Muniac Manor (Jump To It!)

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.

My Progress:

 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:
  1. 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
    and/or roots.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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
    crank position.

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
mailing address.

“The Muniac”

Nice to see how far Scott has come… encouraging… :slight_smile: