For those interested in this type of stuff.
Muniac Manor (Jump To It) 5/16/00
As some may remember on 3/7/00 I posted to the unicycling news group part I ("Hop Along MUni") of a two part article series discussing hopping techniques with the hope it would help fellow MUni riders interested in developing this skill, thus increasing their ability to manage trail obstacles. To that end, Kris Holm was kind enough to take the time to write an expansion to "Hop Along MUni". With his thoughts and experience he clarified points I missed due to lack of experience. After following Kris's advice over the past month I wish to summarize his points here against the backdrop of my MUni riding and present some other MUni tid bits. Then we can move on to the meat of this article (part II) on jumping, the Rolls Royce of getting air. My first glimpse of a hopping maneuver was a picture shown in Jack Wiley's "The Unicycle Book". This picture showed a unicyclist holding the saddle both front and back and hopping up and down. The next hopping I saw was that shown in the USA skills demonstration video where one of the skills is to hop five times. With these images in my mind's eye I started to hop, with balance loose and inaccurate requiring me to continually hop to stay up. Holding the front and back of the saddle limited my upper body from participating in the balancing process making the maneuver seem even more difficult and clumsy. After being exposed to a trials style and learning to hold the saddle with just my left hand (I'm right handed) during trail rides, I began to be able to hop single handed. This allowed my upper body to move and freed my right arm to provide additional balance trim. Holding the saddle with just one hand also allowed for greater leg compression and extension a must for generating lift or absorbing the impulse of a landing. With all the body parts now in correct position the frequent pogo stick hops melted into a single small adjustment hop done as Kris described. Thanks to better technique, hopping is now easier, takes less energy and can be executed much smoother and accurately. When I started, it was difficult for me to hop onto a 3/4" piece of plywood. I needed to wait for just the right take-off hop in all those little bounces. Now I can still-stand in position after one hop, take-off and get about 8 inches all with less energy. As Jack Wiley commented about learning skills in his book, "Once learned they will seem easy." He's correct. Wish I knew then what I know now. When I started hopping both hands were holding the saddle front and back leaving no hand free to grab a support. Perhaps learning to hop might have been assisted by beginning with a single hand hold on the saddle front and holding onto a support with the free hand until balance and wheel control were developed. By first practicing hopping with a support, you can get your legs and upper body accustom to the basics without the balance overhead. Use the support only as necessary and get rid of it as soon as possible. Eventually you should be able to maintain your balance with adjustment hops. The fewer the better. People learn in different ways so experiment with practice routines and props to find the ones that work best. Don't get into bad habits though. Properly think through your practice sessions so they encourage development of proper technique. A video showing hopping in the context of MUni and/or trials riding is a must. Whatever your approach, developing a hopping technique is well worth the effort expended. Reflecting back on my hopping experience perhaps I could have cut my learning time back by a month or more and had more confidence during practice sessions if I possessed more accurate information from the start. Sometimes learning the hard way is the best way. It all came out okay in the end for me. Thanks again to Kris Holm for the helpful advice. All the hopping/jumping has left my left elbow a bit tender. I suspect others may have this problem so a few words about it are worth mentioning. My MUni weighs 17.5 Lbs and has no handle on the saddle so it's a tight grab and a big pull for each hop. This all adds up to lots of elbow strain. I've started to lift a 10 Lb free weight to strengthen my left arm. This has helped the situation somewhat, providing I can remember to do it. To help me remember, I've purchased two weights. One stays in the bathroom at home and the other stays in the bathroom at work. So when I'm droppin' a few friends off at the pool I can do a quick set of curls and lifts. Go ahead and laugh I know it's a funny system but it works. It's sort of a low tech multitasking approach. I'm also building a new unicycle from 7075 aluminum that I expect will come in at around 12 Lbs (More on that project in another article). For me a lighter machine is less to lift which means less strain on the arm. To further add weight, some MUni's accept water bottle cages. I no longer attach a water bottle(s) to my MUni frame because it adds weight that your arm must pull. Instead I use a waist mounting CamelBack flashflo which can hold about 40 ozs of water. For short runs of 1-2 hours I prefer it to the CamelBack mule because it stays with the body better during hopping and jumping. A saddle with a handle on the front would also allow a stronger grip with less squeeze. I'm told the Miata saddle is good that way but I've not had any experience with it.
Since I posted part I (3/7/00) of "Hop Along MUni" I've made some progress with hopping and jumping. The simple props I used like a 6" x 6" x 3/4" block was difficult to hop up on. Presently I've weaned off the block and am able to use hopping and jumping during actual MUni rides. For example, log pile-ups that may be too abrupt to ride over can now be started by hopping. Stream crossings that have in and out banks too steep to ride can be hopped. Difficult to ride root steps found on uphill climbs can be hopped to allow an easier ascent. Short hill sections too steep to ride can be now hopped up or down. Rocky patches too irregular to ride can also be hopped through. Large rock formations can also be maneuvered by hopping. Sometimes it's just fun to hop to the top of a rock then hop off its steepest edge. Perhaps the best reason for doing these maneuvers is because it looks so cool. I've increase my height somewhat and can hop off edges up to 40" onto a reasonably flat surface, which for me feels like riding off a building. This level of hopping is still scary and tense. It's still fun for the adrenalin rush though. As I gain more confidence perhaps I'll be able to tackle bigger drops onto more challenging landing areas. We'll see as time goes by. Don't get carried away about height though, work up to it slowly. Like I've said before, it may not be the initial spill that gets you but the stumble that causes you to try to run under your tilting upper body. It's kind of like running a 100 yard dash in a 90 yard gym with the lights out. Right now I'm okay with hops against gravity to about 8". Maybe on a good day with easy surfaces I could squeak an extra inch or two. When I need extra height I use the jumping technique. With the saddle out of the way I can get more spring out of my legs and hence generate more air. The best jump I can manage against gravity is something whose height is even with the axle at about 13 inches. My landings need improvement as they are not as stable as those following a hop. Given both arms are on the saddle I lose a bit of balance trim afforded by one free arm. With practice more stability will come. Jump style drops with gravity are pretty lame right now topping out at about 8". More practice is needed here to control the wheel and body when landing.
More Safety Stuff:
I wrote some stuff on safety in the last article and I feel that never too much can be said about it. The Roach knee pads have saved me on about four shattered knee caps since my last article. On the last fall I hit my knee so hard on a rock that even with the pads I couldn't continue the ride due to pain and swelling. I wonder how severe that knee injury would have been with no protection. That thought scares me! Jeannie (the Muniac-S) has been doing pretty well on her Pashley. A couple of weeks ago, while doing an idling drill, she ejected herself from the unicycle, turned horizontal in mid air and landed flat on her back. She hit so hard her helmet split wide open in the back. Other than seeing a few stars for a moment she got up and continued with not even a bruise anywhere on the head. She was also fully padded otherwise. I'm told by a doctor friend that the crown area of the skull is softer and thinner than other skull areas. So an impact, point or otherwise, can penetrate the skull in and around the crown more easily causing a possible fatal injury. When you fall backwards hard enough that your reactions and neck muscles can't hold your head off the ground the crown area is the most likely place to take a hit. Remember to use not abuse your head. I also wear arm/elbow pads, knee and shin pads, gloves and a back pad. Be safe out there!
Jumping is a little more difficult than hopping since it deviates more from a normal riding position. Remember hopping is done with the saddle between the legs while jumping requires the saddle to be positioned out in front. I learned to hop first and I think that's a good place to start. (See Muniac Manor article "Hop Along MUni" for instructions on hopping) Both maneuvers are similar enough that what you learn and develop balancewise hopping will apply nicely to jumping. Think of it as learning to walk before learning to run. Some may say, "Why bother with jumping when I can just hop?" The answer is jumping allows for more compression of the legs given the saddle is out of the crotch region. More leg compression means more leg extension which translates into more spring and allows greater "against-gravity" height to be achieved. It also allows more tucking of the unicycle up into the upper body region which further lifts the wheel. I use jumping only when I don't think I can generate the height I need to land on a object with a hop. Because of its convenience and quickness, I think of hopping first and jumping on an "as needed" basis. On "with-gravity" drops, being able to compress the legs allows spreading the impulse of a landing over greater time reducing the shock value to you and the axle. Jumping allows more time to absorb the force of a drop and hence reduces the impulse. Also not having a bulky saddle stuffed up your crotch may be an advantage if you miss an aerial maneuver like a drop. Like other things in life there are trade-offs. When in a jump position, your pull line to the saddle is less direct with respect to your waist, back and shoulders. As such I find holding a torquing wheel more difficult in this position. Both hands are on the saddle so no balance trim arm is available. If your balance is well developed, this may not matter. Additionally, unless you can ride equally well with the saddle out in front, riding away from a jump landing is also more difficult. For me I'll jump land stationary first, get my balance, stuff the saddle back in place then ride away. The jumping posture is just different and takes getting use to. Here are some general guidelines I use to decide whether to hop or jump:
If I need to generate small amounts of lift (say 2 to 6 inches) quickly
then I will hop. This works well when you’re bogged down in rocks
If I need to be in a ride-enabled position quickly after a landing I’ll
hop. A drop that lands you on downhill terrain is a good example of needing
to ride away immediately. After the drop get the wheel rolling ASAP.
If I need to hold against irregular terrain or slope and move into some
position I’ll hop. Side chops up rock faces or steep terrain where you’ll
need to hold the wheel can be tackled with hopping.
If an obstacle is less than 10 inches I’ll try to hop onto it or hop over
it. Any logs and steps encountered uphill clean nicely with a hop. Make
sure you have traction.
If an obstacle is over 10 inches I’ll employ the jumping technique to
jump on it or over it. Works with anything too big to ride over or hop.
Stay within your jump range and make sure your fall area is safe when
you miss it.
All drops between 24 and 40 inches onto easy terrain I use hopping. I
prefer to hop off things like picnic tables, small bridges and rock ledges
since the crank position is known and constant. Jumping could also be used
here but I need more practice on the landings.
If I find myself in a “drop and ride” situation I think hopping first.
Small root steps of less than 12" you don’t even need to stop. Grab
the saddle like in hopping and just ride through it with a pot-luck
The above are my guidelines at my present riding level. As I improve more
variations will be possible. Make up your own guidelines that keep you within
your balance envelope. As you improve, modify/enhance them as additional
technique is acquired. Being able to clean obstacles requires a gameplan or
strategy so make sure you have one, even if it’s a simple one, in mind before
your approach. Many times during a MUni run I’ll stop to study the next X feet
of trail and develop an attack plan. For example, there is a steep, rocky and
rooted section on one of the trails I ride. The total drop is about 40" through
3 root steps and two rock ledges all on somewhat of a cant. I’ve found it easier
to hop down sideways until I land on the trail perpendicular to the fall line.
Once there, I can twist down-slope and finish the hill. Hopping straight off
doesn’t work as well for me. Another rider might elect for the straight shot.
That variety is what makes the ride fun. What’s important is knowing in advance
how you’re going to proceed.
Learning to Jump:
I think the key to learning to jump is learning to hop first. The hopping I'm referring to isn't just the IUF skill of hopping in place five times, although this may be a good place to start. Your hopping must be somewhat more dynamic. That is to say you need to be able to move yourself around as you hop. When moving it's important to think in all six directions (left, right, forward, backward, up and off). If you're a pogo-stick hopper, you need more practice with your balance to reduce the number of adjustment hops required to accomplish your purpose. When fully groomed, you should be able to hop, still-stand then hop again with a "trials technique" look about you. Note that still-standing is a bit tougher on a non-deforming surface like pavement so practice there to start. Additionally, make sure you can hop on canted surfaces in all directions (left, right, uphill, downhill). When surfaces become really steep you'll find it difficult or impossible to hold the wheel still, so make sure you can find a perpendicular to the fall line and hop along it. Make sure you can hop accurately to a landing place. Also make sure you can hop up and off objects and land where you want. It takes a lot of practice so be patient and learn the hopping basics so the transition to jumping will be as smooth as possible. In order to jump you'll need to get rid of the saddle from between your legs. I practiced riding with the saddle out in front to acclimate myself to somewhat of a funky riding position. If you can hop, practice removing the saddle forward while hopping and then replace it to ride away. If you like leg pain, try riding around crouched behind the saddle for an additional challenge. You'll notice as you pedal, the saddle will torque right on a right power stroke and left on a left power stroke. This puts a lot of strain on the arms and makes riding even more difficult. Try to maintain even pressure on both cranks by rolling the wheel from the ankles instead of alternately pulsing it on power strokes. Ultimate wheeling will help here. You might find pushing your knees apart just enough to feel pressure on the outside edges of your shoes helpful. Don't be shy on experimenting with technique to find your own riding style. Make sure to be able to stop and replace the saddle to resume a normal riding position. If you can't hop you can still practice riding with the saddle out in front. While keeping that skill in your back pocket, learn to hop and jumping will be only a saddle pull away. The main point of jumping is to get the extra leg compression not possible with a saddle between your legs. Practice jumping the same way you approached hopping. Get use to using the extra leg compression before a take-off and make sure to suck the MUni up into your upper body region to achieve "big air". When you land back on the riding surface, get the saddle back in position and ride away. My guess is that you won't use jumping as often as hopping but when you need some extra air on the way up it's a nice obstacle management technique to have in your trail toolkit. If you're planning on "going large" to do the big drops, a jump posture may be the way to go since you can absorb the shock of a landing over more time reducing the impulse. As previously mentioned, jumping is the Rolls Royce of getting air. Happy trails.
PS: I have some video footage showing hopping on logs and rocks as well as
some hops off rock ledges about 30". If you’d like to see this footage
send me a VHS cassette in a self addressed stamped return mailer and I’ll
be happy to record the footage on it for you. Shoot me an e-mail to get my
“The Muniac” email@example.com