Frustrations Learning to Ride: Mental Block and *Really* Sore Knees?


I am having a couple of really frustrating problems that I would like some advice on.

I am trying to learn to unicycle on a Nimbus 24" with 125mm cranks. I have had 7 practice sessions now, each of which ranges from about 45 to 90 minutes long, with most of them being about 1 hour long. I can mount OK as long as I have someone or something on one side of me to hold onto. Once mounted, if I am touching my husband’s hand lightly – only our fingertips touching (so lightly that he couldn’t actually provide any physical support if he wanted to) – I can ride as far as I want to, including wobbling around turns, until my legs get tired. If I push off on my own (without him walking next to me), or let go of his hand completely, I will either fall immediately, or usually only get in 2-5 revolutions before I fall. Has anyone experienced a similar “mental block” when learning? It’s really frustrating because 1) it is beginning to feel like my progress is very, very slow, and 2) I know that I can do it, I just somehow panic when I don’t have anyone/anything beside me.

Regarding the sore knees: After doing some searching, I have come to the conclusion that this is a fairly common problem, but I have tried all of the suggestions that I found and I am still having no luck. Around my second practice I noticed that my knees were sore. This has really only continued to get worse. Now when I practice unicycling, they are so sore that I actually have trouble walking up and down stairs the next day! The residual soreness lasts for at least 2-3 days afterwards! This is also slowing down my progress because I can only practice 2-3 times a week. I don’t have any pre-existing knee problems and I have run on a regular basis (an average of about 10 miles a week) for some time now without having any knee pain. I know a common suggestion is to raise the seat, but my seat is already as high as I can get it and still have my legs slightly bent when the pedals are all the way down. I’m not sure what else to try? Would longer cranks help? I try putting as much of my weight on the seat as I can, but I am still learning so I don’t have very good control and I end up relying on my legs a lot for helping me correct and stay balanced.

I would appreciate any advice whatsoever – I’m really frustrated!

Cheers :o

The only advice I have for people with mental blocks is… drink two beer. Just enough to help loosen those mental blocks without severely affecting your coordination or balance, then try letting go of your husbands hand.

As for the knees that sounds very familiar. When I was training for RTL (unicycle race) I my knees started to get really sore and it got to the point that I not only could not ride but run or even walk without severe pain. 6 weeks and as many doctors latter I finally met a doc that took me seriously and knew what he was talking about.

He told me I had a muscle imbalance in my quads. He said that it was a common imbalance for both cyclists and runners. I was unicycling 100-150km per week and running 10-20.

To correct it he told me to sit in a chair and just raise my foot flexing the knee ten times in a row three times a day. Two days latter I was walking without pain for the first time in over a month and four days latter I was running and riding pain free.

Your knee problems may not be the same as mine but that very simple exercise did wonders for me.

Welcome to the forums and keep us updated on your progress!


Re: the mental block, GET MAD! Tell yourself you WANT to do this. You are GOING to do this. Look at a spot in the road 20 feet ahead and RIDE to it with determination. It sounds like you are on the cusp of a breakthrough and it’s time to take charge and show that pesky mental block who’s boss. At least this worked for me. Everyone’s different, but might be worth a shot!

Saskatchewan’s comments re: knee pain sound right on. Are you stretching your quads too? I think that would help. Also you are probably very tense while riding and as you get better and relax, the pain will subside. Good luck and have fun!

I second saskatchewanian’s words on the beers. Helps great to get past those mental blocks. As for the knee pain… an informative page is:

I’ve added various stretches to my routine (and now saskatchewanian’s tip) and have been increasing duration and intensity of practice (not recommended… but…) and the pain/discomfort has been decreasing a bit each day. I’m sure if i were to take it easy on the uni and just stretch a wee bit things would be in tip top shape …

Importantly though, stretch ! And keep the quads in balance !

And on to my last little rant… I’m still learning BUT… I’m going to leave out all but the most important details here… DO NOT GIVE UP. A LOT of people certainly have learned on 24" unis. A LOT of 24" unis certainly have 125mm cranks. So don’t let what i’m about to say discourage further attempts. My first uni was a 24 with 150mm cranks. 2 years i tried on this thing… i had VERY similar experiences to what you are describing. Then i got a 20." It’s been less than a month now and i’m a few hours away from skill level one. i am almost certainly less fit than you. Ultimately, smaller cranks will make things a tad easier for you, albeit a tad harder on your knees. a smaller wheel with 125s or proportionately smaller cranks will make a world of difference in learning speed. I know it has for me. Sorry to ramble, but 24 vs 20 is an issue i will always have a bit of passion for.

Been said many times before but: In my experience many novices THINK they have much of their weight on the seat. In reality they still have a lot of weight on the pedals, meaning the right leg is constantly fighting against the left. The workload on the legs can thus be many times higher than that for an experienced rider.
You can tell the difference the first time you get the weight right. It feels very different. Somehow “floaty”. Effortless on smooth level ground.


mental block: I know that! cannot get rid of it after 6 years unicycling. But I now practice rough terrain unicycling with pretty difficult sections. So I live with it.

knee pain: different reasons possible. One I noticed is too many “transversal” efforts to keep balance. So work on “straight” pedaling and have someone spot and correct the alignment of legs, knee, pedals … try to pedal more quickly first (" ok the death dive now!") and later slow down.

I just taught someone to ride who had the mental block problem. We just went the route you are already on–hold onto someone’s arm as you ride around, and then gradually lighten the pressure. At some point we got to one finger pressure on my wrist, and then he would just let go and ride. When he made the transition is was dramatic–almost immediately he could ride 50 M. Do not hold hands, but rather put your hand or finger on your Husband’s wrist so that you can let go at any time.

We used the same unicycle, and in my experience a comfortable riding pace is a FAST walk, not a slow walk. You may be going too slow–Unicycling is easier if you get up a little speed. A comfortable pace for a 24" Nimbus with 125 mm cranks is a slow jog.

Regarding your poor knees: have you ridden a bike recently? I had not and found that my legs were very sore as a started unicycling. It takes some leg muscles to do it, and you may be building them up. However, you are probably expending 10 times more force than you need to in your rides. If you are going slow and you are nervous, there is a tendency to tighten up your legs. Then you are riding the unicycle by using large opposing force with each leg. You will get over it, but I do not know any shortcuts. Here are some (standard) suggestions: Relax and put your weight on the seat. Try standing on the pedals and then settling into the seat and lifting up your feet until they are barely touching the pedals to get a sense of the difference. You will need to put force on the pedals, but it is much less than you think.

Good luck with your practice. Keep trying and do not be too hard on yourself. Just get out and try it a bit every day (30 min? 20 min?) and try to have fun riding around with your helper. Practice rocking and turning. All of these thing will increase your balance and make the riding easier.

Hi Natosha

I can relate to all your knee problems and pains. I have horrible knees, but have found some things that help. Also I’m 50 now, and have just started learning to ride the uni a couple of months ago. So I know the mental thing you are talking about. So I throw out my opinion for both things.

I think women are a bit more cautious than men, and our brains want to understand what is going to happen. We are more cautious about getting hurt. My partner is also learning with me, but what I’ve found, is that I went for it way before she did. I’m just a bit more aggressive than she is. She is at the stage you are talking about. If I walk along side her, she can ride down the street, barely touching my fingers, for quite a ways. But as soon as she is not touching, she does not make it very far. What I see, when I’m walking along side her, is that she is not doing a very smooth pedal stroke, almost a stop and start. So when I coach her to smooth it out, and speed up a bit, she does much better, and can ride for a ways on her own.

I have noticed this for myself too, that when my stroke gets a bit choppy, that I’m putting too much weight on the pedals, and to smooth it out, you have to sit in the seat more. So if have your helper and are going along, barely touching fingers, try to smooth out your stroke and go just a bit faster…yes a bit of speed is your friend. you should sit in the seat a bit more and may help your knees.

You might try shorter sessions, say no more than 30 minutes, and maybe you can get more days in.

I agree with Saskatchewanian about the imbalance of muscles. I also would add alignment. I found a book called Pain Free, and it changed everything for me. It suggested to look at your own alignment, in front of a mirror, and then work on the areas that need help. Some of my issues were, from years of basketball and running. My hips tilt back badly, which affected my knees, and my lower back. So now I do simple exersizes and stretches that help to align me better. I can’t run much any more, but I do walk alot, and I focus on the alignment, of my hips, and the stride of my foot, and most of the time, I do not have pain. Which I consider pretty good, since my doc said 5 years ago, that I would need a knee replacement (which I do not want to do). I have had an acl repair, and both of my knees scoped. I was lucky to have the doc video the scope, so I could see the inside of my knee, which was very mushy, dull and rough. The good news is that I’m still doing the sports I love. They all make me stiff and sore, but isn’t that true for anybody that’s 50 and active?

Make sure you go see a good sports doctor. Ortho’s mainly want to do surgery and give you new parts. Don’t get me wrong…I’m grateful for what they do, and I needed to have mine cleaned out badly. If I hadn’t, I’d probably have new knees right now. but with getting the scope, and finding balancing excersizes, I do ok.

I hope you find some relief for your knees, just keep searching, try the Pain Free book. Keep trying the uni, you just need to get your mind to a safe place, and you will push through it and ride alone, further and further. I can now ride up and down the sidewalk, over lump and bumps. It just takes practice, so your mind and muscles know what to do. And you no longer have that split second of I might fall. Which usually makes you stop.

Good luck and keep at it.

Knee Pain and Mental Block

Your practice sessions of one hour or more sound rather long for a beginner. There is a lot of tension associated with unicycling at the start so you just may be pushing too hard. I had a lot of trouble with knee pain early on, but raising the seat to the proper height made a big difference. If you pedal standing up as much as possible, (that is, no weight on the seat) and there is more than an inch or two of “crotch clearance” your seat is probably too low. Do you need a longer seat post?

I participated in a PhD student’s physio research and came away with a side-lying leg lift exercise I do three times a week. No knee pain since then. There are lots of knee exercises on the net.

Regarding the mental block. My spouse who has 40+ years on you has a similar problem. She can ride 200 ft beside a railing without touching it but will not (cannot) get herself to go out into the abyss as she calls it. When she rides beside me she uses me for support instead of twisting the uni to ride into the direction she is falling. We are still working on it after two years, but only ride every couple of weeks. She’ll beat it someday and so will you if you don’t give up.:slight_smile:

Yes, pretty much everyone I’ve ever really watched learning to ride. You are at the cusp. But telling you this probably doesn’t help. You already know you can ride, because you’re doing it with almost no assistance. So you know the assistance you’re getting is mental. Time to gut it out.

The advice above is all good (with some reservation on the “two beers” thing), especially from GearQueen. First a bit more on the riding away, then on to the knees. Like GearQueen said, work on a smooth pedaling stroke. Also stick with relatively smooth places until you get going on your own. If it’s tilted, head downhill.

Next, don’t take things too seriously. You’re learning to ride a unicycle afterall, not studying to cure cancer. As adults we sometimes tend to overthink things, which usually backfires when learning to ride a unicycle. There’s too much to understand, and it gets in the way of letting your body “feel” what works to keep you going. So stop thinking and start feeling. Pretend you’re an 8-year old. What would she do? Ride until she falls and then go again. If anything, analyze which way or why you fell, and try to do it a little different next time.

Also, don’t be afraid to fall down. Falling down is part of nearly every sport. If you’re afraid of getting hurt, it could be causing you to tense up. So do some falls on purpose. If you “fall off” properly, usually you’ll just end up on your feet, holding the unicycle. But sometimes you’ll fall down. Getting used to doing this will get your body familiar with how to land, and you’ll be less worried about doing it next time. So do some practice falls. Pad up if you want, it makes falling less stressful for us adults.

Lastly the knees. Is the pain in you knee joint, or above your knees in the front? That’s where I got sore in my early days of unicycling. Not the joint but in the lower end of my quadriceps (quads). Those are your main unicycling muscles. If they’re sore now it’s because you’re too tense. As mentioned above, you probably are not sitting down as much as you think. Once you start riding on your own you’ll be able to start relaxing, but it takes a little while at first. Until then, if you keep staying sore, do shorter practice sessions. Lighten things up and have fun. If it stops being fun, drop it until the next day, or the next time you feel like it.

BTW, if the pain you’re feeling seems to be inside your knee joint, it may be something a doctor should look at it. Unicycling is not hard on the joints (unless you’re riding lots and lots of miles a day) so you may have other issues there.

Which is not giving up. It took me about six weeks to “sort of” learn to ride, with many times giving up along the way. Of course my unicycle was partly to blame, a 16" hard plastic tire, no bearings, etc. I know I would have learned much faster on a “real” unicycle with a 24" wheel so don’t let anyone tell you your wheel size is a problem. It’s not. Think of all the little kids out there riding around on unicycles. If they can do it, so can you. That’s all you really need to know. The rest is just sticking with it.

And having fun.

It still may be the case that your saddle isn’t high enough… you might need a longer seatpost.

Longer cranks would cause your knees to bend even more. Shorter cranks would be the remedy here.


Thanks for all of the great replies. I practiced this evening for only 30 minutes and I think it was better for my knees. This time I didn’t worry about trying to ride unassisted – instead I practiced sitting all the way down on the seat (I did raise the seat up slightly) and tried to get the feel of pedaling along smoothly, using my husband for support as little as possible. Although I feel like I “regressed” a little with regards to my balance (I was actually having to rely on my husband’s hand for balance some of the time, and I thought I was past that point), it didn’t cause me pain in my knees and I was able to go in a straighter line (rather than zig-zag all over the place). The only times I came off were when I got down on my own or when I hit a big enough bump/crack in the concrete that I lost my balance and came off forwards. I was even able to pedal fairly smoothly around corners! :smiley:

I still have trouble getting started smoothly, though. When I start going, my pedaling is kind of a “start-stop-start-stop-start-stop-pedal-pedal-pedal…” kind of motion. Does anyone have any advice for this? I found that leaning forward slightly when I start going seems to help some.

I think I will try this. I am a software engineer so I sit at a desk all day. I can do these exercises while I’m at work.

Well, the few times I have tried this, it resulted in a (I’m sure) very amusing fiasco that ended up with me flying forward off the unicycle and sliding on the concrete. I think, however, that once I get the hang of pedaling more smoothly, it will help.

I will definitely check this out. Thanks.

I did notice that things are much smoother when I just sit all the way down on the seat. I guess I thought I had more of my weight on the seat than I actually did.

I agree that this is probably the cause of my knee pain. I think my legs are fighting each other and it puts a lot of stress on my knees. I did notice tonight that I wasn’t having knee pain.

This is pretty much what we’ve been doing; he will hold his hand out flat and I will touch his hand with my fingers.

I did notice this evening that my husband was having to walk much more quickly than usual, so perhaps I am on the right track here. Unfortunately, I am kind of afraid of the speed. I know that one of my problems when I try to ride unassisted is that I get afraid of falling as soon as I pick up some speed and I end up hopping down off the unicycle for no apparent reason before I even have a chance to think about it.

Yes, and I don’t have any pain from riding my bike.

I will continue working on this. I thought I was doing a good job of not putting my weight on the pedals, but my practice tonight was proof that I was wrong.

This is definitely the case for me.

This is the case for me, as well. I will continue working to correct this – I think this is the key to being able to ride on my own. Taking my weight off the pedals help a lot.

This is probably part of my problem. I’m going to try limiting my practice sessions to about 1/2 hour and see if it helps.

No, I definitely don’t need a longer seat post (I have a few inches that I could still move it up). I did move my seat post up about 3/4 of an inch tonight and, although it made mounting harder, I think it did help me get more of my weight on the seat.

I do think the saddle wasn’t quite high enough (raising it about 3/4" seemed to help). Luckily I still have several inches I could go up without “outgrowing” my seat post.

I think the pain is from my legs fighting each other, though – not from the bending itself. My understanding is that longer cranks would be easier on the knees but more work on the leg muscles, and shorter cranks would be easier on the leg muscles but would put more strain on the knees. Is this not true?

Thanks again for all of the great responses!


Your practice sessions are very long. I suggest cutting the sessins down to 15 to twenty minutes. However try to do a session every day and even two on the weekends. As the session lengthens concentration wanes muscles tire and you leave the session feeling bad. When I work on leaning riding I also finish my practice session after I have a good run. That way I walk away feeling confident rather than frustrated.

125mm cranks are harder to learn on. with 150 or 165 you should be able to learn faster.

Sounds like you are putting to much weight on the pedals and not enough on the seat.

When riding try looking at at a point on the horizon or the fence on the oposite side of the court or a poster on the fall wall of the gym. do not look at the floor 2 feet in front of your tire or that is were you will go.

Keep in mind that unicycling is a series of accelerations and deccelerations. That is how yo keep the tire under you. As you become more experiences you will make smaller and smaller accelerations and deccelerations using your by then stronger and much more coordinated muscles much less. I taught a good friend who completed both the NY and Boston marathons to ride. In the beginning he used to get nausous from the exertion after just 15 minutes of riding! Now he does 3 hour MUni rides with me.

I do like Saskatch’s beer suggestion. I like doing what i call the two beer test - I learn a new skill and then if I can still do it consistently after two beers I feel that I have mastered it! Good luck you have began the exciting and rewarding voyage of unicycling!

Hey, Sask meant that two beers would make it easier. You make it sound as if the two beers make it harder.

I can sympathize with the sore knees and mental block. My quads still ache after a practice. I cured my mental block by convincing myself I was riding a bicycle. It worked. I practice on a small downgrade taking advantage of gravity. More improvement. I raised the seat. More improvement. I look down the road while riding. More improvement. I keep practices to 20-25 minutes per day during the weekdays. More improvement. Longer practices on the weekend. More improvement. Keeping my weight on the seat has been a challenge to me. It still is. But even that is improving. I use my truck as a push off to get started. My longest ride has been about 700 yards or when my quads give out ( about 3 minutes). I bought a stock Sun uni 20" standard cranks and a stock Sun 24" 152 cranks. The longer cranks are better on the 24". I plan on buying even longer cranks for the 24".

I started in Sept 2007. Don’t give up. Everybody has their own learning curve. Kaori Matsuzawa has been a great inspiration to me. Check her out on youtube.

Well, I am finally making some progress. I have had 3 more practices, for a total of 11, and I’m definitely doing better. This evening I spent about 25 minutes with my husband trotting/jogging along side me so that I could touch his hand and we went back and forth down this long alley near where we live several times without incident. After that, I tried pushing off from him while he was standing still, but didn’t have any luck (I’m still scared to try and get going by myself). So, we tried having him walk with me for about two revolutions while I get up some speed and letting go. I was able to ride well over 10 meters by myself :smiley: It was the farthest and smoothest I’ve ever ridden unassisted before. We did this a few more times, and I almost always ended up stopping because I got turned kind of sideways and ran out of room in the narrow alley. I’ll have to pick a wider area like a parking lot next time. (I did take one bad fall that made me glad I was wearing a helmet, but overall I think it was a success).

My problem was that I wasn’t putting my weight on the seat. I’m sure I wasn’t putting my weight on the seat because after two practices of sitting all the way down on the seat and pedaling around for half an hour, my crotch was so sore I ended up buying gel-padded bike shorts. Since this hadn’t happened before, I take it as a sign that I wasn’t putting my weight on the seat. My pedaling is also smooth now (and it wasn’t before).

My knee problems are just about resolved. The pain in my knees has been going away little by little every day since I started sitting down all the way on my seat so that now they barely hurt at all. I was able to do a 10K run yesterday without my knees giving me problems.

Part of my progress is related to a changing in thinking, as well. I had always focused on the unicycle rather than my own body. Once it occurred to me that I am just changing the speed of my pedaling to keep the unicycle underneath me (rather than trying to stay on top of the unicycle), pedaling along smoothly and quickly got a lot easier.

I’m fairly confident that if I just practice now, I will be able to go farther and farther. Now my current struggle is to not panic when going fast (I think I’m still scared of the speed). I also need to get up the guts to try and start off faster so that I won’t have to have anyone walking with me while I gain some speed.

Any suggestions for my current problems are appreciated. I am sure practice is the only real cure. I appreciate the advice – I think it helped me get past both the knee problems and a large part of my mental block.

Congratulations! It sounds like you are well on your way. If you can get in a 10 M ride, it is just a matter of practice until it gets easy.

Here is some standard advice. Sit up straight, use good posture and look ahead in the direction you want to go. Relax and pedal smoothly. To get started from a dead stop, lean forward and let yourself start to fall before pedaling. Riding forward on a unicycle is just a matter of falling forward and pedaling the wheel to keep up. :roll_eyes:

Have fun!

I used to have some knee pain and I discovered it was because my knees were diving to the inside (the pain was a bit less w/ longer cranks for me). I tended to do this at technical spots, when I was about to loose control, and on hills. Two weeks of focusing onconsously keeping my knees in line w/ my feet cured this, starting on my bike, and later on the uni by looking down, at my shadow, or reflection in a window. I still need to pay attention to this every once in a while.

Increasing the strength of my lower abs and hip flexors helped reduce the # and severity of my UPD’s.

For UPD’s you can’t run out, practice doing running falls onto grass. Run then dive putting your hands down w/ your arms bent, and not rigid, and roll over one shoulder. Practice this until you are equally comfortable w/ touching either foot last and rolling to either side (four combinations total).

Thank you for the advice! I’ve been having sore knees and just stretching has not been helping. (Disclaimer: I’ve been afraid to stretch too much as I have a hernia and the knee stretches I do for running feel weird right now.)

I have a coworker who has been swearing this exact same thing fixed his knee problems (also from running) and I never took him seriously! He says whenever his knees start to hurt, he just practices making a muscle around his knee whenever he thinks of it waiting in line, sitting at his desk, watching TV, and the pain goes away.

Going in Circles…

Well, after a couple more practices and moving to a smoother parking lot, I’m doing quite a bit better. I’m still using my husband’s hand to get mounted and to get going, but even that is getting easier. Unfortunately now I have another odd problem – when I start going, I can only unicycle in left circles. Sometimes I can go straight for awhile, but I always seem to veer left eventually and start going in circles. It’s quite amusing to watch, I’m sure, but I find it quite annoying. :stuck_out_tongue: I seem unable to turn right. I’ve tried turning my torso that direction, and also leaning that direction slightly, but always I fall immediately. Any advice?