This is something I’ve written this afternoon for www.unicycle.2ya.com about natural trials. Thought some people may be intersted.
Natural Trials: Concepts and Techniques…
NOTE: This is only one (my) approach to natural trials riding. Please read this with an open but also critical mind. Try these tips and techniques out as well as all the others you can find and decide what best suits your style of and attitude towards riding.
First and foremost, natural trials is all about observation. You must always be thinking ahead, and preparing several steps in advance. Ideally, you’ll know what you’re going to do before you do it. This need for constant observation applies to both the zone you’re riding as a whole, and also individual steps within your line.
The zone as a whole: A zone of rocks, logs, or other natural obstacles usually won’t give you much room or time to rest, so you’re going to have to plan your lines in advance. This is something you’re going to have to accept, and something that I personally really enjoy about natural trials (as well as muni). Given a nice enough zone to play in, a rider will no longer be limited so much by how far they can gap or high they can hop. The rider gets to decide all those things when they pick their own line…it’s great! Start practising your natural trials riding, and soon enough you’ll begin to read into the terrain and pick out where a unicycle wheel would fit nicely. It’s important when you’re picking a line to consider not only how you’re going to get to ‘this rock’ or ‘this log’ but also where you’re going after that and how you want to be positioned when hopping or riding there. This may mean you’ll have to use techniques like twisting mid-air.
Individual steps: What really makes a lot of natural trials so difficult and fun is all the irregular surfaces and angles you have to work with. Man-made prisms and cyliners are replaced with the complete opposite. Nothing is symmetrical, nothing is measured, and nothing is constant. Therefore when you’re riding your line you have to always be very conscious of the nature of the surface you will be riding on - not ‘are’ but ‘will be’…you need to know in advance.
The following are some handy techniques that should help make natural trials riding easier and more enjoyable…
Grooves - Incorporating grooves between objects into a line will often increase stability and give you a chance to rest a little. You can also gap much more effectively and confidently with a stable take-off. If you’re gapping out of a groove forwards, make sure you have your pedals in a comfortable orientation. Although you can’t always see it happening, when we hop forwards or backwards we kick the wheel forwards or backwards to help propel ourselves. Although a rider will still push down on the pedals in a similar way, the wheel will no longer roll when it’s wedged in a groove…be prepared.
Sloped surfaces - Try hopping perpendicular to the slope of a steep surface so the wheel doesn’t shoot out from under you. When you do this though, make sure you’re running a high enough tyre pressure and try to hop lightly so the wheel doesn’t slip and the tyre doesn’t fold over the rim.
Slipperiness – Make sure you land and take off as lightly as possible on slippery surfaces so you don’t lose control. The more tyre contact you have the more there is to keep you from slipping, so on really slippery surfaces you may want to hop parallel with a slope rather than perpendicular to it. If you’re riding down (or up) slippery surfaces make sure you keep a fluid pedalling action so the wheel doesn’t slip out.
Twisting – You may have to twist mid-air to reach grooves or land perpendicular to sloped surfaces…get used to it, and use it to your advantage. It’s also fun, and looks great, if you get this required twisting out of the way mid-air rather than in correctional hops between steps in a line. Say you’re jumping from one rock up to another, then you want to hop up onto a log ride on a completely different angle. Instead of changing your angle at the top of the second rock with ugly little correctional hops before gapping to the log, try twisting mid-air during the hop up to the second rock. Watch Ryan Leech doing natural trials on his bike, he does it brilliantly with no correctional hops. It all comes down to observing early and planning ahead.
ob•sta•cle ( b st -k l)
n. One that opposes, stands in the way of, or holds up progress.
You shouldn’t be looking for obstacles when riding natural trials, but the complete opposite. The ‘progress’ that we’re trying to make is to find and ride enjoyable lines. Jagged rocks and skinny logs aren’t there to get in the way of the line…they are the line.
There are so many possibilities with natural trials for riders of all skill levels. Last week I rode for half an hour exclusively in a 2m by 2m area (exposed roots hanging over a little washed-out gully) and found about 15 lines…and they were just the ones that I could ride! To me, natural trials never gets boring because there are endless possibilities and no two zones are the same.
- Andrew Carter