What’s a unicycle?

Print anything with Printful

Unicycles were once only for circus performers, but now have social clubs, modified sports events, and off-road designs. They originated from the penny-farthing bicycle and require balance and skill to ride. Progress is measured by unicycling associations.

Once considered the exclusive domain of circus performers and neighborhood daredevils, the unicycle has made inroads into the general consciousness. There are now social clubs for unicycle riders, as well as demonstration teams and modified sporting events. Some commuters have used a unicycle for transportation without gas, and there are even unicycles designed for off-road and mountain riding.

A unicycle consists of a single air-filled tire, a set of offset pedals, a shaft surrounding the axle, and a seat for the rider. The seat is generally a padded, curved variation of the “banana seat” found on some standard bikes. There is no chain and sprocket arrangement on a regular unicycle, although extended designs called giraffes may use a chain to connect the rider’s pedals to the tire several feet below. Some advanced unicycle designs actually contain gears for more efficient pedaling, but a unicycle cannot move like a normal bicycle.

Most sources trace the origin of the unicycle to an early bicycle called the penny-farthing. This bicycle, popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, featured a very large front wheel and a significantly smaller rear wheel. If the bicycle gained significant speed or hit an object, the cyclist often found himself balancing solely on the front wheel. Early versions of the unicycle also implemented a very large wheel. For decades, only trained stuntmen and circus performers dared to tempt fate on a unicycle.

Eventually unicycle manufacturers developed low-riding models suitable for public use, although unicycling’s primary audience seemed to be young males looking for a new skill to master. Many aspiring unicyclists have become discouraged after many hours of attempting basic forward motion skills. A unicycle does not behave like a bicycle: riders must center their weight on the wheel and learn to maintain balance. The basic stabilization move, called idling, is actually quite difficult and involves doing several back and forth pedaling motions.

The first step in learning to ride a unicycle is usually forward motion. The cyclist must pedal in full revolutions while maintaining balance. This is accomplished by first riding close to a wall or fence, and then letting go as the rider gains more skill. Since there are no brakes on a typical unicycle, the rider simply has to stop pedalling. To remain upright on the unicycle, while remaining in approximately the same place, the rider must idle as described above. Turning on a unicycle is often a matter of twisting the lower body in the desired direction while maintaining balance with the arms and upper body. A novice cyclist should feel accomplished if he can successfully ride both forwards and backwards.

Progress on a unicycle is often measured in steps developed by unicycling associations. These groups can provide training manuals and proficiency tests for serious riders.

Protect your devices with Threat Protection by NordVPN

Skip to content