Mountain Unicycling Frequently Asked Questions
Note: This FAQ was created by Brett Bymaster, and last updated in 1997, so it's a great *historical* reference, but otherwise out of date. For up-to-the-minute information on mountain unicycling (MUni), visit the Unicyclist.com Forums. It's all there. Use the Search feature at the top of the page and you can find out nearly everything you need to know.
If you'd like to see pictures of what we do, start here for the unicycling area of John Foss' online photo albums. Enjoy!
Table of Contents:
1. What is Mountain Unicycling?
Mountain Unicycling(MUni for short -- this name was coined by Duncan
Castling and is a trademark of Pashley Cycles) is the art of riding off-
road on uneven terrain such as grass, dirt, rock, ice, snow, etc.
2. Why Mountain Unicycle?
Mountain Unicycling is a challenging and rewarding sport. It combines the
finesse and precision required to stay on one wheel with the sheer power
and endurance required to ride over rough terrain. Mountain Unicycling
teaches balance, quick reaction time and concentration. Physically,
mountain unicycling is an incredibly challenging sport. Unicycles are
direct drive, so it is impossible to coast. That means you are always
pedaling, uphill and downhill, which adds up to a good workout. You will
certainly get in good shape after a few days of MUniing. Mountain
Unicycling is especially attractive if you live far from trails. A
unicycle will fit in any trunk, while most bicycles require expensive and
annoying racks. You can take a unicycle almost anywhere you go. Most of
all, MUniing is fun! It is a good chance to spend some time out doors
among nature and have a blast doing it.
3. Is Mountain Unicycling dangerous?
Actually, Mountain Unicycling is very safe. Since a unicycle is direct
drive, you can only travel as fast as you can pedal, where on a mountain
bike you can coast at excessive speeds. Skinned up knees are
common(usually caused by the lack of knee pads), but major injuries are
very rare. As always, you must ride at your own risk and there is a
potential, although it is remote, that you may be injured while Mountain
4. When should I Mountain Unicycle?
Mountain Unicycling is a year round sport. The summer is of course the
best time for MUniing, but it is also a 1great winter sport. Unlike
mountain biking where you go fast without burning much energy, MUniing
requires high energy input at low speeds. That means you can keep very
warm even when it's really cold out. If you ride in the woods, the wind is
often blocked, making it the warmest place to be in the winter.
5. Where should I Mountain Unicycle?
Any place you can mountain bike, you can mountain unicycle. Consult your
local cycling club or bike shop for mountain bike trails in your area.
6. Where can I meet other Mountain Unicyclist?
Watch the unicycling news group(rec.sport.unicycling) for other mountain
unicyclers in you area.
The California Mountain Unicycle Weekend, Sacramento CA
Contact: John Foss
National Unicycling Convention with MUni or UMX event
Weekly Rides in North East England
Australian Polaris Challenge
Unicon Semi-Annual International Unicycle Competition with MUni event
7. Where can I get more information on unicycling?
Check out the following sites:
The unicycling page: http://www.unicycling.org
John Foss's MUni page: http://www.unicycling.com/
Current version of this FAQ: http://www.unicycling.com/brett/e_muni/faq.html
Best place to check out unicycling equipment: The Unicycle Source
1. What skills can I practice to help my MUni technique?
1. Ride forward and turn with ease
2. Ride over speed bumps, curbs, and other obstacles
3. Hop over obstacles
4. Ride one footed with either foot
5. Idle or hover
6. Ride Backwards
7. Mount on steep slopes (uphill and downhill mounts)
8. Ride standing up--with no weight on the seat
Note that these skills are not required to MUni, but are very useful.
2. How do I ride over rough terrain?
Riding over rough terrain requires concentration and strength. The most
basic technique is to put more pressure on the pedals, sometimes
accomplished by taking weight of the seat by standing on the pedals. This
will hold the unicycle in place over uneven ground. A common technique
used to ride on rough terrain is holding onto the front of the seat with
one hand. This accomplishes several things, many of which are described
later in the FAQ. Over flat, rough terrain holding the seat helps to
stabilize the unicycle laterally. Oftentimes, there is intense pressure on
one pedal and not the other, causing the unicycle to veer in one direction.
Holding onto the seat allows you to counteract that lateral motion and
continue in a straight line. A rider needs to be proficient at holding
onto the seat with either hand, and should practice not holding onto the
seat while riding over difficult terrain. One of the most important skills
needed to ride over rough terrain is learning to read the trail. While
mountain unicycling, you must always concentrate on the terrain that is in
front you. The best technique is to look 5-10 feet in front of you and
occasionally glance into the distance. The mountain unicyclist must learn
to recognize the characteristics of the trail and react according.
Unfortunately, this can never be taught, but learned only through lots of
3. How do I ride down hill?
Riding Downhill can be very enjoyable, especially since it's a lot easier
than uphill! Riding downhill is about staying in control. Remember that
to stay on top of the unicycle you must adjust your speed. If you're
flying downhill at you're max speed, you don't have much room to adjust and
you will most likely end up getting hurt.
Riding down hills requires that the you lean back towards the hill. Some
hills are so steep that the momentum of the wheel will actually lift you
off the unicycle. To counteract this action simply pull up on the seat
which will keep you firmly placed on the unicycle.
One of the most challenging aspects to downhilling is keeping your feet
on the pedals. Mountain Bikers have the luxury of toe clips, which are not
recommended on unicycles unless you plan on having reconstructive face
surgery. If you are going fast downhill and you hit a bump, it is very
likely that your foot will slip off the pedals. There are a couple useful
strategies. First, concentrate on keeping your feet on the pedals.
Putting a little extra pressure on the pedals helps plaster your foot to
the pedal. Second, get bear claw pedals (just don't use them when you're
free styling--Ouch!). Bear claw pedals have large spikes along the edge of
the pedals that hold your foot in position. See the equipment section for
more details. Third, find shoes that stick to the pedals (see equipment
section). The best solution to the foot problem is recovery. This is
where riding one-footed comes in handy. Practice riding one footed with
either foot and get good at it. Oftentimes you can recover by taking a
few one footed pedals and then regaining control.
Another problem is traction. On extreme downhills, especially in dusty
conditions it can be very difficult and even impossible to keep traction.
Teirre Bouche suggests using a switchback technique. The technique is
analogous to skiing. Instead of riding parallel to the hill, ride
perpendicular to the slope and make quick 180 degree hops to stay on the
trail. This results in better traction and control, making it possible to
ride very steep hills, if there is a trail wide enough to execute the
The most important rule of downhilling is SAFETY. If it's too steep for
you, just get off and walk it!!
4. How do I ride uphill?
One of the most challenging aspects to MUning is riding up hill. It
requires the utmost in balance, strength, and concentration. Most
basically, riding up hill requires that you lean forward into the hill.
There are two methods of getting up a hill: Rolling and Pecking. First
off, rolling is the easiest and quickest, but does not allow the rider to
ride as much terrain. Rolling is simply riding forward over the obstacles.
George Peck suggests tackling up hills with half wheel revolutions. It is
analogous to walking, one step at a time. Take one step, or one half
revolution, and regain balance, then another. Just as you do in walking,
riding uphill you must shift your weight forward and up. Take one half
revolution, then let your body catch up to the unicycle. Before starting
the next revolution, make sure that your body weight is forward of the
unicycle to ensure that the next half revolution will be successful. This
is the most critical point of unicycling uphill: keep your weight FORWARD.
If your weight gets behind the unicycle, you must take a short pedal
backwards, idle, regain control, and then proceed. Hence the reason you
must be proficient at idling and riding backwards before MUning. If you
think this all sounds too technical, you're probably correct. Most of this
will come naturally as you progress in your MUni skills, but it is
important to be aware of different techniques.
The second method of getting uphill is Pecking (from the inventor George
Peck). Pecking utilizes short hops to ride over terrain that you cannot
This can be done while holding onto the seat, or with hands off.
Pecking is useful in several situations. Pedal position is very important
in MUniing. The "dead position" is defined as the pedal position when the
pedals are vertical in respect to the ground, while the "power position" is
when the pedals are horizontal to the ground. When the pedals are in the
dead position, rolling over obstacles (rocks, roots, etc) is impossible
since your feet get stuck in that position. To get over obstacles, you
need to have the pedals in the power position. This allows you at least a
half pedal turn with plenty of leverage to get over an obstacle.
Unfortunately, you can't select how you hit an obstacle. One solution is
to peck your way over it. If you find that you are going to hit an
obstacle with bad pedal position, take a quick hop either over the obstacle
or to regain proper pedal position.
Also, Pecking can be used to climb hills that are too steep to ride.
Simply turn the unicycle perpendicular to the hill and hop up. Although
incredibly energy intensive, it is an effective technique. Pecking is most
obviously used to jump over large obstacles such as roots and logs. It is
possible to jump very large objects. Riders have been known to jump logs
over 2 feet in diameter!
A good way to introduce yourself to hopping is to practice jump roping
with the cycle. With the pedals level, squeeze the seat with the legs
and spring up. The pedals should be directly under the arch of the foot
with the heel of your boot right against the back of the pedal. The
unicycle will follow. Repeat as necessary. Maximum hop height with this
method is a couple of inches.
For hops over a couple of inches, grab the front of the saddle with a
hand, keep your pedals level, crouch, and spring up. You will be able to
clear a 10 inch or better obstacle this way. Wearing a heeled boot helps
to stabilize your foot on the pedal while hopping.
5. How do I mount on a hill?
No matter how good of a rider you are, you will eventually fall off on a
hill. It usually happens on the worst part of the hill (or you wouldn't
have fallen off). Mounting on the hill can be very challenging. Mounting
on a down hill is fairly easy, so only mounting uphill is covered here.
There are two techniques to mounting on a hill: mounting parallel to the
hill and mounting perpendicular to the hill.
Mounting parallel to the hill is very natural to an experienced road
rider. To accomplish the mount, you simply point the unicycle up hill and
do a standard rolling mount. This is a mount in which the wheel never
stops turning throughout the mount (see the Unicycle Faq on
www.unicycling.org for more info). Start with your mounting pedal facing
forward, and then take a few quick steps with the unicycle until the
mounting pedal is facing you. The extra momentum you get from those steps
will allow you to catapult over the top of the unicycle. Since you are
going uphill, you must jump higher than your current position. You want to
think about leaping all the way over the unicycle. This mount is very
difficult to control, but is advantageous because you have momentum to
start up the hill.
To mount perpendicular to a hill you simply turn the unicycle
perpendicular to the hill and mount (which is easy since you're not
mounting uphill). Idle a couple times to gain control then turn parallel
to the hill which will sometimes require a few pecks. You are now in a
very controlled position ready to start up the hill. If the terrain is
really nasty this mount is highly advantageous because no rolling is
6. Where should my foot go on the pedal?
For maximum foot stability your foot should be centered over the pedal (the
arch of your foot is over the pedal). If you are wearing boots, you can
place the heel of the boot against the pedal, giving you excellent
rev 1.0 6/2/97
Questions and comments about this FAQ should be sent to Brett Bymaster or posted to rec.sport.unicycling. This document was
authored by several writers with comments collected by Brett Bymaster.
The authors of this document do not guarantee its accuracy.
This document is public domain and can be freely distributed.
1. The best place around to research, and purchase unicycling equipment is the Unicycle Source, http://www.unicycle.com/
The American version of this site is run by John Drummond and family. John is an avid Mountain Unicyclist himself, and sells the best line unicycles and equipment you'll find.
The British counterpart is run by Roger Davies, who is a pioneer in the sport, making the first Carbon Fiber Muni.
2. Helmet, Knee pads, Gloves:
This equipment is absolutely necessary for unicycling. Don't forget to
ride with your helmet. You have to protect your noggin! Knee pads are
very nice since it is easy to fall on your knees. Ironically, one of the
best knee pads available are small volleyball knees pads made by "Bike".
Make sure you can bend your leg easily with the knee pad on. Most
volleyball knee pads are very thick and cumbersome, while most roller blade
knee pads are solid plastic, both of which impede bending of the knee.
Padded biking gloves are good for protecting your palms when you have a
nasty crash. It is also a good idea to wear a back pad, especially if you
ride on rocky terrain.
A 26" wheel is preferred since it provides more momentum allowing the rider
to roll over rougher terrain. Although a standard 24" wheel will work just
fine, especially since it can double as your freestyle unicycle. Your
wheel should have at least 36 spokes triple crossed. The thicker gauge the
spokes, the better. It is very important that you keep your spokes tight
and your wheel true!
Metal bear claw pedals, or DX style pedals are suggested. If you don't
ride in mud and water, cheap unsealed bearings in the pedal are OK. If you
ride in mud and water you need sealed bearings and preferably bearings that
can be overhauled. This can get really expensive but it is worth it: you
can easily go through a couple pedals a season because of dirt and water
getting into the bearings. Crupi pedals are high end BMX pedals that are
commonly available. They have sealed bearings and can be overhauled,
although they are very expensive. Bike shops that carry BMX equipment will
be most likely to carry bear claw pedals. Toe clips and clipless pedals
are unwise since unexpected wrecks are common.
The axle is currently the weakest part of the general MUni. Hopping
especially puts enormous loads on the axle, causing fatigue and premature
failure. Currently there is no cost effective solution. Custom made
titanium axles that perform very well have been produced, but they are
extremely expensive. One possibility is to purchase a Phil Wood axle and
have a set of flanges welded onto it, which is still fairly expensive. If
you can't afford a good axle, you can greatly extend your axle life by not
jumping off or over large obstacles. Pecking is very hard on axles and
should be avoided if you want long life out of a low quality axle.
The tire is one of the most important components on the MUni. A tire with a
round profile no more than 2" diameter is usually the best choice, although
this is personal preference. Experiment and find out what works best for
you. If you have a 26" wheel, you will be able to tap the huge selection
of mountain bike tires available. For winter riding the NOKIA 280 is
great. Continental tires are also very good. If you have a 24" wheel you
may have trouble finding a good tire. 24" tires are commonly made for BMX
cycles and children's mountain bikes. If you're thinking about building or
purchasing a MUni, make sure it has ample space between the forks for a
large tire. If your tire is too large for your frame, mud will build up
between the tire and the frame which can act as a brake. A good BMX 24"
tire is the Mitsubishi Silver Star Competition III. This tire has
sufficient clearance on a Miyata or Semcycle, is fairly knobby, and seems to
be available at most bike shops.
You may not consider this an important part of MUniing, but if you ride in
cheap shoes you can compromise performance and ease of riding. The most
important aspect to shoes is that they give you good traction on the pedal.
Don't wear shoes with slick bottoms as they will slide around on the pedal.
Make sure that the shoe doesn't flex excessively when bent down (try to
touch the toe to the sole of the shoe and if there is any flex, try
something else). If the shoe flexes, you will waste energy flexing your
feet instead of pedaling and potentially damage your feet (they aren't made
to flex like that). If it is not hot out, boots are an excellent shoe for
MUniing. Boots provide great stability and resist slipping off the pedal
because they are wider than regular shoes. Make sure the boot has a good
heel as this can be used to stabilize the shoe on the pedal.
If you're going to MUni you're going to spend a lot of time on the saddle,
so its got to be comfortable. Also make sure the seat is durable and has
good bumpers since you will probably drop it often. The best commercial
seat is probably the Miyata seat. It has good bumpers and a very nice
handle on the front of the seat to hold on to. To make the seat more
comfortable, you may want to take apart the seat and cut a groove down the
middle of the foam. The grove should be about 1 inch wide and 3/4 of an
inch deep. The grove should then be filled with low density foam. This
can greatly increase the comfort of any seat. Also, some seats can be
fitted with extra foam. For example, a second piece foam identical to the
original foam can be added to the Miyata seat to make it much more
comfortable. The edges of the foam must be trimmed off so that the foam
will fit. Seat style is highly based on personal preference, so you should
experiment with as many seats as possible to decide which seat is best for
Crank size determines the gear ratio of your unicycle. Long cranks give
you extra leverage, which makes climbing easier. Short cranks are faster,
but are difficult for climbing since you have less leverage. For 24"
wheels 140mm to 160mm is the standard. If you want to race or go fast, use
140mm. If you want to be able to ride hilly terrain, use 160mm cranks.
For 26" wheels 160mm to 175mm is the standard. It is difficult to find a
right and left crank of these sizes. Do not use two left bicycle cranks,
as you will rotate the pedals off as you ride. It is possible to cut the
spindle off a bicycle crank. Custom cranks are available, but are often
10. Water Container
Don't forget to take water with you when you ride! You can mount a water
bottle holder on your seat post underneath your seat. You can also
purchase a water bottle holder that wraps around your waist and holds 2
bottles. These are made for runners, so look for them in shoe stores.
Also, you can use a CamelBack (c) type system. These are basically water
container book bags that have a tube that wraps over your shoulder so you
can drink hands free. Look for CamelBacks in bike stores.
11. Review of Commercial Unicycles:
26" and 24" Semcycle XL:
A bit heavier than the Miyata, but much cheaper.
Solid tubular frame with poor clearance for a large tire. Cheap and
available. Low quality pedals. Decent bearing assembly and axle. 24" has
5" 26" has ??" cranks.
Excellent freestyle unicycle, but lacking in many respects for
a MUni. Light and very sturdy. No clearance for a large tire. Comes with
5.0" cranks, which are too short for MUniing. Very expensive and sometimes
hard to find outside Japan. Can easily be converted to a 26" wheel by
fabricating longer bearing holders to accommodate the larger wheel.
Extremely heavy and flimsy. Very available. 5.5" cranks.
Poor bearing assembly-completely exposed bearings that get dust in them and
wear out very quickly. In general a poor mountain unicycle.
26" Pashley Muni:
The only purpose-built production off-road unicycle. Well
made tange frame with lots of clearance for even the largest of tires - it
is fitted with bottle bosses and bottle cage. The bearings (35mm od 17mm
id) are press fitted into an aluminum casting. The bearings are difficult
to change but do not fail. These are fitted to the frame with 2 bolts per
side and have been known to become slotted if they too loose, but with
correct maintenance this is not a problem. The bolts are small and rest on
a circular frame. This means that there is very little surface of the bolt
touching the frame. It is possible to have a piece machined that follows
the curve of the frame on one side and is flat on the other to increase the
surface area of the bolt that touches the frame. The rim is a good quality
mountain bike rim fitted to a Susue hub, which is one of the best standard
unicycle hubs available. This unicycle currently comes with 5" cranks
which makes MUniing almost impossible. This would be a great road machine,
but cranks that short are completely inadequate for MUniing. Most riders
purchase new longer cranks for the MUni. The weakest point is the seat
which is large and cumbersome. Once again, most riders replace the seat
with a better seat. For this unicycle to become an effective, unicycle
both of these components must be replaced making it somewhat more expensive
than the list price. This is not the perfect MUni, but its availability
and affordability make it the best choice for a MUni. Pashley (located in
the UK) can be contacted at +44 1789 292263. , rides a 26" Pashley and will be happy to answer any
questions about it.
20" Pashley Muni:.
The frame is identical to the 26" (except smaller) and
is also fitted with bottle bosses. There are still some being sold with
the older heavy steel frame - look out these are a lot inferior. The
bearing and hub are identical to the 26". The rim is a BMX rim and is
painted the same color as the frame (nice touch).
The Carbon Fibre Unicycle:
This is not a massed produced item and there
have been only 12 made, they are manufactured by hand by Roger Davies to
order. The frames are extremely robust and designed to easily fit any tire
within it's frame. For more information see: