Unicycling is one of the most fun hobbies you can think of. It is a fantastic feeling to ride unsupported for the first time. And that is only the beginning. You can learn all kinds of tricks, you can ride long distances, or on rough terrain, or on a tree log, or you can jump on a picknick table, and off it. You could juggle while on the uni. It is a hobby with infinite possibilities, enough to last your whole life!
This is a well-kept secret: unicycling is not difficult. When trying for the first time, you may think that you can never do it. But then why can all those others? OK, it will cost you some time but anyone with normal legs can learn it. If you can walk, you can learn to ride a unicycle. You don't even have to "try hard", just put in time. Your body will then learn by itself. Once you are good at it, riding a unicycle is just as easy as riding a bike (also called a unicycle with training wheel or a cycle for the disabled by some unicyclists).
Oh and you're never too young or too old to start unicycling. The youngest individual who could unicycle (as far as I know) was 18 months old, the oldest was 92 years old when he learned riding. See also How to learn riding a unicycle (down this page).
Check your local bike shop, most don't stock unicycles but if they do, they might be cheap. If you can find a circus-shop or a shop that sells kites, chances are they'll have unicycles too! The Dutch version of this page lists some shops in the Netherlands but I guess those are not that interesting for you (since you read the English version). So I just include internet stores here:
www.unicycle.uk.com in England. Place orders via the website; enormous choice in a wide price range. Don't buy Savage, those are really bad. Don't forget to take shipping costs into account. I buy most of my stuff here.
www.municycle.com in Germany. Ordering via the website, large choice (including all of the Qu-ax gear).
www.unicycle.com in the USA, links also to affiliates in England, Germany, Sweden and New Zealand. Number one on choice, but very high shipping cost to Europe.
Used unicycles via internet, e.g. www.ebay.com (indeed, E-bay often lists new ones as well). Often cheaper but difficult to judge quality (but you knew that).
This chapter assumes that you want to buy a unicycle for beginners. Unicycles for advanced riders should meet specific requirements depending on what you want to do with it (e.g. MUni, trials, touring). In that case, not all of the text below applies.
Size: the size of a unicycle is characterised by its wheel diameter. The most common sizes are 20" and 24". For ages 6 and up, a wheel of 20" suits well (also for adults). From age 12 upwards, you can also get on well with a 24". A 20" wheel is easier to learn on (here's proof), and better suited for most skills, but once you can ride, a 24" is faster.
Seat height is not much of a consideration when buying because it is easily changed by choosing the right seat post, and of course with the height setting thereof. In case of doubt, buy a longer seat post and shorten it if required; you can do that with a hacksaw and a file, or with a pipe cutter, or else your local bike shop can do it for you. A rule of thumb is that seat height for a unicycle is OK if your leg is almost stretched when your heel is on the pedal in its lowest position.
Bearing mounts: a so-called 'lollipop' frame (where the bottom of the frame, i.e. the bearing holder is shaped like a lollipop) is no good because it's likely to tear and break after a while. It's better if the frame ends in an arc, against which another arc is bolted with the bearing in between.
The ends of the axle (spindle) should be square tapers so that the cranks fit on them with a square hole. This system is called cotterless. Old-fashioned unicycles sometimes have their cranks mounted with a cottered system featuring a cotter pin; this is an obsolete system which fails in the long (or even short) run. Also your shoestrings or trousers are more likely to get caught. On the other hand, an even better system of mounting cranks is called 'splined' but this is rather expensive and a bit of overkill for a beginner. Also, unlike the cotterless system, the splines are not standardised, and crank length options are limited.
Seat: don't buy a Savage, those are really uncomfortable. A seat shouldn't be too soft, and metal bumpers are usually a bad sign. Viscount is good value for money but there are more good ones.
Crank length (to be measured from centre of axle hole to centre of pedal hole): for a 20" wheel approx 125 mm (5 inch) is a good beginner size. For a 24" wheel, 150 mm is better (for beginners).
Pedals: no protruding metal ends for indoor use, this is OK for most beginner's unicycles.
Oh and look at the tyre valve, there are several types and you may need a special connector (called stem adapter) for your pump. These are cheap but it's a bit of a hassle. For more information on tyre valve types click here.
Learning to ride a unicycle is mainly a matter of putting in practice time. In summary, it boils down to:
This (and more) is comprehensively described in the document Learning to Unicycle (pdf), that you can download for free (thank you Andrew Carter from Australia for writing the first draft!).
How long does it take to learn riding? You can find out here.
You shouldn't believe everything I say. On the internet you find a lot more information:
Via the forum "rec.sport.unicycling" on www.unicyclist.com/forums. The language is English but the site also hosts a discussion group in German. You can ask questions, share experiences and learn a whole lot, both for beginners and for (highly) advanced riders. It's not uncommon that a world champion answers your question.
In the (Usenet) newsgroup rec.sport.unicycling. Newsgroups are also called discussion groups. Again, the language is English. If everything works OK the content of newsgroup and forum are identical. If you have a pay-per-minute dial-up connection to the internet, you may prefer to access via the newsgroup, because you don't need a permanent connection to be able to read or write.
On my website www.xs4all.nl/~klaasbil; click on the picture with the unicycles. But hey, that's just this site :-)
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