Help me ride backwards!


For those of you who are capable of riding your unicycles in reverse, I have a few questions that I hope will make learning easier.

First, some things about my current skill. I’m capable of riding forward very easily. I can freemount, hop in place for a very long time, and hop over curbs with ease. I want to learn to ride backwards to have a little more skill to add to my unicycle repertoire and just increase my skill in general. I do practice trying to ride backwards a LOT, but I just don’t seem to be getting any better at it.

Do you think it will be easier to learn on a 20" or 24"? I’m just as comfortable riding one as the other. Is it best to lean on something like a car or a wall (as you would expect a new unicyclist to do while learning) or push off of something and ride away without support? And now my most burning question: Where do you look? I can’t figure out if I should look forward, at my wheel, or backwards.

Also, any other little tips or tricks you can shoot my way would be much appreciated. :slight_smile:


Never look down at the wheel.

To learn, find an area where you can ride a long ways backwards without looking behind you. Get on, PUT YOUR WEIGHT IN THE SADDLE, look FORWARD into the distance, and ride BACKWARDS.


When you can ride a reasonably long distance comfortably this way, then you can start looking around.

Look at a fixed point and ride away from it.

You may have better luck with a 20" as it moves / responds a bit slower than the 24"

Here is my suggested progression (skip to what you can’t do yet):

  1. Ride forward, ride a half revolution backward, then ride forward again. Practice with each foot until this is easy.
  2. Super idle. That’s riding a full revolution forward, a full revolution backward, then repeating. Go slow and try to keep your torso upright (rather than at an angle).
  3. Same as #2 except two revolutions.
  4. Same as #2 and #3 except three revolutions.

Also, follow harper’s advice and PUT YOUR WEIGHT IN THE SADDLE. If you can do three revolutions in control you can probably get longer runs fairly easily.

I think it is better to learn without a support. It’s not quite like learning to ride from the beginning since you already understanding how the unicycle moves and you have some coordination and muscle memory built up from riding forwards.

When I learned, part of it was conquering fear. It feels like you’re going to fall backwards, so your instinct is to jump off. It takes a lot of attempts and maybe some extra safety gear to get past that.

Edit: Yeah. What waaalrus said.

I’ve been working on this recently. I’m at the point where I can ride about 100 feet backwards. For me it was something that seemed like an easier thing to do, but I’ve been working on it more than any other trick/skill by far… Not so easy. They will tell you don’t look down, I won’t tell you that, because I would not be where I am today if I followed that advice. In the beginning I looked down, I could not balance looking forwards, I think it has to do with your balance point and where you naturally keep your head (head position has a lot to do with your balance, it needs to be your natural position).

I already knew how to idle on both sides, but I spent A LOT of time idling on both sides. I would do 10 idles on left, then 10 on right, kept switching back and forth til I got to a hundred. This kind of became my goto warm up or whenever I got frustrated not being able to ride backwards.

Next thing I began to do was to Idle fewer times, like 1 one or two, then switch sides always to the rear (beginning to move backwards). I would do this until I could do it forever, not that hard but very useful I think.

Then I started doing full revs backwards. I’d start with 1, then forward 1, then backwards 2, then forwards 2, then backwards 3, then … you see the drill.

This is all building your balance of being in place and not moving much which helped me a bunch. I did all of the above mostly looking down, I’d try it looking up from time to time (because everyone says to look up) and would always lose my balance.

I worked on all of this stuff with sessions of trying to go backwards as far as I could (I always started off idling to get my balance, then just took off backwards from that). After a month I got 20 revs backwards pretty consistently. I didn’t spend more than two - three hours a week working on this.

Then recently it kind of took off, now I’m up to 100 feet or so. Here is what made me begin to look up… As I began to get over 30 feet I would get dizzy looking down seeing the ground go by, so I slowly began focusing up higher which helps.

I set a goal by the end of the year to ride from my house down to our community clubhouse which is about a half mile down the street. I think I’ll get it no problem. My problem now is traffic, it’s scary to ride so far without being able to see everything on the road.

It’s been fairly challenging, but it has helped my overall riding a bunch, my balance is WAY better, my idling is WAY better. I can now still stand for 5-10 seconds and I never practiced that.

I started practicing on my 20", then switched to my 24", my reasoning was bigger wheel = less revs to get to my goal. I don’t think it’s much easier/harder with either wheel size.

This is just what worked for me, I’m a SLOW learner. I need to practice things a million times before it gets imprinted on my brain, a bummer for such a sport.

Oh yeah, keeping my arms way out helped a lot too, and like they said weight on your saddle, balancing with your arms and your hips.

I too am trying to master backwards riding. Atm I can go 10-20 revolutions. I simply started all over again from scratch.

I forced myself to ride backwards while holding a fence for about an hour. Next day I switched from rollback mount to a double-rollback mount. (The rollbackmount really helped me find the balance to idle and ride backwards).

After that I did what others have mentioned, ride forwards, then do a half revolution backwards, then forwards again. Then increased it gradually until where I am today…

I’ve found that the bigger wheel responds more slowly. I have to put more effort into the bigger wheel to get it to move, thus, slower response time and better control. I have a 20, 26, and 36. I think the 20 is too “twitchy”, the 36 is great for cruising but a real bear to get to idle, but the 26 is just right.

I’ve only recently learnt to ride backward…and not well at that.

What helped me to begin with was the advise to hold your arms out and turn your palms to face upwards. It was like flicking a switch, I could instantly ride backwards :smiley: (and I’ve got the bruises to prove it).

I’m with Waaalrus and Anton when it comes to mixing idling with backwards practice. That’s how I learned (also in Michigan) many moons ago. The transition to the idle (or going backwards) is scary, but if you practice it with a half-idle as Waaalrus said, you can learn it pretty quick. Maybe use a support at first, but try to work away from it. You know how to balance now.

Riding backwards is very psychological. Most people rely on sight a lot when they move. Now you can’t see where you’re going. Other than that, it’s basically the same as riding forward.

For you “grown ups” trying to learn it, it also helps to get comfortable with reverse dismounting. Nobody likes to fall on their back/head. Practice bailing to the rear. With practice comes confidence. And less fear of falling back. It’s about getting your feet back there, while not tripping or getting caught on the pedals.

Don’t quit. If you can ride forward, you can ride backward. But give yourself some time.

Thanks all! I’m really looking forward to using some of these tips and hopefully getting some distance riding backwards! Unfortunately, between classes and work, I won’t be able to unicycle until Sunday :frowning:


I bail many times going backwards just because I’ve gone so far and don’t really know where I’m going, not because I’ve lost my balance.

In the couple of months I have been working on it I only took one good fall on my backside, couldn’t get my feet off the pedals fast enough. It wasn’t that bad, but was glad I had my helmet as my head did smack the ground.

Also some days I had it, and somedays I knew I didn’t and would just stick with idling and do other stuff.

I was practicing on my 24" for the past few months, yesterday I switched to my 20" trials to see which wheel was easier. I’ve probably put in at least an hour of backward riding practice on the smaller wheel. Already it seems easier on a smaller wheel, it seems easier to stay in the sweet spot where balance is right on while riding backwards. It’s also easier for me to keep my eyes up higher, off the ground.

Riding backwards was something I am really working hard for. It’s hard for me to maintain my balance when I am focusing on the direction behind my head.

Many years ago, I spent several evenings practising idling and riding backwards in a deserted car park. Idling and reversing are closely linked skills.

First ride forwards slowly, stop for a moment, then ride on.

Do that several times.

You will probably have a preferred “down foot”.

Now ride forward, stop, do a part turn back, then ride forward.

Do that several times.

Eventually, you will be able to ride forward, stop, do a half turn back, then ride forward.

Then you will progress to a doing a full turn back.

Eventually, you will be able to do what I once heard called a “super idle”, which is a whole wheel revolution forward, a whole revolution back, then forwards again.

Then it’s a matter of:

  1. Compressing this movement to make a small idle, and

  2. Expanding this movement so that you can ride 2, or 3, or 4, or many, turns backwards.

When riding backwards, look at a fixed point on the ground, about 5 - 10 metres in front of you, and ride away from it. Every few metres, shift your reference point. The important thing is to be looking directly at something fixed, in front of you, while you ride away from it.