GUni Mythbuster: Gear Shift Technique
Browse a Schlumpf MUni (Mountain Unicycle) Hub thread and it’s not long before you come across a post or two discussing gear shifting techniques and concerns. Like using a brake on a unicycle, shifting gears – done by tapping axle buttons with the side of your feet while riding – sounds like a death wish on one wheel.
Just like braking though, it turns out shifting gears on the Schlumpf MUni hub is a lot of fun and not as difficult as you would assume. Like just about everything else on a unicycle I reckon it comes down to practice and how bad you want it. This is where a off roading with a smaller GUni has a major advantage – you can ride a 24 GUni like a 2 speed mountain bike during off road rides and clock up a ton of gear changes just as part of the ride, improving your technique and success rate, compared to relatively few gear shifts needed when riding on the road. On a smaller GUni your speeds in low and high gear are also a lot slower compared to something like a 36’er GUni so you can explore gearing with less risk of major UPD drama.
Apart from mojo and terrain there are of course a bunch of other things that also influence gear shifting – pedals, shoes, crank length, wheel size, etc. If after a lot of practice it’s still not coming together take a look at those things, especially shoes. IMO a high level of shoe/pedal grip is not a problem but an advantage, allowing decisive gear shifting action (rear of foot) without interrupting rhythm (front of foot). Five Ten Karvers are excellent GUni shoes with padding in the right places, for me anyway.
Sometimes before heading out on a GUni ride I trundle around cycling through a few gear shifts to get some mojo flowing and to double check the uni is right to go. I had the GoPro HD with me yesterday so took some gear shifting footage before the ride kicked off – C.R.A.P. Movie Warning! If you can’t be bothered watching it there is more bla bla below.
C.R.A.P. Gear Shifting Technique
I don’t think shifting gears on a unicycle will ever be as mindless and automatic as on bicycles, but then riding a uni isn’t as mindless either. Don’t fret, there’ll still be ample gear shifting related mishaps, UPD’s and all the other unexpected disasters unicyclists enjoy. So here are a few things that have helped me exorcise some gear shifting demons – my very own crap technique!
- Shift gears like you mean it, a definite positive motion. You’re either shifting gears or you’re not – don’t pfaff around inbetween.
- Go out on a ride committed to changing gears as if you were riding an MTB, where using gears is a natural, integral part of the ride.
- Not much works when you’re uptight. Relax
- Don’t mash the pedals – ease off pressure as you shift
- Feel what is going on before, during and after shifts
- Anticipate the change in cadence, and the variable delay before the shift catches. IMPORTANT!
- Not just boring practice, shift gears as much as you can during rides
- Crank up your GUni mojo with a few shifts before heading out on a ride
So enough of the CRAP, something practical.
A handlebar is close to essential on a GUni IMO. It adds a huge amount of control, acting as an extended variable lever you can use to offset the increased/variable forces both going into the pedals from you and going into your feet from the pedals in high gear, and changing back and forth between gears. The longer the lever the finer the control, the less effort, but the more awkward so it’s a compromise.
To the people who say a handlebar gets in the way during MUni I call BS. Unless you’re out on the trail doing unispins chances are the handlebar won’t get in the way and the benefits of having it on a GUni far far outweigh anything else, plus there’s the significant kickback of dramatically increased comfort on longer rides. You can haul along singletrack in high gear confident you have the leverage to handle dramas as they come along.
Where to start with a handlebar? The ideal handlebar position for each rider is going to be a little different, and slight changes here and there seem to make all the difference. For that reason I’d recommend starting with a KH Touring Bar which is ultra adjustable, and fine tuning the setup that suits you by which stage your head will probably already be full with your own dream handlebar design, without the hit and miss of positioning. There is nothing as sweet and satisfying as your own handlebar creation! 🙂
Which part of the shoe is used to shift gear? Really that depends on your own preference.
I started off using the inside edge of the sole (Five Ten Sam Hill’s). Because sole rubber is dense and narrow shifting requires ultra precise timing and just the right amount of foot action, creating a situation where you often need to prepare yourself for the shift – not always possible in the real world. Successful shifts are sweet though as the action is so positive and clean but shifting failure rate is too high for off road riding.
I also spent a fair amount of time working on shifting with my ankle which for me worked better and felt more natural but wasn’t especially comfortable over time, bones and shifter buttons probably weren’t made to whack into each other.
I was dreaming of the perfect GUni shoe, a low shoe with extra mid height padding on the inside creating a large smooth contact area for the shift button and Shazaam! along came Five Ten Karvers. Almost instantly shifting was how I wanted it to be – readily accessible while off roading where often terrain etc changes at short notice. Just awesome fun.
Other tips… hmm… Adjust the position of the shift buttons to suit yourself. I’m phobic of accidental downshifts at high speed so set the downshift button into the crank arm a little deeper than the upshift button. It’s surprising the difference a half turn or two of the button thread can make. Also, upshifts seem to be cleaner with a nice snappy shifting action, downshifts with a lighter action. Remember to ease off pedal pressure, easy to do on the flat, on downhills light braking (not leg, use a brake) can be the trick. Just like on an MTB, don’t wait until you’re grinding away heavily to change gears – shift before it gets terminal.
All this doesn’t mean there aren’t mis-shifts or UPD’s due to shifting now and then but generally as they say ‘SHIFTS HAPPEN! 😛
Bottom line: If an average joe like me can shift gears on a unicycle, anyone can.