Beginner struggling to relax!

Now that I’m to the point where I can ride a little, my greatest limitation as a new unicyclist seems to be that I work my legs so hard against each other, that I’m huffiing and puffing until I’m worn out and have to dismount after only 50-100 feet. I keep trying to relax and put more of my weight on the seat, but every time I do, I loose control and either UPD, or else tense up to regain it.

By way of background, I got some experience riding holding onto walls in a tiny office last year when a co-worker purchased an amazon special on a whim. But I only seriously started trying to ride in free space a week ago, after dropping in on the NYUC’s gathering and then picking up a 20" Torker off Craigslist on the way home. I’m lucky that my current office has enough space to ride circles once I figured out how to balance a bit, but it has been an extreme fatigue challenge to do more than one loop at a time. Finally, tonight I managed to do two consecutive laps a few times, but I still feel like I’m fighting myself, and making progress more by building strength than by riding more efficiently.

How do I stay in control while working my legs only to move, and not against each other with what is effectively a death-grip on the pedals?

I know neither the saddle on the Torker CX 20, nor having the seat tube at it’s limit are helping things, and an upgrade is in my near-term plans, but I feel like it should be good for more than the minute or two at a time I’m currently managing.

I also notice that in many videos and even live watching I’ve seen people sort of having distinct “steps” to their cadence, while (at least by feel, I have no video of myself) I think I’ve been trying to spin the pedals more smoothly. Which is preferred, and why?

Apologies if this has been covered before - I’ve lurked for a few days and read a lot of threads, and haven’t really seen this discussed in specific. I’m sure a big part of it is going to be to just keep on practicing, but from past activities I’m a big believer in practicing “smarter” and not just “harder”.

“Struggling to relax…” That’s quite a paradox, isn’t it? :slight_smile:

There’s only so much you can do. A lot of your riding progress is coming from things like training specific muscle fibers, enhancing neural pathways, and developing reflexes. And physical growth processes only happen so quickly. We all wanted to be 25 years old when we were 16, but you can’t make the clock run faster.

Enjoy the ride. It sounds like you’re doing what you need to do.

I think we pedal more smoothly when riding quickly with short cranks on a unicycle with a large wheel, and are more notchy on a small wheel, with relatively long cranks, and/or riding muni on rough terrain. The wheel speeds up as torque is applied then slows down–either a little or a lot–as momentum carries it past the “dead spot” with the pedals at 6 and 12.

It isn’t something that gets mentioned much but when I get back on a bicycle I notice how irregular my pedalling has gotten from unicycling. It feels strange to pedal at a nearly constant angular rate. But feet seem to be pretty smart about doing the right thing down there.

What you need is a unicycling mantra. You can borrow the following one; when you’re riding, repeat it, over and over:

“I’m a lazy-ass.”

The more you repeat this mantra, the more you’ll believe it, and the more your lazy-ass will sink into the seat, thus diminishing the weight on the pedals and putting more weight on the seat.

If your lazy-ass isn’t sufficiently sinking into the seat, try raising the seat in small increments. In the meantime, enjoy the lower-body workout. Welcome to the forum!

Thanks… I could be heard subconsciously chanting “I can do this, I can do this” when I first got up to about a half an office-lap last week. What has been frustrating is that being able to go a short distance did not unlock riding in general, as I had expect it would - I thought it would be about balance, but so far it’s far, far more more work to ride a given distance than it would be to walk or even run it, and that doesn’t seem right.

Alas the seatpost is already as high as I dare put it. On a 20" wheel I really need a 350mm rather than the stock 300. That said, raising it further might make pedaling more efficient but would make (assisted) mounting more of a challenge. While taking a breather on a park bench over the weekend, I noticed a lot of cyclist cruising up a hill on (mostly rental) seats that left their leg less extended at bottom dead center than mine. Granted they have this thing called gear ratio in their favor, but they were staying at it 10-100 times longer than I could.

That makes sense - but is it desirable, or a case of giving in to the physics of the situation? Or of necessarily giving in to them, because to do otherwise would be wasted effort?

There is a psychological principle at play: Once you achieve a particular technique, for example riding forward short distances, you start focusing on the next technique or a more refined version of the same technique. An analogy is climbing up a mountain, making it to the summit, then immediately seeing an even taller mountain on the horizon. Suddenly, your attitude about the mountain you just climbed is “been there, done that”, and now you’re focused on the next mountain.

You’re at an awkward stage in the learning process, where some of the joys of riding are offset by certain annoyances. As a beginner, I felt pain in my feet and in my rib cage from all my jerky twisting motions. I felt the same sensation in my legs as you are describing. My learning process involved a lot of slipping back from one session to another. When I first was able to ride forward, I could not steer or avoid uncontrollable acceleration.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to love the process.

Just ride more.

It really is that simple - if you keep riding, in a few weeks you’ll wonder why you had all these problems. It’s a stage most of us went through and is mainly solved by more time in the saddle. The good news is you’re already past the hardest bit.

If your legs are fighting then try leaning your upper body forwards more while continuing to try to get weight into the seat. This should cause you to take weight of the back pedal.

Leaning the upper body forwards a little is more stable too.

Many uni videos show extreme performance. Steep hills certainly involve cyclic speed changes but on the flat where you are riding, focus on spinning the cranks. With suitable shoes and experience the power arc certainly does expand with consciousness and strength in the right muscles.

Meditate upon your foot positions during the cycle. What feed back do they appear to be responding to?

Ultimately the feet become less of a sense of “how hard and when to push” but rather “having the feet in the right position at a the right time” because this is what controls the wheel position. How hard one pushes is secondary.

Of course it takes time to develop this sense because those chosen foot positions must take into account many factors such as the balance and momentum of the uni and rider, the terrain and any surface irregularities to name a few. We also have to build up the strength.

+1 with all the comments.

Unfortunately, there is no magic click when you start to learn unicycling. You progress little bit by little bit, and actually that’s what makes it exciting because you never really plateau - unless you’re at the very top I guess.

I am struggling with this also. I am back at it after a 2 yr break. having a great time and a killer work out.
My mantra has been , “just relax, just relax.”
More time and patience.

I find I have much more control with the seat up high, so it feels like my tip toes are peddling.
This means the seat is at full stretch, my lower leg nearly straight at 6o’clock, with a little weight comfortably on the seat, but not too much.

I needed to get a longer 300mm seat post from UDC to replace the cut down version which came with the 20"
The post is at the very top of it’s extension limit now, and I realise I should have bought the 400mm.

When the seat was too low, my knees were always bent, and I was exhausted after 5-minutes.
Take the seat up, and move your feet positioning away from the arch of your foot, and nearer to your toes.
It should help with balance and fatique.

Just discovered there has been a thread on this before: Proper Non Pushing Leg Weight When Pedaling??

There is no magic. There are a million tips, but they all require the same thing:


We all practiced till we were bloody and absolutely exhausted, then we did it again and again, until we finally knew the answer to your (our) question.

The more you ride, the better you get. It “might” help to have a role model give you tips in person, but learning to uni still requires a lot of practice.

Did I mention that learning to uni requires a lot of practice?

Smile as you go down, it looks better on the video :wink:

Just lots of riding, and set yourself a goal beyond distance. Ride faster, or try a circle or a figure of eight. Eventually, you will suddenly realise that you are taking the basics for granted. You are just going through a normal phase in your development as a rider.

Thanks for the encouragement. I haven’t given up on the idea of practicing “smarter”, but sticking at it has continued to show improvement, even if with some “off” days in between where I almost seem to have lost progress. I finally managed two laps around the central office a few times the other day, in comparison to my limit of just one last week.

Unfortunately a conflicting family event means I’ll miss this Sunday’s NYUC gathering, but there will be future ones for in-person advice. NYC closes a number of blocks of Park Ave for biking & rollerblading on Sundays in August, so I’m hoping those will prove some interesting outdoor riding opportunities too.

And OK, I admit it, I jumped the gun on the excuse that I need something to practice at home as well as in the office, so ordered a 26" nimbus /w road tire, hoping I’ll be ready for it by the time it gets here. May not have been the perfect decision but I wanted something that wouldn’t feel quite so tiny on an urban pike path, yet can hopefully still be carried with pedals attached through a revolving door without making a scene. And as an unspecialized medium it will leave the excuse to get something smaller and bouncier or bigger and faster (or one of each?) later…

Of course - we did tell you it’s a common problem! There are probably at least 10 old threads - though clearly we’re getting more polite as nobody’s told you to just do a search!

don’t, it’s worth keeping thinking about what you’re doing - but also don’t get discouraged when being smart doesn’t make things happen faster and you have a while with no progress. I also prefer to work constructively, but have come to understand that with unicycling, keeping trying and failing at something also often results in progress.

Like so many adages of uncycling there are trade-offs. Repetition is important but …

For a frreemounting I have a rule to not attempt it more than three times in a row without at least walking for a while or riding from an assisted mount before trying the freemount again.

I made this rule when I was learning because I felt that with the repetition, failure would be in danger of becoming the most practised movement. There are so many aspects to learning uni that it can be better use of time to try something else for a while then come back to the challenge you are primarily focussed on.

All the advice in this thread seems spot on to my experience. When I first started riding, I kept expecting everything to ‘click’ at some point, but every gain was achieved with ‘baby steps’. Also, every practice session was an incredible workout because of the inefficiency. However! there is light at the end of the tunnel! Today I did a lap around the Rosebowl (Calif.) and I almost made it around the whole thing without stopping. The last time I did the loop was months ago, and at that time I was struggling, flailing, UPDing, etc. Today I was relaxed, not breathing hard, and wondering why I had so much trouble before. I could clearly see how my riding has improved, but it has been a gradual improvement so I didn’t notice from day to day.

From OTM: “For a freemounting I have a rule to not attempt it more than three times in a row without at least walking for a while or riding from an assisted mount before trying the freemount again.”

I would say that goes for any new skill–if you keep consistently failing you start expecting to fail. Take a break, do something else, then visualize what you are trying to do and come back to it. One of my mantras (when I start consistently failing) is “fail differently”. If you keep failing in the same way, then you are not correcting the problem.

Good luck! So far it sounds like you are right on track!

P.S. The 26" is a good, all-around size. When you get it, jump on it and ride! Don’t think you “have to be ready for it”. Some people start out on a bigger wheel. You’ll have to make the switch from 20" to 26" at some point–the earlier, the better.

Well put.

Yes. The 26 is a practical all round. It is fast enough to move quickly and efficiently but rarely so fast you can’t run out of a fall.

There are many tyres to choose from too.

Personally I’d hold off on the 26 til you can ride for a half hour w/o scary UPDs or getting exhausted. Also learning most skills will be easier on the 20", so I’d briefly (at least) go back to the 20 for learning hopping, idling, riding backwards, etc.

I only skimmed the posts but the advice all sounded really good.
To recap: weight on the seat, focus on something straight ahead, w/ a straight back lean forward a few degrees (keeping a straight line from the axle to your sholders), and pedal w/ your feet in smooth circles.

Keep at it. W/ regular practice (preferably ~a hour/ day) you WILL get it. Some take longer than others. You can only get so much help online, so It could really help to seek out a local club. Check out the map for riders near you.