Will unicycling improve bike skills

I’m really getting into mountain biking. One of my many areas for improvement is balance and I would love your thoughts on whether learning to ride a unicycle would translate to better control on the two-wheel? Thanks!

I think anything that helps improve your balance will help. I think the way you balance a bike is very different from a uni. For instance a trackstand on a bike looks like a still stand on a uni, but the forces in play make the trackstand much easier to perform. Also, once you learn how to do it well it is easy to hold indefinitely.

So, as I said I think you will benefit from having a better sense of balance, but I don’t think a unicycle will help more than something like slacklining. On the other hand, even riding a 20" learner around the neighborhood is a really fun way to work on developing a better sense of balance. In the end it’s all about the fun.

Welcome to the forum.

I’ll be interested to see what other people have to say.


And yes to what Jtrops is saying, but with the addition that learning to unicycle also builds up your legs, in areas different than what you get with bike riding, so that should be an improvement as well.

Learning to unicycle helped my bike handling skills a bunch. Learning to do stand stills, riding on small objects, I guess trials skills is what I’m talking about… :slight_smile: It really helped me zero in on how I balance, then transferring it other applications happened naturally. It helped a lot with riding confidence as well, which is about 80% of pulling something off anyway (or it seems that way). I guess also riding muni somehow helped me too, in my mind if there was something I could do on a uni it was a no brainer on a bike.

If you are only able to ride a unicycle up and down the street, then maybe not so much.

Unicycling and bicycling are really different muscles. I gave up bicycling back in 2013 after my last 24h MTB race. Since then, I only do mountain unicycling. In the beginning I could not really benefit from my bicycling muscles while unicycling. Now I’m much fitter on my unicycle and can hill climb well. As I tried to climb a hill with a bicycle last year it felt as there were no muscles left in my legs :smiley:
That said, on my bicycle i always pedaled with low cadence and high force. Unicycling taught me to pedal high cadence. So this really is a benefit.

There are significant differences between unicycling and bicycling but it depends on the size of the uni and where you ride it. I doubt that much from a small uni would transfer to a bike.

Unicycles generally have shorter cranks so the leg muscles don’t work the full stoke that they do with a bike. A uni rider can run out of power at the top of the stroke on a bike. Given the choice and a little experimenting on a bike, a seasoned uni rider would probably choose shorter cranks and lower gears than an average bike rider. And make Lance Armstrong’s cadence look tame.

Riding a large uni on steep terrain will build strength on the up hills as well as cadence on the moderate slopes. This could translate to a wider flatter power band on a bike, (except for the shorter stroke mentioned above).

Uni riders tend to be able to put power into a bigger arc of the crank rotation due to the otherwise prolonged dead spots. This could be useful in XC bicycling.

Because one wheel does not average the terrain like two wheels, the experience at the pedals on a uni is sudden and unforgiving. Uni riders on rough terrain learn a lot about keeping our feet on the pedals. However, the way we have to respond is quite different from a bike so I am not sure how much would translate.

The big down side of uni for bicyclists is that uni often completely supplants bicycling. I haven’t ridden my bikes in over two years. Many uni riders sell all their bikes.

Well after riding unicycle for a year and not having touched my bike, I found it very strange to ride my mountain bike again without touching the steer. The front wheel started to wobble like crazy, but I did feel that my legs had become more powerful, so I could go faster.

I know what you mean, the bike uses more power, but at a lower cadence. Riding a 36" Schlumpf took a while for my legs to adapt, because it’s more like riding a bike (though still in a relatively low gear).

I still have mine! One of these years I’m going to put a seat on it and see if it still works. :stuck_out_tongue:

…And we have a tandem (aka a One Wheel Each bike). For sale. Anyone want a used Trek tandem for two tall-sized riders?

Interesting, I find that it is the opposite for me, I spin a higher cadence when climbing on my bike than on my unicycle, and I only have a 20".

Just out of curiosity, anyone want to post up their cadences?

I agree with most of the posts above.

Although I think there are some with history like mine, I thin my experience is probably in the minority: I am a long time bicyclist and have done lots of disciplines: road (jncluding crit), track and then lots and lots of mountain biking: freeride, XC, downhill, trials and some dirt-jumping. I was a MTB guide and active technical skills trainer for about 12 years…

I think there is definitely crossover but unicycling alone won’t make you a great mountain biker.

I think there is a fair bit of benefit for both fitness and muscle strength, although unicycling trains a lot of muscles not needed so much in mountain biking (stomach, back, rotational upper body movement) and some muscles needed less in biking (calves, needed in biking but not like in muni). I think the main muscles “missing” with the unicycle are arms, in particular triceps for downhill biking. I have no true comparison with control conditions but I feel muni helps my standing MTB climbing a lot (after lots of muni climbing it feels so easy as I can use the handlebar for leverage and my legs are strong from muni uphill, but then I have always liked stand-up climbing on the bike anyway (not an uphill “spinner” who just sits in the saddle)).

On the cardio side I think it transfers pretty well, but probably about the same as anything else (running of cross country skiing).

As mentioned above the balance training helps for sure but in addition you have to practice the bike-specific skills too, e.g. track stand or wheelie.

Although the particular skills are totally different, I do think the baIance transfers a lot as well as stuff like line choice and reading the trail (different features are challenging and central on a bike/muni but the “awareness” of obstacles is beneficial). For example learning to wheelie a bike is NOT like riding a uni but it does transfer some: I used to be able to wheelie almost indefinitely (2+ minutes) and now when I get on a bike I need about 1-2 minutes of practice to be able to wheelie for say 100 meters… with just a bit of practice I could get my old skills back (how much is because I used to be good on the bike and how much the muni helps maintain is still unclear).

For example after having only ridden my mountain bike about 1-2 times per month this year (but unicycling almost every day and muni 2-3 times per week) I did great at the downhill park in Crested Butte and rode both of the most-difficult double-diamond trails and big table jumps comfortably (I tried one on the muni and had to walk about a third of the really steep boulder features and structures with big drops).

In short: muni will help your MTB skills way more than doing nothing and more than something less related like running but not as much as actual mountain biking. I would argue that a small percentage of unicycling and muni in particular would help your technical biking skills like trials (wheelie, drops, rear-wheel pivot, pedal-kick) although you of course have to practice these a lot on the bike.

I guess it would be a toss-up which helps your mountain biking better: muni or road cycling: road biking will help train your legs more but muni more for the balance and technical skills. Note that most serious mountain bikers also train a lot on the road.

All great stuff there. Do you know if the downhill guys train on the road? I can’t see Josh Bryceland or most of the downhill guys riding road. Nino Schurter or Julien Absalon, yeah, but not really the gravity riders.

Sadly, I am no longer connected enough to the current scene to give a real answer. My guess would be for dirt-jumping, slopesyle and the crazy “Red Bull” stunt stuff it’s not so relevant but definitely for the cross-country (obviously) and freeride (e.g. Super D/Enduro) scene. Downhill courses and rider strengths vary but in general I would think training on the road would still give an advantage (I did amateur XC and freeride competitions over the years and for XC my not training so much on the road compared to others was not a benefit). For gravity as in super steep with huge features where time is not the measure but style (e.g. slopestyle, DJ) fitness is probably not so important, but for classic downhill against the clock I would still think raw fitness would give an edge. However, I do not really know what the training regimen for a current pro downhiller is really like. In particular, I know very little about the UK/Aussie gravity riders (more so the new generation), but I think even someone like Sam Hill known for strengths on steep courses (e.g. Champery 2007, that was insane) with not so much pedaling would still benefit from road training, as a lot of the courses still require lots of pedaling.

But yes, AFAIK almost all the top XC guys train a lot on the road. Actually for me the courses require that they train too much on the road as bike-handling is so secondary to raw cardio fitness (XC is won uphill), but that is my personal take from my personal perspective as a rider who gets passed on the uphill of races.

In my opinion Super D/Enduro is way more fun both to ride and to watch but just can’t seem to make it past DH and XC formats and really define itself yet (e.g. Olympics takes years to define a format and enduro is still evolving so probably not going to happen any time soon) and it’s still so new that the format varies so much (I think US nationals quit Super D in 2015 in favor of “enduro”), especially as a unified international discipline (enduro in France is way different than in Germany/Austria and again totally different than in the US/Canada vs. Australia). The new enduro format with staggered starts sounds good to me (not a fan of the Megavalanche mass-start racing format, which just gets “cool” spectator shots and mass crashes). But there’s basically everything from a long extended downhill race with little uphill to a mostly downhill course with 3x down to uphill ratio (good enough for me to make it really fun) to a format where only downhill sections are timed in a larger race (i.e. uphill must be ridden but is not timed).