From novice to 40 mile bike tour in 7 months?

Update: Just rode 2.8 miles unassisted on a bike path today, though I fell once due to bumps and dismounted a little later due to my legs getting tired. However, I did manage to ride 1.4 miles of this ride without falling or stopping which is a new record for me. First time ever riding 1 mile or more. My overall pace is slow, kind of like fast walking or very slow running(14 min miles). I run much faster than this.

I’m still struggling with free-mounting. I can do it maybe 20% of the time. Can’t do sharp turns yet. Working on idling, though it’s very difficult. It’s probably not a good idea to work on too many skills at the same time, so I’ll skip the idling practice until I can free-mount 80% of the time. I wish I could ride round my neighborhood but it’s too hilly for a beginner like me. Maybe by early December I’ll be ready.

Overall, I feel more comfortable and more in control of the unicycle than ever before.

It does not really matter i guess. The biggest problem i faced was that i did not really know what to expect. The standard saddle was banana shaped and reasonably wide. To add to the problems the cranks were relatively long. So my legs moved about a lot. The day was hot and i started to sweat a little along my legs. I will not go into details but i learned that avoiding friction is key. Modern saddles are much better. Especially avoid the overly soft ones.

I recommend you keep mixing in the idling (and a little backwards) practice. Idling will make the freemounts better, and vice-versa. Right now you are probably doing static mounts with your bottom foot getting stuck there, and having trouble riding away from that. Roll that wheel back.

I notice from a lot of unicycling videos, whether they’re tutorials on free-mounting or not, they often seem to do something similar to idling very briefly before riding off. So it makes sense that knowing how to idle should improve free-mounting ability. Glad you pointed that out though I’ve been thinking that very thing for the past several days.

I was a little better with the free-mounting today(after dismounting, I successfully free-mounted on my first try a few times though not every time), and rode around my block several times for the first time ever, even on the hilly portions. I’ve been delaying this because of how hilly my immediate area is; I used to have to drive to this park several miles away to practice on the flat bike paths. Sharp turns are still a bit of a struggle especially when it involves going up or down hill.

Thank you so much for the advice again. I’ve found the advice you’ve provided to be very helpful, and the same goes for everyone else who has commented.


Yesterday my successful free-mounting rate improved while riding in the park though it’s difficult to put a number on it.

Today I rode my unicycle for the first time on a dirt trail. It’s a mostly flat trail, in some small sections it is paved and in others it’s rocky. Had a lot of trouble free-mounting on it. Was easy mounting on smooth or paved areas. Often fell or dismounted due to rocks I had trouble avoiding and dips I mistakenly thought I could handle. It also started getting dark about halfway in. I rode for about 2 miles.

I got my first “you’re missing a wheel!” today. The kids seemed pretty impressed.

I hardly got any idling practice in. It’s bewildering all the different methods there are for learning how to idle. I’m trying to figure out which is the best approach. Some Youtube idling videos are useless. Would appreciate any advice.

Here’s some.

Yes. as with all skills there are various ways to learn. You’ve got to try several until one seems more natural to you.

Essentially there are two ways to idle, free mount and then immediately start idling or stall while riding and then start idling.

I tried learning both and was eventually able to idle about 10+ strokes from a rollback mount. Just like learning to ride, I first held on to a wall but knew I had to get away from that crutch as soon as possible. It just takes lots of practice, even more than learning to ride or free mount.

One thing that I think also helped me was changing the pedals on my 20" Torker LX. At least I made progress after switching the pedals. The original ones are smaller and have no pins to grip with.

I’m still learning this skill and can’t do it from a stall yet but I know it just takes lots of practice. At least I can do a dozen or more strokes from a roll back mount.

PS. Go ahead and use your arms for balance. Also, some folks say you have keep the stroke pace up. I did that at first but tend to rock quite slowly now. Here’s a video of a guy learning this skill. This is how it went for me after I got away from the wall. I tried over an over again until I could make at least a couple of strokes. After that it’s even more practice to keep yourself balanced over the wheel.

Great advice Vertigo!

How long ago did you start learning how to idle? And how much did you practice every day?

Do you also know how to ride backwards for a significant distance?

Not having any issues with my pedals on my 24 inch Club but I’ll consider changing them. I hate the idea of having to go back to a wall or fence to practice idling, which is why I usually prefer slowing down and trying to back-pedal to learn to idle.

BTW, I love the pic of you unicycling across the Brooklyn bridge. It’s like a good omen for me since it reminds me of the time I joggled across the Brooklyn bridge several years ago without dropping. It was my first attempt too, and I had only recently learned. Successfully crossing that busy bridge felt like crossing over from being a novice joggler to an experienced one.

In case anyone wants to know, as a joggler who has only recently taken up unicycling, my joggling experience has done next to nothing to help me with unicycling, though sometimes I think it helps me with falling rather than riding. In other words, all that coordination training has probably helped me fall better rather than ride better.

I can’t wait to reach your level Vertigo! Good luck with your idling practice.

In case there are any unicyclists in the area, I’m in Westchester county, just a little north from the Bronx.

Don’t expect improvement from equipment changes while learning. At least if you aren’t having issues with your current pedals. They’re probably fine. I learned on plain old Schwinn block pedals (no pins at all).

You can choose to be a purist, and take a longer time to pick up certain skills, or do what I did. Go back to the wall. Walls (or fences, rails or someone else’s car) are great for learning new skills.

Idling is the art of moving the wheel back and forth under your center of gravity. The front-to-back part is the easy part, while the side-to-side balancing is more subtle. Front-to-back is set by the size of your wheel. You need to go from a position of leverage to a position of leverage. The middle of the idle is what we call the Dead Spot, when the powered pedal is straight down. That pedal has to go up at least 45 degrees to the front and the rear for your idling to be comfortable. The bigger the “swing”, the slower you can go. Sometimes you have to pause, to let your body start to tip back the other way.

Side-to-side is done with small movements of your hips or arms (hips preferred), to make slight steering changes to keep slicing your tire under that center of gravity. Give it time to get a feel for it. While learning, just practice going a little to the left, a little to the right as you rock back and forth.

A wall or other support will accelerate the learning process. Just make sure you do it on both sides, so you don’t get lopsided. Then, doing it out in the open is where you put on the finishing touches. Like riding into and out of the idle. By the time you can do that, you’ll be most of the way to being able to ride backwards as well.

Not necessarily a bad thing at all. And your joggling experience will work wonders for you when you start learning to juggle on the unicycle. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the advice John Foss.

I’m devoting a lot more time to practicing idling instead of just riding around. Will definitely continue to use the fence. I’m slowly getting the feel for the rhythm.

I just hope that when I become proficient on my 24 inch wheel, my skills easily transfer to a 36. My goal is to be able to free-mount(still struggling), idle, and hop by Christmas without serious difficulties. By then I’ll likely have a 36 inch wheel.

Have fun this Holiday season!

I started practicing about this time last year when I thought it was too cold and dark to ride outside. I set up two chairs (back to back) in my living room and would try idling between them. Whenever I started to fall to one side or the other I would catch myself using the back of the nearest chair. My narrow hallway was another favorite place to practice, like the one in this video.

I’m a slow learner. I worked on it every day for at least a month or so and then gave up. Took it back up again a bit later and finally made a breakthrough when I switched my pedals. Like John said, you don’t need to do what I did with the pedals. Perhaps it was a coincidence that I made progress when I switched them out.

I still have much more idle practice to do this winter. Last spring, summer and fall I focused on riding longer distances on my 29er and neglected learning other skills.

You’ll probably pick it up much quicker than I did.

Nope. Haven’t tried that yet. Once I get on my unicycle I take off and don’t stop until I get tired or run out of time. :smiley:

My avatar picture was taken during the Brooklyn Bridge ride that takes place the day before the NYC Unifest. It’s a 13 mile ride from the bridge to Coney Island (although I only made it to Prospect Park). I had only been riding a couple of months and had no experience riding in the street. I’d love to return to NYC and ride that 5 Boro ride some day. I hope you get to do it. Let us know how it goes.

Hi Acrorebel,
I’m more interested in hearing how your distance riding is progressing… On a 24" you can certainly aim to do 20km before a bigger wheel makes real sense. And as I understand it, distance is your primary objective.

Re idling. Am I the only person who bought a 20" in order to learn to idle? :thinking: It was partly because I knew that I was going to have to force myself to stick with the practicing rather than ride off somewhere, which you can do on a 24" but not really on a 20" :smiley: That was this time last year actually. It did take me about 3 months to be doing 50 on my better leg, that was half an hour just about every day. I had problems getting my weight behind the axle (still do ) so I was always coming off to the front. I found pulling out the seatpost bit by bit also led to improvements.


This is time well spent! As mentioned by some others in this thread, idling teaches you some other skills. You will learn momentary still-stands. If you can practice large idles, moving from the 3:00/9:00 to 9:00/3:00 positions, you’ll be in a good spot to practice small hops during the still stands. You will most likely learn how to ride backwards after learning to idle.

I think there is certain value, albeit limited value, to practicing idling at a wall. It will help you learn how to exert back pressure on the pedals, feel the range of motion of your legs and practice changing directions. However, learning to idle involves a lot of uncontrolled right-left twisting, which a wall might inhibit you from doing.

I suggest trying the following method for learning to idle:

Ride forward, come to a momentary still-stand, then attempt to continue riding forward. As you improve, practice riding at greater speed–into the still stand. It will be necessary, under these conditions, to get the wheel out in front of you, prior to the still stand, with your upper body then swinging forward into a balance position. At some point, instead of riding forward out of the still stand, the wheel will be too much in front, and you’ll fall off the back after the stand still, hopefully onto your feet. (I suggest practicing all this on dirt; falling and sliding is less traumatic than falling and sticking to the pavement.) Now for the hard part: ride into the still stand, with the wheel out in front, freeze, then pedal backwards, half a revolution, to keep from falling off the back. Then, use the forward-riding skills you already possess to ride forward out of it.

The above method was a breakthrough, for me, and this is after I spent a lot of time practicing idling holding onto a fence. Learning “one” really good idle was, for me, more valuable than practicing 5,000 idles, assisted, at the wall.

Just my two-cents…

Note: Almost no one does a traditional idle on a 36" wheel, so the value of idling as a training goal is pretty low. Small hops are way more useful than idling on a big wheel, especially in heavy bike traffic (idling will send your wheel back into the people behind you).

I’d work on riding and hops unless you specifically want to learn other uni skills.

This is true for 36er riding. But the value of learning to idle, because of the other benefits it brings, still makes it a good thing to work on with your smaller wheel(s). Those are skills that will serve you well, even on a 36" if you only ride forward.

Probably where you would get the most benefit there, is on mounts. All that practice on slow and stationary balancing will server you well when getting onto your 36". It will seem very intimidating at first, but with practice (and cross training like idling) you will have the ammunition to comfortably climb up there, then confidently ride away.

True it’s pretty rare but some do it:

Sure, it can be done and some people do it. But if the goal is to go from zero to doing a long 36er ride in a relatively short period of time, it doesn’t seem like a wise thing to spend time on.

To Foss’s point, yes, practicing idling will improve other skills, but so will practicing other skills. An hour spent on freemounting will do more for freemounting than an hour spent on idling.

Advice on Five Boro

I’ve ridden in the Five Boro twice on a 36er (this year and in 2013) and three times on a bike. I hadn’t ridden a unicycle in years when I got a Coker in June 2012. That first summer my wife asked me if I’d consider riding the unicycle in the Five Boro, and I said no way. But by registration time in January I’d grown a lot more proficient and I began considering the tour as a possibility. So I signed up and figured if I wasn’t comfortable when May rolled around I’d just do the ride on a bicycle again. But it worked out – the event is very festive and lots of fun, and I strongly recommend it. The vast majority of cyclists are delighted to see a unicycle, and you will receive lots of attention and supportive comments.

Here’s a thread with some excellent advice I was given:

If you’re in decent physical shape, you’ll definitely have the stamina to finish. The route is pretty flat except for the bridges. I’ve seen 10-year-old kids complete the ride.

Good freemounting skills are crucial. It’s important to remember you’re going to be stopping and starting A LOT. During the ride up 6th Avenue in Manhattan, you will occasionally be required to stop for cross street traffic. Also, you will definitely encounter bottlenecks at some point – chances are in Central Park, Harlem, possibly on the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge, definitely in Brooklyn. Once you get on the BQE it should be non-stop riding to the finish. You will also probably pass many cyclists riding up the Verrazano Bridge (but then they’ll blow right past you on the way down).

Also, bear in mind you will be riding with lots of inexperienced cyclists (and lots of children) who think nothing of cutting to the right or left suddenly without looking, or they decide just to stop without giving any warning. So it’s important to have the skills to navigate crowds, to swerve quickly, and ride defensively.

I heartily agree with the people who’ve suggested handle bars. I didn’t realize how much I rely on handle bars until one of the bolts broke on my handlebar and it kept slipping during the tour. It definitely detracted from my enjoyment of the ride.

Finally, I recommend you register for the event and if in May you don’t feel your skills are quite up to the task, then ride the tour on a bicycle. The experience will definitely be valuable in the future because you’ll know exactly what to expect.

Thanks for all the advice Vertigo, Johnfoss, krjames, elpuebloUNIdo, tholub, Leeway283!

Major breakthrough today: 100% success rate with free-mounting, all 6 attempts were successful this afternoon. I was surprised because I joggled 20 miles this morning, and usually struggle more with free-mounting and unicycling in general after long runs. For some reason my legs weren’t that tired.

Struggling a lot with idling, though I’m doing more backwards practice these days since I find it less frustrating. Very occasionally I can do as much as 3 back-and-forths idling without my hands on the rail. I usually just do 1 or 2. Can go backwards for half a revolution without fence support. I feel a little more comfortable doing this compared to a few days ago.

I think there may be something to this advice I’ve read here that the farther away you look ahead while idling the better. Could be selective perception, but I don’t idle as well when the building in front of me is 50 feet away instead of 150 feet.

I realize it is impractical besides very difficult to idle with a 36er. I intend to learn how to hop soon, but I want to get a helmet first, just in case though I hear it’s pretty easy to learn this skill(I have knee/elbow/shin protection already). Some kids learn how to hop with their unicycles before they learn how to ride them. I think it was Johnfoss who mentioned this in another thread, that unicycles, especially the smaller ones can be used like pogo sticks.

I definitely do need to work on distance riding some more. The farthest I’ve been has been around 3 miles a bunch of times. May ride 5 to 6 miles this week on one of the local bike paths. Since I’m a runner, I’m not too worried about my stamina, which is why my main focus is on skills.

I don’t think it’s so strange that you bought a 20" just to learn how to idle. I think I saw a few others here or on Youtube say they did the very same thing. Thanks for the advice.