New rider introduction + 2 newbie questions

Hi everyone, I’m absolutely new to unicycling, never even touched one. This morning I stumbled upon a video on Youtube where a very young boy (I’d say 4yo) was riding a unicycle like it was the easiest thing in the world. I felt curious, so I decided to research the whole unicycle thing and ended up spending the entire morning reading up on the subject. I read it takes between 10 and 16 hours to learn basic riding. That’s 16 hours between me and essentially unlimited fun? “You’ve got to try this” I couldn’t resist and ordered myself a lovely-looking 20" trials unicycle with 137 mm cranks, to reach me in two to three days.

A bit of background, been riding 20-inch bicycle trials recreationally since 2005 and I’m a half-decent rider. You could say I’m a bit of a jack of many trades, which should give you an idea of how bad a rider I am. The point is, I’m always willing to try new things and learn them to a fairly decent standard, so here I am, at the start of a new journey.

I have a couple of questions I couldn’t find answers to, maybe someone here can help out:

  1. How much of the bike trials skills can be transferred to unicycling? Am I likely to learn a bit faster or am I essentially starting from scratch?

  2. I want to get my friend’s kids into unicycling because all they do is watch TV and play on their iPads, and they are getting very fat which is a pity. They need to find a sport they enjoy and I think unicycling could be it. Problem is, these kids can’t even ride a regular bicycle yet so I’m wondering whether they should first master two wheels before moving on to one, or whether it’s fine for them to dive straight into the deep end and pretend bicycles never existed.

Thanks!

Welcome!

You are definitely not starting from scratch, but I don’t know if we have any previous Trials riders who took up unicycling in here to use as examples. So that part is unknown to me. Absolutely some though. You still have to expect the uni to feel impossible at first; that’s normal. But you have a lot of foundational skills from balancing on a Trials bike.

The desire to learn to ride a unicycle must come from within. In other words, I think if you push it, it turns people off. So it may be a hard sell for kids that aren’t active already, but on the other hand, some people are attracted to it because it’s different, and out of the mainstream. Regardless of their fitness level. I don’t recommend going straight from couch to unicycles though. It’s possible, but the person has to be super-motivated. Pass them through a “bike filter” first. If they like the bikes, that might help get them off the couch even if they don’t get interested in unicycles.

Also note that a 4-year old unicyclist is a fairly rare beast; at that age, a child has to be really motivated, and in most cases spend a lot of time, to figure out how to ride. If your friend’s kids are very young, it’s a steeper learning curve than it is for someone with a little more developed set of motor skills.

Good luck!

@johnfoss that makes sense. I wasn’t planning to push it on them, I know from personal experience it doesn’t work (my mother signed me up for basketball when I was a kid and I hated it). My plan is to learn the basics myself, which I want to do anyway, and hopefully elicit a positive reaction. If they are not interested I’ll know straightaway.

Here’s the video I was talking about, maybe I misjudged the age of the younger of the two kids, but he look young enough anyway, certainly younger than my friend’s kids:

That makes sense. Regarding the kids, I didn’t plan to push it on them, the plan was to learn the basics myself (which I want to do anyway) and then hopefully arouse their interest. Gotta practice what you preach! If they are not interested I’ll know immediately.

Here’s the video I was talking about, maybe I misjudge the kid’s age, but the younger of the two seems young enough:

Looks like the “4 year old kid” really started riding at just 2 years old.
http://tjhowell.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=112&Itemid=143

Learning to unicycle is like climbing a tall mountain. After 16 hours of trudging up the incline, you finally reach the summit. From there, you notice on the horizon an even taller mountain.

Most unicyclists, after 16 hours practice, can’t self mount, can’t steer smoothly, struggle to relax, feel the burn in their legs after 100 foot rides and are starting to develop pain in their crotch. Learning to ride short distances is definitely an accomplishment, but it takes more practice to get to the point where you’re comfortable riding.

When I started unicycling, I had somewhat of a bucket-list mentality about learning. What I found out, after starting, was that there was always another technique to learn, always another taller mountain on the horizon. But I really enjoyed unicycling, so I kept practicing. My current big struggle is learning wheel walking; my progress is pretty slow.

Welcome to the forum! Enjoy your new, awesome unicycle, keep practicing, share your progress and enjoy the process!

I came to unicycle from a mountain bike/bike trials background - Kris Holm doing trials on a uni was what made me aware of uni stuff in the first place.

Hopping will be trivial; I was able to hop around the very first time I got on. I don’t think much of anything else transferred though :frowning:

Also you’re probably used to wearing shinguards, which is a good thing!

As evidence that unicycling and bicycling are very different things: I can ride for 2 hours on a unicycle on roads, uphill and downhill and on rough tracks without putting my foot on the floor once, but I can’t maintain a wheelie on a bicycle for more than 2 pedal strokes. (I did once, aged 17, but it was a fluke and I was drunk.)

However, your cycling experience will give you self confidence, fitness, a sense of balance, and a sense of how the dynamics work: how the wheel has to be in line with the direction of force — which is not just your weight, but also takes into account accelerating, decelerating and turning etc.

Basically, someone who is confident throwing a bike around will have a head start on unicycling, but anyone who is reasonably fit and coordinated, who has no disability that would prevent them, can learn.

If you have ten friends, two or three will not want a go and will make fun of you, two or three will try it once or twice but not get interested, and some of the others will try a bit harder but probably give up. It’s an investment of several hours of effort over several days, and they won’t have their own uni to try on.

However, if you are lucky, or you have right sort of friends, maybe one or two will take it up as a hobby.

Annoyingly, one of them will turn out to be better than you!:smiley:

It can happen a lot faster than that if you follow these simple instructions:

  1. Grab onto a pole or other support on open pavement and get on your unicycle.

  2. Get your cranks horizontal.

  3. Face away from your support, let go of it and fall forward.

  4. Start pedaling, fall off, repeat.

Using this method, I have seen people start to ride in minutes. Mind you, they don’t ride very far, -maybe 10 or 20 feet- but they ride. It worked for me.

Some people think you should hang on to a wall or fence or their hand and pedal along until you feel comfortable trying to ride. They are usually very nice people, but in my opinion their method does not work.

You have bought the perfect uni for learning. With your bike trails experience I am sure you will be able to learn very quickly. I have taught three riders and they were all doing basic riding within an hour or so.

Plus one for staying away from walls and fences. They just teach you to cling to things. Definitely stay away from tennis court chain wire fences which can result in serious hand injuries if your fingers get caught.

I do recommend starting out for no more than a few minutes with a rail (such as the top of a fence) to get a feel for the dynamics and how to change direction. Then move to a backstop start. Back the uni against a stop so it won’t roll backwards. This takes out a lot of the complexity of mounting. An aerobic step is the ideal back stop as it also gives the rider a raised platform to mount from.

Position the non-dominant pedal at four o’clock (or eight o’clock depending on the side). Step all of you weight onto that pedal, step up to the other pedal, leaning a lot further forward than you expect, and ride away.

Like walking, unicycling is a “continuously saved fall”. You need to get your body moving then bring the wheel underneath you. As you step up the uni will be leaning forward too. The first pedal stroke quickly brings it to the normal slightly leaning back position with your body leaning slightly forward and your centre of gravity over the point of contact with the ground.

At this point you and the wheel are both moving. Just as on a bicycle, learners don’t usually have the skills to still stand, which is why you have to go almost instantly from stationary to riding speed. Hence the big lean forwards start technique.

Each time you take off analyse what didn’t work. Too far to the side. Can’t get over the top to the next stroke. Too much lean, not enough lean. Foot placement. Then choose one thing to focus on for the next attempt. Eventually they will all come together.

Have the saddle at a height where you can just reach the ground on both sides. This avoids the “sitting on a stick” feeling where you can’t control which direction you are going to fall.

Wear strong boots. Put most of your weight on the pedals and grip the nose of the saddle between your thighs. Weight on the saddle is something to aim for but difficult until you learn to keep the uni close to upright.

Balance with your arms comes naturally but the goal is to balance by moving your hips to keep the point of contact under your centre of mass. However balance and steering are intimately related.

Steer towards the direction you are falling. Initially you will steer by twisting the uni against your body inertia. The goal is to steer by leaning the uni. This is done by leaning the uni and counter-leaning your body, keeping the point of contact under you. (Leaning the body into turns comes much, much later.)

Find a smooth grassed area for the initial attempts. You will come off a lot better from the inevitable falls and learn how to save yourself. The grass needs to be as smooth as possible as dealing with irregularities isn’t trivial. A very small downhill slope helps get of the dead spot in the pedalling.

Once you are comfortable with bailing out and usually staying on your feet, move onto a smooth hard surface. I strongly advise you wear protection, especially wrist guards.

The biggest and most real fear is falling backwards. Err on the side of leaning too far forwards to avoid this. You can run out of a forward fall.

Learning is mostly about persistence so your brain and body learn to respond fast enough. Don’t keep at it if you are getting miserably frustrated. Leave it to tomorrow or you will be just learning to fail. It is surprising how sometime you can improve between sessions.

The reward you get once you can ride is magical.

Oh, T.J. Howell! I know him, but from a long time ago. He comes from a legacy of circus performers/families, and was traveling with a small circus that set up in shopping malls (in 1983). He has a lot of great toys, as you can see in his videos!

Assume his younger son has had much exposure to unicycles (and juggling, and other stuff) and has been encouraged to play with them probably as early as he was able. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. :slight_smile:

Yes, hopping is way, way easier than riding. Most people never notice this because they’re not trying to hop in the beginning. Yes, the “unicycle balancing” part will still be pretty alien compared to riding two wheels, but that’s why you’re here, right? Hold onto a support if you want. If you really want to learn fast, ride away from it as the guys above suggest. Knee and wrist protection will pay for themselves. Or stick with the support if you don’t want to push it so hard.

I once saw a bike trials rider learn in about half an hour, the fastest I’ve ever seen someone do it. But, everyone’s different. I agree that hopping should be really easy for you, it’s quite close to the skills you already have. Work on hopping with one foot forward, and then the other; once you can do both, You can move from hopping to rolling half a pedal rev forward and hopping again. When you’re a little more solid at that you can go for a full pedal rev. Once you can hop, do a full rev, and hop again, you’re pretty much there.

Song nailed it.

Seems to be a lot of engineering brains are drawn to unicycling.
If they didn’t know so much they could learn a shitload in a short time.

So don’t wait for the wind to come from the NW, quit your search for a golf green with a wall on one side to practice on, and don’t think that if I do "x, y, or z you’ll learn much better because of “whatever”.

Put the shortcut thoughts away and just physically do it.
Just do it.

I learned to ride in less than 2,5 hours (in 5 short sessions over 2 days). Some people like to turn it into a science like CanoeHeadTed said, but it’s not that hard at all. I’d like to add just a few tips to Song’s post.

  1. You will “fall” (read dismount) a lot. Accept it as a fact and don’t get frustrated. Just walk back to the wall/pole and get back onto your unicycle without thinking about it. Decide to put your energy into focussing on the “interaction” between your body and unicycle when you are on it. Energy spent on frustration because of the inevitable is energy wasted.

  2. Practise in sessions of max. 30 minutes. Longer sessions are useless in my opinion. Learning = practising + processing. You need rest to process what you’ve practised.

  3. For the unicycling part focus on these things:

  • sit up straight (and keep the unicycle straight under your body)
  • don’t look down, look out forward
  • keep your weight on the seat (don’t put too much force on the pedals)
  • if you fall forward, resist jumping off the unicycle too quickly. Most of the times just pedaling on will keep you from falling.

Good luck!

welcome to uni club.
From my experience with learning and having 10year old learn to ride uni; it’s will take more then 16hrs for practice. I’ve taught my 10year old by practicing on tennis court holding fences like this. After LOTS of encouragement; he’s now riding up down by himself without me telling him to practice.

Using fences inhibits learning by teaching how to cling instead of how to ride. It prevents the rider turning toward the fence to save a fall in that direction and inhibits them turning away from the fence to save the opposite fall. It stops the main skill that needs to be learnt.

Similarly using ski poles which just adds complexity to the task instead of allowing the learner to focus on what they actually need to learn.

The fastest way to learn is to ride out into the open. It also teaches how to bail out at the same time.

Begging to differ. Riding along my practice wall let me practice front-back balance, starting off and stopping, and speeding up and slowing down, without the complicating factor of side-to-side balance. Even after I was able to ride 50-100 yards without help, it remained a refuge for several weeks where I warmed up at the start of practice, or retreated to at the frustrating times when I seemed to have forgotten everything about unicycling.

Did I learn more slowly because of my dependence on that wall? Maybe, but 5 years down the road it honestly makes zero difference to me how long it took.

My experience was that the wall was a GREAT place to work on planned, controlled dismounts. Dismounts out in open space were usually sudden, panicked, and chaotic. With support I could anticipate it and think about how I needed to prepare to do it smoothly and safely.

I’m happy to learn without a wall or fence, but not without a helmet, shin and wrist protection.

What would be a great help for learners is a flexible ceiling tether to catch falls, akin to a safety net or a foam pit. Anyway, that’s the kind of thing I would expect a unicycle training facility to be equipped with, if that sort of place even exists.

It would if it were designed to move with you. In other words, unless you like doing rigging, and setting up something that will provide you support while following you in whatever direction you ride, it could be super-useful. But I’ve never seen one. Even a setup that only allows you to go in a straight line is pretty limiting. Better to learn how to dismount in every direction, and then get a lot of experience doing it while you learn to ride. :slight_smile:

I would love the chance to learn on something like that. Part of the trouble with learning balance activities is how you can freeze up both mentally and physically when things go wrong – or when you even suspect they’re about to go wrong! – and how that alone can make you lose your balance. If a tether could catch me, I would be much more likely to to move and think in a calm, normal fashion instead of messing myself up, and learn not to panic instead of being put in the position of having to un-learn it.

Plus not getting hurt counts for something, especially at my age. As I’m heading toward my 60s, it isn’t even the pain I’m thinking about so much as my chances of recovery. And how long that would take, if I even can recover. I got a knee injury in my early 50s that took years to heal.