Starter unicycles

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, or talk to a bike store listed as a 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; 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.

5 Responses to “Starter unicycles

  • Jack KLein
    9 years ago

    Hi I sent you a email about you knowing someone who will sell a used unicycle for cheap even if repair was needed, I would want it in the under $50 range but I need to know the best way to learn how to unicycle pretty fast, do you know any where or any one to teach me. Thanks please reply to each message even if you cant help so I can go on to find a great deal for a unicycle or learn how to ride my self.

  • Hi,

    I know nothing about the correct size unicycle to purchase.

    I’m 6’ tall with longer legs.

  • You can use any wheel size; it really depends what kind of riding you want to do. If you have long legs, you’ll need a long seat post (300 or 400mm).

    If you want to learn and don’t know what you want to do with it afterwards, get a 24”. It’s the most flexible.

  • I think for a tutorial like this it would be useful to have some notes about “free” mounting (without the bar), where it is useful to learn to step down on a pedal close to you to force the unicycle into you while you step up on the other pedal.

    Also some discussion of idling would seem to me to be useful. In the tutorial the idea of turning into the fall is mentioned (a bicycle sort of motion), but the other 1/2 of unicycle riding is the back and forth motion (like doing a wheelie in a wheel chair) where you: 1. Fall forward and then pedal forward enough to arrest that fall and force yourself to fall backward, then 2. Fall backward and then pedal backward enough to arrest that backward fall and force yourself to fall forward again – repeat.

    To me the essential aspects of unicycle riding are those two motions (and combining them): A. Forward/backward control by pedaling into the fall (forward or backward) in a line, and B. Right/left control by turning into the direction you are falling and arresting any sideways (right or left) fall by pedaling into the sideways fall.

  • I know that people learn differently (viva la difference). I personally find it helpful to have some “theory”. For this I find it helpful to think of the unicycle along two axis: 1. Front/back, and 2. Right/left. In both cases you have to pedal “into” (towards) any falling motion to keep the unicycle under you. If you are falling forward, pedal forward into the fall. If you are falling to the left, pedal to the left – likely requiring a pivot/turn to the left.

    A thought equation I find helpful is: Unicycle = Bicycle + Wheelchair

    This is describing the unicycle balancing motions in terms of the right/left balance like on a bicycle plus the forward/back balance like on a wheelchair. Most people have ridden a bicycle and so may have the sense of how that works, thought I guess most people aren’t aware of the fact that on a bicycle in order to turn right (from a balanced ride) you have to start by turning the steering wheel to the left. This causes an overbalance (fall) the the right that’s required for a coordinated turn to the right. This same thing happens on a unicycle. Most people learn these things “automatically” without even thinking of them (amazing IMO), but some seem to find an intellectual understanding helpful. The forward/back balancing is along a single axis and is a bit more straight forward. This is where a wall or friend for support is helpful so you can temporarily ignore the left/right balance in order to learn the front/back self balancing by riding into the fall.

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