycle did not exist, I would have been far less interested in learning unicycling. I find my non off road unicycles to have an inferior flimsy feel compared to my KH 20.

thanks everyone, for all your input and feedback :smiley:

Yeah, I sometimes see people take an interest in idling when they climb on a unicycle for the first time. They want to feel that they’re in control before hurtling themselves into the void; they want to learn everything they need to know about riding before actually riding. I have never seen this approach succeed, though. I won’t say that it can’t happen, as people follow many different squiggly paths when learning this sport, but I have never seen it, and my guess would be that it never happens. I learned to idle after about 6 months of riding, and only because I worked at it methodically for a month because I was confined to a small wheel. People who ride larger wheels often don’t learn idling for a long time, if ever. I know a guy who only rides a 36. He goes on 40-mile rides quite often, and can turn on a dime, which is impressive on such a large wheel, but he doesn’t idle.

As Rich said: “mount, ride, fall.”

My plan is to get the basics of unicycling, then see what Trials and Mountain Unicycling and other skills I can learn.

I saw what I thought was this interesting series in Seth’s bike hacks, how he learned unicycling. Right off the bat he says how you become a better rider when you practice multiple cycling discipline’s. So cross training with different forms of bicycling should be very beneficial and interesting. I would also think that to add in other balance and agility skills like skateboarding would enhance unicycle skills.

No worries! I found this video of the day I learned to ride in 2005 . The grass was very short and the ground beneath was hard (Dad’s lawn!). I wouldn’t recommend grass otherwise.

Most of the time I’d just fall by stepping off but this particular video shows a rather exaggerated fall.
I suspect just prior to this try I was falling by stepping off backwards, then decided to exaggerate the forward lean to see how that felt. I obviously leaned too much this time and couldn’t accelerate the wheel to keep it under me! Clearly I was running out of space anyway.

I have a couple of dozen videos like this. I perfomed tries like this two or three times per minute continuously for half an hour, had a break and did another half hour. After that, I was making it over to the flowerbed under control (probably over 100-150 tries) I went out into the road (quiet cul-de-sac). I could ride in an approximately straight line for ~50yds by the end of the day.

I was twenty and in pretty good shape having only recently joined the RN (still in the Navy… still in shape). Though not a particularly talented athlete, my youthful enthusiasm allowed me to work at extremely high intensity, jogging back to the upended bench I was using as a starting point.

This in my opinion was absolutely key to my rapid learning. The whole thing was a dance, I’d fall over into a barrel roll, spring up, jog back, wave my arms etc. Quantity not quality until your body develops enough data points to determine exactly what quality looks like. It doesn’t know yet and don’t let your brain try to convince it otherwise!

The low-res videos don’t show the blood, sweat or grass stains!

Back on topic: fitness should be viewed holistically, any studies you might find on this topic are likely to be only true under certain conditions or totally unfalsifiable pseudoscience malarky. Have fun!


If I was in as good physical condition as you when I started out, I would have done the large volume training like you did, and everyone is suggesting. It took me a long time just to be able to pedal this thing 120 feet along the wall without my body giving out.

I need to catch my breath after I go 120 feet before I give it another go. There is no way at this point I can go at it like you did, and many others have. If my body was up to it, I would be doing it that way from the beginning. I can do a lot more than when I started, it is making me leaner, but I have a long way to go.

I feel that I am getting closer to not needing that wall. For now it is stamina building. As the correct way for a lean fit person to learn this is out of reach, I have to adapt. “Workaround enabled.”

Last year I found getting on a bicycle and riding around very easy. Attempting to ride a unicycle just killed me. So I went for the big challenge instead of what was easy.

If I leaned out by other methods first, would they have even worked as well or just dragged out the process? I would have been able to train hard on the unicycle and learn to ride it at best in a few hours, a couple of weeks at the most.