Hello, all. New to this site and new to the sport. I’m planning on getting a unicycle and doing the Ragbrai 2012. For those who don’t know it’s a trip across the state of Iowa and lasts a week. Never done it before, so I can’t offer much in the way of detail.
My question is simple. Which unicycle do you all recommend and what size wheel? So you can best answer this question, here’s a little about me. I’m 6’2”, 185 LB, narrow body frame, and moderately muscular. I typically ride w/ a cadence of 85 – 95 when on a bike. I’ve raced road bikes, mtn bikes, single-speed mtn bike, and I’ve done several tours of several days. It may surprise you to know that even though I’m planning a week-long trip on a unicycle, I’ve never ridden one. I’ve never even attempted it. I’m accustomed, though, to pretty intensive training and I’m willing to put in the work—both in terms of conditioning and skill to ride the unicycle.
I’d say that you should get a nice light 26" unicycle to learn on, and a 36 to tour. In the beginning riding a unicycle seems a bit like you’re breaking the laws of physics. Starting on a large wheel suitable for RAGBRAI would be challenging to say the least. Even a 26" wheel is larger than commonly recommended for a first uni, but since you plan on going up to the larger wheel it seems like a good stepping stone.
Once you graduate to the larger wheel you will probably want to learn to ride it with short cranks that spin more efficiently. I found that 125’s were a good length that allowed good spin without losing control. I know some people ride 36’ers with 100’s but that’s too short for me. 140’s became my favorite all purpose cranks. They are marginally slower than the 125’s and offer better torque for climbing and idling.
Your goal is ambitious, but possible with sufficient training. The biggest problem you’ll have is that you lack basic unicycle skills, and you’ll need to work hard to get those to the point where you’re able to ride efficiently for long distances on a big wheel. Three 75+ mile days in a row, in the midst of 7 riding days, is a grueling experience on a uni even for accomplished riders.
There’s no question that you want a 36" wheel for this ride; the only question is whether you are willing to drop $2000+ on a Schlumpf-equipped 36". The 36" Schlumpf is clearly the best setup for RAGBRAI, but high gear has a pretty steep learning curve, and it’s a lot to spend unless you’re thinking this will be a lifelong avocation.
I would start with learning on a normal-sized wheel (20" or 24"), and then getting an ungeared 36" with 150mm cranks to start with. For most people it takes 10 hours or so to learn to ride at all, and then it will be many hours after that before you’re not massively inefficient in your riding.
If you commit to learning on the small wheel within a couple of weeks, and then doing at least 2-3 significant rides of increasing distance on the big wheel a week, you could be ready for a long tour by July. You’ll have to push yourself, though, because the skills you have from biking don’t transfer, other than baseline stuff like leg strength and cardio. It’s a lot different than switching between road and mountain biking.
I second the advice you have already have received: learn on a 24" and do the ride on a 36" with moderate length cranks.
I would not recommend a Schlumpf (geared hub). There is a learning curve for them, and I do not think you will have time to become comfortable by this summer. It might be a good option for summer 2013.
I have put 800+ miles on my 36" Schlumpf, and I am getting comfortable on it, but I still have a ways to go.
It’d be tough to accuire the 36" skills to a strong level by then, but doable if you REALLY work at it. Everybody aquires skills at a different pace, so if you turn out to be a slow learner (like me) being ready for this ride may be undoable no matter how hard you practice. 2013 is WAY more realistic.
I’d get a 24 + some shorter cranks. Master roll back and static mounts w/ each leg and hopping so they are no brainers and good at idling. Then the 36. Get comfortable riding then work on your mounts (tough on the 36). When they get easy, work on doing it well when you’re tired and on hills.
You’ll have to be really on top of it w/ progressing your 36er skills to be ready for the ride. You wouldn’t want to get out on the ride, UPD or take a break and be unable to remount.
A 36" w/ a brake will make less work for your legs on moderate to steep decents. 150 cranks or even longer would be great for getting comfortable on the big wheel, but shorter cranks may be better for the ride.
It’s a recreational ride, not a race, and the daily distances are akin to those of most Uni Tours (Vietnam, Laos, etc.). The longest daily ride is 84.8 miles, the shortest is 42.2 miles. Total mileage is 471.1
Iowa is pretty flat overall, but the total climb is 16, 125’.
A unicyclist definitely needs to be trained for it. a regular 36" wheel can do it.
A hat and sunblock is also very important as well as a camelback filled with water.
It gives a good idea for what you might expect for average mph. If you can average 10mph you’re looking at almost 50 hours in the saddle. It’s spread out over 7 days? Yeah, I guess it’s doable - it’s going to hurt.
I live in Iowa and have done some of RAGBRAI on road bike (doing the whole thing this year). It is surprisingly hilly and in parts quite steep (despite popular belief). There are always a few dudes on 36ers every year on the route, but, unfortunately, I have never run into them. It is certainly possible - but there are some long days that get up near 80 - 100 miles. But you would easily get help if you needed. It is a great event, and is a ton of fun - I say go for it and ask for a lift when you get tired. There are trucks / buses running all day past the riders - they are always willing to give someone a ride if needed.
Best wishes on a significant personal challenge! Once you learn to ride on a 24, and move up to a 36, then shorten the cranks for speed and efficiency, you will learn that the hardest part of distance riding is being able to stay in the seat for extended distance. I am not talking about falling off, I am talking about conditioning and experiencing your sit-parts to bear the load on a unicycle seat for long periods of time. Figure out early what seat works best for you and get used to it. For most of the distance riding I do, I like the KH Freeride seat. Good luck and keep us advised, this is an ambitious undertaking…being able to freemount will be a critical skill also.
I think learning anything except the static mount is a waste of time. He’ll never use the roll-back mount or idle during the event, and after 10 years I’ve never bothered to get good at wrong-foot mounting. As much training as possible should be put into riding the 36" in the forward direction, which is what he’ll be spending approximately 50 hours doing.
What an ambitious goal! Please keep us posted as to your progress, you’ll be an interesting “test case” many future unicyclists could learn from!
Along with others, I recommend getting a cheap 24" uni from eBay or elsewhere. Crank length doesn’t matter for that one, it’s just for learning to ride. Get comfortable mounting, riding, turning, stopping. You can keep practicing with it even after you get the 36", because the skills will translate.
Get your 36" and start with the “stock” cranks or 150s. Those will help you get used to it. Start riding hills to get used to doing that. Your best size for RAGBRAI is probably going to be 125. For a flatter ride you could go shorter, but that’s probably pushing it as it is. When you first switch to the 125s you may feel like it’s not enough control, but give it time. 125 is plenty long on flat ground, though it may be sketchy going down some of the longer or steeper hills. Get a brake if you want, but it’s just for going downhill.
In other words, Iowa isn’t the mountains, but it ain’t flat either. Like Nova Scotia, it can get pretty lumpy!
If you’re an experienced road rider (on bikes), you may have clip-in pedals. I don’t recommend them for unicycles, especially in your first months of riding. You’re going to eat pavement if you use them before you’re ready. I’ll never use them but I know a tiny percentage of riders that do.
Get a handlebar. It makes a huge difference on comfort, but will totally get in the way at first. Start without it. Your crotch will tell you when to put it on and start tweaking it for the best position.
Good luck! Keep posting, and send pictures of your progress!