Daou unicycle or bicycle, Chengdu Bicycle Parts Factory #3
Living in North East Toronto, Canada is a very large community of Mainland Chinese, many who are recent immigrants. When they ship their lives half way across the world to Canada they bring with them some surprising gems. I picked up this Daou unicycle at a garage sale. It has a 12.5″ rear coaster wheel with back brake, and a skateboard truck up front. The seat is unicycle style, with a black steel handle in the front. Apart from the “Daou” label, under the seat there are two quality stickers from the Chengdu Zixingche Lingjian San Chang, or the Chengdu Bicycle Parts Factory #3. After a couple of key changes this contraption rides much like a unicycle (no left-right stability), but has anterior-posterior stability, allowing the rider to coast. You can pedal backwards to brake, which is good enough to skid the tire. This unicycle rides quite well, can travel at faster than walking speed and allows the rider to coast. Due to the small skateboard wheels up front it can endo if you hit a large sidewalk crack.
Most consumer products here in Canada are now produced in China, so Chinese labels are common. The coaster brake and tire are both labeled “Made in China“. The Chinese “Hege” label and “You” states that it has passed quality inspection. The 12.5″ tire came with an inner tube with a Chinese valve. Even after searching for 2 pumps the seller could not pump up the tire. Complicating matters is that the 12.5″ wheel allows very little space to attach the pump. The tire has no brand name but comes with a familiar Made in China or Taiwan tread pattern.
Google searches for the “Chengdu zixingche lingjian factory 3” or “Chengdu Bicycle Factory” yielded nothing. I also did not find any photos similar to this unicycle.
There were two issues with this unicycle. Firstly I could not get air into the tire. Secondly the thing was veering wildly to the left. The first order of business was to remove the inner tube with the Chinese valve and replace it with one with a Schrader valve. It was evident that this tire had never been off this unicycle and was tight. Pumping up the tire with my floor pump was difficult because of the small size of the 12.5″ rim. A 16″ tire and rim will not fit the frame.
Not being a skateboarder I had to read up on skateboard truck maintenance. After taking apart the two rubber truck cushions I noticed that they were beveled in a certain direction. I bisected the lowest points of the two cushions with chalk and aligned them together with the middle of the truck. This solved the steering issues.
I removed a red rear reflector, attached to the seat with two bolts. There was no way I or anyone else would ride this unicycle in traffic, much less at night. The reflector also hindered grabbing the seat from the rear.
Daou Unicycle, right side
As my little weed wanted to try it I had to lower the seat. The seat quick release needed replacement to allow the seat to be lowered to the max. The chain was oiled, the frame was cleaned, and the chrome parts were buffed up with #00000 steel wool. There’s not much to this unicycle so cleanup was quick.
Riding is very similar to but easier than a unicycle. You must start straight or the front wheels will turn and you will fall off. Grabbing the front bar with one hand and letting the other arm swing free aided in balance. As with all bikes, continuous pedaling is required. The uni does have some gyroscopic effect, less than a bicycle and more than a unicycle. Once you start and pick up speed you can let go of the handle bar completely and use both hands to balance. For me most weight shifting is done through the hips, similar to a unicycle. Keeping a straight line of progression required subtle shifting to the right or left. Once riding you can pick up a little speed and actually coast. Large cracks in the sidewalk can cause an endo because the front skateboard wheels are small.
Daou Unicycle, left side
The seat is vinyl covered and unicycle style. Padding is adequate, but I am considering adding an inner tube to the seat for some air cushioning. Other than the seat, everything else seems to be adequate. For a small thing this unicycle is quite heavy and robust. Unfortunately the rear wheel is not in alignment with the centre of the frame and is skewed a little to the left. I will try to realign the wheel later as it bothers me, but it does not seem to affect riding.
The skateboard trucks are not high quality. They have loose bearings and one side was wobbly. I tightened that side up a little. When I have time I will try to clean them and repack them with grease, but they roll and are relatively smooth. On the sidewalk, with a crack every 8′ you cannot get a smooth ride anyway, so I did not notice anything untoward.
The hub has no markings and is made of thick plastic. It holds the tire well. The coaster brake is a back pedal and is sufficiently strong enough to skid the tire. If I find a 12.5″ kid’s bike with a metal hub and rim I will switch this plastic wheel out. I prefer metal to plastic. Similarly the pedals have no markings but rotate very smoothly. This unicycle is certainly built to a price point but is still quite robust. There is rust on the light blue paint that cannot come off.
Daou Unicycle, anterior view
Daou Unicycle, posterior. Note rear wheel misalignment
Daou Unicycle: skateboard trucks on front
In terms of safety, the rider is only 2″ off the ground, so at low speed it is easy to hop off the uni without problem. The uni is so low to the ground that the pedals will limit cornering speed if not careful. I have not tried to corner sharply on this uni. Because this uni can coast, you could conceivably start at the top of a large hill and gain speed. The brake should be sufficient to slow the rider down. Because the 5″ cottered cranks are short coupled with a single gear this limits the speed a rider can reach by pedaling.
A rider could raise the two front skateboard wheels off the ground and ride as a traditional unicycle. The centre of mass for your legs would be anterior to the wheel, and would force you to lean backward. Because your legs are about 18% of your body weight each, you would need to compensate for a lot of weight. Because there is no fixed gear as on a unicycle, riding would be similar to doing a wheelie on a standard bicycle, albeit without the fine modulation of brake. The backpedal brake is not super smooth. I have not done this as yet.
Daou Unicycle: Rear Wheel assembly, marked Made in China
Daou Unicycle: manufacturing label says Chengdu Zixingche Lingjian San Chang, or the Chengdu Bicycle Parts Factory #3
Overall I find this Daou unicycle interesting to ride. It is not as challenging as a regular unicycle but still offers a challenge over a bicycle. I do like that you can coast, as without handlebars it has the feeling of flying. For a more traditional look you can add a front wheel and handlebars to this if you wish. My two weeds are having some difficulties riding, the older more than the younger. In time they will master this as they have in the past with other balancing challenges.
Daou Unicycle ridden by a clown