Learning to ride backwards

So I’ve been riding for a little over a year. I ride a 26" muni - mostly in the hills. Recently I decided it’s time to learn to ride backwards. I’ve been doing 15 minute sessions. Today I did my 20th such session. Initially I rode along a fence, and then started trying to ride away from the fence.

I can now get in 20+ pedals fairly frequently (I think 29 is my best so far). But I still don’t have it down. I’m up for any advice on how long it should take, what I should be doing, etc. Should I look over my shoulder to see where I’m going - or look straight ahead (i.e. where I came from).

How long has it taken others to get this down?


If I may ask a similar question (a slight hijack of this thread)-

I can ride gentle downhills now (no brake) but make no progress going up the same hill. How long does that take?

Reid - there are three issues with going up hill (that I can think of):

  • Muscles
  • Breathing
  • Balance

What are you having trouble with? I found that my muscles and breathing improved more or less in parallel. By forcing myself to climb hills more slowly I could better avoid running out of breath. If I climb a steep enough hill I would sometimes get to where my leg muscles just don’t have another stroke in them.

The better your balance, the better for difficult hill climbs as you (or at least I) often come to a stop at the end of some strokes for a moment.

Even though I am dying to know the answer to Spork’s backwards riding question, as for riding up hill, that kinda comes naturally with the more riding you do. I ride 3-8kms every day and hills that made me UPD 1-2 months ago, I now manage to ride up with not too much difficulty. I also found that it was easier to manage with a 29" than with my 26", but maybe I just got better and my 29er came later.
At the foot of the hill I hold the saddle for balance and as it gets steeper, it is easier to balance with 2 hands.
Mostly it is just practice and planning your trips to have a few hills in them.

Spork, do you learn riding backwards on your 26? This weekend the time will be turned back, so next week it will be dark when I get home from work. That will be a good time to get to learning to ride backwards and idling, which I can do indoors. So any tips you can already give me, are very welcome. :slight_smile:

It’s difficult, I think, to master riding backwards, because of the disorientation of not seeing where you’re going. I can ride ~200 meters backwards; toward the end of the ride, I feel more disoriented (the disorientation seemed almost to be cumulative) and have trouble riding straight. It helps to find a path with no obstructions or traffic.

My answer to everything is: get a 20". You will tire out less quickly, make better steering adjustments, and you won’t fall back so hard…on a 20". I actually started learning to idle and ride backwards on my 26" mUni, before I had a 20", but both techniques were quite a struggle on the larger unicycle. After buying my first 20", the idling and backwards riding really started to take off, as well as a bunch of other techniques which would have thrown my back out had I attempted them on my 26" mUni.

This came up in another thread and someone mentioned that a point comes where you quit thinking about how many pedal strokes you can get in before the inevitable dismount, when you get over the sense of impending failure and feel like you can ride for as long as you care to. That happened to all of us when we learned to ride forwards, and it happens with backward riding too. It took a long time to get there, for me anyway, at least a year of working on it occasionally. But I’m slow at picking up physical skills and wasn’t being especially dedicated about it.

I’ll be interested to see what others have to say. But I look ahead most of the time, sneaking occasional quick glances over my shoulder to make sure I’m still going where I want to and the way is still clear.

And I agree with elpuebloUNIdo about it being easier to learn on a 20". Less effort to keep going, less effort for each remount, and less worries about running into things since I’m not moving towards them very quickly.

Yes. I have a 24" street uni, but I never ride it. Yesterday I stopped practicing backwards in the parking lot and started practicing on a baseball diamond. My best run was 34 pedals. Got tripped up when I went from dirt to grass.

If my calculations are right you have one more week of light. I think we change the clocks on the 1st.

I’m probably not the best one to ask. Youtube might be a better source. I started by riding along a fence, and once I could go 2 or 3 pedals I started riding away from the fence instead. I fall a LOT (as in every single time so far). Usually I land on my feet. Sometimes not.

Here the clocks were changed this weekend.

I will bind a pillow to my ass, as I expect to fall a lot as well. :smiley:

I agree, learning to ride backward is more difficult on a larger wheel. There is a lot of momentum to overcome so being able to adjust quickly will expedite your learning experience.

Having said that, think of riding backwards as a half-rev at a time. Make sure you are stable after each half-rev before moving on to the next. Over time the half-revs will get closer and closer together but will still be half-revs. Let this happen naturally, don’t push your speed.

I wouldn’t look over my shoulder, you will know when you need to. Also, remember that it is basically learning to ride again, so it will take time. Atleast for me, it didn’t “click” quite as much as normal riding did.

Thanks for the tips guys. I have been experimenting with riding faster, slower, looking over my shoulder, etc. Today was my 23rd 15 minute session. I got 53 pedals once and 50+ three times. It’s getting there gradually, but it’s kind of amazing how much it does not just click. Occasionally it does feel like I’ve got a nice steady-state ride going. Usually the longest ride ends when I’m worried I’m going to back into something or I wind up on the grass, etc.

I hadn’t really given much thought to trying it on my 24" street uni. Perhaps I should give that a go. The wheel definitely has a lot less inertia.

My advice based entirely on my own experience:

Choose an area with a guaranteed total absence of traffic if you possibly can. You’ve got enough to worry about without spooking yourself by thinking about the possibility of having to deal with a car.

Don’t count revolutions. Instead, focus on relaxing, feeling the balance, and enjoying the process. 20 revs with a relaxed attitude is better than 40 revs with a tense, gotta-beat-my-last-number attitude. Then again, maybe counting revs doesn’t make you tense up like it would me. Guess you have to be the judge of that.

Don’t look over your shoulder as you go. If you’ve chosen a suitable spot, you already know that it’s extremely unlikely that anything is gonna pop out and surprise you, so flying blind is no big deal. It’s in the very nature of backward riding that visibility is limited at best, so embrace that and learn to ride without looking. I think that frequently looking over your shoulder when you’re just learning sends a message to your brain that this is indeed a very dangerous thing which requires an abundance of caution, which is exactly what you don’t want. Too much caution = hesitation and UPDs. Also, riding backwards is very challenging and requires many hours of practice, and you don’t want to give yourself a crick in the neck.

You might learn faster on a smaller wheel, but if all you’re going to have for the foreseeable future is your 26", don’t let that stop you. I’ve never ridden anything but my 26" and am now almost as comfortable riding backward as forward, at least in a straight line. Just gotta keep at it.

It took me about three weeks to learn, but that was with relentless practice–three or more hours a day on most days.

Thanks for the tips. I’m at almost 6 hours total practice now (in 15 minute segments - all on the 26" muni). I’m beginning to not count rotations. I still tend to count up to 20 or 30 pedals (really a half rotation), but after that I just try to stay in the groove. The way I’m measuring pedals is by counting as I ride forward back to my starting point.

Lately I try to avoid obstacles by looking at the parking lot markings in front of me and only glance over my shoulder when those markings tell me I’m approaching a possible island or something. I intend to keep at it in 15 minute increments until someone tells me a great secret method or until I feel very comfortable riding backwards. I guess I’d like to be able to comfortably do a backward figure 8.

I decided to plot my progress. I only included new highs.

I hear what you’re saying about only wanting to do it in 15-minute increments until you feel you have a better method, but in my experience, nothing but saddle time can give you that sense of comfort. You’re holding yourself back if you limit yourself to such short practice sessions just because things are so hard now. Just plow away relentlessly until you don’t suck anymore, I say. :smiley:

Perhaps you’re right. I’d always heard you’re better off with lots of short sessions rather than a few marathon sessions. In any event I think as long as I’m seeing steady improvement I’m cool with this approach. Learning is at least half the fun.

I’m still getting out and riding the hills several times/week. This backward sessions are just add-on to improve my skills.

I haven’t worked on idling yet. I figure that’s next after I feel comfortable with going backward.

It sounds to me like you are quite good at riding backwards already. I learnt it about two years ago on my 20’ but I don’t think I have ever done more than just a few meters backwards as my backyard is pretty small and it is not something I would do if I am out riding in town, hills etc… I would say practising a few different skills/tricks on an off whenever you can is a good way of not getting furstrated/obsessed about a particular one. Very slowly you start to get better in quite a few of them, some are much harder than others and therefore take much longer :slight_smile:

Definitely not quite good yet. But it’s starting to click. Today I managed 56 pedals backward. I fell when I tried to transition back to forwards (which I have done a few times).

I continue to ride the hills (as I did today) but am just keen to get this skill under my belt too. Then idling…

Idling and backward are best learned together. I’ll come back to that.

Use a smaller wheel if you have it. Or at least give it a try. It will react more quickly and take a little less energy to move around.

You can start taking glances over your shoulder, but don’t try to keep looking back the whole time; there’s usually no need.

Sem Abrahams taught me the main difference when riding backward, beyond the obvious lack of vision and facing the wrong way. Your body now bends away from the direction you are traveling instead of toward it. This affects your ability to catch yourself when losing balance. What does this mean? I don’t know, but understanding that may help get the riding more comfortable.

Start working in turns. If you get good at turning while going backward, you’ll be learning skills many top riders never practiced! I learned this back in the 80s, in the early days of Unicon when we were experimenting with a Compulsory trick riding event. Riding a backwards figure-8 (in a specific sized pattern) made some of the best Freestyles look awkward and clumsy. Not because it’s especially hard, just that they hadn’t worked on it before.

And last but not least, give yourself the power to start and stop riding backward without mounting and dismounting. Learn to ride forward, stop and do half a revolution backward, then ride forward again. Practice it with one foot, and then the other foot. Then extend that to a full revolution backward. Then more. When you master the ability to change direction, you can practice riding backward without having to stand around so much. :slight_smile:

I have heard this - but for whatever reason I kind of decided to get comfortable with backward riding first. I’ve done a few transitions forward to backward and vice-versa. I’m just beginning to get comfortable enough with backward that I think I’ll start trying to do more transitions.

That’s probably good advice too. Others have also mentioned it. Not sure if I’ll pull out my 24" or not at this point. I now have 6 hours of backward practice on my 26" muni, and I’m starting to feel like I’m beginning to get it down.

Thanks. That’s exactly what I’m finding. I’m even noticing that it can throw me off a bit just focusing on different things with eyes-forward.

No question I was initially kind of nervous about backward falls. I injured my shoulder snowboarding and backward falls are definitely the last thing that shoulder tolerates. I can catch myself most times now when I fall and stay on my feet. Occasionally I still end up on my butt/back. Usually my wrist takes the worst of it.

So far I’m learning corrections. I can usually get myself realigned with the parking lot markings that will help me avoid obstacles. This sometimes requires deliberate but not tight turns after I’ve let myself drift out of place. My plan (or objective) is to get to where I can do backward figure 8’s relatively comfortably.

Thanks. Right now I always start holding a pole. When I get more comfortable with transitions I should be able to practice backwards without going anywhere special. Like I say, I’ve done a few transitions, but haven’t yet decided to focus on that. I think maybe it’s time I add that to the mix.