Idling skill file

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Here is the idling skill file. Many thanks to Ken, Jack, Andy, and Craig who all
made excellent contributions.


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Idle with the right foot down 25 times Idle with the left foot down 25 times

  1. Hold on to one or two helpers or a wall, post, etc.
  2. Set the pedals horizontal, with your coordinated foot out front.
  3. Lean forward enough so that you need to pedal a half-turn forward to keep
    your balance.
  4. Pedal forward a half turn, and lean backward so that you will have to pedal
    backward to keep your balance.
  5. Pedal backward a half turn, and lean forward so that you will have to pedal
    forward to keep your balance.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have had enough.

Hints and Notes: When you first learn to idle you may find yourself losing your
balance in one direction, recovering, losing it in the other direction,
recovering, and so on. As you gain proficiency, your upper body stays basically
upright as your lower body leans (not bend) in one direction, recovers, leans
(not bends) in the other direction, recovers, and so on. It is important to
coordinate the leaning with the pedaling action.

Another way to describe the process: When idling, think of your unicycle as the
pendulum of a grandfather clock. The pendulum moves back and forth while the
face of the clock remains still. You hands shouldn’t sweep around like the
second hand of a clock, either (uh-oh, I’ve overextended my metaphor); use them
to make small adjustments to your balance.

The secret to smooth idling is keeping most of your weight on the saddle. Be
sure to relax. Remember that the unicycle moves under you, while your upper
body stays more or less upright. Idling is definitely not merely riding back
and forth. Also, make sure the saddle is at the proper height – if it’s too low
you’ll tire very quickly.

Regarding how much of the circle to move the pedals in, people usually start
with with about 180 degree revolutions. The goal is to be able to make smaller
revolution idles, and, eventually, to be able to sit completely still for short
periods of time, make sharp turns and spins, etc.; there are several
higher-level skills that are based on the skills developed while idling.

Please take time to learn with either pedal down. You won’t want to be able to
idle with only the right foot down, for example, as this will limit your future
possibilities. If you know how to idle ambidextrously, one foot idling or
juggling while idling may become easier to learn. Plus it can occasionally be a
bit embarrassing when one’s path is blocked and thus one needs to idle, but the
“wrong” foot happens to be down at the moment. Also you will need to be able to
idle with either foot to pass level 4 of the IUF skill levels.

First-person account by Andy Arhelger (

I have been working on idling for a month now and I thought I would report on my
progress. I hope this may help some of you that are try to learn also.

I started 9/2/94 and have been working on this in my basement for 1/2 hour a day
6 days a week. I bought my first unicycle in January 1994 and have been learning
since then.

I can now idle for almost as long as I want, at least until my leg muscles get
tired. I started by holding onto a post and just tried to let go and go for it.
I put my right foot all the way down and use my left foot on top to keep the
rocking motion.

It started pretty slow. I didn’t feel like it would work at all. As I practiced
I learned what was really going on. As you fall to one side you rock forward or
back and you must turn the unicycle so it comes back under you. As you then fall
the other way you rock again and pull the uni back under you again. To idle you
just keep making these constant corrections in either direction.

As you first start you tend to over correct, which causes you to over correct
the other way and you loose it pretty quick. As you get better you learn to make
smaller and smaller corrections.

I started timing how long I could stay up. At first 2 or 3 seconds was hard.
When I got to 10 seconds it started to go faster. Soon it was 15, 20, 30 then 60
seconds. I now can go almost as long as I want.

Pretty soon I got bored and wondered if I could rotate either direction as I was
idling. This came with some practice and made the 1/2 hour times more

I then tried to do a free mount, then 2 full revolutions, stop and idle. This
didn’t take more than 1 or 2 days to get down. Next I tried to start idling, go
forward 1 revolution then stop and idle. The next step was to do a free mount
and right into an idle. It only took a couple days for this also and this is how
I start idling now, most of the time. This feels real smooth when done right.

I still don’t feel like this is real natural and it takes constant
concentration for me to stay up. I have tried to juggle while idling but can’t
get past a dozen throws at best. I found I tend to fall to the right as I do
this and have been working more or staying more vertical rather than sort of
leaning on the unicycle one way. As part of this I have been working on idling
with my hands behind my back. This is pretty hard and I can’t go more than 15
seconds or so this way.

This was all done in my basement which has a smooth painted floor. I took the
unicycle outside recently and found I couldn’t idle on concrete. On the smooth
floor I could sort of twist in order to make the corrections, and on the
concrete this didn’t work at all. It took some more practice outside to
compensate for this. Now it works pretty well but still not as good as indoors.
More air in the tire would probably help outside.

I also find I tend to stand up on the pedals instead of sitting. Sitting helps
because you can use your thighs to press on the seat and help steer. I still
need to work on setting down more.

I hope this wasn’t too boring for anybody to read and hope it helps somebody
else make progress. I would say idling is a rather advanced skill and it sure is
harder than people make it look. I have a long winter ahead and will keep
working on juggling while idling.

An In-depth Description of Idling:

Background information given prior to an explanation of idling:

A unicyclist in perfect (static) balance has the center of gravity directly over
the support point (place where the tire touches the riding surface). However, a
unicyclist is rarely in any such perfect balance; his center of gravity is
dynamicly shifting forward or backward and left or right of his support point.
This sense of imperfect (dynamic) balance is quantified in the following

Definition: Balance Envelope - How far a unicyclist can dynamicly deviate
forward-backward and left-right from perfect balance without falling off the
unicycle is called his Balance Envelope. So long as a unicyclist stays inside
his Balance Envelope, he is in dynamic balance and will not fall off the
unicycle. Conversely, the moment a unicyclist goes outside his Balance Envelope,
he is (by definition) beyond his ability to remain (dynamicly) balanced and
there is absolutely nothing he can do to avoid falling off the unicycle.

An explanation of idling:

One begins to idle by going close to the front or back edge of his balance
envelope (establishing a front or back lean). This is done by pedaling
backwards or forwards slightly to establish the forward or backward lean
required to begin idling.

This description of idling is split into a forward pedal cycle and a backward
pedal cycle.

The forward pedal cycle begins with the rider near the front edge of his balance
envelope (he is now leaning forward); he pedals forward 90 degrees, moving to
the center of his balance envelope (the pedals should now be vertical); he
pedals an additional 90 degrees forward, moving his balance envelope near the
back edge of his balance envelope (he is now leaning backward).

The backward pedal cycle begins with the rider near the back edge of his balance
envelope (he is now leaning backward); he pedals backward 90 degrees, moving to
the center of his balance envelope (the pedals should now be vertical); he
pedals an additional 90 degrees backward, moving his balance envelope near the
front edge of his balance envelope (he is now leaning forward).

Sources: The Complete Book of Unicycling by Jack Wiley Anyone Can Ride a
Unicycle by Jack Halpern ( Beirne Konarski Ken Fuchs Craig Milo Rogers
rogers@ISI.EDU Jack Halpern Andy Arhelger

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