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A sport and a spectacle at the same time, the unicycle is becoming popular in North America.

It is widely believed that the unicycle was derived from the penny-farthing bicycle, which had a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. This particular style of bicycle had cranks directly connected to the front axle. That is much the way today's unicycle is fashioned.

Unicycling is one of the most creative and fascinating modes of transportation and exercise. Pretty much anything you can do while walking, you can do on a unicycle.

A unicycle can cost anywhere from $75 to $300, depending on quality. Some accomplished cyclists suggest wearing a bicycle helmet. This is especially important when traveling some distance, and depending on where you live, it may be required by law to wear a helmet when cycling.

With cruising speeds between five and 10 miles an hour, the unicycle can be used as an alternative to a car for local short trips to the store, the library or wherever. Unlike the bicycle, the unicycle can be ridden on sidewalks, out of the way of traffic.

The key to riding is keeping the center of gravity over the axle. You are always peddling to maintain balance. If you start to fall forward, pedal faster, bringing the wheel back under the seat. If you start to fall backward, slow down, allowing the seat to catch up with the wheel.

Riding is a good form of low-impact aerobic exercise. It works well for individuals concerned with damage that other forms of exercise such as jogging, running, and gym-style aerobic classes my inflict on the knees.

Unicycling is excellent for cardiovascular exercise. It particularly works the quad muscle group, located in the thigh area. Physically, unicyclists need strong legs, a sense of balance, and quick reflexes. Mentally, they need the will to try, try again.

There are several different types of unicycles. The standard is the average unicycle. The cranks connect to the axle and it has a seat above the wheel. The giraffe is taller and driven by a chain. These are most commonly used for shows, circuses, and parades.

The monocycle is a rare style. It is a wheel with the seat fixed inside the wheel. Finally, the ultimate wheel and the impossible wheels are wheels with axles extended on both sides with posts. The rider stands on the posts and rolls along, all the while maintaining incredible balance.

In general, the smaller the wheel, the easier it is to learn to unicycle and learn tricks. Larger wheels are better used for transportation and speed. Twelve- and 16-inch wheels are good for children and 20-inch wheels are standard for adults. The 24-inch wheel is the general-purpose size. Wheels larger than that are great for speed and are most often used for show than for transportation.

People who love unicycles may want to consider a career in bike sales or service.

Getting Started

Depending on their athletic fitness, ability, balance perception, and reaction time, a person can learn to ride a unicycle in as little as 15 minutes or take as long as six months. Ed Falk has been riding for a number of years. He says a good rule of thumb is that it will take about one week for every day it takes a person to learn to ride a bike.

There are internationally recognized unicycling skill levels that are ranked from level one to 10. Each level requires progressively more advanced mounts, turns, and balance.

Unicyclists have taken many of the more traditional sports to a new level. Unicyclists incorporate the speed, balance, and agility that it requires to travel on one wheel with shooting hoops, teeing off, and scoring goals. Some of the more popular unicycle sport activities include basketball, volleyball, golf, hockey, and tag.

In addition, unicyclists compete in races in distance races very similar to footraces. Also, there are international and national dance competitions in the individual, pair, and group categories.

Robert Bernstein is a long-time unicyclist. He recommends the MIT Unicycle Club method to learn to ride:

  1. Get two friends to stand on either side of you and get up on the unicycle with your arms around their shoulders.
  2. Sit up straight. Look straight ahead with your weight on the seat, not on the pedals. Rock the pedals to get a sense of balance. Get the pedals level. This is when you are in control.
  3. Pedal half turns, then stop. Then full turns, two turns, etc. Doing multiples of half turns (from pedals level to pedals level again) is harder than continuously pedaling, but it keeps you in control.
  4. Switch to holding on to your friends' wrists.
  5. Switch to holding on to one friend's wrist.
  6. Go off and use a wall instead of your friend. (If you can't find a wall and a flat surface to ride on then continue with one friend, but let go as much as you can.)

The Unicycling Society of America (USA) was formed to promote and encourage the sport. The USA distributes a newsletter, holds national and local conventions, and hosts a Web site. Individual membership is currently $20 a year.

There are local clubs in many areas. Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York, are three cities with large clubs. The USA has a clubs registry and will send out club lists for a small cost. They encourage people to register as clubs.

The International Unicycling Federation (IUF) was created to foster awareness of the sport as a means of recreation. The IUF hosts international conventions and promotes the development of national unicycling organizations. The IUF is also actively involved in the promotion of unicycling as an Olympic sport.

Although most cyclists suggest "doing" as opposed to reading "how to" books, there are several publications that are suggested by the International Unicycling Federation and the Unicycling Society of America.


International Unicycling Federation

The Unicycling Society of America


How to Ride a Unicycle,
by  Jack Wiley
Novelty Unicycling,
by  Jack Wiley
The Complete Book of Unicycling,
by  Jack Wiley
On One Wheel
Published by the Unicycling Society of America

Loads of photos and links from the unicycling world

The Unicycle Page
Gives tips on how to ride and more

Unicycle Source
An online catalog

Our Uni Page
A collection of tips and instructions

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