Making and Riding the Ultimate Wheel

UWs and an IW

Contents

Riding an Ultimate Wheel
Building an Ultimate Wheel
Thick Spoked Ultimate Wheels (Off the Shelf)
Ultamet Wheel Crank Hub w/ Spokes
What Size Ultimate Wheel Should I Buy?
The Ultimate Wheel and Friction
Further Challenges with an Ultimate Wheel
Mountain Ultimate Wheeling
Seat Dragging
Impossible Wheel (BC Wheel)
Other Ultimate Wheel Links

Riding an Ultimate Wheel

Why ride an ultimate wheel? Well its obscure, its fun, and only a little more difficult than riding a unicycle.

Sem Abrahams recommends that you should first be able to idle a unicycle with the seat out in front. I then learned to ride by starting next to a wall with the pedals horizontal and heading off to see how many revolutions I could make. I found I could stay up by wobbling the wheel so that the wheel is leaning against the leg that is not pushing down on the pedal (an exception is made later when idling). If you do not do this, when you push down on the pedal the tire will grab your leg and it will act as a brake. Care should be taken that you do not try to stay on too long when it becomes unstable, just jump off. It seems possible that you could do damage to your ankles if you stay on while the wheel is falling over. Make sure when you ride you put on some ski socks or some leg armor and an old pair of pants or you will be sorry.

David riding UW

David about to ride UW Hands off mount. (With Scott the Muniac and James Muehlner looking on.)

David riding UW again On the road (Scott's Aluminum Muni and my thick spoke UW leaning against car)

David riding UW on grassVery mild off road terrain.

Photos thanks to Scott the Muniac and Dirk Muehlner on 5 August 2000.

Building an Ultimate Wheel

I followed Tom Miller's instructions on building an Ultimate Wheel for the most part. Another approach is to use shortened cranks: The Step by Step guide to making your own UW. I personally think making an ultimate wheel with Tom's Ultimate Wheel Insert is a lot more durable than trying to get 2 cranks to stay in a in a piece of wood (this may be the way to go if you do not like the 4.5" or 5.5" "crank" size for Tom Miller's insert (4.5" is a second "crank" size available only in Tom's Deluxe Ultimate Wheel Insert)).

Some more tips on building an ultimate wheel:

When cutting the valve hole in the plywood, make this big enough for the pump you are using. Consider its orientation. Later, if you want to hop with it, you may want to cut small holes in the plywood by the the rim so you can hop with it holding the rim, with the pedals horizontal or vertical positions and the valve will not be in the way. (Holes also make it much easier to carry!)

I had a real tight fit for my rim so I put the rim on a carpet in the basement, placed the plywood on top and hit the plywood a few times with a sledge hammer to get the rim on, as I got close I had to be delicate or it would come out the other side.

I used screws instead of nails and predrilled small holes and made sure the heads of the screws produce no sharp edges. (Screws are easier to take out if you want to make hand holds later.)

I filled in gaps between plywood and rim and plywood and insert with wood filler, sanded again, then painted a design, then covered with polyurethane to protect paint.

I used a wide metal platform mountain bike pedal. Wide because all your weight is on it, bumpy for grip. I used duct tape on the edge of the petals to cut down the vibration shock when it falls over.

Thick Spoked Ultimate Wheels (Off the Shelf)

I have a 6 spoked 26 inch ultimate wheel from Semcycle (Sem Abrahams) (also available 20" and 24") and found it no harder to ride. I replaced the supplied pedal with a metal bumpy mountain bike pedal. Initially, I found thick spoke wheels require more maintenance since the screws can back out and puncture the tube from inside. I found dipping the screws in wood glue and screwing them back in will do the trick (the Ultimate Wheel has wood inserts in the spokes). I also found the wheel squeaks and put narrow strips of duct tape at the spoke ends (later had it welded (this was relatively easy because its a steel rim, aluminum may be used now)). The advantage of a thick spoked wheel of wheel is that they are a bit lighter and easier to grab for hopping.

A 2 spoke 20" and a 4 spoke 24" are currently available from unicycle.com. I do not like the two spoke because I would be afraid of damaging it hopping with the pedals level.

A 36 inch Coker rim UW.

David riding Brian MacKenzie's UWBrian MacKenzie's 36" Coker

Spoked Ultamet Wheel Crank Hub w/ Spokes

I came up with the idea of putting cranks inside the spoke flange, so I gave Tom Miller a call so he could make it happen. He also had the idea but never made one. I wanted a 700c wheel with 5.5 inch cotterless cranks. I think it came out nicely. Give Tom Miller a call (USA (765) 452-2692) if you want one... he already figured out how to do it and could make one to your specifications. The rim here is an Alex Alex DM18 700c 32 hole and the cranks are Matthew's. Two spokes, one next to each crank are irreplacable... i.e. if they break there is not enough clearance to put another one in. The same can probably be done with a 36 hole rim as well, but it might be better to have 32 so your foot has less chance of hitting the spokes closest to the cranks.

New Ultamet WheelUltamet wheel (tm) just out of box

Cranks inside flangeUltamet wheel (tm)

Ultamet Wheel showing birth markUltamet wheel (tm) TUF birth mark

Ultamet Wheel side viewUltamet wheel (tm) side view

Ultamet Wheel side view showing weldUltamet wheel (tm) inside

UW hanging by a threadUltamet wheel (tm) balanced

71 spoke cylinder hubHere is a different idea.

Tom Miller also experimented with the idea. Here are three UWs, embedded cranks, UW insert, and an early spoked ultamet wheel (failed experiment as the disk shifts). Another shot.

What Size Ultimate Wheel Should I Buy?

As far as I know there are only 3 sizes available: 20", 24", and 26", the 26" only from Semcycle. All with 5" "cranks". I prefer the 26" for most tricks and long rides because it seems the stablest to ride. The 20" seems to have a greater tendency to kick out, but this adds to its appeal for me. The 24" is used in official unicycle meets and the difference in "feel" is small between the 24" and 26". Kids with short legs may prefer the smaller UW. So I recommend getting all three. (A 28" or 700c wheel, would be nice and probably the best to standardize for races, if and when they come available, IMHO.)

The Ultimate Wheel and Friction

I found, as most riders do, that the rubber on the tire grabs your pants. Here are some attempts at dealing with it (any other suggestions?):

Silicone spray on your pants or the rubber tire. Kind of messy and helps marginally.

Use Semcycle's Monte Carlo tires (only available on 26"). After the break in period the plastic reflector band on tire wall does help. Problem: there is still some rubber there to grab your leg.

A smooth dry rotted tire is pretty good since its hard surface will glide over your leg instead of grabbing it. Problem: may be hard to find a "good" dry rotted tire. (This is on the one I am riding above). Combined with Silicone spray it is excellent. When the tire was worn out the tire wall walls were saved and sewn on to a new tire.

plywood UW with dry rotted tiredry rot white wall with new tire, UW now has hand hold holes

Close-up of plywood UWclose-up


Cover each side of the tire wall with 2" cellophane tape. Problem: This works until the tape wears out, in about one day, less if you ride through gravel (the pebbles stick). ;)

Cover the sides of the tires with saturn rings out of vinyl flooring (very cheap), though not as slippery, seems to hold up a bit longer. The 2 vinyl rings are stretched on the rim on either side of the tire. Problem: After a few week or 2 the flooring will be all ripped up.

I have experimented with rings cut from plastic sheets (polypropylene .060 gauge) and then bent with a heat gun and adjustable pliers to wrap slightly around the tire. One problem I had with this approach is the tire I was using was loose and then would bulge out on one side (one of the problems of the rings being slippery and less flexible). To resolve this, I used a tighter fitting tire and sanded down a groove for the tire to grab. I got the tire to hold 40 lbs. of air without serious bulging. Normally, I would take it up to 60 but it did not look like it was a good idea. Another problem recently discovered was that if you go off even a tiny curb at an angle you can easily break the brittle rings you worked so hard on.

Crack in plastic ring result of going off a 2 cm curb


The next plan was .030 teflon, its more slippery and more flexible but set me back $60 for a standard 48" square sheet (not the best size if you want to make rings for a 24" and a 26" wheel). The problem here is it will rip because it fans out and is soft.
I have tried polyurethane and nail polish on the tire walls with moderate success. They wear out in spots after a good ride or two but its easy to apply (i.e. you do not have to take the wheel off) and cheap. Still, this does not create as slippery a surface as I would like.

I even have sewn a soft nylon rope (thickness about the width of my pinky) on the tire wall. This creates a bit of a crowning surface, so leg armor is required.

The best solution so far seems to be to sew on Tubular Webbing. For the 26", I used 9/16" Teal Climb-Spec Tubular Webbing (later versions I used 1" Black Webbing) on the tire wall with upholstery thread. I also sewed on some 1" Black Military-Spec Tubular Webbing on the Roach pads to keep them from wearing holes. The Tubular Webbing is from www.rei.com and www.nrscatalog.com. The tire (which I highly recommend) is Avocet 26" x 1.5". Originally I used it without the webbing on the Roach pad and it started to wear. Now I have the webbing on both; the wear is minimal and the ride is as smooth as silk. (I found you have to be careful with 661 pads and cover up the velcro or it with rip up the webbing).

webbing on 26 inch 9/16" webbing sewn to white wall

webbing on wheel and armor webbing sewn to white wall and Roach pads webbing on wheel and armor again 26" and roach pad

webbing on 24 inch24" with 1" webbing close-up webbing on 24 inch24" close-up

webbing on 20 inch20" with 1" webbing close-up webbing on 20 inch20" close up

Further Challenges with an Ultimate Wheel

There are skills mentioned at Ultimate Wheels: A Beginner's View. (Personally I have not done the kickup mount (seems on hard on my 26", probably easier on a 20" as you have more leverage), jump from one to another (a less dramatic variation may be to step from one to another), jump over pole, and the leap frog mount). The roll mount I think is easier if you step on the pedal just before its at the bottom most point. Some others are:

Pedals level mount: hold UW pedals level, hold tire with opposite hand of leading pedal. Put foot on back pedal, put other foot on front pedal and release UW with hand. This is the first mount I learned, but is probably just as easy as the freemount. (Backwards is kind of awkward but not hard.)

Backwards freemount: UW is behind you, put foot on low pedal and other on high pedal.

Suicide mount: hold UW pedals level, release UW and jump at the same time. Riskier on a unicycle. I learned by pinning tire against the curb at first. Real easy if one pedal is down, just jump on the low pedal.

Spin mount: put foot on low pedal, do a 180 or more while swinging the other foot on. (I guess there is a backwards version too.)

Swivelling: Turn the wheel to the left side when pressing down with the right foot and then turn to the right when pressing down with the left foot and keep it going. The turns should approach 180 degrees, this is not hard but its fun. This is probably good for learning to go up hills. Something similar can be done so you move sideways. (Currently working on getting this backwards (so far only 90 degree turns)).

Ride with knees hitting chest: Its a workout. (I am currently working on doing this backwards.)

Idle with the pedals horizontal (circus idle): I find it slightly easier if my knees are together. Its fun. Once this is learned, going backwards is much easier. Then work on doing this while hands behind back or juggling. After this a further challenge is to do the twist... twist the ultimate wheel while nearly at a still stand on a slippery surface but not ice (slate or spacked snow).

Sitting down on the tire: Roll along slowly, when the pedals are vertical grab the wheel with the opposite hand of the leading pedal, stop, sit down briefly, and then release the wheel with your hand as you stand up. Later, try not to use your hand, then try from idle, sit, back to idle and also circus idle, sit, back to circus idle. Its probably easier than doing it on a unicycle holding the seat, as in the George Peck video.

Taking a foot off the upper pedal for a second or longer (during an idle): Kick up as high as you can. This helps with other skills like the hands off hop and hopping one footed with a hand on the wheel. (Try putting the foot on the other side of the wheel... just thought of it now... I guess you can try to put it in front or behind... try a crank idle too if its a unicycle wheel ;) ). I have also been able to lift a foot and throw a club under the leg while juggling. Here is a case where lifting the foot while passing under the leg when juggling is a harder trick.

Hop: Pedals horizontal with a hand on wheel (hand under rim if wheel design permits). Once you have this solid (say 25 hops) you can work on spinning around.

Hands off hop: From an idle with pedals vertical, move upper foot under the pedal and then hop with the other foot... after hopping get your foot back on top of the pedal and ride off. Practice by taking a foot off and also try hopping directly from a mount. Concentrate on keeping enough pressure on the pedals, so your feet do not slide off. Try to get 25 and work on spinning around. Too easy?, then put your hands behind your back.

Hopping one footed with hand on wheel (pedals vertical): Slow down the idle, take your upper foot off, grab the wheel (with the opposite hand as foot on the pedal), and hop, then put your foot back on the pedal. Once you have this solid (say 25 hops) you can work on spinning around. Watch out you don't pull your UW apart if its the spoke variety. It may be easier holding the UW on the same side as the foot on the pedal, but I developed bruising on my arm from my knee hitting it.

Hopping pedals level with no hands with legs pinching the wheel: This seems too hard to do especially if the tirewall of the UW is slippery. An alternative is to hop leaving the UW on the ground and remount (I am too afraid to do it clearing the UW yet). Then work on hopping while rolling and then hopping to another UW.

Riding with no leg contact with the wheel: I find this skill difficult... When this happens, I frequently feel like I "missed the beat" of the wheel and dismount.

Idling with a foot on the tire: I got nowhere with this yet, it seems like its possible though. A variation, still very hard: idle one footed with a hand on the wheel (possible?).

Walk the wheel: Move the wheel with both feet on the tire. Is this possible? ;) Maybe it could be done with a really thick donut tire?

Jump rope: after being able to do hands off hops solid... its time to move to the jump rope, try to get 25 times and then ride away. Also work on spinning the rope backwards (personally only at 10 so far).

Pick up a (dropped) juggling ball (or club): Its easy on a 20", on a 26" its a bit harder but doable. Also can work on being able to touch the ground. I do this with a pedal down. I find it a little easier to reach down with the opposite hand as the down pedal.

Juggle clubs while idling: Later, try juggling while mounting. (Also trying meteors or poi... it seems more of a challenge than simple cascade juggling because you seem to have less of your body to help you balance.)

Juggle clubs while doing hands off hops: One probably needs to get the jump rope trick solid first. Later, try transitioning back to idling and vice-versa while juggling.

Mountain Ultimate Wheeling

What do you call it? MULTing or MUWing or Mountain UWing? (Well, it looked a little harder on the wheel.)

Climbing up a hill: Here you need to tilt the wheel 30 degrees or so away the leg pushing down. At the same time you need to also be rythmically throwing your weight on each leg as it pushes down, to get that extra torque.

Going down a hill: Here friction is your friend. Lean back a little and squeeze the wheel with your legs if you go too fast. Squeezing the wheel also helps when you go off logs and drops.

Rolling over logs (and big twigs :)): Make sure you hit the log at the sweet spot where your leading pedal is just a bit higher than the back pedal.

Riding in the snow: The best is a good downhill and stopping short (pedals horizontal) so the tire skids. Its made for the snow.... and you get less leg/tire friction.

Hopping: I was not willing to risk pulling out my back trying to make high hops with the UW. Instead, I made a hook on a chain, with plenty of tape on it to keep it from twisting up, or damaging myself or the UW. I find its best to have the leading pedal facing the obstacle and come to a circus idle, hook the hook in with the opposite hand of the side with the leading pedal, make a few practice hops to make sure the hook feels comfortable and is centered. Hop up, circus idle again and release the hook, and ride off. I used the hook on my 26". It has a similar feel to seat out hops, perhaps a bit more stable and less awkward then holding the seat on a unicycle. Usable hook length 254mm or 10" (a bit longer may be better especially on smaller UWs).

UW hookUW hook UW hooked on a 26 inchUW hook and 26" UW

Seat Dragging

Once you have the control to go backwards on the UW, you are probably ready to move on to seat dragging on the unicycle. I think it may be easier to learn on a bigger wheel so your feet are not pushed off so easily when the wheel twists at a sharp angle. I am learning on a 26" wheel with mountain bike pedals and protection for seat. The feeling of learning how to ride all over again when first on the ultimate wheel, comes back to get you here. One finds that the few inches for cranks to clear spokes makes a big difference when trying to ride a unicycle this way. I find seat dragging with the seat behind you is a lot easier then in front especially on bumpy ground. I've gone a 1/4 mile with the seat behind me. The real trick is picking up the seat, which I have not done yet.

Impossible Wheel (BC Wheel)

This is where the pedals hang an inch or so from the axle and do not drive the wheel. The pedals are not independent i.e. if you lift one the other lifts up as well. I started learning with a fence on one side and a pole on the other. I found this easier and more stable than using just 2 poles. Its also kind of scary at first. It may be a good idea to where a helmet, since it may get ahead of you and you may fall backwards easily. Currently, I use 2 poles and have free-wheeled about 5 meters or so, then with 2 poles gently tap the ground again and roll onward. It helps to have leg armor, so if you have to brake by turning the wheel sideways it does not take some skin.

bc wheel bc wheel again bc wheel close-up

The Unicycle Factory (Tom Miller), Semcycle (Sem Abrahams), and Bedford Unicycles (check out Ryan's video!!) makes them. Mine was made by Tom. Poles courtesy of Scott Bridgman.


Other Ultimate Wheel Links

Compilation of Ultimate Wheel Tricks Video from Anthony Soumiatin
The Ultimate Wheel
The Ultimate Wheel of Death
George Peck in the Atlantic Monthly
Semcycle Store
unicycle.com (Look for Roach DH Leg Armor and 20" Ultimate Wheel Unicycle (from The Unicycle Factory))
Riding the Impossible Wheel

Thanks to Ravenwood Photographic for the riderless (non-web) ultimate wheel shots (12 Nov 02).
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Last Revised: 11 September 2009