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I Bought a Bedford!

Picture of unicycle lying on cement

Yup, I did. Why? My Norco died. I was trying to go up a curb one evening and noticed that my pedal seemed loose (again).  "I welded the cranks on just last week!" I thought to myself.  I got off and inspected it, everything seemed in good order.  I rode a few feet further and my pedal fell off, unceremoniously dumping me on the ground.  The axle snapped where the cotter pin went through.

Upon dismantling the Norco, it turned out that the frame was cracked up both sides, right through the bolt-holes where the lollipop bearings are held in.

"I thought this was a Bedford unicycle review," you say to yourself.  Well, it is.  I just have to set up the mood. :)

I told my tale of woe to the wonderful people on and they had many helpful suggestions on a new unicycle to buy.  The problem was, I was short of cash.  Greenbacks.  Moola.  Dinero.  You see, here in Canada by the time you end up getting a unicycle from (great site, keep up the good work guys) it gets quite expensive.  The United is $149usd, which converts to $225cdn, plus 20% duty to import it plus shipping brings the total to about $300cdn. However, they only rate the wheel to 160lbs. I weigh 180lbs and have a propensity for breaking things.

So, one of my friends (Mike King) suggested that I talk to Darren Bedford about a unicycle.  One of the bunch here in Calgary (Brad Davis) rides an older model Bedford unicycle, so I figured I'd give Darren a try.

2001 model Bedford

  • Square crown frame with endcap style bearing holders, can take up to a 26" wheel
  • 24" wheel with 36 hole hub, Sun 1.25" wide double wall rim and 2.1" wide smooth whitewall tire
  • 5" cranks
  • Good quality rubber pedals
  • air-adaptable seat
  • Good quality quick release

Upgrades/changes from standard model

  • Kenda Kollossal 2.6" wide tire
  • Downhill tube - IRC 24x2.35-3.00" tube
  • 6" cranks

I called him up, and found Darren to be both friendly and helpful.  He was willing to put different parts on the unicycle, so I decided on a longer seatpost, 6" cranks and a Gazz 2.6" wide tire.  Darren had problems getting the Gazz tires in from Finland so after a few weeks he suggested that I go with a Kenda 2.6" tire instead.  I agreed and the unicycle arrived on my doorstep a few days later, before I had even paid for it!  Final cost, including shipping, was $325cdn (approx. $216usd).  I believe he gave me a good deal because I waited a few weeks for the tire issue to be resolved.  If you buy something similar, you might pay a few extra bucks.

So, here are a couple pictures of the Bedford:

Picture of unicycle lying on cement Another shot of unicycle lying on the cement

Kenda tire, Sun double wall rim, 6" cranks, quick release and a nice fat tube...  The only parts that didn't come with the unicycle were the pedals, they're some old GT BearTrap pedals I had on my Norco crapcycle before it died.

Here are some close-ups of the hub and bearing holder:

Shot of bearing holders and crank Shot of bearing holder

These bearing holders are generally considered to be a good design.  My old Norco used the lollipop style of bearing holders and the frame was cracked up both sides by the time I junked it.  The bearing holders on the Bedford are a lot less likely to crack the frame, even if the bolts are tightened too much.  You can also see the hub from this angle, it looks like a hub (wow!).

Astute viewers will notice that the cranks are no longer 180 degrees opposed to each other (more on this later).

Rubber pedals

Oooo... Aaaahh...  Rubber pedals which came with the Bedford.  Actually they are the heaviest, strongest looking rubber pedals I have ever seen.  They feel like they weigh about twice as much as my GT pedals, so don't expect them to break any time soon.  The rubber pads extend past the end of the pedal spindle, so these pedals are ideal for riding indoors.  They won't put dents in the floor, unlike the GT pedals.  They also won't eat your shins like the GT pedals.  They also won't grip your shoes like the GT pedals.

When I talked to Darren on the phone, he said he had found a pretty comfortable seat that could be converted to an air seat if desired.  When I got it I rode around on it for a few weeks with the seat foam and found that I could ride it for about an hour before I got a sore crotch.  It was much better than my Norco seat (which used to draw blood), but still had one painful pressure point right about mid-crotch.  After a while it would feel like you were sitting directly on the seatpost.  I decided to try the air seat trick everyone else talks about, with good results.  Pictured above is the seat foam and the seat already converted over to an air seat.

Here's a look at the bottom of the seat.  It uses the standard 4-bolt seat mount.  The rubber seat cover actually bolts onto the seat.  You can also see where I drilled a hole through the seat plate for the valve stem to come out through.  I didn't have a file to remove the sharp edges created when I drilled the hole, so I put duct tape on both sides of the plate to protect the tube.  I also put duct tape over anything that could hurt the tube inside the seat, including the bolt heads.  So far, it has worked perfectly.  The tube was a cheap 12 inch tube destined for a kids bike.  In my opinion this is the cheapest and best modification you can make to your unicycle if you want to ride for long periods of time.  I have ridden this seat for up to four hours at a time, with no soreness in my crotch.

As you can see, the seat tube has been hacked off. When Darren tells you the seatpost will be long enough for you, you might want to listen (unlike me)!

Another shot of the seat where you can see its overall shape.  It's not very well suited to seat out in front riding because the back is so wide.  When I first rode it, it reminded me of one of those granny bike seats with the springs on them, but now I am quite happy with it and have decided to ride with a cane. >:P

Seat tube and quick release mechanism

When I talked to Darren on the phone, I told him I didn't want a quick release on my unicycle.  The one I retrofitted on my old Norco kept bending on me and was absolutely useless.   I ended up buying a meaty bmx seat post clamp with a hex bolt and had awesome results.  Well, Darren convinced me to try the quick release, as you can see.  It definitely is stronger, my old quick release had a 3/16" shaft whereas this one has a 5/16" shaft.  It has worked satisfactorily, to the point where you can see all those dents in my seat tube caused by overtightening the clamp to try and keep the seat from twisting (did I mention I'm not a very good rider? :) ).  My only complaint with this setup is that the seat clamp itself is *welded* to the unicycle.  I can't put my meaty bmx clamp on without first cutting this seat clamp off.  The bmx clamp might not cause the denting like this one because it is solid aluminum and would distribute the pressure over a larger area on the seatpost.

Frame crown

The Bedford comes with a square crown, suitable for foot on frame riding.  You can see the extra height available above the tire, which Darren added so that people could put in a 26" wheel if they wanted to.  Unfortunately there isn't enough width between the forks to put a 3" wide tire (Clearance between the forks is 2.75").  In talking with Darren, he said that when he does his next run of frames next year (2002) he will add the width to allow for a 3" wide tire.

All of this brings me to the tire, which is arguably the most important part of the unicycle since it is *usually* the only point of contact between you and the environment around you.  When I first got the Bedford in the mail it had this white wall street tire on it.  Good for clowns, not so good for me.

Darren had tucked in the Kenda tire and IRC tube along side the unicycle for shipping.  Due to its size, the Kenda tire had to be folded in half to fit in the box, kinking the bead on the tire.  It took me a few tries to get that kink out, after one ride I came back and the tube was sticking out from the tire where the kink was.  Now I have managed to bend it fairly straight and it hasn't caused me any more problems.

Unicycle with original tire laying on top

Kenda tire tread pattern

Here is the tread pattern and profile of the Kenda Kollossal 2.6 (2-5/8" measured width).  It is fairly round and doesn't want to "walk" on its own too badly, although it's definitely not as easy to turn as a street tire.  As you can see, the tread is directional, which is a disadvantage on a unicycle.  This is where a Gazzalodi tire is better because it presents almost identical traction faces no matter which way it goes.  I set the Kenda tire up to provide better traction going downhill because I hate wiping out flat on my back, but I am now contemplating turning it around.  Some of the downhill sections in the mountains have just about ripped my feet off because the tire just *won't* slip, even when you want it to, not to mention bending the cranks.  The other reason is that now I am getting good enough at climbing hills that I could use the extra traction for climbing, where slipping almost always means falling off your unicycle.

Assorted and miscellaneous thoughts:

The first few weeks required a lot of attention to the mechanical aspects of the unicycle.  I carried tools with me on every ride, as almost every connection came loose at one point or another.

  • The nuts on the bottom side of the seat work loose if you don't tighten them up enough (it's hard to tell the right amount of force to use due to the rubber seat cover being mounted underneath the bolt).
  • The pedals came loose when I started to idle, which I retightened and used blue Loctite on, fixing the problem.
  • The crank arms came loose several times as the cranks seated themselves onto the axle and got used to my weight.  The last time I tightened them was about 3 weeks after I got it, I set one crank arm on a block of wood with another block of wood sitting on top of the other crank arm, and hammered the crank arms onto the axle the best I could.  Then I used blue Loctite on the crank arm nuts and tightened them to about 60 ft/lbs of torque, about as much force as most people use when putting the lug nuts onto a tire on their car.  They haven't come loose since.   If anybody knows the *recommended* torque for these nuts, please let me know.  I don't want to strip the threads on the axle.
  • I have tightened up the spokes several times as they seat themselves into the rim and start creaking.  This Sun rim doesn't have eyelets around the spoke holes like their DoubleWide rim does, so this is normal behaviour.

I am hard on this unicycle.  I weigh 180lbs and have very strong legs (I look like a tank when I ride), so I think I have found most of the weak points in this unicycle:
  • The seat post clamp could be better because it dents the seat post.  Simply not welding the clamp onto the unicycle would allow those people that need it the opportunity to put on a good bmx-style clamp.
  • The axle has been twisting since I started hopping with this unicycle, which explains why the pedals are no longer 180 degrees out from each other. I have heard that when people are first learning to do hops and drops they tend to be harder on equipment, so perhaps this is the reason why. They have been twisting at the 4-sided taper where the pedal goes on. This is a weakness in the design of these axles, which were made for bicycles and not for unicycles, although I have heard that the Suzue brand hub is stronger than this one. Profile has addressed this issue with a 7/8" axle (instead of a 3/4") and a tapered spline interface to the crank arm, leaving the end of the axle with a larger cross-sectional area of material (which in english, means stronger). The price of the Profile setup shows it as well.

Tire pressure on a Kenda 2.6" tire.  The lower the pressure you can ride with without hitting the rim or folding the sidewall on the tire, the better.  This is also why a wide rim is good, putting more tire area on the ground and allowing you to run at a lower pressure.  I rode with 18psi and found it was too soft, I was hitting the rim all the time.  I increased it up to 25psi and that worked up until I got hopping figured out last week and started hitting the rim again.  Yesterday I increased the pressure to 30psi and I don't expect to change it for quite a while.  I have noticeably lost some bounce in the tire but at the same time know that it will be much more reliable.  Coincidentally, 30psi is also the minimum rated tire pressure printed on the side of the tire.  Maybe those numbers actually mean something. :)  I love the downhill tube because it has been pinched by the tire hitting the rim numerous times, but is tough enough to survive.

Final thoughts

This is an good unicycle and I love it.  From friends who have ridden it, they say it feels a lot like a Miyata, very stiff and rigid.  It does have some weak points, namely the hub and axle, but you have to remember that this is a $325cdn unicycle.  It is not a Hunter or Wilder.  For anyone looking for a starter unicycle, I would wholeheartedly recommend it.  Spend the extra money and avoid a Norco, you won't regret it.  For anyone without a lot of money looking to replace their broken Norco, I would also recommend it.  It is tougher than other starter unicycles and starting in 2002 it should be able to take a 3" wide tire.  My rule of thumb is that you would have to spend about $500cdn to get a unicycle that is significantly better than the Bedford (Include exchange, shipping and import on a Semcycle XLW or Pashley).  I don't know how big the Canadian unicycle market is, but would be more attractive if they were able to ship from within Canada and avoid the stupid Canadian import duties.

I am in the process of getting a Suzue hub for my muni to replace my existing hub that is bending. Once I get it put in I will see how well it hops and drops :). Until then, I'm saving up my pennies for next year when I can buy a Bedford with a 3" wide tire. This unicycle has been the biggest bang for the buck that I have encountered in quite a while. It has taken me over obstacles and dumped me onto dirt that I didn't even know existed. :)

If you are buying a unicycle from Darren, take the time to talk to him and communicate what your needs are and he will do his best to accomodate you.  He will ship other parts to you if needed.  I found him very helpful in answering my questions about unicycles.

I hope that you found this review helpful.  Now for the shameless plugs: :)

Darren Bedford contact information:
71 Jasper Ave.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M6N 2N2
(416) 767-4742

Calgary Mountain Unipsychos - I hang out with these people and Mike is working on a video where you'll be able to see Bedfords in action! :) - The definitive source for unicycles. What else is there to say?

Copyright 2001 Jerry Seutter (yello at home dot com) all rights reserved. Photos taken by Mike King.


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