History of the Unicycle

Let’s look into a bit of the history of the unicycle… Once seen strictly as a conveyance only used by performers and acrobats, in recent years the unicycle is fast becoming a popular way of getting around by a growing number of enthusiasts.

Unlike its two-wheeled cousin the bicycle, the unicycle is a much simpler creation. It has no gear or chain and brake arrangement to move it. Rather the pedals are fashioned to directly crank the axle and move the wheel. Also, on the unicycle, the weight of the rider is carried directly over the wheel, unlike on the bicycle where the weight is offset by the frame so that it is carried by two wheels. To ride the unicycle requires a slightly different set of balancing skills than the bicycle.

History of the Unicycle picture

Although historians can’t exactly agree on the exact origin of the unicycle, one much favored theory of the origins of the unicycle is due to the general popularity of the old fashioned big wheeled penny-farthing (also called the "Ordinary") ridden in the late 1800s century. In this old incarnation with the tall front wheel and tiny back wheel, the pedals were connected directly into the front axle, and the rear wheel would lift off the ground allowing the rider to move slightly forward to ride.

Over time, there were many penny-farthing owners who found they could get rid of the frame and just ride on the front wheel and handlebars. There is ample evidence to support this theory of development in the form of pictures dating from the late 1800s which show unicycles with the same kind of large wheels as the penny-farthing.

Recent History of the Unicycle

Throughout the history of the unicycle, the basic form remained more or less unchanged in form up until the late 1980s. At this point, they were used mainly by performers and acrobats, rather than by the average enthusiast. Throughout the 20th century, the growing number of unicycle enthusiasts has proven to be an inspiration to the various manufacturers to come up with new designs.

Today we have the seatless (also called the "ultimate wheel") and the tall (or "giraffe") unicycle which is chain driven to account for the greater height. Also included in the list of different models are the freestyle unicycle that is generally used to highlight flatland skills and routines, the trials unicycle which are stronger than a standard unicycle and often have a nubbed tire because it has to withstand the greater stresses of jumping, dropping, and supporting the weight of the unicycle and rider during unicycle trials.

There is also the offroad unicycle ("MUni" or "muni" short for mountain unicycling). The MUni has a number of the same kinds features as the trials unicycle, but they have a few critical differences. The diameters of the tires on mountain unicycles allow the rider to roll over obstacles such as roots and rocks more easily. Brakes sometimes are installed to control steep descents. The touring unicycle is designed especially to cover long distances. The wheel diameter is larger so the rider can cover more distance with less pedal rotation.

In the late 1980s, a group of extreme sportsmen took an interest in the unicycle, which led to the creation of off-road unicycling ( or MUni). Like today’s skateboarding competitions, there are also flatland trials which have a more urban feel to them than the Muni trials. For more info on Mountain Uncycling, click here.

But many people just have fun riding around the neighborhood. Or even commuting to and from work.

Go from History of the Unicycle page to Home Page