Uphill/downhill difficulty

After 6 months I’m reasonably comfortable on roads and paved trails but am not making much headway going up and down hills. I seem to recall a thread on this topic but can’t find it now. If anyone can point me to it that would be great.

What is the limitation you feel you run up against?

It is mostly a matter of leaning your body a little forward and pushing harder. You can grip the saddle nose with your thighs to get more push and hold onto the handle for even more.

Biggest problem is if your seat is too low it is much harder to climb hills mainly because you can’t grip with your thighs.

Grippy shoes and pinned pedals also help by allowing horizontal forces when the pedals are away from their main thrust arc.

With hills, improvement is a combination of a whole bunch of things.

First of all, get comfortable holding the grab-handle with each hand. Later, try holding it with both hands and balancing more with your elbows and hips. Then you’ll be ready for a real set of bar ends. I use the KH t-bar on my 26" mUni. Practicing SIF techniques on a smaller unicycle will help your acquisition of handle-bar skills. Fast forward…now you can pull up on the seat/handle as you push down on the pedals, and you will no longer be limited by your own weight. You’re not going to learn these techniques overnight, so start practicing, taking baby steps.

Second: What is your crank to wheel ratio? I suggest trying some longer cranks. I put 165mm cranks on my 19" and rode up a very steep paved hill in my neighborhood. Later, I did the hill with 150s, then with 137s (I guess it’s time to try the hill with 125s). Anyway, if I hadn’t first done the hill first with the longer cranks, I might not have done it later with the shorter ones.

Third: Practice putting your seat up higher. It may diminish the force in the ‘power’ part of your pedal stroke, but it may also help you develop the lateral-motion portion of your pedal-stroke. +1 on sticky shoes and pinned pedals (OneTrackMind).

One way of measuring progress on hill-climbing is being able to ‘spin’ up hills which you once were only able to ‘slog’.

Going down hills: do you have a brake? Again, are you using short-ish cranks?

Good luck!

Thanks for the replies. Here are a few probably stupid questions.
Sif allows more force on the pedals by standing and pulling up on the seat handle. When you are Sif is the seat actually in front of you?

I have been practising riding with one hand on the seat handle. But to tell the truth I’m not really doing much in that position. I’m not sure what kind of force I should be applying.

I’m working a long ways from home and only brought my 36er with 152 cranks. The grade in front of my house l would guess ranges from 15 to 30 degrees (I’m not sure what it means when grades are refered to by %. I know I should).

I can raise my seat. Shoes/pedals seem plenty sticky.

No brake. When I upd going downhill I can Freemont and continue. An uphill upd means I’m done. Except for a little swearing.

I really appreciate the advise. Evidently like most unicyclist, for me this is a solitary endeavor with no adult supervision. Making me really appreciate the forum.

Percent grade is the rise over the run, which is the tangent of the angle. So 15 degrees is about 28% and 30 degrees is nearly 58%. 45 degrees would be 100%.

At low angles things are simple - but at high angles there starts to be a real difference between measuring the rise relative to the horizontal distance as a map would and corresponding to the tangent of the angle vs. measuring it relative to the distance traveled along the slant as an odometer would and corresponding to the sine of the angle.

A little web searching suggests the steepest streets in San Francisco have a grade around 37%, which is an angle of just over 20 degrees, while here in NYC apparently only Staten Island has anything with a double-digit grade, while some nearby parts of NJ and upstate get up to around 15%.

Apparently Baldwin Street in NZ is somewhere shy of 38% but looking at it one would be tempted to overestimate that.

From Wiki: “Guinness officially recognises Baldwin Street as the world’s steepest street at a 35% grade”. Fargo street in Echo Park, CA is 33%, so both streets would be almost equal in climbing difficulty.

The grade percent is the change in height over the distance along the slope. It can be calculated as the trigonometric sin of the slope angle.

I doubt the slopes at your house are anything like what you imagine. Without experience, most people grossly overestimate. I have a gauge to measure the slope when I need to know.

Fifteen degrees (26%) is a very steep road. The steepest street in my town is 24% and it has a warning sign at the bottom. Most cars could not climb a 30 degree grade (50%).

I consider myself a reasonable climber and have done 11 degrees (20%) on a 26er with 125s.

In my experience it is the sin. Rise over run along the slope. 100 percent is vertical.

Austroads Glossary of Terms (2015) defines it as with respect to the horizontal, same as we do here:

That makes it the tangent, not the cosine and 100% 45 degrees. However, at most practical grades the difference is slight.

I’ll leave the grades and slopes to the civil engineers. If it’s double digit anything, it’s steep. I know that much.

Something I noticed when I started riding a 36er this past spring was that the wheel rotated very slowly when I rode slowly. Going up a hill, there wasn’t enough rotational inertia to get that pedal over the top through the dead zone. It seemed to stay in that dead zone for a really long time, and the unicycle wanted to turn sharply if I stepped hard on a pedal while it was anywhere near the top. But it was a real chore to go any faster because of how much elevation it gained with each crank turn.

Practicing on easy hills helped, naturally. On steeper ones, you might do better riding them as hard and fast as you can at first to keep your momentum up, even if you’re only good for one or two reps at that level of effort. As the days go on and you get the feel for keeping the wheel pointed straight ahead, you can work on climbing more slowly and easily. That’s how it went for me anyway.

Turn around, free mount downhill, then make a tight 180° turn and start climbing again. Works like a charm!

After getting a quick education here I have obviously misjudged the slope. I can say that I see a lot of bikes getting pushed up the hill.

I noticed the same issues you mention, Large Eddie. I read about crank lengths and have the impression 152 is considered somewhat on the long end of the spectrum. That would suggest I’d be a wimp to use longer cranks (if I had them available )?

It goes without saying, as your balance improves so will your climbing abilities. Also, as I noticed, as I improved I get out of the (also smaller) dead zone easier as my foot almost feels as if it “wraps and grabs” around the pedal, and in constant contact, on the downwards push then the some ability to pull , starting at 4 to 11 oclock position. Its a great feeling when first noticed, a whole lot greater in control, which equals to a greater climb.:wink:

The feeling comes close to having spd’s on. For the current moment Im only able to achieve it when fully warmed up, and it takes a while for me to warm up to optimal riding.

In this situation, I prefer to turn sideways. That way I mount on level ground and only have to turn 90 degrees instead of 180 to start going uphill again. If the hill has a really steep slope or rough surface, sometimes it’s better to make the turn with little hops.

Hill climbing has a surprisingly long learning curve, though not a very steep one! You will improve gradually and continue to improve for a long time, even after you thought no more improvement was possible.

There’s a hill I used to struggle with in a remote and beautiful place on a 20" with 127mm cranks. After about six months of riding, I went back there and was able to barely make it to the top, gasping for breath. A year later, I managed it with 110mm cranks- still quite a workout. Last week, though, I was there again, after two years of unicycling, still with my 110s. A lot of trees had been cut down by real estate developers, but it was still a beautiful place. When I rode up the hill, for a moment I actually thought the real estate developers must have had it levelled or something because when I got to the top, I wasn’t even slightly out of breath!

Use whichever works best for you. I can climb a lot of hills on 150s that I can’t with 125s. Then sometimes I’ll go back 6 months later, and I can do it on the 125s. At 6 months in, you’re still pretty new at this. Just have patience and keep at it. You’re already doing really well.

Everybody’s different. I couldnt care for anything shorter for my all day steep climbs on my 165s, the same I have for my 36er. After a good workout my legs feel great, stronger then ever. Excellent cardio workout.

Just go with whatever feels good for you
Experiment, like keep it, dont like abandon it for the time being. Its that simple. The concept’s as simple sitting on top of a wheel;)

Just to add my 2cts as there’s been a lot of cts already, and some worth more than 2… :slight_smile:

It took me a little while to realize that going up a steep hill works much better with one hand on the saddle handle, pulling up hard. That way, I can make it to the top.

Ok, not if it was Fargo Street, I’ll leave that one to Terry:

I have the impression that the reverse is true for me: I can do better with shorter cranks. for sure there is a limit: but for instance I cannot climb hills with 165 mm cranks though I can climb the same hill with 140.
I suppose this is due to my lack of balance. This said I am an awful climber because I get out of steam quickly (which is strange because I am a fairly good climber with a MTB)

The 165’s will seem to have a greater deadzone and you can stand up on seat better with the 140s and it will feel more stable. The 165s will give you greater leverage for the really steep stuff, at least is true for me.

I agree with most of the stuff here… I think 152s sound like a decent starting point. Longer vs shorter cranks require different riding techniques:

Long cranks >=145 in general require lots of balance but make it easier on strength and cardio, as you can almost “rest” with a near-stopped pause between pedal strokes. Of course, to keep riding you need good balance skills and technique to keep going from this “stop”. On really steep hills I often do a slight pause between strokes and then push abruptly giving a sideways “kick” with the knee/hip so my wheel actually rotates back and forth maybe 5-10 degrees with each stroke. Not exactly efficient, but it allows you to keep going. Doing this in combination with pushing/pulling on the saddle and semi-standing allows for the power to do some steep stuff.

Short cranks: allow you to use momentum, especially good if the uphill is short. Strange as it sounds, it’s often easier to go up a short to moderately long hill with short cranks, as 1) you can use momentum and 2) the dead-spot problem is less significant and 3) it is easier to balance both going faster and no dead-spot. However, as soon as you go beyond your strength/endurance ability to push the pedals hard enough, you have no choice but dismounting because if you stop to pause then you simply can’t produce the power to start again against the steep hill.

So… best crank length totally depends on both the rider (strength and skill) and the type of hills (steepness, length and frequency)…

I now find my 3 short steep uphills (10-15%) on my 10 mile commute are easier with 127s than with 150s and I dismount LESS frequently with the 127s. And I can usually even make it up on 100s!! (but have to keep my speed up). However, about a year ago I could not even think of riding up them with 127s… much less 100s!

So depending on your hill, choose your technique: if it’s really long then go as slow as you can balance and still keep going. If it’s not so long, then push as hard as possible to maintain speed and hopefully make it to the top. Both pushing and pulling on the seat really helps to produce more force. Someone else may correct me here, but I don’t think you really want to do SIF, but it’s more that practicing SIF will help you with the balance and the capability to push and pull hard on the seat.

If the rest of your ride is much flatter (i.e. you’re not climbing a pass road) then I think 152s should be plenty long (but I’m speaking for myself and have lots of pedal strength from years of cycling). If your hills aren’t too long (i.e. less than 1 minute) then I’d almost recommend trying shorter cranks some time…

Just to clarify, I would not suggest SIF on a large unicycle. First learn to hold the seat-in-front on a 20", using one hand, then both hands, then transfer that skill to putting both hands on the bar ends on a larger unicycle. Pulling on the bars or seat is an obvious method of improving climbing. Theoretically, we can pull harder with both hands pulling on the bar-ends/seat. When I started using the t-bar, my climbing ability improved markedly.