My thoughts on falling

Here we go again, welcome to another round of “I have so much stuff to do for university that I start writing forum posts in an attempt to start an interesting discussion.” Today: Falling.

We all know that falling is a big part of learning how to unicycle, and improving your skills. It doesn’t matter if you are learning how to wheel walk, trying to improve your side hops, or trying more difficult trails, you are always going to fall, it’s just an essential part of unicycling.

We unicyclist probably fall more often then in any other sports, since we have a very small margin of error, caused by our very instable equipment. Luckily for us, the falls we take are usually very harmless. A unicycle simply isn’t in between us and the ground the way a bicycles handlebar is, most of the time our first ground contact is with our feet, and the comparatively slow speeds we are going make it easy to absorb the impact.

I have now done many kinds of unicycling (trials, street, flat, muni, freestyle, track racing) and I found the differences in falling techniques I adopted quite interesting.
In track racing, you almost always fall forward, because you were trying to go to fast. Depending on your speed, you either run out, or end up sliding on your knees. I haven’t seen many injuries there, aside from bruises, and quite painful scratches.

Freestyle and Flat are almost the same, you tend to fall in all directions equally, but usually you just step of your uni, and if not, there is usually no obstacles and quite a bit of space to roll if your falling unexpectedly or unlucky. Most injuries I see there are ankle related (more on that later).

Falling while doing street is usually a lot more high impact. If you are doing tricks of boxes or jumping stairs though, you’ll usually have a flat surface to do a proper roll or run out safely. Ankles are a weak point here again (even if you land the trick, sometimes). From my observations, the really bad slams happen on grinds. Sometimes you are just thrown off your uni in a weird way, and slam on the ground, usually pretty painfull to every part of your body.

Trials has it’s own unique way of falling. The second I know I’m falling (which tends to be well in advance), I try to spot a safe landing. Since there are usually obstacles everywhere around you,this can be quite difficult, but in contrast to other disciplines, you almost never carry much momentum, so quite often you are falling straight down.

Muni has a wide and beautiful collection of falls, ranging from the “Trail runner” over “Tree hugger” to you and your unicycle side by side, sliding down the hill. I consider Downhill the discipline where I am most likely to get injured, since you are quite fast, and your landing zone is often far less than ideal.

One thing I took away from these thoughts is: In order to push my unicycling, I will have to take falls. In order to take falls without injuries, I have to be strong. The two areas I focus on are: ankles and core. Falling is often a whole body exercise, but I feel like ankles are a very common weakness, and if your core is weak, even the strongest extremities are not going to help you. I haven’t really got a set routine, for my core I usually use sling training, for ankles I do a variety of jumps (starting and ending on my toes), and typical stability exercises like standing on the toes of one feet. Any other ones you recommend?

Yep, I’ve got an assignment due on Friday and two exams next week so I’m just scrolling aimlessly through the forums… At some point I’ll stop and I’ll go and unicycle. By the time I have returned, I will have come up with a thought, which I wonder: “has that ever been brought up on the forums?”, and the cycle will begin all over again.

And I think you missed out the very slow and imminent fall of a giraffe unicyclist. They’re quite funny as you can usually see it coming a long time before the actual impact…

That’s good, but if you want some variety, you could try:
*Side and front plank poses (with or without your sling, I guess)
*Back levers

Handstands, if done correctly, also involve the core quite a bit, and are a good way to split up a unicycle session, as working on any unicycle skill for more than 15 to 30 minutes at a time is usually not helpful, at least for me. If you can’t do handstands, I guess headstands are OK.

In the last few months, I learned to walk on my hands, and it’s a lot like learning to wheel walk or ride SIF- you go just a little farther each time. Maybe one day it will also help me learn to hand wheel walk- I’ve never met anyone who could do that, so I don’t know!

You left out road riding falls. Hitting an obstacle while riding faster than you can run can result in a pretty decent fall. Some of my more spectacular falls have been like this. (Which is probably why I don’t try to ride very fast any more – at my age the pavement just keeps getting harder! :D)
Downhill muni is probably my most consistent fall producer. (Earned me a pretty decent sprained ankle a few years ago, and I’ve seen some ankle and wrist breaks reported here on the forum.) Unless you practice the same hill regularly, you can’t really predict what’s in store, or what will make you fall. But I think the unpredictable nature of the sport is at least part of the appeal.
I agree that strength training is great, and will help reduce injury. But in general, I usually wear protective gear to the extent that I can walk away/get up and ride away from most falls (even though I’m not very strong).
Cheers! :slight_smile:

And back.

The thing that I’ve learned over time is to not even think about the unicycle. In most cases it’s easy to grab the unicycle and figure it out, but when the time comes, you really just have to remember to save yourself first. My body can’t take a hit as well as the unicycle can.

What about the classic: riding along doing nothing special when your lace gets caught in the crank and suddenly you’re about to faceplant but you keep pedalling faster anyway, causing you more pain when you imminently hit the ground.

This thread isn’t a great advertisement for people wanting to start unicycling, haha :slight_smile:

My most awkward falls happened when I was a beginner. Any beginners reading this thread: Please take my advice, and wear safety gear, especially wrist guards. I also suggest that beginners, once they can ride more than 20 feet, devote a lot of time to free-mounting practice. Learning to mount means that the rider also gets a lot of practice dismounting, with all the awkwardness that entails.

I recently found a half-dozen short clips of me learning to ride (~2005 ish).
In most of them I fall in a really over the top way, into forward rolls and handsprings etc.
I recall my progression was much quicker after consciously deciding to ride until I fall (onto short grass) instead of stepping off early.
I loosened up and stopped being scared of falling by making it a silly game to fall extravagantly!

Today’s topic is Falling, though here at the Forums we usually think of falling as when you actually fall down. In Freestyle, this is defined as at least one body part touching the ground in addition to your feet. Such as your face. Everything else we tend to call a Dismount. Some say UPD, which only serves to confuse new forum members. We don’t really spend much time doing intentional dismounts, and when we do, they usually aren’t interesting.

Skateboarders might give us a run for the money, even with their excessive number of wheels. At least that’s my observation when watching skateboarders practice tricks…

Sometimes we get broken wrists at the track, though I don’t remember seeing this for many years at this point.

I remember some pretty bad falls on my tailbone while learning wheel walking skills. I don’t remember much of ankle injuries from Freestyle, though the tricks have changed over the years…

True, when a grind goes wrong, it can often leave you sideways, or basically on the wrong side of the unicycle. Ouch.

Trials has so much potential for injury I’m amazed I haven’t seen worse at the big competitions. I guess one of the saving graces is that for people to get good enough to ride the larger obstacles, they have loads and loads of experience with every possible type of dismount.

And I’ll just add in the Cliffside Retrieval, which is where you (hopefully) stayed on or near the trail, but the unicycle went down, down down and now you have to send an expedition to go get it. :slight_smile:
Sometimes the unicycle gets injured as well.

Giraffes: The upside is having more time to think about what’s going to happen. The downside is all the additional speed your body gets on the way down. A big danger with giraffe dismounts is not having space to do it. Or letting the wheel roll out behind you when it hits an obstacle and shoots you forward!

Road Riding. Yes, the higher speeds can leave you trying to run when the ground is moving faster than your feet. A good time to wear safety gear that will stay on when you need it!

Wrapped Shoelace. Kitibob mentioned this, and it deserves its own category since it fits more than one. The reason you might pedal faster is that one of the best possible outcomes is that your shoelace breaks.

I have been lucky with that once or twice, but ever since my big shoelace crash of 2007, I tie my shoes differently. I was training for Ride The Lobster, seeing how fast I could go with 150s on my Coker. I had just started slowing down from a max of about 15mph when I felt the telltale sign of tightening shoelace. Realizing what that was, I immediately started pedaling as hard as I could, but it was to no avail. The shoelace did break, but not until ripping out a couple of the eyelets, and probably getting a bunch of leverage from my foot/body no longer being on the unicycle. It was a sudden, very hard stop, at estimated 13mph, resulting in a badly broken collarbone and a few unsightly gashes. MUni Weekend was a few days away, and I had to miss it. :angry:

I’ve always thought that falling was over-rated so I just avoid it.

Rolled ankles are definitely the most common (more serious) injury with street I think. I think for street unicycling an ankle brace as a preventative measure not as a rehabilitative device actually may be usefull for most riders. A number of riders wear them (ed leduc always) and they dont seem to hinder their tricks so I wonder if using them to prevent ever rolling your ankle may be useful.

Aslo for track/muni/road riding/team sports/some street I think an effective dive roll technique is golden to ensure reductions in injuries. This requires being able to dive roll at fast speeds so for most probably requires a fair bit of practice. I cant do it and just land on my hands, at 90kg I think I have fractured my left hand twice and my right hand once. I see some riders in our comps who are very good at dive rolling manage to fly off at insane speeds but dissipate the energy very easily with a roll.

I assume most people are familiar with how it dissipates energy when rolling but this fight science video on the parkour dive roll shows how it works.

I actually managed to run myself over once, was going full tilt on a paved road, wasn’t paying attention and hit a pothole and got thrown off the front. Sort of did the worm on the road and my unicycle rolled over me and went about 5 meters ahead of me. It was a thing of beauty. I was wearing a belt buckle at the time, a good portion of it got ground away by the road. I somehow escaped without a scratch.

Getting rid of any extra bodyweight you might have is probably the best way to insure that you don’t fall as hard, and will make learning new skills easier, too, as having to be more cautious slows down the learning process, at least on a unicycle. I recently lost about 7kg, and am already feeling more nimble.

Unicycling made me realise just how little falling was part of my adult experience, as a 61year old non-sporty woman. I could remember one fall when a dog ran in front of my bike, one slip on a wet path when unbalanced by tiredness and a large backpack, and one slip on the stairs and that was about it. The first time I slammed down when my wheel hit some grass between paving stones, i could hardly believe I was still intact and wondered if it was sensible to carry on. Fortunately I did, and actually, finding out that my body is still capable of hitting the ground and getting up again is one of the very positive outcomes of learning.

Yeah, falling is an essential part of the unicycling experience. I taught unicycling for a couple of weeks at a local middle school in a now-discontinued program where only girls were allowed. They were very afraid of falling, and only one or two could ride without clinging to my arm or the wall. Boys would come around and ask to try riding, and since we were more or less unsupervised, I just told them to grab a unicycle and get started. They were much less afraid of falling than the girls were, but once the girls witnessed the boys’ fearlessness, it quickly rubbed off on them, and they made noticeable progress as a result.

I agree! Sometimes I can reduce the chance of injuring myself by dropping my uni hard. Sure, it’ll get scuffed and scratched - but I’ll still be able to ride it. And honestly, I’m proud of the wear and tear on my unis.

Regarding this thread though - I’d love a workout or list of exercises to strengthen my uni-muscles!

And regarding falling - I’ve taken some nasty falls as a bicyclist and longboarder. I’ve had falls off my bicycle where I flipped over my handlebars and landed on my backpack/shoulders, in a sort of roll. Completely unharmed! Same with my longboard; I’d often fall, and instinctively tuck myself into a ball, landing on my left shoulderblade and arm, usually rolling to reduce the impact. Those were my nastiest falls. On the unicycle, all forward and side falls have been harmless. A few times I’d stumble to the ground, but in a controlled manner. I haven’t been unicycling for long so I haven’t had a chance to experience any super high speed or otherwise dangerous falls yet, of course. The worst falls are obviously, as we all know, the backwards ones. I actually had an awkward yet cool fall the other day - I tried to dismount casually (trying to look cool in front of some girls), and ended up having my unicycle unexpectedly fly out from beneath my feet, forwards. I somehow caught it immediately and jumped off and backwards, landing squarely on my feet. Thanks to my sense of balance, I guess, I managed to make it look intended, but boy was my hair standing on end. The worst backwards falls I’ve experienced resulted in a bloody left elbow and sore butt (walked off within a few minutes). As long as I don’t fall backwards, I’m good!

Really enjoy reading through this. I’ve found another thing I do sometimes, it’s a little handstand, when I fall of doing Flatland tricks I somehow end up with only my hands touching the ground. It’s really convenient , because that gains me some time to figure out where my uni ended up, and then get my feet back on the ground without stepping on it.

I am struck by how this is opposite of the situation when I was a new rider. Back then (circa 1979-82), basically all unicycle seats would deteriorate from drops; some faster than others. And we, on the other hand, were teenagers. Much harder to break than we are now. So we would make great efforts to “Catch the seat!” because Schwinn seats would cut through their covers and be sharp (followed by being covered with sticky duct tape), and lesser brand unicycles would not only cut the covers, but then the protruding metal base would slowly be pounded into a shape that was very unkind to your legs!

In my first year of riding I saw unicycles with plastic seat bumpers, but it was more than another year after that before you could buy them in the USA. We started being able to get the Miyata brand in 1981 (in Michigan), but they still had the metal “spring” bumpers that helped but weren’t that much better. I saw the plastic bumpers on the unicycles brought by the Japan team to the 1980 National Unicycle Meet in Kokomo, Indiana. Those were so much better, and I finally got one a couple of years later.

Since then, the need to “Catch the seat” has gone down continually (not counting tall giraffes, big wheels, etc. that can be damaged from falling down), but my reflex is still in there somewhere, trying to grab the seat even if I’m on the edge of a cliff or something…

When a foot slips off

Some of my most sudden and ungraceful falls to date have been due to a foot slipping off a pedal. It usually starts with me thinking “Hmmm, my left foot is sitting a bit weird. i think I’ll try and adjust it.”

I’d like to learn one-foot riding, but so far I’m too chicken to even try it intentionally.