Why are disc brakes good for a unicycle?

I read through some of the threads relating to disc brakes and didn’t see an answer to this question: why are disc brakes good for a unicycle? I know a lot of big wheels and mountain unicycles have these. I’ve avoided brakes so far but finally installed a caliper brake on my 20" freewheel unicycle. I’m still getting the hang of it but I’m curious if other brakes would be better because it works great and seems to have all the stopping power I need. Of course most people don’t have brakes on a wheel that small. Does it have to do with wet weather? Having to keep a wheel true for rim brakes in general? Thanks!

On a 20" ok cool. I like the idea

Bit of a overstatement putting disc on unless you take on going down huge long steep hills or spin short cranks so fast your legs cant stop them…

I find disc brakes normally arent used most of the time and when i do i need to be careful because the work very very well. i like my avid elixirs and shimano xt.

normally organic or semi pads suit and be gentle pulling on the lever or it will send you flying over the theoretical handlebars every time.

I guess trials `19" dont run brakes due to high toque with the crank lengths and wheel diameter. Muni, a small 24" can often run magura rim or disc brake setups which really will just be used on the downhill runs due tired or lazy legs or when its so out of control rolling down the hill you cant stop it basically

rim brakes need a trued rim yes to work best and can me affected by wet and mud easily as a disc isnt so much.

conclusion is a big wheel is fast and a steep hill generates large torque
(maybe not 100% technically correct but hey)
For these we like brakes because we are lazy or not fit enough to safely control our unis all day long.

This is only my opinion but you might agree. Enjoy the brake setup

Basically the reason I prefer disk brakes to rim brakes is they tend to be smoother than rim brakes, I don’t get rub from frame flex (a major problem with 36ers) and they tend not to pack up with mud.

It is also much easier to swap out wheels when using disks as opposed to hydraulic rim brakes.


On 24" and small Unicycles, I really see no benefit to having a brake at all. However, I have a disc brake on my 26" Muni and a Rim brake on my 36" Titan. The disc brake is so much better that there really is no comparison. The disc brake is EFFORTLESS. It takes very little finger strength to apply and you can do anything from an ever-so-slight “drag” that slows your speed a tiny bit, to completely locking up the tire for a full stop.

My rim caliper brake on the 36" is almost useless. I rode on a moderate downhill the other day on a trail and had to step off because the brake wouldn’t slow me down enough even though I was squeezing the crap out of it. Also, as others have said, wet/muddy rim brakes do not work. Wet/muddy disc brakes still work…

They look cool, so bikers take you more seriously :smiley:

Brakes reduce the load on your legs when going downhill.

Disc brakes are more powerful, smoother, don’t require a true rim, and are less affected by wet weather and dirt than rim brakes.

Why do you need a brake on a 20" wheel??

It’s his freewheel uni. Needs it when coasting.

Thanks for the feedback!

Thanks for the feedback, Eric! That’s a great point about frame flex, especially in the bigger wheels.

Thanks for the feedback and the comparison between your experience with disc and rim brakes! That’s a great, detailed description!

Thanks for the feedback and concise synopsis! There definitely seems to be a bling factor with disc brakes on drift trikes.

Yes, as jona says I’m thinking in terms of my freewheel unicycle. In my video below I start a long decline at the 1:30 mark. I’m cheating by filming in shorter segments and putting them together. The first 4 segments represent a downhill I cannot ride without my brake because I get going fast enough to get out of control on any single segment. My caliper brake has plenty of stopping power at this steepness and seems reasonably smooth to me. However, I’m not sure I trust my current hub to last and I’d like to build a unicycle around the new Nimbus drift drike hub. Brake options are limited on 20" frames. I could build a new wheel and put it in the frame I have now with the caliper brake or I could use an existing Kris Holm longneck frame I have and go for a disc brake. I’m leaning toward the latter.

Wow, I missed that new hub!

So it has a disc mount too, very cool.

If you are going to build up a bigger wheel, for sure go with a disc brake, it’ll be smoother and easier to modulate.

The smoothest disc brake I have ridden is my new mechanicalSpyre from TRP, it’s a cyclocross brake, dual actuating pistons, uses a road or BMX lever, kinda pricey at $90 for the caliper alone, but so far it works well and it has the least “abrupt” braking, so it should glide nicely.

So do you think a coaster brake hub would be helpful or would that be to hard to finesse?

Is it worth looking at a coaster wheel for regular unicyling?

In some of the older threads I’ve seen mention of making a unicycle with a coaster brake hub. The most recent is from Sam Goodburn who seemed to think it was easier than a freewheel. It’s been a long time since I rode a bike with a coaster brake so I’m having difficulty picturing what it would be like on a unicycle. However, it seems like you’d be able to activate the brake in the power position (one foot down) so it might be worth a try. There’s a possibility of accidental braking since there’s some slight backward pedal movement during balancing and there’s a benefit to modulating the braking. However, having to move a hand to the brake makes it harder to balance so removing the need for this would be a benefit. I haven’t mastered going back and forth between riding and braking yet. I’m dubious about a larger wheel but I’m still planning to try out 24". I’d like to get a Huni-Rex and make that a freewheel. The lower pedal position would be a benefit. I’m not sure I’d ever want to ride around cars, though. I’ve ridden a little offroad and it’s fun but I need more practice. Thanks for the tips on a brake!

Rim brakes lose some of their effectiveness when wet, and may be useless when clogged up with mud. The braking surface is made of a metal suitable for the wheel rim, rather than one that is chosen for its frictional qualities.

A hub brake is further from the puddles and mud and less likely to become wet or gritty. Also, the material of the braking surface can be chosen solely for that purpose.

Designing a hub brake you have two basic choices: a disc with callipers, or a drum with shoes. As is shown by developments on cars and motorbikes, the disc brake has many technical advantages over the hub brake. It’s lighter, easier to maintain, and won’t fill up with water.

Therefore, if you are going to have a brake on your unicycle at all, a disc brake is the best choice.

That said, I suspect that in most cases they are “bling”. I have ridden all wheel sizes from 20 to 36 inches on and off road and I have seldom if ever thought that a brake would improve my ride. For the occasional really steep section. I’m happy to walk if necessary. I love the simplicity of the unicycle: choose the wheel size, tyre and cranks and see what you can do on it.

However, if and when I buy a new 36, because it will almost certainly be the last unicycle I buy, I will consider having a brake because I won’t want to be spending more money later. As I get older, I may appreciate the ability to feather the brake on longer descents.


So that’s a mech brake that fits on a uni now? What uni and hub are you using it with?

One of your comments about having to take one of your hands away from balancing to operate the brake got me thinking. How about not attaching the brake lever to the uni. Just use a longer cable with a stub handle and lever on the end. Then you could have the brake in your hand at all times. This is how the throttle on a gas powered skateboard works. You could then feather the brake when needed and still be hands free.

Yes, the TRP Spyre, this is the high end brand from Tektro. Designed for Cyclocross, it’s a dual piston mechanical, low profile and lightweight: http://www.trpbrakes.com/category.php?productid=1199&catid=206&subcat=0

I’m running one on my Oregon with a D Brake and installed the other last night on my Nimbus Impulse (steel twin hoop frame with disc tab).

You have to use a BMX or road lever to get the right pull.

It’s a really nice brake, high quality, ~300gm complete, caliper is $90 with rotor and IS adaptor.

I’m waiting to post an eval until I have more time riding/abusing it, but compared to a hydro it is very robust.

The feel is different due to the cable “stretch”, a little more forgiving, power comes on gradual, so it glides a little nicer than a hydro.

So why do you have to be hands free to use a coasting hub, can’t you go into a horizontal foot position like you do on a bike and still remain balanced?

Seriously, is this a viable uni hub if a brake could be used to maintain stability?

This sounds like a recipe for disaster. That cable could get entangled in a lot of things and cause some damage.

I don’t think hands free is a necessity. It just happens to be the way I’ve practiced coasting and find the most fun. I’ve heard of other people coasting by pulling up on the seat handle. With practice I could work my way towards keeping one hand on the saddle at all times like riding muni. However, I’m not really using the brake for stability but to control my speed on downhill sections.

Horizontal foot position is completely unstable for me at this time. If I pedal too slow or get my foot caught on the crank in that position it’s an instant UPD. It may be possible to use leverage from holding the saddle to ride in this position, trading it for the leverage I normally get from holding the pedals at 6 and 12 o’clock. That’s something I plan to experiment with after I get more solid with left foot down riding.

They are smooth and strong is why I use them

So what I wanna know is, how easy is this thing to ride now that you’ve been on it for a while?

Would muni be feasible? Cause I’m seeing visions of shuttled DH muni rides in the future. Full face helmets and all that. Can you climb reasonably well on it?

This’d be cool, especially with the new Nimbus offering. Perhaps on my next I’d consider it.

Sidenote: Ben’s TRP is crazy awesomeness. I wish/hope that UDC would look into these for their uni’s. If they ever started speccing Oracles or Oregons with TRPs, it’d be awesome. What’re the chances though? :roll_eyes:

Damnit Ben, now I need to spend more money. :stuck_out_tongue:

Hmm, I’ve been practicing with a freewheel unicycle for 3 weeks and while I can see definite improvement I wouldn’t characterize it as easy, even on flat pavement. It requires constant concentration and core engagement and lots of decisions about when to pedal and when to coast. I’m sure that this will get easier over time and I can extend my current runs of 200-400 feet, especially when I master the brake.

I’m a marginal muni rider on a fixed wheel. I can imagine eventually getting some nice runs of cross country, but it’s difficult envisioning riding single track with any kind of elevation or serious terrain. I’m still trying to figure out if a wheel larger than 20" is feasible. For me any type of pedaling starts slow and gradually increases in speed until I UPD or decide that’s as fast as I can control and start coasting. I’m no daredevil and my top speed is no faster than I can run out.

sigh That’s pretty much what I figgered. So much for full face helmets… :roll_eyes:

I do want to thank you for taking the bull by the horns though. Seems like all the other attempts at a freewheel uni haven’t been taken very seriously, you’ve actually taken the time to make it work and really learn how to ride it, and I enjoy the updates.

@Nurse Ben
do you think that brake is compatible with spirits and external disk ?