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Bicycle Glossary - U


Ultimate Wheel - A rideable machine like a unicycle, but there is no seat or frame, just pedals mounted on a wheel. The hardest part about riding an ultimate wheel is owning one - you can't buy them at Wal-Mart. But once you get one (or make your own), you'll find it surprisingly easy to learn. You do not need to be a good unicyclist first, because the riding skill is entirely different. The trick is to use a large diameter wheel, twenty-six or twenty-seven inch, and mount the pedals close to the plane of the wheel. Most ultimates are made by cutting a piece of thick plywood to fit within a rim (no spokes). The pedals are screwed into steel inserts that bolt to the wooden disk. Put some plastic electrical tape along the sidewalls of the tire, and as you ride, squeeze your lower legs together, so the tape and your pants legs make a sort of friction bearing to keep the wheel upright. People who are good on ultimate wheels can go backward, idle, run obstacle courses, and play music or do performance tricks with their hands while riding.

Unicycle - A rideable machine with one wheel. The standard unicycle has a seat mounted on a fork, which holds a twenty to twenty-six inch wheel. Cranks and pedals are mounted directly to the hub of the wheel. Many variations are possible, such as unicycles that look like wheelbarrows, or unicycles which have handlebars and look like bicycles, but have no front wheel. The most common variation is tall unicycles. These have a seat mounted six or more feet (2 meters) above the ground. Some have been built - and ridden - up to one hundred feet tall! (30m) The wheel is chain driven from the pedals which are within reach of the seat. Although most commonly used for entertainment, the unicycle can be a serious commuting tool. For instance, a salesperson who must park far away from many of the customers on the route, can keep a unicycle in the back seat of the car, and commute by unicycle from the parking lot to the customers. A unicycle can be very small and light compared to a bicycle, and therefore mixes well with public and private transportation - buses, airplanes, taxis. The only drawbacks are that the conventional unicycle is limited to one-to-one gearing, like a bicycle stuck in first gear, and you can't coast. So, it is fine for short trips, but tiring for long distances. Still, many people have managed to tour on unicycles. The touring unicycles are usually tall enough to be chain driven, which means at least four feet tall (1.3m). This allows for gearing the unicycle higher, and therefore making the ride less work. Because a unicyclist cannot usually attain high speeds, it is a fairly safe sport, unless the unicyclist starts to try riding taller and taller unicycles!

Learning to ride a unicycle is probably easier than when you learned to ride a two-wheeler. Start in a quiet paved area next to a chain link fence. The pavement should be smooth and level. Just sit on the unicycle while holding onto the fence to get a feel for it. 

To get on the machine, put one of the cranks all the way down, and step onto that pedal with all your weight. This will keep the wheel from rolling away. While sitting, rock back and forth a bit until you feel somewhat confident. Then ride forward only one rotation at a time, while holding onto the fence. Work your way up to two and more rotations, while touching the fence only lightly. Eventually, you'll be able to forget the fence altogether, and ride anywhere you want. When you are first learning, wrap the seat with a towel, because you'll probably drop the unicycle quite often, and can damage the seat. You may fall a few times. If you are athletic, or wear knee, butt, and elbow pads, you won't be likely to be injured. You might also consider wrist guards and a helmet. As you become an accomplished rider, the chance of injury is much reduced. Injuries happen only seldom, but they happen most often at the very beginning stages. The most common injury is a sore tailbone, so wearing some sort of padding there is recommended. A folded dish towel worn inside the pants would be a good idea. Injury from unicycling is far less common than from most other sports such as tennis, skiing and football, but maybe that's because there are so few unicyclists.

Patience is a good attribute. If you are the sort of person who gives up a potential new activity after only a week of effort, unicycling may not be for you. However, if you stick it out for a couple of months, practicing every few days, you'll not only learn to ride a unicycle, but will learn something even more valuable.  You will learn to trust yourself to accomplish anything you set out to do!

At first, riding is easier than learning to start without something to hold onto. To "free mount" the unicycle, put one of the pedals all the way down, Step forward with all your weight onto that pedal, while bringing your other foot onto the other, high pedal. You'll actually be stepping past the unicycle a bit, resulting in a forward lean, which is exactly what you need to start accelerating.

Start slowly. It is easy to get sore muscles, or chaffing of the inner thighs from too much unicycling too soon. Just practice for five or ten minutes at a time, at first.

There are literally hundreds of freestyle tricks that can be fun to watch or to perform. The first you might want to learn are idling and riding backward. Others include free mounting tall unicycles, hopping, skipping rope, riding with one foot, or walking the wheel, which is propelling the unicycle by walking your feet backward on the top of the tire. Activities include basketball, polo, dancing, racing, group rides, collecting, and performing in mixed media such as playing music or juggling while unicycling.

When purchasing a unicycle, watch out for the very lowest cost ones. They have a short, one piece crank, and a badly designed seat, and are almost impossible to actually ride! 

The two most common wheel sizes are twenty and twenty-four inch. The twenty-inch unicycle is good for tricks and small children, but does not go very fast. The twenty-four inch unicycle covers more ground more easily, but some tricks require more practice to master. The wheel size does not matter in comparison to the size of the rider. A small woman can ride a 24" unicycle, as a huge man can ride a 20" unicycle. Whichever unicycle you get, make sure that the seat can be raised high enough for you. Sometimes, long seatposts must be custom built for average to tall riders. Most new unicycles come with seatposts that are too short for average riders!

Unicycles can often be purchased at garage sales for very reasonable cost, because the previous owner never learned to ride. Be aware of stripped crank threads, the most common unicycle failure. The pedals take a beating, and people are often confused about right and left pedals on unicycles, and cross-thread them, since like bicycles, the left pedal is left-threaded.

Universal Brake Cable - A brake cable (either inner wire, or wire plus casing) which will fit almost any kind of brake. The inner wire has two ends. You cut off the end which does not fit your bike, and use the other. The cable is also extra long, to fit any common situation, so you shorten it as necessary.

Universal Derailleur Cable - Same as Universal brake cable (which see) but for derailleurs.


Anything missing or need greater coverage? Let me know - Jeff

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Although I have attempted to cover the major safety issues, I cannot be responsible for your use of this information. Working on bicycles is dangerous if you do it without considering consequences of bolts left loose, known problems which are ignored, things which should be replaced but are glued instead, and so on. Proceed carefully at your own risk and use common sense. Jeff Napier, and all agents associated with this information, do not offer any guarantee or warranty for your use of this information.

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