Brakes on a unicycle

About a month ago I started riding with a brake on my 36 inch wheeled unicycle. The point of the brake is not to be able to brake to a quick, hard stop. While there are some people who can pull that off, it is not my primary aim.

How do people use brakes?

If you consider a brake on a bicycle it serves two purposes.

It is the latter which I needed some assistance with. Before the summer holidays I was having a lot of pain in my knees. Initially I attributed it to a crash I had on my Halfbike—despite the name a Halfbike is not a unicycle.


The real problem with my knees

After a while I realised the crash was not the issue, although I am sure it did not help! I have actually had knee problems on and off for a while now, starting before this crash. The real problem here is that I ride down a lot of steep hills. To control your speed downhill on a unicycle (without a brake) you need to hold back the wheel with your legs, as (most) unicycles are "fixies" [the cranks and wheel always move in unison]. Trying to control speed in this way obviously puts a lot pressure on your knees. After rides involving a lot of hills I would really feel it. So the idea behind the brake is primarily to take that pressure off my knees by applying light force to the brake instead.

It certainly works but it has taken a little getting used to. I learnt to unicycle as a kid and in the last three years I have been regularly commuting on a unicycle, and yet, I had never tried a unicycle with a brake before.

Why unicycling with brakes is weird (for me)

On a unicycle the forward/backward balance is in part controlled by micro adjustments to your speed. If your body starts to fall forwards, speeding up will allow the wheel to catch up with your body. Similarly if your body starts to fall backwards slowing down the wheel will allow your body to catch up with it.

When I started with the brake I noticed something that (to me) felt odd. When cycling down a steep hill and applying the brake too much I would lean forward and then my instinctive tendency was to try and speed up to counteract this. Thus I did not actually slow down, I went faster! In addition, I then had to work harder to overcome the brake. 😆

I am slowly getting it however. Best of all… no more problems with my knees! 👍

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