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I see many on-line calculators for calculating calories burned while riding a bicycle. Would riding a unicycle be similarly useful for losing weight?

I notice there are several differences between riding a bicycle and riding a unicycle:

  • Bicycles have larger wheels and a chain, which changes how fast the bike moves relative to how fast one is pedaling, but unicycles have a smaller wheel and the wheel only turns as fast as one pedals.
  • Bicycles can easily reach more than 20 mph, but a unicycle rider will have difficulty reaching more than 7 mph.
  • Bicycle riders can shift gears when encountering a hill. Unicyclists cannot shift gears.

Will riding a unicycle still be of benefit for weight loss? Will it be considerably less useful than riding a bicycle?

  • BKE is correct. I can ride on the street and use very little energy. Go off the road and all depends on the trail, but overall takes many times more energy. Hilly, soft ground, bumpy all make a huge difference on the amount of energy it takes to just stay up and moving. I used to race bicycles (road race). I could push myself to further exhaustion on a bicycle since the balance is not needed. And free mounting a larger 29" uni (many times) on a rough trail does take a lot. Your legs never get even a 1 second break, that makes a difference too. Four weeks of ridding on the trails (about 1 hour – Matt Buck Apr 28 at 2:47
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This link goes to a calories-burned-calculator.

Unicycle Input Values

Weight: 220 lbs (99.8kg)
Height: 67 in (170.2cm)
Age: 30
Gender: Male
Result 348 Calories per hour

The same input values for bicycling @ 14-15.9 mph yields a burn of 784 calories per hour.

While there is no doubt the unicycle takes more skill to ride (especially if you're climbing hills), it is not using as much muscle consistently as the bicycle. As one who has never unicycled for fitness or ever... I can't speak to the intensity (in terms of aerobic exercise) this modality provides.

As a coach and motivator - If unicyling is going to encourage you to exercise and enjoy what you're doing. DO THAT!! Pay little to no attention to the calorie difference at first. Get to a healthy place in terms of enjoying the exercises you are participating in and then worry more about the calories.

Depending on one's diet...

If you started unicycling and dropped one 20 ounce Mountain Dew (using the same values/calories burned above):

Unicycling - 348 calories
Not Drinking 1 Mountain Dew - 290 calories
Net loss for doing something you like and getting rid of a sugary drink-
638 Calorie deficit for the day

If your diet is clean already, this is a moot point.

  • Worth noting that the "calorie calculators" are based of a certain human body type, gender, age etc. Actual calories expended can vary by 20% or more. – Gunge May 25 '17 at 15:00
  • @JJosaur very valid point. The only way you will know how much energy you burn is by having a Resting Metabolic Rate test and a VO2 max test. – BryceH May 25 '17 at 15:05
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I would not trust calorie calculators for activities like unicycling at all.

First, it depends on how skilled the rider is. The learning curve for the unicycle is quite steep so it takes time to be able to ride it efficiently. Second, how often does the rider mounts/dismounts? The mount is a short explosive movement (basically jumping on it), so, especially when learning a new skill, with lots of falling/mounting, it would require more energy. Third, are jumps, tricks also part of the training? They can be really intense. In contrast, riding the unicycle in a flat, straight line by an experienced rider would be low intensity, similar to jogging/running.

The conclusion is, the amount of energy required by unicycling is quite individual and depends on how exactly the person is using it, and I doubt that there is extensive research on this topic.

Therefore, I think it is better to approach this question from another point of view. What really matters is motivation and what makes you stick with an activity. Even if we knew how many calories per hour you specifically burn on the unicycle, it makes no sense to compare with something else, without knowing how much time you will actually be motivated to spend on each.

Unicycling requires skills, so it really comes down to your personality. Are you that kind of person, who easily gets hooked on something hard, and enjoys learning difficult skills? Or do you just want to lose weight in the most efficient way with the least effort invested? Anecdotally, all unicyclists I know are slim, because they spend too much time on the unicycle and often even forget to eat when they are really hooked on learning a new trick :)

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