Dear Dr. Uni, what is wrong with me?

Hello fellow unipilots, I’m hoping you can help me with the following problem: I’m not straight. :smiley:

Well, to explain: I started riding in July. During autumn I have gotten to the point where I can ride over 20 km on my 29er. Only problem is, most of the time I have to ride with my right arm in front of me and the left arm somewhat to the side. If I try to hold them symmetrically, the uni starts turning to the right. Weird!

Last week I replaced the Duro (Big Apple clone) with the Nokian Extreme studded winter tire, which is very knobbly and has lots of studs. Grip is excellent, but it made my problem worse, to the point were I find it very hard to ride in a straight line for more than 100 meters. Often I find myself leaning strongly to one side, and when I try to straighten up the Uni turns and/or I UPD. Today I even felt a bit of the same on my 20" which has been unaffected until now.

I tried:

  • checking that the seat is not twisted
  • checking the wheel is true (had it trued, no change)
  • keeping my feet in the same position on the pedals, as accurately as possible
  • holding the seat when riding (made it worse)
  • checking that I am sitting straight on the seat (feels so to me)

It must sound really silly and I’m sure it looks silly too. It’s frustrating since I thought I had pretty good progress but now it is regressing, and holding me back from long distance rides. Am I going crazy? Please tell me there is something obvious I have forgotten! :thinking:

Unfortunately, there is not simply something obvious you have forgotten to check, you’ve looked at the most obvious potential causes already. This is a rather common problem and it can be quite difficult to fight. Sometimes it goes away with more experience, but until now this doesn’t seem to work in your case, rather the opposite is true for now.
Some additional things to check / think of:

  • If the road surface slopes to the left or right, this may push you in one direction. Many roads are slanted (it's also called [I]road crown[/I]), to allow water to flow to the side. Sometimes it's almost to small to see, but on a uni you will still feel it. Ride in the opposite way (against traffic) to check. This is a fairly common cause for riding crooked.
  • Some tyres are more sensitive to road crown than others. The Schwalbe Big Apple 2.35" is infamous in this respect. A narrow rim doesn't help either.
  • Higher tyre pressure makes the influence of road crown less.
  • Your wheel may be true now, but is it also not [I]dished[/I]? A dished wheel has the hub not in the centre plane but offset to the left or right. Temporarily mount your wheel backward to check if the rim is still in the middle of the frame. (Don't forget to turn back.)
  • Is your frame straight?
  • Are the two legs of your frame of equal length? Otherwise even a true and non-dished wheel would tend to one side. You can remedy this with a shim in your bearing holder.
  • Is your seat (in addition to being mounted straight) itself symmetrical? Both in shape and in elasticity?
  • Maybe your body (legs and/or something else) is asymmetrical? You might be able to compensate with an inlay in your shoe, but consult a sports medical person first.
O wait, I got it. Norway huh? Maybe you are just too close to the North Pole (which rotates as everyone knows). Immediately stop unicycling or you might slow down the planet. :D

Kidding aside, I hope this helps.

gunnstein, are you watching Desert bus?

Klass Bil you are so right. I have a couple paved trails that bothered the heck out of me as to why I was fighting so badly to keep straight when I usually didn’t have that problem, until I realized what was going on with the slanted surfaces.

If the seat is straight (and you say it is), it’s probably either the camber of the road or a natural lean / muscle imbalance which is extremely common in newbies. Either way, your body will learn to compensate and adjust given enough hours in the saddle.

Be absolutely certain that your seat is straight before you come to this conclusion, though. I find that more than a few mm either way throws my balance off a lot.

I had that problem as well. I rode with my left shoulder in front and my right shoulder behind. Since you’re sure it isn’t your unicycle, it must be your riding technique. Maybe this is how your muscles adapted to the tilt of the path or something, and your new tire made it worse.

If I were you, I’d change back to your other tire.

You may have to force yourself to ride straight until it becomes second nature. For me, it helped a great deal to ride with handlebars because this made me control with my feet. It took more than 2 weeks of awkward riding to get comfortable this way, but it was worth the effort.

I know you’ve already tried riding with your hands on the seat, but it might help if you give it more time.

if you are on a flat road, just ride more. if you need to use your arms to balance still, you arent good enough yet. by that i mean you should practice riding more without needing arms

Klaas Bil gave some good answers.

I had that problem intermittently since learning to ride late this spring. It was more of a problem on roads than muni. One day I couldn’t make it out of the neighborhood without falling off my uni, but was able to ride a long way on my brother’s uni. I then realized that my particular tire/rim/weight combination on a cambered road required a very narrow range of pressures. Outside of that range I lean like crazy and randomly fall off, but within the pressure range I can ride for a couple hours.

It is very likely that it is the slope of the road, unless it is perfectly level.

Another, yet unlikely, explanation could be that you turn more often to one side, wearing one side of the tire down more, causing the uni to pull in that direction.

Maybe try a friend’s uni?

No road is perfectly level. If it’s a proper road, and you ride on the right-hand side, you will tend to have to twist to the left. Even the bike path I prefer riding on has tilt. It is almost always tilted slightly to one side or the other, to allow it to drain.

If you know it’s a camber problem, try turning your seat a little bit to the left; maybe 5-10 degrees. But that only works if you always ride on the camber. I’ve used it for track racing, and for some road riding events where I knew I’d always be on the right side. Even in Ride The Lobster, I felt fastest if I rode in the center of the road (which we weren’t supposed to do).

Other factors can contribute to this. Tire is a big one, so I suggest trying a different one. Others are in your body; if your spine is a little out of alignment, legs aren’t quite symmetrical, etc. Those things generally fix themselves (at least in terms of unicycling) with time. To speed the process, you can practice riding in big right-handed circles.

It would be dangerous and highly errosive and therefor economical stupid to make a road perfectly flat. With maybe an exception for the fast-absorbation type of aphalt, but I can’t recall I’ve ever seen that on a normal road (though I have been unicycling on it!).

Low pressure makes the sensitivity to road camber worse. You mention a requirement for a range of pressures. So are you saying that increasing the pressure above that range made the sensitivity higher? Or did the pressure range only have a maximum because of the pressure rating of the tyre?

Hello Gunnstein

I had similar experiences with a new muni (Calling Mature Unicyclists (age 55+))

  • an my conclusion is: Don’t have a very high pressure in the tyre. For me it was the combination of knobby tyre and high pressure that made me turn right. I think I was not heavy enough to “flatten” the tyre - so I kind of balanced on top of the knobs instead.

But well. Maybe it’s different for long distance riding.

Best regards,

PS. And I’m not straight either.

Hey gunnstein, keep working at it. I have been through exactly the same challenging period as you, so I know what you are struggling with. I can only say that experience makes it easier so just keep at it!

The one thing you should check is seeing if the saddle frame/mold is straight. The KH Freeride saddle that came with my Nimbus 36 was molded slightly skewed, making the saddle tilt to the side and backwards to a slight degree. This was VERY unnerving to ride on even though it didn´t look too far off right…

The Nokian Extreme is an excellent choice for icy Norwegian winter roads and trails. I am actually looking forward to putting it onto my Nimbus 26 and going out riding in the winter wonderland again :sunglasses:

Studs! by minkuni, on Flickr

Wow, that’s a lot of response. Thanks all. I am clearly not alone!

Klaas Bil: That’s quite a checklist, great thanks for taking the time!

  • Road slope is definitely a factor. Riding on the left side feels better. (without condoning British driving…)
  • Tires, yes. The rim is 39 mm (outer width), so AFAIK it is wide enough for the 2.35" Duro and 2.1" Nokian.
  • Tire pressure: Some say increase, some say decrease. I tried near minimum yesterday, which felt quite bad. Will try maximum next time.
  • Dish: I’d trust the skill of the bike mechanic, but I could check this of course.
  • Frame: Another reason to remove the wheel. Would make it easier to check fork leg length.
  • Seat shape and condition: Good point, I’ll have a closer look.
  • Body: I’m pretty sure my legs are the same, otherwise I should have developed hip or leg problems by now. I walk and bike a lot.
  • Earth rotation: Possible. How about the earths magnetic field? The uni is steel, I’ll get a non magnetic aluminium frame next time :slight_smile:

I don’t have TV and I have no idea what Desert Bus is :slight_smile:

SmellyGeekBoy, aarons, unireed:
I am sure inexperience is a big factor. It’s just frustrating when it gets worse, not better. Hopefully it improves with practice, and it definitely should improve when I switch the tire again in spring. Right now that is not an option. I need my tungsten carbide fix for the conditions we got now :slight_smile:

On holding the seat, do you do that when you ride on roads (and you don’t have handlebars)? I see how it can stabilize things, but on long distances it sounds like hand strain I could do without (have had wrist trouble before). Handlebars sound better, but could complicate UPDs. I think I should get better first.

Switching tire is not an option. One, it’s the only quality studded 29er tire available (the other 622 tires are too narrow, and without studs it would be too dangerous on my roads). Two, it cost me some 83 USD so I’m bloody well gonna learn to ride it! =D

Turning the seat is something I might try, if nothing else it would be educating to see the effect on the ride.

Hi Sanne,
I think for my part I can safely say lack of weight is not a problem :slight_smile:

I tried low pressure yesterday, will try maximum next time. It’s annoying that right where my house is I can’t ride (yet) because it’s too step (for the 29er). I’ll bring the car with all the tools to a parking lot somewhere so I have everything handy and can quickly make adjustments and test them.

Vær hilset, fellow Norseman!
Thanks for the tip. And kudos on your flickr set, there are some really nice shots there.