How much time can you take off before your unicycling skills start to deteriorate?

From my experience, the core skills remain, but the “polish” may need shining up. Depending on how long you had been doing the “dulled” skills, it may take a little bit of time or a lot to put back the polish. Fitness, on the other hand, is only there if you’ve been doing other activities to take its place. For instance, If I’ve been doing all Road riding for a long time, and little to no Muni, long Muni rides usually beat me up pretty good. And that’s with plenty of hills in the Road riding. Fitness, but not skill.

30 years ago I was the World Freestyle Champion (Unicon II, III and IV), and performing on a regular basis. I could do my “show” Freestyle routine with the flu, or on really difficult surfaces. Those skills were solidly ingrained. But then, over the years I did Freestyle (and shows) less and less. In recent years I have had less and less opportunities to ride in gymnasiums so those skills have faded.

For example, at Unicon IV we had a Compulsory “tricks” event you had to do along with your Freestyle or Standard Skill competition event. The hardest of the four versions including doing 8s backward one-footed, with each foot. I practiced it enough that I could be reasonably ready to do it in one try, under competition pressure. The other day, I was in a big room with a smooth floor. One-foot figure 8s, no problem. Backwards one-foot, sloppy but doable. I did not try the other foot. I think I can do the backwards with my left foot, but getting the 8 back would definitely take some work.

Beyond that though, most of the moves from my old “performance” Freestyle routine are till there. They’re not pretty, but I can get through them. Polishing them up would definitely take a lot less time than learning them from scratch!

There were only two skills I didn’t learn within 7 days from the moment I truly set my mind on them: coasting and side-ride, which took 10 days.

But soon after learning coasting I got some injury. And, after that was over… I couldn’t coast anymore, and whatever I tried I ended with error on error on error.
I had to learn again and it took me about a month, maybe even longer, to learn something I was capable of not too long before…!

So I think deterioration depends on amount of experience also.

And for some skills you need some odd muscle power and self-confidence.
Like ww 1ft bw. Not something that you have back in a single day.

I started to learn to ride backward when I bought a trial 19er back in August 2015, spent hours and hours and finally was able to ride between 10 to 20 meters backward few times, but most of the time I failed to do even one meter.

It’s the period I also started to do hop, side hops, jumping on stairs, and off stairs, and stuffs like this, but wasn’t able to do any rolling up.

Then, on something like september I started to ride on the street with other unicyclists on my 26er, then on my 29er and never got back to the backward stuff, but still few hops sometimes, not much.

So the backward skill was interrupted in the middle of the learning process and it has been a 4 months gap until I play with my 19er again (this afternoon) trying to do the same things I was doing 5 months ago: backward riding, hoping on stairs, and so on.

incredibly, not only I didn’t loose anything but after few tries it was easier to keep the backward riding balance and state of mind, and about hoping, I was able to jump on things without pre-hop, which I was unable in the past.
Even the rolling hop is starting to come (even if it is barely noticeable that I jump).

My riding balance has greatly improved during those 5 months cause I rode often, but I didn’t expect the backward skill and the few other stuffs to be kept in my brain and muscle memories.

So I don’t think that a short interruption may be a big deal.
the hardest things when we learn something like unicycle related skills are the first tries, when the brain/body has no idea what we are asking him to handle !

Thanks for the advice and for sharing your history John.

Due to the recent blizzard, I had to take off for 2 days. I tried, and failed to unicycle the day after the blizzard but it didn’t work out. Upon returning to unicycling, I felt a little rusty, but after 20 minutes of riding in this area cleared of snow, I felt like I was right back to where I was before. Same with the idling, a little rusty, but like before after practicing for 15 minutes, and in fact I’m making great progress with left footed idling. Much better with my right foot.

That’s an amazing number of skills you have. What you’re saying seems to be true for me and many others when it comes to rustiness. Same thing happens with juggling and joggling I’ve noticed. A day off from juggling or joggling makes no difference. A week may make a little difference though I never take a week off.

No big snow storms in the forecast luckily. I hope it stays that way.

Thank you everyone for your helpful responses.

Turns out I was able to see how much of my idling ability would deteriorate after a little more than month of not practicing due to an ankle injury.

In early March while joggling I sprained my right ankle, and couldn’t run or ride my unicycle for almost 3 weeks. At around the 3 week mark, I started riding my 24" unicycle again, slowly and I avoided hills. Because of ankle issues I would do this only a few times a week until recently.

Before the injury, I was capable of idling almost indefinitely on my right foot(I would lose count well into several hundreds of cycles), and up to I think 200 cycles on left foot. I only started learning how to idle a few months ago(frequently interrupted by bad weather), and only learned how to ride a unicycle last November.

It was just yesterday when I finally resumed idling on my 24" since my ankle feels nearly 100% healed. It took almost a dozen attempts to even make the transition into right foot idling from riding, and I could do just 3 cycles. But after a few more attempts, I managed 40 cycles, then a little later, 108 cycles on my right foot. The idling caused no pain at all, and I swear my right foot/ankle felt better after idling than before.

Then I decided to idle with my left foot. It was interesting how on my first attempt to transition to idling with my left foot, I was successful and did about 10 cycles though this isn’t my preferred idling foot. A few more attempts later and I could do 35 cycles. Unlike where I left off, I use my arms a lot more and move all over the place. Very sloppy!

I hope after a few more months of consistent practice I’ll be able to make my idling a lot smoother, stay in the same spot, and also juggle balls while idling.

Sorry to hear about the ankle injury, but I’m glad to hear you’re better.

One of the things I think is really interesting about riding the unicycle is how easy it is to tell when something is effecting you. When I do other sports, I don’t notice quite so much if I loose a little bit of skill, but with unicycling, I certainly do.

Looks like you’ve gotten a lot of advice about taking time off from riding. Here’s what I’ll throw in as well for you to consider:

When we learn something like unicycling, we develop muscle memory, which is both good and bad. We need muscle memory to ride a unicycle at all (which after 30 years of riding still seems like a small miracle to me), but sometimes we learn wrong, and that becomes part of our muscle memory. By taking a break and losing some of that “bad” muscle memory, we have an opportunity to rebuild it the right way when we have more experience and understanding of what we’re doing.

I know from a decade and half of martial arts that this concept is absolutely true for me. The best I got was when I took a year or so off and then started up again. I also started unicycling again regularly a few months ago after not riding regularly for many years. Overall, I’m riding better than I ever have since I started in 1986.

Keep it up and enjoy! You’re doing great!

Around 6 years ago i quit Freestyle unicycling to Focus more on riding muni and stuff like stairs ans drops.
It took for me always a Long time to getting better with drops and other obstacles. But when i cant ride that for a few weeks it scares me to ride the same stuff and it tooks me months to ride it again.
So i am back to Freestyle. After a few weeks most of the tricks i can do again.

Excellent observations. I had a similar idea when I resumed idling practice, thinking maybe I had forgotten some beginner’s bad habits and would soon be idling like a pro. This hasn’t happened yet, but something similar could happen after a few more weeks or months of practice.

I think I remember this happening when I was studying martial arts, and I had to take time off due to illness.

I think part of the reason for this is that riding a unicycle is just so “unnatural”, for lack of a better word. In no way do I mean “unnatural” to imply “bad”. What I mean is humans evolved to walk, and run, and we learn to do these things at an early age without giving it a second thought. On the other hand, it can take a little while to learn to ride a unicycle. In can take up to a year or more for some unicyclists to learn to ride with “grace”, which may just be another way of saying that it finally feels “natural” to them. Just think, in terms of human evolution, bicycles and unicycles are extremely recent inventions.

Of course, there are many people who just can’t ride a unicycle for whatever reason. I keep running into people like this who claim they tried to learn but couldn’t. Others learn to do it but prefer bicycles for the speed.

It’s so cool that you ride better now than ever before, in spite of very long breaks. In a way “muscle memory” is just like other memory in that some people are just better at remembering things. Now if there was a way to erase bad muscle memory without having to take long breaks, that would be a godsend.

Martial arts is actually how I came about my theory on this. I was pretty avid with martial arts for over 10 years, but due to work and other crap, I would be gone and not practice for increasing periods of time. Despite my guilt and disappointment with myself, I had become increasingly suspicious that the lapses were helping a lot more than they were hurting. Finally, after a 1-2 year lapse, I went back and got the most positive feedback I’d ever gotten from my teacher, and he was not one to hand out compliments. I’m convinced it was because I lost the muscle memory of doing things wrong and then re-trained my muscles with 10 years of understanding.

I’m not sure I would intentionally NOT practice something I was really in to or cared about, but if circumstances cause it, or if I just lose interest in something for a while, I don’t sweat it. It could be a natural and positive process.

All I do is unicycle, and my resting heart rate is 40/min, so that’s fitness!

I can get on the uni and ride after 2 weeks off. Juggle on it too. But for new skills or more difficult ones, rust happens fast. Everyday I cannot get to one foot without going around the block with decreasingly lighter pressure on the pedal. Then it finally happens. Then I can do every other rotation. But if I stop for ten minutes to do something else, I’m already feeling a bit rusty and it takes a few efforts to get my foot up and off.