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A unicycle is a one-wheeled human-powered vehicle. Unicycles resemble bicycles, but have less complexity.

History

One theory of the advent of the unicycle stems from the popularity of the penny-farthing (or "Ordinary") during the late 19th century. Since the pedal and cranks were connected directly to the front axle, the rear wheel would go up in the air and the rider would be moved slightly forward. Many penny-farthing owners discovered they could dispense with the frame and just ride the front wheel and handlebars. Evidence for this theory of development can reportedly be found in pictures from the late 19th century showing unicycles with large wheels.

Over the years, unicycle enthusiasts have inspired manufacturers to create new designs, such as seatless ("ultimate wheel") and tall ("giraffe") unicycles. During the late 1980s some extreme sportsmen took an interest in the unicycle and started off-road unicycling (MUni).

Construction

Unicycles have a few key parts:



The wheel usually looks like a bicycle wheel with a special hub designed so the axle is a fixed part of the hub. This means the rotation of the cranks directly controls the rotation of the wheel (called direct drive). The frame sits on top of the axle bearings, while the cranks attach to the ends of the axle. The seatpost links the frame to the saddle.

The many different types of unicycles can include:

  • freestyle unicycles
  • trial unicycles
  • MUnis
  • giraffes
  • long distance unicycles


Each type has special components unique to that type of unicycle.

Training aids

Having props - or training aids - may make it easier to become comfortable with riding a unicycle. Two round wooden poles an inch or two in diameter and up to long can be used as training poles to stay stable. Another method for training is using a spotter to make riding easier. One other easy way to learn is to find a narrow hallway with which to use to help alleviate your left and right balancing while allowing you to focus on your forward and backward balance.

Types of unicycles

Freestyle unicycles: Generally used for flatland skills and routines. Usually have a relatively high seatpost, a narrow saddle, a squared fork (used for one-footed tricks), and square taper cranks and hub, as they usually do not need to withstand as much pressure as afforded by more expensive splined cranks. These unicycles are used similarly to flatland bicycles. Some examples of freestyle unicycles include Miyata, Nimbus, Schwinn, and Semcycle brands. This type of unicycle is often less expensive than some other types due to the less robust construction. Wheel size is usually , but smaller riders may use or unicycles. Some people prefer wheels.
Trials unicycles: Designed for unicycle trials, trials unicycles are stronger than standard unicycles in order to withstand the stresses caused by jumping, dropping, and supporting the weight of the unicycle and rider on components such as the pedals and cranks. Most modern trials unicycles include splined hubs and cranks, which are stronger and less prone to damage in the event that the crank bolts come loose while riding. This feature was less common in the past, when splined hubs were much more expensive. Many trials unicycles also have wide, 19- or knobby tires to absorb some of the impact on drops.
Offroad unicycles ("munis")
"MUni" or "muni" is an abbreviation for mountain unicycling. MUnis have many of the same components as trials unicycles, but have a few key differences. Usually, the tire diameters on mountain unicycles are either 24 or , allowing the rider to more easily roll over obstacles such as roots and rocks. The seat is also thicker and more comfortable on MUnis to compensate for the rough terrain. Brakes are sometimes used for steep descents.
Touring unicycles: Used for long distances, these unicycles are specially made to cover distances. They have a large wheel diameter, between 26 and 36 in., so more distance is covered in less pedal rotation. A 36" unicycle made by the Coker Tire company started the big wheel trend. Some variations on the traditional touring unicycle include the Schlumpf "GUni" (geared unicycle), which uses a two-speed internal fixed-geared hub. Larger direct-drive wheels tend to have shorter cranks to allow for easier cadence and more speed. Geared wheels, with an effective diameter larger than the wheel itself, tend to use longer cranks to increase torque as they are not required to achieve such high candances as direct-drive wheels, but demand greater force per pedal stroke.


Variations

A unicycle hub
  • Giraffe: a chain-driven unicycle. use of a chain can make the unicycle much taller than standard unicycles (note that multi-wheel unicycles can be described as giraffes). Standard unicycles don't have a chain, which limits the seat height based on how long the rider's legs are, because there the crank is attached directly to the wheel axle.
  • Geared unicycle ("GUni"): a unicycle whose wheel rotates faster than the pedal cadence. They are used for distance riding and racing.
  • Multi-wheeled unicycle: a unicycle with more than one wheel, stacked on top of each other so that only one wheel touches the ground (nicknamed stacks). The wheels are linked together by chain or direct contact with each other.
  • Kangaroo unicycle: a unicycle that has both the cranks facing in the same direction. They are so named due to the hopping motion of the rider's legs, supposedly resembling the jumping of a kangaroo.
  • Eccentric unicycle: a unicycle that has the hub off-center in the wheel. Putting an eccentric wheel on a kangaroo unicycle can make riding easier, and the rider's motion appear more kangaroo-like.
  • Ultimate wheel: a unicycle with no frame or seat, just a wheel and pedals.
  • Impossible wheel (BC wheel): a wheel with pegs or metal plates connected to the axle for the rider to stand on. These wheels are for coasting and jumping. A purist form of unicycle, without cranks.
  • Monocycle (or monowheel): a large wheel inside which the rider sits (as in a hamster wheel), either motorized or pedal-powered. The greater gyroscopic properties and lower center of mass make it easier to balance than a normal unicycle but less maneuverable.
  • Eunicycle: a computer-controlled, motor-driven, self-balancing unicycle.
  • Freewheeling unicycle: a unicycle in which the hub has a freewheel mechanism, allowing the rider to coast or move forward without pedaling, as a common bicycle does. These unicycles almost always have brakes because they cannot stop the way traditional unicycles do. The brake handle is generally mounted in the bottom of the saddle. These unicycles also cannot go backwards.


Other variations include:

Theory

A unicycle represents a form of inverted pendulum. It is also a nonholonomic system because its outcome is path-dependent. The problem of controlling a self-balancing unicycle forms an interesting problem in control theory. (See Segway.)

Speed

The pedals of a typical unicycle (e.g. not a giraffe or guni) connect directly to the wheel. This means that there are no gears to shift and provides a very direct feel of the wheel contact with the ground. It also means that wheel size is a major factor in unicycle speeds:

Wheel size Avg High
20"
24"
29"
36"


Riding styles



Traditionally, unicycling has been connected with parades or with the circus. Recent developments in the strength and durability of bicycle (and consequently unicycle) parts have given rise to many riding styles such as trials unicycling and mountain unicycling. Unicycling has therefore developed from primarily an entertainment activity to a competitive sport and recreational pursuit.

Freestyle: Perhaps the oldest form of extreme unicycling, traditional freestyle riding is based around performance. Freestyle tricks and moves are derived from different ways of riding the unicycle, and linking these moves together into one long flowing line that is aesthetically pleasing.


Trials unicycling: Trials unicycling is specifically aimed at negotiating obstacles. Analogous to trials bike riding.


Street unicycling: Street unicycling as a style of unicycling involves riders using a combination of objects found in urbanized settings (such as ledges, handrails, and stairs) to perform a wide variety of tricks.


Off-road or mountain unicycling (MUni): Unicycling on rough terrain has been the swiftest growing form of unicycling in recent years. Any place a mountain bike can go, a mountain unicycle can go as well — and sometimes more easily, due to the unicycle's greater maneuverability.


Touring or commuting: This style concentrates on distance riding. With a or wheel cruising speeds of 10 to can easily be reached. However, the smallest wheel diameter to fit within the "touring" category is .


Jess Riegel shows an example of grinding, a street unicycling skill


Flatland: flatland is a relatively new form of unicycling derived from a combination of street and freestyle riding. By definition it follows the same rules as freestyle: to do various trick and move on flat ground. Flatland, however, has a distinctly urban flair to it.


Unicycle team sports

In addition to individual efforts, team sports played on unicycles have also grown in popularity.

Unicycle basketball

Unicycle basketball uses a regulation basketball on a regular basketball court with the same rules, e.g., one must dribble the ball while riding. There are a number of rules that are particular to unicycle basketball as well, e.g., a player must be mounted on the unicycle when in-bounding the ball. Unicycle basketball is usually played using 24" or smaller unicycles, and using plastic pedals, both to preserve the court and the players' shins. In North America, regular unicycle basketball games are organized in Berkeley, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Toronto. Switzerland, France, Germany and Puerto Rico all field teams. The Puerto Rico All Stars has been one of the dominant teams and has won several world championships.

Unicycle hockey

Unicycle hockey follows rules basically similar to ice hockey or inline hockey, using a tennis ball and ice-hockey sticks. Play is non-contact. The sport is growing in popularity, with active leagues in Germany, Switzerland and the UK.

Unicycle handball

Unicycle handball uses a handball-sized ball. The teams aim to throw it into a vertical hoop placed about above the ground It has been played in the Polish village of Chrzelicemarker since late 1970s

Equipment and safety

Wrist guards: The most common impact points when falling from a unicycle are the hands and wrists. Of all the safety gear, wrist guards receive the most wear and tear.
Knee and elbow pads: The second most common impact point are the knees followed by the elbows. Knee pads are required for events like racing and MUni.
Helmet: A helmet becomes especially important with specialty riding like MUni, and in some jurisdictions is required for road riding as well as racing, MUni and other events.
Shin guards: Shin guards become a necessary piece of equipment when using metal or pinned pedals. These types of pedals grip the shoes better, but can cause injury to the legs.
Cycling shorts: Padded cycling shorts are designed with a seamless, padded crotch, and long enough legs to extend down past the saddle, making them much more comfortable than "normal" shorts.
Gloves: Gloves are required for certain unicycling events such as racing. Gloves may be fingerless (but are not recommended).


Notable unicyclists

Known as unicyclists

  • John Foss, holder of many world unicycling records
  • Kris Holm, pioneer in mountain unicycling
  • Ryan Woessner, world champion freestyle unicyclist


Known in other fields



Take That learned how to unicycle for the circus-based video for their song "Said It All"

UNICON

The biennial UNICON (International Unicycling Convention), sanctioned by the International Unicycling Federation, comprises all major unicycling events and is the premier event on the international unicycling calendar. Events include: artistic (group, pairs, individual, standard skill, open-X), track racing (100 metres, 400 metres, 800 metres, 30 metres walk the wheel, 50 metres one-foot), 10 kilometres, marathon (42.195 km), muni (cross-country, uphill, downhill, North Shore downhill), trials, basketball and hockey.

The 2004 UNICON was held in Tokyomarker, Japanmarker.

The 2006 UNICON was held in Langenthalmarker, Switzerlandmarker.

The 2008 UNICON was held in Frederiksbergmarker, Denmarkmarker.

The 2010 UNICON will be in Wellingtonmarker, New Zealandmarker.

Races

The world's first multi-stage unicycle race, Ride the Lobster, took place in Nova Scotiamarker in June 2008. Some 35 teams from 14 countries competed over a total distance of 800 km. Each team consisted of a maximum of 3 riders and 1 support person.

Unicross, or unicycle cyclocross is an emerging race format in which unicycles race over a cyclocross course.

Unicycle manufacturing companies



See also



References

  1. Gilby's Website: UAM Logbook - Miles 0 to 100
  2. Comcast SportsNet Feature about Berkeley Unicycle Basketball
  3. How it started in Chrzelice (Polish)
  4. Pictures of handball played by former and current members of Chrzelice unicycle team
  5. Unicyclist.org - image
  6. International Unicycling Federation
  7. Ride the Lobster


External links




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