People who want to learn to ride often ask us, “what unicycle should I buy?” New unicycles range from $100 to $2000, and especially at the low end, novices don’t know the equipment and the terminology well enough to understand the differences.
Some bike stores keep a couple of unicycles in stock, but generally these are lower-quality cycles; we recommend looking at unicycle.com, or talk to a bike store listed as a unicycle.com dealer. (If you’re a novice, you can’t test-ride a unicycle anyway.)
Unicycles are differentiated by wheel diameter (unlike bicycles, which are mostly differentiated by frame size). Wheels smaller than 20″ are for small children (4 feet tall and under), and those larger than 24″ are for distance riding and are generally not suited to the learning process (although we have heard stories of people learning on wheels up to 36″). So if you’re learning, you should choose between a 20″ and 24″ unicycle.
24″ wheel suitability
- General-purpose riding (toodling around town)
- Unicycle basketball
- Mountain unicycling
20″ wheel suitability
- Stage performance
- Trials/street riding (with appropriate hub/rim)
- Unicycle hockey
The larger the wheel, the faster the cycle, which makes the 24″ more versatile for general-purpose unicycling. Riding any kind of distance on a 20″ feels like taking baby steps the whole way. The 20″ has greater maneuverability, which is helpful in certain contexts like stage performance and uni hockey. (20″ unicycles are also decent for uni basketball, but you lose 2″ in height, which is kind of a bummer for hoops). The smaller wheel is better for jumping around; if you’re going to regularly be hopping and dropping, you will need a strong hub (ISIS) and good rim, which will cost you more.
Because the 24″ wheel is more versatile, we generally recommend that you start with a 24″ unless your interest in unicycling is specifically geared towards the smaller wheel (or you’re significantly under 5 feet tall).
Unicycle seats have a smaller range of height adjustment than bike seat posts; it is common to have to cut down the seat post on a new unicycle. This can be done with a pipe cutter or a hacksaw, followed by filing down the burrs. You’ll want to leave enough seat post that you’ll still have at least 2″ of post inside the seat tube when the seat is set so the rider’s leg is fully extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
How much should I spend?
You can get a totally reasonable starter uni for not much over $100, or, you can get a unicycle which will handle a lot of abuse for $250 or more. As of this writing, the best starter unis are developed by unicycle.com; they have three lines, named “Hoppley“, “Club” and “Nimbus“; the main difference is that the Hoppley and Club have square-taper cranks and a single-walled rim, while the Nimbus has ISIS cranks (with a couple exceptions) and double-walled rims. The Hoppley or Club is fine for learning and for riding around; the main difference is that the Club has a better seat, and is available in more sizes. The Nimbus is better for jumping or for converting to MUni later.
Other unicycle makers
There are a number of other quality manufacturers. Kris Holm (KH) makes the most popular high-end unicycles for MUni, trials/street, and distance riding. Torker has a line which is similar to the Club/Nimbus, although we would recommend avoiding the cheapest of that line, the CX.
What about a used unicycle?
Most unicycles found on craigslist or ebay are low-quality cycles being sold by people who don’t know much about them. If you can verify that a used unicycle is actually made by a real unicycle company (such as those listed above), you might be able to get a good deal.
Can I borrow one?
We often have loaner unicycles available; if you send us mail prior to one of our Tuesday night basketball games, we can be sure to have something for you to try out.
How do I learn?
Mostly, practice a lot. To start practicing, check out this video from local performer Jeremy Shafer.