Unicycling as the ultimate cross-training

Screenshot from 2016-01-18 18:09:42

Unicycling starts to get really interesting when you ride the trails.

Like a lot of athletes, I’m always on the lookout for a cross-training activity that complements my usual regimen. As a joggler, it’s difficult finding something that fits the bill that challenges me in a way that is similar to joggling, but isn’t as strenuous. I’ve sometimes tried simply running, but it often makes me feel like I am regressing from joggling and is otherwise too similar. I also wanted an activity that is easier on the knees. I’ve considered juggling while swimming or “swuggling”, but I don’t have access to a pool.

Screenshot from 2015-10-21 21:04:57

The 24 inch Club unicycle I purchased. This is a good beginner model.

After exploring countless options, I recently “discovered” unicycling, and won the Nobel prize for my amazing discovery. Granted, I’ve always known about unicycling, but for some silly reason or other I didn’t seriously consider taking it up. I used to think it would take too long to learn how to ride one, or that I wouldn’t have enough time, but in late October of last year I finally purchased a 24 inch wheel unicycle. It took about 3 weeks for me to learn to ride forward 500 feet(while recovering from the Yonkers marathon injury), and I am now capable of riding up to 13 miles on it. I can even go up and down hills, so long as they are not too steep.

It should go without saying that it took a lot of practice and patience to get to where I’m at with unicycling, just like how I progressed with joggling. In fact, I can now juggle while unicycling, though very sloppily. I think my joggling ability helped make the transition to juggling while unicycling a lot easier. I can also “idle”, which means pedaling back and forth to stay in the same position without dismounting(which comes in handy when waiting for a traffic light to change), and do a little hopping. Backwards riding I can barely do. Though I’ve taken a bunch of nasty falls, so far I haven’t suffered any serious injuries.

Unicycling just makes perfect sense to me. Similar to juggling/joggling, it’s an aerobic and acrobatic activity that was long ago appropriated by circus performers to the point that few people see it as a sport. Whereas joggling requires a great deal of coordination, unicycling requires a great deal of balance. There’s something about being in “perfect” balance or coordination that brings about a state of euphoria. Unicycling engages the brain in a manner few exercises can approach. Unlike running or joggling, it’s a low impact activity so it gives your knees a break while still providing your legs a great workout.

Unicycling generally requires more effort than bicycling. You always have to pedal if you want to move since you can’t coast on a typical unicycle. This means you burn more calories on a unicycle than on a bicycle when covering the same distance. It’s not as many calories as a person would burn while running, but it is significantly closer.

A lot of people balk at the idea of unicycling as a sport. The association with the circus is still too strong and some people are too self-conscious about all the attention they would get. Besides this, some people see it as inherently dangerous. However, over the past two decades unicycling has become much more popular as an athletic activity for fitness enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. These days, there are even some gutsy people riding mountain unicycles, which are usually called “municycles”. Some prefer riding long distances on roads or bike paths with large 36 inch wheel unicycles which kind of look like smaller versions of the Victorian era Penny Farthing, except that they lack the tiny rear wheel.

As far as safety goes, as long as you know what you’re doing and wear a helmet and safety gear, it probably isn’t much more dangerous than bicycling. If you are still concerned about safety, keep in mind that unicycles tend to be much slower than bicycles, and if something goes wrong they are easier to bail from since they lack handlebars.

Though I enjoy it for its own sake, I unicycle mainly for cross-training since I still see myself primarily as a joggler. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with making unicycling your main athletic activity. I don’t intend to do a lot of juggling while unicycling, but it’s a good skill set to have since it helps to make your upper and lower body movements more independent of each other.

I am considering doing some cycling events in the future, but haven’t found anything suitable yet. Since I am still a novice, I can’t travel very far on my unicycle yet, but I am getting there. I plan to upgrade to a bigger model soon so I can go much farther. In the mean time, I will enjoy the cross-training benefits of unicycling. Unicycling around the neighborhood after a long joggling run is a great low-impact recovery aid, and is a lot of fun both for me and the local kids(as well as adults) who love all the free entertainment. The mean kids love it when I fall off, of course. On the other hand, the geeky kids enjoy it when I explain the physics of unicycling. Actually, they usually do a better job of explaining it to me. I highly recommend unicycling as a cross-training activity for jogglers and runners alike.

Screenshot from 2016-03-01 10:19:47

My first wheels



15 responses to “Unicycling as the ultimate cross-training

  1. Yes, on snow covered trails. That’s where I need not be doing this. 🙂

  2. I can imagine the hikers’ surprise when they encounter you!

    • There weren’t that many people out there due to the cold, windy weather, but the few that did see me were surprised or they smiled. Thanks for coming by Lee!

  3. Wow! Unicycling seems very hard. Congrats on finding and managing a great addition to your juggling.

  4. Spacibo Maryana. I think you could learn how to ride a unicycle pretty quickly. Just takes a few weeks. It really is such a great exercise by itself and one of the best cross-training activities for runners/jogglers I can think of. Good luck with your next race, and thanks for coming by!

  5. Nice writeup. I can juggle whilst riding, but it is far from easy. I usually use my whole body to ride, which isn’t an option when juggling. It feels really strange since all of the unicycling is happening from the waist down. It’s also harder on my 29er than on my 24er. I did it the other day and started to actually get a bit winded after less than a mile, which is a good sign for exercise since just riding on level ground (or juggling while standing) doesn’t have that effect. Presumably, it’ll get easier with more practice.

    Yeah, unicycling in public gets a lot of attention whether you want it or not; just because it is unusual. I’ve been doing it for years and still regularly encounter folks who haven’t seen me before. That’s unsurprisingly still the norm downtown since I live in a tourist city. In the more residential areas that I ride through, more people are used to me.

  6. Thank you for your comment, ldlux.

    Nice to run into a juggling unicyclist. I can totally relate, it’s very tiring juggling while unicycling, but with enough practice it should become easier. I aim to juggle while idling some day.

    I’m not surprised you find it harder to juggle with your 29er than your 24er. I think it’s more difficult to do anything on larger unicycles. Do you also have a 36er? Since it’s easier for me to turn left while unicycling, I can only juggle while unicycling to the left, but find it next to impossible to juggle while turning right. I drop or I jump off when turning right while juggling. Ordinarily, it takes more effort to turn right, even without juggling. Are you able to go backwards? I’m still working on that.

    After all the years I’ve been joggling I’m used to getting attention, so I knew what to expect with the unicycle. The experience is really no different attention-wise except that on rare occasion I will see another unicyclist. I have yet to run into a fellow joggler. Whether I’m joggling or unicycling, it’s great that my neighbors seem to enjoy the “show” I put on, even when I’m just practicing. Unicycling just opens doors to so many possibilities, it’s a fitness activity like no other.

    • Unicyclists are rare enough. Ones who can juggle too, even more so. Juggling whilst idling is a whole ‘nother level. I’m doing well just to be doing it riding forward. Good luck. Maybe I’ll give it a go if I become truly at ease with normal riding and juggling. I’m calling it “uggling”; playing with the words in a fashion similar to “joggling”.

      My last few juggling rides have actually been on my 29er, and I’m about as “good” on it as I was on my 24er now. I’m not really a tricks guy (I do mostly road riding and a little bit of offroad), but since I could already juggle whilst standing, I couldn’t not combine them. I would love to have a 36er, but I cannot afford to acquire or maintain one. Turning is mostly a matter of practice. It can also be influenced by foot placement or having your saddle (even slightly) twisted in the frame. It may help to practice your right turns with your arms folded in front or in back of you. Yesterday’s ride showed me that I lose it on seemingly gentle uphills which pose no issue when I can use my whole body to ride. I worked on riding backwards after learning to idle. After alot of work, I can do it for a few revs on my 24er. It’s not really valuable enough to me to put more work into it. Idling, I use all the time in road riding. Backwards, not so much. In those situations where backing up is handy, I can usually pull it off or at least get to where I can turn around or dismount gracefully.

      I haven’t seen any other unicyclists in the wild. The closest would be the other guy who showed up at an “open streets” event just like I did. I’ve met people who could ride (or just said they could for some reason), but none who were just out riding their unicycles in public. I haven’t seen any jogglers. If I were to, I assume, from my own experience, that the best reaction is no reaction or maybe a thumbs-up which I don’t expect to be reciprocated.

      • I remember last year during the summer when I saw 2 unicyclists almost at the same time. It seems they had the same idea as me since this was at this event celebrating the reopening of this old pedestrian bridge that has been closed for 40 years that connects Manhattan with the Bronx, and I wanted to be the first person to joggle across it. I’m guessing they wanted to be the first to unicycle across it — one beat the other by about 15 minutes. I may have been the first to joggle across it, but I can’t be certain about this. Since then, I haven’t seen any unicyclists.

        I think it’s really impressive that you can juggle while riding on the 29er. I can totally understand hills being difficult while juggling, I can’t juggle up even the slightest inclines. Thanks for the tips, I really should try those to improve my turning.
        I’m still torn sometimes concerning whether I should get a 29er or 36er since I can’t travel that far with my 24er. I love the speed of the 36er, but it’s so much more expensive and it’s harder to handle. Plus there’s the upkeep as you noted. And a 36er takes up more space.

        Can you idle indefinitely on your 29er? Are you equally good with either foot down? I’m not a tricks or skills guy either. I prefer riding around the neighborhood, on dedicated bike paths or in the park. Acrobatic showmanship doesn’t interest me that much, though I can understand the value of certain skills in certain situations. Have fun!

      • I’ve never ridden a 36er, but I’m told it’s quite different. It almost rides itself as long as you’re cruising in a straight line, but changes in direction or speed are more work, especially with a heavy wheel. There are times when my 29er feels downright nimble, which I have never heard said about a 36er. I’ve done 15+ mile rides on my 24er, but it does feel kind of ridiculous in traffic when I’m used to the bigger wheel, which lets me move faster at a given cadence and puts me up higher.

        I cannot idle indefinitely; it wears me out and, sooner or later, fatigue causes error to get too big for me to control. I do tend to stand on the bottom pedal more than sitting on the saddle (or at least feel like that’s what’s happening), so I suppose that’s something for me to work on more. If I’m going to need to be stationary for awhile, I just dismount and then remount, which is usually not a big deal. It is kind of a drag when I make that call and then the light changes immediately so I have to hurry the mount.

        I idle whith my right foot down and am almost useless with left foot down. It’d just take practice to even that out, I know, but this is working out well enough on the road. I also stop with right foot down and static mount with right foot rear.

      • What brand 29er do you ride Idlux? I’m still looking into both 29ers and 36ers so I can ride farther. I’m more likely to purchase a 29er, though I may get a 36er later depending on how things work out. I like nimble and small rather than large and cumbersome even if that means going slower than a 36er.

        It seems most people have a preferred idling foot, just as it’s easier for many unicyclists to turn in one direction. Like you, I find it easier to do it with my right foot. Unfortunately, I haven’t done much riding lately due to an ankle sprain from joggling 2 weeks ago. I only started unicycling again 2 days ago and it felt awkward and scary, since I feared I might land too hard on my ankle and re-injure it. Juggling while riding is out of the question.

        How many balls/objects can you juggle? I tend to joggle with 3, but when standing or walking I can juggle 4(on rare occasions I may joggle with 4 but when I do I run so slowly and drop a lot while doing that). Still can’t do 5, though I work on it on and off. It may be another week before I can return to idling practice. Have fun with your unicycling and juggling.

  7. I got a cheap 29er since I didn’t know whether I’d like the size. It’s a Trainer. It was under $200 and has held up to several years (I think) of road riding. I have upgraded the pedals and saddle, gotten shorter cranks, and have gone through several tires.

    Injuries are the worst. You’ll need that ankle for unicycling. Better to take it easy a bit longer than t really mess it up.

    I can juggle 4 balls or 3 clubs. I worked on 5 for a long time, but it didn’t work out, so 4 it is. When I’m riding, it’s 3 balls.

  8. Looks great. I have tried it once as a kid (loooong time ago 😉 and it was hard!
    I think I’ll stick to our tandem! 🙂

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