Commute By Unicycle: Realistic or Ridiculous?

After a significant hiatus from Commute by Bike, I considered reintroducing myself to the wonderful world of bike blogging by composing a fluffy, friendly piece about the joys of traveling by bicycle, the amazing feeling of having fresh, crisp air flowing through your lungs as you take the clean, green way to work… and then I learned about the electric, self-balancing commuter unicycle.

Commute Connect Man
Daniel Radcliffe doppelgänger enjoying a Commuter Connect unicycle

Commute Connect, based in Highland Park, Illinois, has caught the attention of some reputable news outlets recently as the company president, Tim Goebel, has been making his way up and down the streets of Chicago on his single-wheeled machine. According to Commute Connect’s website, this commuter unicycle is “built for the athletic commuter,” and “multiple three-axis accelerometers and gyros provide superior inertial measurement enabling for a ride like no other [sic erat scriptum].” The Smart Sense ™ feature helps the rider balance on the unicycle, and turning and braking are accomplished by shifting your weight. So, that’s how an electric self-balancing unicycle works, folks.

There are certainly positive attributes that deserve attention: it has a compact design, so you can carry it on public transportation during rush hour and proudly store it next to your desk inside of your office. There is no drive train, so you don’t have to worry about getting grease on your fancy work attire. And, it will undoubtedly prove to be a conversation starter. “[It’s] even better than a puppy,” Goebel told the Chicago Tribune.

Unfortunately, there are some potential drawbacks as well. With a price tag of $1,795, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, the unicycle is significantly more expensive than many folding bikes on the market that are also easily transported and stored (but, to be fair, are not self-balancing). Also, it may not be as simple to operate as the website proclaims. In a twelve-second video on the company’s homepage, Goebel is shown weaving his way down a vacant sidewalk and appears to be engaging in some sort of reserved hula dance to maintain his balance (he is also not smiling, not even a little). Finally, none of these images or videos depict a person carrying anything, which may prove to be problematic for a commuter.

Commute Connect Circles

Not having ridden a Commute Connect unicycle myself, it may be unfair for me to make the assessment that this is an overpriced and/or oddly marketed toy and not a legitimate alternative for urban commuters. It’s a nice idea, but in reality, I think that we’re not likely to see city streets littered with unicyclists zipping along at 12.5 miles per hour (max speed) in the near future. If you’re an avid one-wheel fanatic and disagree with me, I’d love to hear from you (or better yet, see a video of you in action), but I think that I’ll stick to two wheels and human propulsion for now.

Full disclosure: although I’ve successfully ridden bicycles for almost as long as I’ve been able to walk, any attempt at riding a unicycle has ended in bruises and a bruised ego for me. Maybe that’s why I’m resistant to the idea of a world in which commuting by unicycle is the norm.

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14 thoughts on “Commute By Unicycle: Realistic or Ridiculous?”

  1. BluesCat says:

    Welcome back, Stacey!


    Yeah, I’ll be more interested in this product when they come out with a recumbent version of it!

  2. rjp says:

    There was a guy at Lovefilm (Andre Shapps, used to be in Big Audio Dynamite) who unicycle-commuted in London on a big fancy thing with brakes.

  3. fred_dot_u says:

    More accurately, the unicycle is manufactured by Focus Designs and is called the SBU, for self-balancing unicycle. I’ve owned version one and currently own version two, while the model on the market now is version three. I don’t see too many differences from v2 to v3, other than cosmetics and some small performance number changes.

    I have more than 1100 miles on my v2 and it’s a great machine. It’s difficult to beat five miles to the penny for electricity (at $0.11 per kwh) and the ride is simply fun.

    It’s far easier to master than one might think. I’ve taught a number of onlookers to feel comfortable after only about 20 minutes of instruction. Of course some people have a sense of balance precluding rapid progress, so there will be exceptions.

    It’s not particularly heavy and easily transported. I have a sticker on the side from the local bus company giving my permission to transport a battery operated device on the bus. It’s not a lead-acid battery anyway, but some drivers throw a fit when they discover there’s a battery involved. The sticker was no cost and solves much.

    Regarding the pedal-powered version of commuting by unicycle, I learned to ride by purchasing the book from and it was worth every penny. After a month of extensive and exhausting practice, I was able to circle the block (1 mile) without an unplanned dismount. The amount of effort I required to ride the pedal unicycle was the same effort I expend to climb a local high-rise bridge and both push my heart rate to 170 bpm.

    On the flip side, the SBU is relaxing and does not push my heart rate in the slightest. Little of what I learned from the pedal uni applied to the SBU. One begins to learn by flipping up one pedal (foot rest) and scootering along, leaning forward slightly to trigger the SBU to motor ahead slowly.

    In the process, one finds the center point (left to right) for balance and discovers that the “down-foot” no longer is needed on the ground. It’s easy enough to over-compensate and have to drop the opposite foot, but that’s a non-event. The electronics of the SBU keep the wheel under you, front to rear and once you have that understanding, it’s a quick trip to success.

    I like the reference to a recumbent version, although left/right balance would be difficult in such a design. One uses one’s hips as the pivot to shift weight while underway, for steering and balance. A recumbent tends to stabilize that part of the body, preventing the necessary movement. I ride a velomobile and there’s little balance involved unless a wheel lifts and even then, there’s no body shift to compensate.

    I should add that the seat on the standard SBU is probably the hardest thing one will have for body support. I jumped on a air-cushion seat add-on that quadrupled the riding comfort. It should be offered on the manufacturer’s web page, but that’s just my opinion.

    I’m not a representative of the company, just a happy owner.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      It’s difficult to beat five miles to the penny for electricity (at $0.11 per kwh)

      It’s not that difficult to beat five miles to the penny. Most of the people who read this blog do it every day.

      I tried an early version of this contraption at Interbike a couple of years ago. I was a disaster — but in a fun way. I think I needed more than five minutes with it.

  4. Mechanic at Richardson Bike Mart commutes by unicycle daily. Always wondered why, but the comment about the puppy gives me a lead idea now…

  5. colinoldncranky says:

    I have been commuting by normal pedal powered unicycle for many years, having passed my 30,000th km two days ago.

    I suppose I could be excused for being superior about using my own legs. But no, I think the small number of electric SBUs out there are on the right track. They are far more effective and usable than things like the Segway or the NZ YikeBike as well as way cheaper. Priced in the same market as a heavy steel electric bike.

    To all those developing and manufacturing these things, keep at it.

  6. Abby says:

    How does it do on hills, up or down? We’ve got lots of hills where I live.

  7. ret3 says:

    About a week ago, I was riding home from work on a quiet light-industrial street, feeling like I was doing the Keep Austin Weird thing pretty well with my MonkeyLights and AirZounds on my funky-colored mixte, when a dude on a large-diameter non-electrified unicycle zipped out of an apartment driveway and totally showed me up. I am therefore eternally opposed to crazy circus toys on our hallowed streets. Besides, everyone knows unicyclists never stop at lights, cavalierly cut off bicyclists, illegally take up room in BIKE lanes, and secretly want to deprive us of our god-given right to ride a two-wheeled vehicle and force us onto those unsafe contraptions.

  8. ret3, man, I busted a gut reading that…

  9. Skmeetz says:

    Still beats walking, or driving! My prediction is that unicycles are the next fixies!

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Unicycles are fixies.

  10. Safe Riding says:

    How much harder would it be to commute to work on a unicycle while wearing a bag with a laptop and a couple of notebooks. At my job, a strict dress code is required too =(

  11. Ben says:

    For injury reasons I won’t get into now, lifting my recumbent or upright bike to the bike rack, or loading it into the station wagon present problems. I NEED to ride and commute not just for the fun, the practicality, but the exercise. I can lift a unicycle and have been wondering about learning to ride so I can commute.

    I’d love to hear more and see more about commuting by unicycle, not to replace bikes, but to open up cycling of all types to more people.

  12. Racklefratz says:

    I seriously wonder about the claims by Focus Design that “most people” can learn the basics of riding an SBU in “20 mins or less”. I’ve always been pretty physically fit, and have done many things requiring decent balancing ability, but it took me 6 weeks of frequent practice before I was able to ride mine more than a few feet before having to hop off and try again. Now, after 6 months ownership, I’m able to ride up and down pretty steep paved hills and make fairly tight u-turns without stopping. It’s good exercise, and it’s a lot of fun.

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