It seems to be the universal complaint among beginners, “why is unicycling so exhausting?”, “my legs are burning and I am out of breath after only riding x yards/meters”, etc.
For those who feel they got past this phase, at approximately what riding distance do you estimate was the “breakthrough point” where you feel you started to “transition” from this phase to the “I can ride considerable distances without feeling out of breath or that my legs are going to give out” phase?
Or maybe an alternative way to say it, how far could you ride before you started feeling saddle comfort or another factor is what’s limiting your max consecutive riding distance instead of exhaustion?
I am just curious about a rough order of magnitude when this starts to happen for most folks. Was it 800m/yards? 1/2 mi? 1km? 1 mile? 2km? 2mi? 5km? Longer?
I’d do a poll, but not sure what scale would make sense. Maybe a Fibonacci sequence? (1,2,3,5,8,13,21,…)
Also the challenge of some folks using miles, and others using metric.
It wasn’t a distance but a matter of being comfortable on the unicycle and managing my balance.
When I began, stress made my muscles stiff, I relied too much on my legs and did not put enough weight on the seat and had to heavily adjust my balance at every moment, which took energy.
Now I know how to ride, I sure do micro-adjustment of my balance all the time, but it doesn’t take effort, and I know what weight I must put on my seat as well depending on where or on what I’m riding (flat ground, bumps, gravels…). So, it’s not exhausting at all.
Maybe I’m biased by learning as a kid and mostly riding (with a few notable exceptions) very short distances, but honestly I think it was something like 30m for me.
I don’t remember exhaustion ever being an issue and when I’ve taught kids it doesn’t seem to be for most of them, I think it is mainly a thing for adults who immediately go for distance. Maybe kids are just fitter, or at least more used to doing new and different movement all the time, but I don’t think it’s the main factor. I think when you learn in a gym like I did, you tend to introduce new skill challenges (slalom, ramps, group formations) instead of increasing distance, so you don’t tend to notice that you are not very efficient…
Hard to put a distance or time figure on it. I don’t remember an “ah ha” efficiency moment. More of a continuous improvement. It was nearly ten years ago now. I was 54 at the time.
I remember sweating a lot in the early stages but not really exhaustion as such. I must have gotten reasonably efficient fairly quickly, especially once I upgraded from the no brand I learnt on to the Qu-Ax Luxus 20, which was about two months after I started learning. Until I got that uni I was being really held back by the seat being too small and too low making it hard to stay on with the slightest perturbation. (Even the original Luxus seat was ultimately a bit too low and I eventually bought a longer seat post.)
I quickly went from riding 100 metres on the learner to an eight kilometre ride to town and back and completely wore out the Luxus tyre in the first two weeks. (It must have been an indoor tyre I think.)
Thanks for the replies…
The way it has gone for me was it didn’t take too long to be able to ride 50m with my Club 24, then it was a very slow progression to 100, 150…up to about 600m after many months, always legs burning and out of breath exhaustion ending my runs. A couple such runs in a day, and my legs felt like Jello, like I had spent “leg day” at the gym.
Then I got my 27.5 muni, which I was able to ride immediately, but it’s like I hit the reset button on my progress, only able to ride maybe 150m, with slow progression again on distance increases.
I’m Just having a, “Geez how long is this process going to take?.. shouldn’t I be able to ride farther by now???” kind of moment
If I was @UniMyra, I would be trying to learn to idle right now! (ps I I’m sure that is going to be a big challenge for me someday too!)
I’m 47 and overweight so I’m sure that doesn’t help things. Unicycling has sure strengthened my legs though!
Thankfully riding is still fun (and great exercise!) so I continue to do it, but just wish I was able to enjoy it for longer times and distances by now.
I’m hoping I’m close to some kind of breakthrough soon!
If your aren’t already, I would try to add in other challenges*. Sometimes progress gets stuck in one area or skill and I’ve often found taking a bit of a break until coming back to working on that “resets” expectations and breakthroughs come after that. Even if you think your legs getting tired is a physical issue, I would not underestimate the impact mental aspects can have.
*Suggestions would be: Slaloms, riding up and down small hills, down (small) curbs, tight corners, maybe even some hopping/idling.
Try focusing on lifting the back foot, rather than pushing down on the front foot. Your legs are burning because your front leg is probably having to overcome the downward pressure your back leg and foot are placing on the back pedal.
That’s a great suggestion, I have been laser focused on trying to increase distance with the reasoning being I thought if I can just ride longer then I will be spending more time actually riding and will thus be able to progress more quickly.
Where I’m riding is not flat there’s a downhill section for the first part of my runs and then it starts to go back uphill slightly. The uphill really takes it out of me even though it is not very steep at all. Like you said maybe spending some time just working just on going up and down small hills might help with that. I definitely have many other skill areas that need work too.
This might be a good possibility. So where I take off from my driveway within about 10-15m it starts to quickly go down hill for about 200m which of course requires a fair amount of back pressure to control my descent. Then it slowly changes to flat then to back going slightly uphill. I think by that point I’m used to having to hold back pressure for a while, that maybe I’m not really letting it up like I should when it comes back to the uphill section.
Worth a shot!
Find an environment that is suitable for you at your skill level even if you are doing laps. Concentrate on getting your seat height and angle right. Also experiment with crank lengths to find what is best for mounting and fluid riding and not speed. Last but not least put an air saddle cover on what ever saddle you have it will make your ride more comfortable.
As your skills improve and you are not fighting balance your riding will become smoother and less fatiguing. Remember this, not every rider is a trials trickster ,a muni maniac or long distance world unpackers . There are a lot of us that just enjoy riding and it’s ok to ride to your comfort level and stop .
P.S. I’m partial to a 29er. This is a manageable size for mounting and riding and will cover some distance.
For me it was a very gradual improvement over a long period practicing where I was riding most days as I started learning at 43 years of age / 2,5 years ago.
I remember that even when I was able to ride ~1km without UPD (out of a ~2km round trip) I still became quite exhausted. I felt I was still fighting for balancing all the time.
Today on a 29" I feel that I’m balanced and do not need to correct all the time. Effort is similar to riding a regular bike at (a higher) speed, and I can think of what I need to make for dinner or similar while riding and don’t have to look straight ahead but can enjoy the surroundings. Riding becomes second nature (muscle memory?) at some point. Obviously when the surface is rough or bumpy I need to focus on the riding, put more force on the pedals and use more energy for correcting.
In time / with practice you can exchange the use of back pressure with a brake. Legs are for accelerating and keeping balance (slight back back pressure) but the brake is for braking (excessive back pressure).
Riding a unicycle efficiently ultimately comes down to a series of pushes on the front pedal and no weight on the back pedal at all most of the time.
One of the big problems to overcome is over-correcting where you end up continually switching between accelerating and decelerating. It often begins with a back thrust when the wheel is getting too advanced.
The direction of movement of your weight from the reaction to the deceleration needs to be carefully controlled to avoid positive feedback. If you allow the reaction to push your weight backwards you then have to back thrust even harder and it can bring you almost to a stop. Then you start accelerating again and the cycle repeats. This consumes a lot of energy.
It is also important to avoid using acceleration and deceleration as the only way to balance. This technique is not only inefficient, it cannot act fast enough to maintain precise balance.
Note that the rider’s body leans slightly forward at the hips while the unicycle frame leans slightly back, keeping the rider’s centre of mass above the tyre’s contact point with the ground. Constantly change the angle of the lean to maintain that relationship.
This balance mechanism can act very quickly. It is one of the primary ways humans balance while standing where it also involves the knees. We are so accomplished at standing these movements are so very small as to be virtually imperceptible. As one becomes a more accomplished rider the same thing happens.
There are two factors that I have both experienced and seen most newer riders do that can lead to exhaustion.
Applying back pedal
Your likely still keeping pressure with both feet when pedal. Ensure that the only foot applying pressure is the foot in front
As a beginner it’s hard to maintain balance and to keep the uni from rolling out from under you, so you’ll likely compensate by putting weight on both pedals which means you’re constantly pedaling against yourself. This means it’s kinda like riding up hill all the time
Make sure you can relax one leg while you pedal with the other
Once you have mastered this skill you should be able to mostly relax both legs and let the rolling force of the unicycle cary you with out much energy
Not resting on your saddle
You should feel your full weight resting on the saddle. Most new riders tend to support themselves with their legs which initially feels more natural, but it requires you to use both legs to hold yourself up while pedaling
These two factors go hand and hand. Again, make sure that each foot is only applying force on the down pedal
Make sure your relax your legs when you’re pedaling
I have no numbers to give, but it seems to me after reading this subject that lifting the back foot is the most important thing to do. What do you all think about training to ride 1-foot to learn how to not rely on the back foot?
Thanks all for the insights and suggestions!
I’m Going to definitely try to focus on the back pedal pressure, but also do as Finn suggested and work on other things too instead of getting stuck on distance alone. Along these lines, It was kind of interesting, one of the times recently. I decided to ride the 24 for a chang (I hadn’t for a while because I was trying to stick to one, so I don’t regress again!). It felt a bit awkward, slow, and jerky, with lots of over/under corrections, and my distance on it was shorter. So I switched back to the 27.5 and it felt so much smoother in comparison, and I went about 70m further than my previous runs before having tried the 24. Maybe it was doing something different that helped.
It also sounds like I just need to keep riding. I thought there might be some “it just clicked” kind of moment that would happen after a certain distance, but it sounds like it’s really just more of the same slow progression I have been seeing already. I mean progress has been going in the right direction, just SLOWLY!
No idea when I found out I was riding front-pedal-pressure-only but when I did, I realized riding was so much more enjoyable. How did it occur? With ride time in the saddle. That comes with frequent riding. Riding that you enjoy. Riding that is fun. Riding with others, if you can. That eventually (varying time for everyone) leads to relaxed unstressed riding which is a MaGiCaL feeling.
Similar to what finn says. Any progress is good. Can you free mount with your dominant foot? Learn it with your non-dominant. Go a little out of your comfort zone and try new things.
Swapping between different uni sizes is hard at first but builds your abilities and makes you a better overall rider.
How is your uni equipment:
Is your tire inflated enough?
Are your bearing caps not too tight that lets your wheel rotate freely? Bearings properly greased?
Seat at a comfortable height where your knee is slightly bent when the pedal is at the 6 o’clock position?
Seat that permits you to put your weight comfortably on it?
How conditioned are your legs? Guestimate how far you can ride and then go up that many steps/floors and see if your legs feel comparable. If you aren’t winded or as tired from the stairs I’d say you’re fighting yourself on the uni. Keep at it and aim for having fun while riding. Make every achievement one you smile at so it keeps you motivated.
Even to this day it is still interesting. I have been on one size exclusively for a long time and switch to a different size (possibly also with different cranks), there is a good chance I fail the first mount.
Usually by the second mount it is fine but size changes do mess with your head a little.