Leaning forward is a no-no

Hey guys,
I’m learning to unicycle right now, and my unicycle trainer says I keep leaning forward.
I mount against a wall, and then I push off just slightly and I can ride for a few rotations and then I fall.

My trainer says to start pedaling and then balance, but it’s hard to not lean forward a little bit.

Any tips? :astonished:

You have to lean forward if you want to go forward. The secret is pedaling at the same time. If you fall off the front you need to pedal more (or lean less:D).

I have instructed many people and the most concise phrasing to explain is “Lean forward and pedal” The key is getting the leaning to = the pedaling, this comes via practice.

Leaning forward is essential- for the unicycle to work you need to be constantly falling forwards and pedaling to bring the wheel up underneath you- by the time the wheel has gone forward, you need to be leaning forwards again- so the wheel is constantly trying to catch you you.

You never want the wheel to catch up. unless you’re going to do something static i.e. idling or hop: neither of which you’ll be doing until you’ve learnt to ride forwards under control.

Do you mean

bending forward?

I’m also very new, usually make it only about 30-60’ so we’re in very similar categories.

It’s helpful to sit straight up, so if you’re sitting on the seat and have poor posture then your trainer is probably right. You do need to “fall” forward in order to go forward, and pedal to keep up.

Some things that have helped me recently…

  • Make sure the seat is as high as possible.
  • When pedaling away from the wall, hold your arms outstretched.
  • Make sure your posture is straight and somewhat rigid.
  • When you start pedaling, look straight ahead and not straight down.
  • Combine all above, and imagine you’re strapped to the front of the Titanic! :stuck_out_tongue:
  • Squeeze the front of your seat with your thighs, to help keep your knees pointed inside as opposed to outside and to help keep your bum on the seat.
  • Don’t bother to try to go in a straight line. It helps me to kind of twist left-right-left-right, while my legs are pedaling.

Best of luck! Keep us updated on your progress.

As others have mentioned, you have to lean forward some. I guess your trainer feels like you’re leaning too far forward then? When first learning to ride I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s best to lean too far forward than to not be leaning forward enough.

Regardless, just stick with it. Eventually something will click and you’ll strike that balance of exactly how much you need to lean. You’re already doing 1-2 revolutions, so you’ve made good progress. Another thing to be wary of… you’re already doing 1-2 revolutions, you may hit a long stretch where all of a sudden you can’t even do one revolution. Again, just stick with it. In my experience with unicycling progress is measured by going through these phases:

  1. Wow, I had some success.
  2. Why can’t I do this anymore? Which is often a very discouraging experience that you have to fight through, especially when you’re constantly reminding yourself how you were “better” in the past.
  3. Repeatable.

Keep your body as upright as possible, which means pushing your backside forwards and not stooping your shoulders. The higher your centre of mass, the easier it is to balance. But once you are “sitting tall” you and the uni need to lean slightly forwad together,

Walking Is Controlled Falling Forward

People walk by propelling themselves forward in a way that would cause them to fall, then swinging a leg ahead to prevent the collapse. Learning to ride a unicycle is kind of like learning to walk.

Larry Niven Taught Me This!

This is something which I always explain to people who ask about riding when I suggest that unicycling is, to me at least, closer to walking or running than biking in many ways. It’s not something most people realise, I’ve found; I’m not sure I would have either, but I remember reading a Larry Niven novel in my youth which had a four-legged species of alien which found human locomotion nauseating because of the way they are constantly falling and catching themselves.

Can’t remember which novel, though - anyone else remember it?

Well Douglas Adams wrote that the key to flying was throwing yourself at the ground and missing.

Balance a broom by the handle in the palm of your hand. Now walk around with it balanced. Riding a unicycle is the same concept. Easy Peasy…:smiley:

I think the problem you’re having is the difference between leaning forward and slouching. As said, you HAVE to be “leaning” forward in order to move forward, or more importantly, the majority of your mass must be in front (forward) of your centre of gravity. If you’re not leaning forward and you start pedalling, you WILL fall backwards.

I think what your trainer is telling you not to do is to slouch, or curve your back and lean forward. Make sure your back is straight and your posture is good, then bend slightly forward AT YOUR HIPS to put your mass in front of your centre of gravity while keeping your back straight. While your back is straight it is easier to make minor balance adjustments as you will be able to recognize inconsistencies better.

That being said, don’t focus on leaning forward to go forward, your brain will figure this all out for you eventually. More important to focus on sitting upright with good posture. When you’re learning, you may feel less stable at first when you sit upright, but you will soon find that riding is easier when you sit up properly. I’m assuming the body wants to slouch forward because it is worried about falling backwards. Generally, it is easier (in the mind, because you can see) to fall forwards than backwards.

Your trainer is right.

This is also essentially true. (Though technically, once you get up to “cruising speed” the forward lean is so slight as to only neutralize your air friction)

And this may get to the crux of the matter. There is leaning forward, bending forward and even curving/slouching forward. Generally, you want to be upright. Try not to bend at the waist. Though that motion is part of maintaining balance, the starting point should be sitting up straight. For best results, your spine should be more or less in line with the unicycle’s frame.

"I’m the king of the worl— "{floor} :smiley:

I’m a big Niven fan, but I can’t remember any/many 4-legged species. Maybe you are thinking of a Puppeteer? That’s three legs, two heads and one brain.

Don’t over-analyze; it just slows down the learning process. Try to understand what made you fall off that last time, and try to address it. Then repeat. Keep your weight on the seat, look ahead and stay upright!

(to the OP- possibly best to ignore this bit of the discussion cos it’s on a subtle technical point that isn’t relevant to your aim of learning to ride)

Really? I would have thought that the amount of lean necessary would be determined soley by the speed of the unicycle. I was under the impression that the forward lean was for the same reason that a pole balanced on the hand, if it starts to fall forward, requires the hand to follow it forwards?

And, with a pole, if the person wishes to move forwards, the pole must be tilted forwards- the higher the tilt, the greater the speed the person must themselves move forwards.

Of course, with a pole, it’s possible to have the pole completely vertical (or at least arbitrarily close to perfect vertical) for a static balance, whereas, with the uni, that possition is highly undesirable unless you’re working on stillstands.

Agree fully. Bending at the waist is not a good way to get the forward lean.

Yep, and also that missing the ground is the difficult part. So far I have not been able to obtain the crucial distraction at the right moment - even when unicycling… :smiley:

Disclaimer: I never took a physics class. I just ride unicycles and watch a lot of circus & stuff.

So if I understand correctly, you need increasing lean to get increasing amounts of acceleration. If you keep the lean, you must either maintain the acceleration, or continue until air friction is sufficient to balance out the lean. In theory, in an airless environment, maintaining speed on a unicycle would have your center of mass pretty much centered above the wheel.

If any beginning riders are reading this (physics experts or no), please note that it doesn’t play out in the world of learning to ride. You are, essentially always off balance, and constantly modifying your lean and wheel direction to keep things trimmed. This takes a lot of energy and concentration when learning, but less and less as you get comfortable with riding.

You get a good feeling for this acceleration-vs-cruise idea if you practice sprint racing. I used to spend a lot of time trying to ride 100m as fast as possible (from a standing start). The ride is in three basic parts. First, massive acceleration. A ton of lean, cranking into it as hard as you can. But you can’t maintain that for 100m, so then there’s the second phase; transition. This is where you bring the wheel up underneath you, while trying to finish at your top, controllable pedaling speed. The third part is maintaining it. The object is to pedal at about 97% of your maximum cadence. Anything faster and you’re just going to eat pavement a lot; you need a little extra to maintain control. You try to hold onto the third part without losing any speed, until you ride through the finish line.

I retract what I had said before, as this makes more sense. I had originally thought the same way as dave, but what you say is right. The forward lean is necessary when accelerating, but if you were to maintain speed, then your balance should be pretty much directly above the wheel.

The same would go for balancing a pole. It will need to lean forward for you to get it moving, but if you’re able to get the pole (and thereby yourself) moving at a constant speed, then the pole would be vertical (minus a slight lean to counteract the wind resistance)

Sorry to get off topic… :slight_smile:

I’m not going to say you’re wrong, cos you could be right- but my every instinct is saying that doesn’t make sense.

Let’s leave acceleration out of it, as I think it’s only confusing the issue- let’s assume the acceleration has happened, and, now the riders riding forwards at a constant rate.

Certainly, with the pole analogy, if the pole and person balancing it, are moving forwards, the pole must be leaning forwards- if it’s directly above the hand, then the pole and holder are static: physics decrees it could be no other way.

Similarly, if the rider and unicycle are going forwards, surely the rider must be slightly in front of the wheels axle?

To bring it back to the real world of riding- imagine you’re going forwards and planning to stop by going into a short idle, then dismount.

Just prior to going into the idle, you have to shift your body backwards, over the axle: that suggests that, prior to this, you were forward of the axle?

Not exactly, that’s how I was looking at it too originally, but I believe that is not the case. Physics states that a body in motion will stay in motion unless there is an opposing force acting upon it.

Let’s take air out of the equation for this example. It will take force to get the pole moving, and you will have to tilt the pole to counter-act the forward motion put on the bottom of the pole. To get it moving, you have to balance the forward force with the force of gravity that would make the tilted pole want to fall. Once the pole is in motion however then it will stay in motion unless a force was to act against it. So the only force that would be acting on the pole is gravity. At this point, the pole will need to be vertical, otherwise the gravity would try and pull the top of the pole down.

When you add air into this equation, there will be a slight tilt to counteract the force put on the pole by the air (as John had mentioned).

Probably a better analogy would be a glass of water on a serving tray. It’s the same principle, but would be easier to see and measure the tilt. Hold the tray, rested on your fingertips (if you’ve served tables, you know what I mean). When you start moving forward, you will need to tilt the tray in the direction you are moving. Once you are moving at a constant rate, the tray will need to be level. When you stop, you will need to tilt the tray backwards to counteract the force that is cancelling the movement.

Give it a try

You’re making this way more complicated than it needs to be- IMO, the ‘glass of water’ analogy is not helpful :slight_smile:

The reason you move forward when a balanced pole leans forward, is cos the top of the pole is forward- if you do nothing, it’ll continue falling forward and hit the ground.

Instead, you move your hand forward underneath it, thus placing the bottom of the pole underneath the top of it, thus, balance is briefly restored, until the pole shifts in direction x, at which point you move the bottom in direction x to counter it’s fall.

When going forward on a unicycle, the same thing occurs, except your head is the top of the pole, the wheel is the bottom (now controlled by your feet, not your hand), and, crucially, you want the motion to be forwards most of the time.

So, your head/body lean forward of the axle, and, you pedal the wheel to follow the lead of the head/body.