How to ride 800 meters, and beyond

I have been practicing regularly on my unicycle for over 3 years now and I am still a beginner. Riding is still very limited with very short distances, usually between 50 and 100 meters. I’ve tried many times to freemount, but to no avail. Fortunately, I have plenty of lampposts around here that I can use, although even that is a struggle now and then, especially if I haven’t practiced for a while. A practice session for me consists of riding away from the pole until I am forced to dismount, I walk back, catch my breath and try again and that a number of times in a row.

I signed up for the 800 meters at the Dutch Unicycling Nationals later this month and for that I practice very regularly, but I just can’t manage to get even close to that distance. Based on the experiences of other unicyclists, getting better is a matter of practice and at some point you should be able to ride as far as you want. But that doesn’t seem to work for me. I think I should practice in a different way, but I have no idea how. The obvious things like correct saddle height and correct tire pressure should all be fine. Does anyone have an idea what else I can try?

Any way you could take a video of yourself riding and post it here? (Alternatively, if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your riding with the whole world, you could PM it time and maybe others who are willing to help).
It sounds like you have the basics of keeping balance down, so my first guess would be that you are loosing focus, but maybe there is something correctable in your technique we can spot.
Something I have used for kids that had similar problems as you, is walking/running/riding along slightly in front of them, as a “moving target”. I think sometimes that would help break the “habit” of falling of at the same distance by continuously giving them a new goal. Maybe you can employ someone’s help and try something similar.

as finnspin said FOCUS or loosing it sounds like your biggest obstacle, if you know when you dismount you have to go back to the pole then you are most likely setting yourself up to not continue farther
try this to get the free mount down. get a broom stick or 2 or something simular , instead of using the light post
use the stick to mount and begin riding. do this over and over not riding far but practicing the mounts this will force you to learn how to mount and ride off and give you just a little added support
the trick is to get to where you mount and ride off all together
I am currently teaching a young lady how to ride and this is where we are and it is working good
once you get that free mount a couple times it gets easier

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Sounds like you’re too comfortable doing what you think works. Time to abort those practices.

Do you wear protective gear?
Do you practice in the exact same spot all of the time?
Are you a computer programmer?

If you don’t use protective gear while learning you’re body goes into a self-preservation mode which makes sure you don’t get hurt.
Partial gear means that you’re not totally protected and your brain knows it.
Wear it all and you feel a lot more indestructible and safe and this allows your brain to concentrate on learning instead of not getting hurt.

If you practice in the same spot all of the time you will develop a rut in your learning skills.
Mix it up.
Start going for a ride. Start at your residence and ride somewhere and then back home. Repeat with a new destination.
Now is when you’re going learn to freemount and his happens because you are forced to.
If you want (I don’t think it’s a good idea), take a pocketful of small rocks or sticks to put behind your wheel to assist your freemount in the beginning. This allows you to not have to go back to the same spot and repeat the exact same ride again and again.

This last one is a “bit” of a joke but there is some seriousness to it.
If you think that you know the best way to learn something but yet you still can’t learn how to do it well, then maybe what you think works “for you” isn’t working.
Start listening to people that do know how to ride well and put your own “learning habits” aside to prevent any subliminal sabotage from your “I know what works best for me” attitude.

Time to start forcing yourself into learning things that aren’t so comfortable.

Maybe…?

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What I have found worked best for me learning to freemount various unicycles was a rollback mount. This is normally considered one of the more difficult mounts, but for me what made it easiest to learn was that I didn’t have as much of a fear factor with it. Jumping up and onto the seat in the manner of a static or a rolling mount was much more intimidating. Since most people usually use a rollback mount anyway when they mount while holding a support, the mechanism of it is something they already understand. You just have to learn how to do it without support.

Later, after learning the static and rolling mounts, I found that they were easier than the rollback mount…until I learned to idle. Once I learned to idle the rollback mount once again became easier than the other two.

The way I mount these days is a rollback mount if I am on pavement or smooth packed dirt. On a trail or a downhill slope I generally use a static mount. And if there is an upward slope I’ll use a rolling mount. On either sloped or rough terrain a rollback mount is quite difficult.

I’ve found that the bigger the wheel/tire combination, the better a rolling mount works. A big wheel will have a lot of momentum and the cranks tend to exert less torque on it, so with a rolling 36er for example, you can practically step up on that rear pedal with all your weight and it won’t roll back. On a small wheel, almost any force on that rear pedal will cause it to roll back.

One other technique that I’ve used is to hang a thick rope from a structure or branch and hold onto it with one hand as I mount. When you do this you can adjust your grip so as to add slack or tension to the rope. This way you can practice mounting with a lot of support from the rope or none at all, with the rope just hanging slack in your hand, but when you fall, you still have something to hang on to.

I’ve also stretched a rope between two objects and used that as support. A hanging rope works very well, but a stretched rope is more dangerous than not having one. What you find with a stretched rope is that it won’t keep you from hitting the ground and instead of landing on your feet or hands you’re more likely to land on your back or on your unicycle.

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Have you considered trying a different size uni or maybe some shorter cranks?
Also I don’t believe there is a “correct tire pressure”. It depends on the surface and your skill level. Try to experiment a bit with your equipment.

While I was in my early learning fase half a year ago what made me progress beyond ~100m was to change from a 20" to a 24". I also experimented with crank length and found that shorter cranks made it easier because they made the pedaling smoother. Soon I was able to ride ~1km.

As your skills improve you will likely be able to ride both small and big wheels with short and long cranks…

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I find a 24" with cranks 137-150mm to be about the easiest to ride overall. It’s faster and more efficient than a 19" or a 20", but not too difficult to get up on top of. To me it also feels much smoother and less jerky and erratic than a smaller wheel.

What is forcing you to dismount?

  • out of breath?
  • fatigued legs?
  • balance issues?
    -speeding out of control?
  • …?

You mention having to catch your breath so I guess the first two are part of the issue.
It may sound stupid but: don’t forget to breath!
When using intense focus on something, like keeping your balance, people sometimes forget to breathe (properly).

In the learning stages you spend a lot of energy on just staying upright, relying on leg froce on front and back pedal. This way you’re using much more leng strength than needed. Front and back leg are basically working against eachother, wearing you out very quickly.

These two things happened to me when starting out.
The breathing part is easy: Make a concious effort to keep breathing. If needed play a little remi,nder in your head.

Reducing leg fatigue comes with time. Not perse due to improved leg strength / stamina but mostly due to more efficient riding. In the ideal situation all your weight is on the seat and you just apply a smooth force to the front pedal to keep the unicycle rolling.
Also here try to make a concious effort to keep your weight in the saddle.
I sometimes reminde my self “Bums on seats” (A quote from a Blackadder episode) or my own: “To ride hard you got to sit hard”.

Another thing that can help to keep that weight in the seat is to conciously “raise the knee” of the back leg.

Hope this helps!

It worked for me and I started at 43 years old.

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The immediate cause of dismounting is a combination of breathlessness and tired legs. I think that’s the beginner’s ailment that I just can’t get rid of. What happens most often is that I get away from the post with some difficulty, I get going at a certain pace. After a while I slow down, after which I can no longer ride faster. Then I dismount panting with tired legs.

Some of you advise me still to learn to freemount. I think that is even more difficult than riding my unicycle itself. I can’t even start from the lamppost perfectly. I have had a number of sessions in which I have made many attempts to freemount. As a result, mounting from the pole became even more difficult and riding was barely possible. I also tried to mount from the curb. In the beginning I was successful with that, and after a while it didn’t work at all. I think I really need to be able to ride better before I continue to learn to freemount.

I also see some comments suggesting to start practicing with cranks that are longer or shorter than what I have now. I don’t think that’s the issue at the moment. The reason for that is that practicing as I do now does not produce consistent results. Sometimes it goes better than other times, without any idea why. In the past, due to circumstances, I had the opportunity to borrow another unicycle from someone and then not be able to ride it. So I guess other cranks aren’t going to help me. By the way, I ride a Qu-ax Luxus, 24 inches, bought in 2018. I also wear protection for my wrists, elbows and knees, which I rarely need afterwards. I almost always land on my feet. I have never fallen backwards.

Some say I don’t have enough focus. I find it difficult to do anything with it without help. I think too much focus could also be a problem. I remember one time I was playing tag with others in the gym. Several times I was so focused on following someone I wanted to touch that I made so many revolutions with my unicycle that I flew off my unicycle. That never happens to me when I practice myself. At the moment I practice in three different places, so I don’t always ride the same part.

If you live anywhere nearby (I live in Hank, between Breda and Gorinchem) maybe I could give you some pointers in real life.
For the rest, any tips have been given numerous times in numerous topics, but in the end it comes down to developing a feeling of what works and what doesn’t work.
It’s absolutely no rocket science :wink: - I “walk” the dog riding my trials uni (a lot of rolling resistance) while keeping my dog in one hand, my phone in the other, and at the same time avoiding uneven areas in the road. And I can easily keep that up for half an hour without breaking a sweat. Once you’ve found that sweet spot, it’s definitely not much more physically demanding than riding a bike.

To me that sounds like you have too much weight on your legs like @Hammer suggested. When I learned to put more weight onto the saddle, which felt strange in the beginning, I was able to ride for longer distances. I started learning in March 2020 and had 2 or 3 sessions a week of 30-60 minutes each. I would have had faster progression if I had more sessions. It was no use for me extending one session when I was exhausted, however. By the way, the same was true when I learned to idle this year. Maybe you could train more often but not for so long each time. And remember to not stand on your pedals. You might try the following: hold on to a rail while sitting on your uni in a still stand, and use your feet only to stop the uni from rolling forwards or backwards. Maybe you can get a feeling to where you want to go.
Edit: use as little pressure on your pedals as possible while doing the exercise as I suggested. After that you can try rolling along with little pressure on your feet, starting while holding on the rail.

So are you a computer programmer?

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What I’ve found is that you want more weight on your pedals on rough terrain and less almost everywhere else. I was having a lot of problems with UPDs when I had to cross tree roots or rocks. As soon as I started putting my weight back on the pedals the UPDs stopped happening, mostly. It’s a double edged sword though, as when I climb out of the saddle I will be exhausted once I reach the top, but if I can remain seated I will complete the same climb much less tired. The downhills wear me out more too if I’m supporting my weight on the pedals.

The other thing I found when I was first starting was that my lower back was always sore after a mile or so. I’m sure it’s gotten stronger since then, but what I really think stopped the soreness was becoming a better rider and having to use my back muscles less in order to compensate for poor balance.

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I agree. I had the idea that unijohn is asking for advise on smooth pavement but not offroad.

I’m sure you’re right, but it’s probably only a matter of time before he’s riding over some bumpy terrain.

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Several people have already pointed out the obvious problem. Quit standing on the pedals and put all of your weight in the saddle. When learning, one stands on the pedals to make corrections. When riding, all of the weight is in the saddle. Once you make a correction remember to settle back down in the saddle. What does that feel like? Hold on to your lamp post and rock back and forth without riding away and put ALL of your weight in the saddle. That’s what it feels like.

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When I hold the lamppost I have my full weight in the saddle, but as soon as I ride away I put pressure on the pedals. But I’ve been making that beginner’s mistake for 3 years now. I do it reflexively and with regular practice I can’t get rid of this bad habit. What else can I try?

remove the pedals and see how far you can get :smiley:

Don’t you have anyone who can hold you by the hand, then the extra balance might help you relieve your legs. When you body then adjusts to it, you won’t need anyone anymore.

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Just go as light as possible on the pedals? You can learn it. As a beginner I would tend to dismount off the front, but with some focus, eventually dismounting off the back became normal for me.

I’m still counting pedal strokes before stepping off the back, slowing down so I can work by weight to the back. That doesn’t always work and also when I have to respond quickly because of a dog crossing the path or if I chicken out at a protruding root, I hop off the front, catching the seat with my hand.