1st Annual Uni Climbing Clinic

Here’s the video from our first uni climbing Clinic from May 18th, 2019!

At our second and steepest location, (33% grade!) you can really see the difference in climbing styles from slow & steady to bat-out-of-hell fast, to extreme forward lean. Be sure to watch to the end for Ben Soja’s super fast downhill coast on his freewheel uni!

Wow, that looked like a fantastic time was had by all. Killer leg work out, such steep climbs, amazing. Congrats on your first annual.

Augie’s technique is interesting. He’s pumping his free arm back on one pedal stroke and forward on the next pedal stroke. An explanation of the physics behind that technique would be helpful. There must be, ultimately, a conservation of energy throughout the cycle of his swinging arm; some parts of the motion slow him down, others speed him, throw him forward or unweight him. I assume the “helpful” parts of the swinging arm happened during the weak parts of the pedal stroke. It’s hard to look at video and determine how all of a rider’s motions work together.

In youtube you can slow the video down and better see what is happening. Use < to slow and > to speed up. Augie is doing what is naturally done when walking or running. When pushing down with is left leg he is throwing his right free arm back. I tend to do the same thing and I don’t know if there is an advantage to holding both hands on the handle or keeping the free arm more still with no real rhythm as some of the other riders do.

I was not aware of the < and > functions for YouTube videos. Thanks, JimT!

A very good rider told me that the significant differences in technique among unicyclists were a sign of the immaturity of the sport. If more people unicycled, best practices would be more widely adopted. But what are the best practices?

For us older folk who’ll never “kill it” going up hills, we may need to find the technique that works best for us. Given my own personal level of fitness, if I took off up a hill “like a bat out of hell”, I would burn out pretty quickly (or at lest be forced to slow way down). Also, there are differences in height, body weight and weight-distribution…among riders, and I imagine that has something to do with differences in style.

Most of us aren’t even fully aware of exactly what we are doing to ride the thing let alone articulate it. Unicycling can be a lot like dancing with the wheel sometimes where it is hard to separate the rider’s actions.

Although the simplest of all travelling mechanisms, describing and modelling the behaviour of the system including the rider is incredibly complex due to the absence of constraints. Unlike a bicycle where the steering geometry is fixed, the rider has complete freedom to continuously change the relationships between the wheel and the load while applied and reaction forces interact in complex ways.

I expect if unicycling were a major sport there would be instrumented unicycles measuring all the forces the rider applies and computer models to analyse all the data. This would allow an objective description of what riders do and might help some. But in the end it is the rider’s dance moves that matter.

Would certainly be interesting reading. We just need a good mechanical engineering student who rides unicycles to take up the challenge.

Getting up any hills at all is “killing it” for us. You are right though. I just started back riding regularly after a break and have been forced to refine my technique to compensate for the lack of strength from lack of riding.

Another trick when trying to see details of any action is to stop the video and advance and retard one frame at a time. You can stop as start many ways but one is pushing the space bar. When stopped you can advance one frame at a time with the “.” key and retard one frame with the “,” key.

I think it’s the opposite, really. On a unicycle we have to stay upright, and it really constrains what we can do.

On a bicycle you have the freedom to move your weight wherever you want it, you can weight and unweight either wheel, you can slide the bike back and forth under you…

For example: when I climb on my fixed gear bike I can move the bike forward under me at the dead spot of the pedal stroke (so not much weight moving forward), and then move my body weight forward during the power part of the stroke. End result is that I can climb steep hills in a high gear, even hills that give me trouble on my unicycle with its 1:1 gear ratio.

Another example would be riding up a ledge, where on the bike I can completely unweight the front wheel to lift it over the ledge, and then move my weight to the front wheel and lift the unweighted back wheel. It’s super easy. On a unicycle you basically have to jump it, because that’s the only way to unweight the wheel. So on the bike I can ride right up things that are basically trials courses for a unicycle.

That’s a really good point. Bicycling has matured to the point that we have teams like Sky who do things to the letter to save half a second per data point. Unicycling for the most part has people who are awesome riders but can’t really explain why beyond ‘bum on seat, pedal fast’. Most of these awesome riders can’t even agree amongst themselves what the ‘best’ method is.

My hillclimbing technique varies a lot - I’ll sometimes grab the saddle with one hand and wave my other back and forth Augie style, others I’ll put both hands on the t-bar, but most of the time I’ll do one hand on saddle and one on t-bar. Some hills I’ll keep in high gear and mash hard, others I’ll put it in low and spin fast. All depends on the hill!

Augie and I had a short conversation about crank length (as it relates to hill climbing). I currently run 20"/140mm, 24"/165mm and 26"/170mm. Augie asked me if I though longer cranks actually helped on hills. I think he was trying to express the idea that, at a certain point, longer cranks produce diminishing returns on hills because of the more pronounced dead spot. I personally don’t feel that affected by the dead spot of longer cranks. I would happily try, if I could find them, ISIS cranks even longer than 170mm for attempting really steep hills. I think they would benefit me. I asked Augie if he thought using longer cranks was ‘cheating’. He said no.