Learning On Grass vs. Concrete

Hi there!
I recently started teaching unicycling lessons (one of the things I love about unicycling, I can be an absolute terrible rider compared to most of you and still successfully and legitimately teach people to ride). Similar to what I did when I taught myself to ride, I hold my lessons on grass.

I have a couple reasons for this.

  1. It’s safer. If you take a tumble, as most people do when first learning, you won’t have to deal with any scratches or cuts.
  2. It’s mentally comforting. I find that people are far more hesitant to try something new on a unicycle, or even just push off from a wall, etc., if they’re on concrete. Free mounting in particular is a hard thing to make yourself do for the first time on concrete.
  3. Once you know how to ride on grass… you can ride on concrete. I loved this, I expected unicycling to be hard so I was never discouraged when it took a ton of hours to learn. But once I was decent on grass, I got a huge confidence boost because I could do it well on concrete already. It felt like I skipped a step.
  4. Free mounting is easier. Learning to free mount with that little bit of help from the grass being bumpy is a lot easier than on concrete, so you can get the basics down quicker.

I’ve heard a lot of people say, however, that learning on concrete is better. Do we have any of these people here on the forum? If so, care to tell me why you would think it’s better to learn on concrete? Or perhaps synthetic turf could provide a good mix of being soft for falls and firm for riding?
I’m just trying to figure out if my teaching method is flawed :slight_smile:

Another discussion related to learning could include with a wall vs. without a wall if you want to weigh in on that (the latter would be my opinion, but I think that there’s already a thread on this?).

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I’ve wondered about this when I tried to teach a friend. Thanks for sharing your experience :slight_smile:

Hmmm, I would disagree with this. It makes learning unicycling, which is already quite difficult and a long process, an event more difficult and longer task.

  1. It’s safer. If you take a tumble, as most people do when first learning, you won’t have to deal with any scratches or cuts.

If safety is of concern, there is protection equipment. Also, learning how to fall of a unicycle is part of learning to unicycle. It’s super easy to do and equally safe. The only bad fall I can think of is when you fall backwards and you try to reach the ground with both feet in front of you. I feel like that has to be taught, or learned.

  1. It’s mentally comforting. I find that people are far more hesitant to try something new on a unicycle, or even just push off from a wall, etc., if they’re on concrete. Free mounting in particular is a hard thing to make yourself do for the first time on concrete.

Can’t argue with that one.

  1. Once you know how to ride on grass… you can ride on concrete. I loved this, I expected unicycling to be hard so I was never discouraged when it took a ton of hours to learn. But once I was decent on grass, I got a huge confidence boost because I could do it well on concrete already. It felt like I skipped a step.

I personally do not think the longer time it takes to learn on grass offset the joy of being able to ride on concrete. I do think you skipped a step, you went directly from learning how to ride a unicycle to learning how to ride a unicycle off road.

4 . Free mounting is easier. Learning to free mount with that little bit of help from the grass being bumpy is a lot easier than on concrete, so you can get the basics down quicker.

I can see that, but even very experienced riders UPD from bumps on the road or grass.

My bottom line is that, from my experience in learning various skills, it’s usually better to build a strong foundation that you can build upon, rather than skipping steps. Think of music, dance, gymnastics. Obviously unicycling is very small and most often self taught, so it’s a bit of a different story, but if you have the opportunity to get coaching, getting a strong foundation and building up on that is the way to go.

I don’t think your method is wrong or flawed, but it wouldn’t my preferred method to teach to a learner.

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@emile thanks for the response!

Oh, true, but I have never once fallen from a unicycle and not landed on my feet since the first couple times I got like 5-6 pedals. Learning how to properly control yourself and fall on your feet is a big thing, yes, but it can be learnt on grass. I never fell on concrete because by the time I moved to concrete I had taught myself to dismount properly, even when the dismount was really sudden and unexpected. It has become a reaction.

I meant I felt like I had found a way to not have to do a step, not that I had skipped a step to my detriment :slight_smile:

OH! I think we have the wrong idea here. I’m teaching on a leveled soccer field where the only bumps are not the sort of thing that would cause any sort of rider to UPD. But unicycles roll slower on grass, regardless of bumps, so my point still stands with free mounting being easier.

Anyhow, thanks for weighing in. I’m curious, is the only thing for learning on concrete that it doesn’t take as long? Or are there arguments for that position that you didn’t address?

Learning to unicycle on grass:
Pro’s:
a.) Falling forwards is not so scary. The main “break through” concept of unicycle riding is the “constant forward lean”. You lean forward, and your pedaling does the rest to maintain fore/aft equilibrium. Actually “surrendering” your body to the forward lean will get you “faster” to being able to ride. So just take a few “headers” and lose the fear.

b.) Upper body motion and pedaling must be “more aggressively” applied. On concrete with skinny/high pressure tires it can feel like your “ice skating” sometimes. The most subtle motion, which you are totally unaware can take you down. However, with low pressure mushy tires on grass you will feel “stuck” to the ground. You will feel resistance, and so to overcome you will be more “aware/feel” the little motions/reactions that you need to stay on.

Cons:
a.) Perfect grass conditions for learning is hard to find. The ground must be solid, firm and hard. It must be totally flat with no pits, gopher holes or rocks. Also, unicycle tire pressure should be dropped to about 15 psi. (otherwise, if you want 35 psi, low resistance, and quick response…go back on cement)

b.) Nothing can teach a beginner to “isolate and involve” the rear pedal action like holding onto a rail and trying to go straight. I assume “grass learning” means not using a rail or wall to hold onto. This skill take quite some time to learn, because it’s pure muscle memory. When riding on smooth hard surface with high pressure tires, the “subtlest” motion is amplified…thus, you learn to develop sensitivity and control. On grass, you have to “over muscle” the pedal compared to concrete riding, so the learning is more “coarse” and “not nimble”.

c.) Grass doesn’t protect you from everything. Falling straight down into your pedals, and twisting your ankles. Getting spanked by your pedals on your shins or calf can tear skin or bruise muscles. This tends to happen during the intermediate stage, when you can kinda ride and you have the “determination” to stay on but you fail.

In my opinion, I think a “combination” of doing both learning on grass and concrete (or home hardwood floors) is good. It’s often a matter of location and convenience(…or obsession). The more you do it the better. However, be aware of the “completely different feel” between quick responsive(cement/hard floor) and mushy and slow responding(grass) surfaces. The difference might be quite annoying like when you ride different wheel sizes or different crank lengths. The response can drive you insane. Anyways, these are my humble/but highly detailed opinions. Keep on.

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If you find the perfect patch of grass (english soccer lawn), then maybe its nice to learn there. But normal meadow?
On our annual Muni race, we have singletrails with crushed rocks, roots and mud. But do you know what? I hate the (slight uphill) meadow section the most. For me it’s the hardest part of the lap. It’s so unpredictable. Mowed short it looks all smooth, but the soil under the grass is never flat. All these small bumps and holes that would be totally easy are masked by the grass and only wait for throwing me out of the saddle.
I would always prefer to learn on a perfect smooth and hard surface like in a gym or on concrete / pavement. There you can be sure, that every movement the unicycle makes is initialized by you and learn about the effects of all of your little moves. On grass, you never know if it was you making a mistake or just uneven ground making the unicycle behaving other than expected.

I learnt on concrete and later learned to ride on grass which was a huge challenge. The only advantage I see with grass is softer landings but falling off small unicycle wheels is rarely hazardous since you almost always land on your feet. I will say I learnt to free mount a giraffe on grass as I figured that I would constantly be falling several feet off the ground the softer landing is better for myself and the giraffe. The uneven surface of the grass also aided in keeping the wheel a bit more steady then on concrete.

Some interesting opinions here.

Like the time I tried to jump mount without knowing how to do it, and attempted to land full weight on both pedals at the same time? I still have a scar from that occasion…

To be serious, though :smile: You think people should learn on a wall/railing? I’ve always told people not to do that, because you’re learning to ride with weight to the side of the unicycle, which is something you’d never actually do, and so if anything I found it detrimental to learning when I was doing so.

Okay, I have never heard of someone do this… I’d be very interested to hear if someone actually learned to ride solely on a meadow. That would be insane.
Anyways, most people have that English soccer lawn somewhere nearby. What would be your opinion on learning on something like that?

That’s interesting. I agree, you usually do. But I find the only time people actually go rolling is in the first couple hours of learning. Maybe that’s just because I (and they) were on grass :slight_smile: Did you find it a problem either physically or mentally with learning on concrete? Particularly when it comes to new skills.

You think people should learn on a wall/railing? I’ve always told people not to do that, because you’re learning to ride with weight to the side of the unicycle, which is something you’d never actually do, and so if anything I found it detrimental to learning when I was doing so.

Seems like we have very different approach haha. Having a railing, especially on both sides about hip height I find to be optimal. You’re the teacher, you can correct their positions, tell them if they are leaning to much or not sitting down on the seat enough.

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Indeed :slight_smile:

But where does one find long, low parallel bars (literally as in the gym equipment or simply bars that are parallel)?

Any railing, such as mobility access ramps. Other easy access stuff which isn’t optimal but work are fences, railings or walls.

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A neighbour of mine is currently learning - I don’t want to say I’m teaching him, I’m just giving some advice. We’re spending time on a local race track (small football pitch in the middle, surrounded by a 250m 4 lane running track). The ground is made of some kind of rubbery material - it looks like tarmac but it bounces marginally. It’s ideal because falling doesn’t hurt (as much) as on concrete and yet it doesn’t slow to wheel down to the point that you have to stand on the pedal to get it moving. I can hardly feel the difference between this and the basketball court next to it, the drag is minimal. So best of both worlds.

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My experience is, that most public lawns are somehow bumpy, either because the soil beneath isn’t smooth or because the grass grows in compact tufts.

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That would be an ideal surface… but the one near me doesn’t allow any wheeled objects on the track. Too bad!

@emile :man_facepalming: I forgot ramps like that. Silly me.

I learnt on rough grass. It took me two weeks at an hour a day to ride ten metres and it was frustrating. When I got onto hard surfaces it seemed so easy and I already had a good handle on transferring weight between pedals and saddle as required.

I highly recommend starting out on smooth grass with a slight downhill slope. This allows the learner to focus on the fundamental skill of steering the wheel under the fall. The grass slows down the wheel while the downhill overcomes the resistance particularly through the dead spot when the cranks are vertical.

Falling is never far from the adventurous unicyclist so best make friends with it right from the start.
Fear is the greatest inhibitor to learning. My most unsuccessful learner was too scared of it. I now recommend starting to learn without the unicycle. Get them to just lean further and further forwards until they have to start running to stop a face plant. Until they can do this there is no point even trying on the uni.

Move to a hard flat surface as soon as the emergency dismount (running out of a fall) has been mastered and the learner can manage a couple of turns of the cranks.

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I’ve not mastered coming off a big wheel at 25 kph and staying on my feet because I can’t run that fast. Anyone who cannot manage falling will never find and extend their limits especially on a big wheel.

I suggest starting out using a rail only to get the feel for the uni and how to steer it. After that it gets in the way of the fundamental skill of steering the wheel under the fall and encourages the wrong reactions.

The best railing I have found is a stainless steel railing on a small synthetic wood bridge. The railing is considerably inboard of its support posts so they don’t get in the way of the wheel.

I recommend no more than a few minutes on a railing.

Physically learning to unicycle is a very exhausting task. The combination of learning new skills with muscles that are not used to be used so heavily is quite draining. The thing with concrete is you only need to focus on staying on the uni where with grass you need to push a lot harder. So mentally I would think it’d be better since it’s easier to make progress. Fences and rails should only be used very early and ditched as soon as possible. Risk of injury is also reduced when practising in a clear area as when you bail you don’t want to be running into a fence/wall.

I partially learned on grass, partially in a gym. Inbetween two garden benches, holding onto the backs at first. (With some creativity, it is relatively easy to get a setup with something on both sides to hold onto, putting benches next to walls or fences is quite good.) How much time you should spend with that type of support depends on the individual learner in my experience, some literally only need minutes, others a lot more time.

A smooth lawn is fine, and especially for the very beginning can help to not get injured. Tennis/basketball courts or playgrounds with the “rubber” surface are a great option to consider too, probably the second best after gym floor I would say. I really enjoy riding flatland on those surfaces nowadays, usually they are fairly smooth, grippy, and soft-ish. Pretty much the surface pierrox describes, but running tracks indeed tend to not like having unicycles on them.

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That’s a valid point… except how often do you find yourself hurtling down the sidewalk or road at 25 km/h? I know it’s possible, but consistently pushing the speed of the uni like that is not only physically exhausting but also quite uncomfortable (at least for me) to get the cranks going like that :smile:
Anyhow, the issue isn’t really whether you’re prone to fear. To use an analogy that’s almost useless because it’s such an exaggeration: if I were learning to backflip, I would have absolutely no need to do it on a high ledge rather than on the flat ground, if both provide an equal opportunity for successfully learning. In this unicycling situation, if grass and concrete provide equivalent ease of learning, then grass would of course be preferred because it’s softer to land on. I’m not afraid to try something that might lead to me getting a slight injury, but if I can do the same thing and avoid the injury, I’m going to take that opportunity. I like having my body in one piece :slight_smile:
Therefore, the question of the topic is not which is safer, or whether wanting safety is bad - it’s whether concrete provides such a big advantage that the small gains in safety are not worth it.

Whoopsies, slight misunderstanding here! :smiley: I meant to ask whether you got injured a fair bit on the concrete, whether it was mentally hard to learn new tricks/to ride because you were worried about falling?