Newbie Learning to Ride Off Road

I am 2 months into learning on a 26" Road Unicycle. As I have stated in a previous thread, I have adjusted my goals to now include Muni Riding. I live in Western NC and want to be able to ride the trails that I have mountain biked for 20 plus years. And there are a LOT of them! I just learned about the S.T.O.M.P. Muni Festival in October, and it has become a large star on my calendar. It’s also helped give me a little bit of focus to my training sessions. Now that I can ride for longer periods of time without constant UPDs, I have a tendency to just want to ride once I get up. But, with the new goal of Muni Riding, I realize that I need to start focusing my efforts on stacking skills deliberately and not just getting hours of riding under my belt, though that has been beneficial to say the least. Currently I am riding mostly on paved walking paths, some dirt, and very little gravel. These are mostly flat, though in my neighborhood, I have hills to practice on. I am better at climbing than descending. My freemounting is about 50% reliable, but only on level ground. I am able to steer, and make sweeping turns left and right. My tighter turns are better to the left than the right. No idle yet, but have started working on it. My practice sessions are usually 45 minutes - 1 hour. My latest ride 2 days ago was about 4 miles, which is also my longest to date.

So, is it realistic to think that I can build enough skills to come to S.T.O.M.P. and actually enjoy myself? Any suggestions on building the skills necessary for this goal? And, one last question… I do plan to get my hands on a Muni within the next 6 weeks. I wonder if a 24" might be better for the trail riding. I am 5’4"

In my experience, there are a variety of skill levels among the riders, at mUni events. Everyone was a beginner at some point, and other riders are nice and understanding. So, the answer is, yes, you’ll be ready for the event, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be walking a lot of it. Generally, more advanced riders ride ahead, then stop and goof-off at a particular spot ( “sessioning” ), giving the slower riders/walkers a chance to catch up. Just some personal advice: don’t attempt steep downhills when you’re feeling tired or intimidated.

In your post, above, you mentioned wanting to stack skills deliberately. Good! You have to be willing to experiment. Anything that improves your balance is going to improve your riding. Be careful not to fall into the trap of linear thinking, regarding your so-called “goals”. For example, a beginner says, “I need to learn A and B in order to get to C.” I just spoke with an advanced rider a couple weeks ago about unicycle technique; he said there are not strict conventions about how to do things, and maybe this is due to the relatively small number of riders. For example, seat height, even among riders with equivalent inseams, seems to vary quite a bit. So, again, you have to experiment.

If you’re going to mUni, keep working on your free-mounts, particularly on uneven ground, focusing particularly on a static mount which can be performed in slow-motion, which is sort of the same as a one-footed still-stand. Also, practice getting one, then the other, then both hands on the seat; eventually you’ll be able to use a handle, and your leverage for climbing hills will increase.

Good luck!

Have you learned to hop? I see lots of muni riders using that skill.

Welcome to the group! I have been riding awhile but just recently started doing muni. The way I started down the path to muni was to ride my normal paved trails and just hop onto the grass, ride awhile and then hop back on the trail. I also try to ride right on the edge of the pavement. This helps with my control and is a good way to practice learning skinnies.

I would highly recommend you get Kris Holm’s book. It has really helped me. I am sure I am butchering his quote but he says something like “pick a line that is challenging but not intimidating”. That really changed my practice routine. Instead of being frustrated trying to ride a 2x4 I rode pavement edges or cracks in the pavement to work on skinnies. I have successfully ridden an 8’ 2x4 a few times now. For muni I got in the grass and ride progressively rougher sections. I am now to the point where I am doing sessions on some more challenging sections of single track to the point I am thinking of upgrading my safety gear.

With the exception of my once a year pilgrimage to the NAUCC (this will be my third) and the rare occasion elpuebleUNIdo is in KC I ride alone all the time. I am quickly coming upon my 57th birthday and am constantly aware of how much longer it takes to heal now. I don’t know your age but if you don’t wear safety equipment, start. I always wear knee and shin protection, wrist guards and a helmet. I am going to get elbow pads and and a full face helmet but don’t know what to get yet. I don’t worry about looking cool. I figure lying on the ground with my head split open is about as uncool as it gets :astonished: . Well have fun and enjoy yourself. In the end that’s why we ride.:smiley:

You’re already ready for S.T.O.M.P. From now forward, it’s just a question of reducing the amount of walking you would do. :slight_smile:

And there’s nothing wrong with walking at a big Muni event. Whereas in the early days we would split out an “easy” ride, over time it became clear that the attendees, even if their skill level wasn’t high, wanted to watch the better riders and learn from the experience. So now, at muni events, it’s usually more of a distance/strenuousness question; can your fitness level match up to the planned ride? Then there are often alternates for that.

Keep riding on dirt, wear safety gear on your knees, hands (or wrists), shins and head. Even if you’re not old. If you don’t have time to get to the trails, ride on some grass. Any grass (unless it’s off limits). Nice as it may look, most grass is like an invisible obstacle course. You never know what’s under that green surface.

Equipment? I recommend a 26" for a new Muni. 24" fat tires are only slightly smaller, tend to be heavier, and there are few really good choices for unicycles. With 26", you have an incredible amount to choose from. 150mm cranks are probably good for starters. If you want dual hole, go for 125/150. The 125 holes will be great for less technical trails, or just fast riding. I wouldn’t go over 150 if you’re 5’ 4", unless you have some really, really steep terrain you want to master.

I learned to Muni (in 1981) on a “regular” 24" uni. with a 1.75" tire. There weren’t different types of unicycle then, just different wheel sizes. A skinnier tire like that ups the challenge of any bumpy trail, but you can still have quite a bit of fun riding it. But I much prefer my fat tires of today. :slight_smile:

Thanks for all the feedback. It is all helpful. Today I had two sessions at the local park. It was, in fact the first day that I was able to put my hand on my seat for an extended period of time without falling off ElpuebloUNIdo. That is a huge step. I started wearing a hydration pack last weekend and just the simple act of reaching for the mouthpiece would cause a UPD. Likewise, every time I reached for my seat, I lost my balance. So, progress is evident. Now, I didn’t use my seat for anything, I am just letting myself get used to that hand position. I see from all the youtube videos that I’ll be doing a lot of it on the trails.

I do not have a hop yet Vertigo. Now that I am getting more confident at staying on the unicycle, I have started incorporating some new skill building. When I first started riding, I parked my truck in a parking lot and rode around it, using it as support for several days before graduating to the infield of a baseball diamond. I’m now back to using my truck for support as I work on a few revolutions forward and equal revolutions backward. I am practicing idling as well. And today, I did my first hops. Mind you, all of this is with the aide of my truck. But I’m starting it.

My free-mounts today were much improved. In fact, they are actually starting to feel natural and I don’t have to think about the mechanics (at least until I get fatigued). I have started dismounting more often, just so I CAN free-mount. I never thought about needing to learn a static free-mount, so I’ll start working on that.

Thanks DaUniGuy for the Kris Holm book recommendation. I will check it out.

I love my 26". from everything I have read, it seems that if I am proficient on the 26, I should stay on one for Muni. That’s what I’m leaning toward. Any thoughts on the 26" Oracle? Or is there another that stands out to you?

Thanks again. I am so glad for this forum! I thought there would be a local community of unicyclists, but haven’t found one yet. So, I am glad that I have found this community. My friends and family might be tiring of my new endeavor. So I am giving them a break and turning to y’all!

The Oracle is an excellent choice. Consider changing the cranks when you purchase it if you are at all interested in two hole ones as suggested above. The up charge is minimal compared to purchasing new cranks.

A 26" is going to put you only 1" higher than a 24". And its a good inch. It gives you just a little more space and time to get your feet out and under you during a UPD which is much preferable to doing a body armor test or discovering that you wish you had some because you didn’t get your feet out.

Going from Newbie to MUni is one of the greatest things in unicycling I am biased, but can anyone argue? and it sounds like you are well on your way to being able to consider yourself a Municyclist.

Don’t ever think you need to be able to ride everything to be “good enough” to be on a trail. In my experience trails are a blast even if you are only riding 30-50% of the time. Riding on trails is where my skills develop the quickest and it is amazing how much more stable and maneuverable you feel cruising on your road wheel after a few weeks of riding MUni.

If you want to improve your MUni skills while riding your road wheel (on the road) another skill to try is holding both hands on the handle/seat or even behind your back. I found that went a long way to increasing my fine control both on and off-road.

The Oracle is a fine choice for a MUni.

Assuming it’s a decent quality unicycle (generally $150+) don’t be afraid to try your road wheel on some of the easier trails in your area while you wait for your new toy. Unicycles are built with much higher quality parts than they used to be and can take some abuse before things start breaking.

I have finally found another mountain unicyclist in the area. I will be going out for my first real trail ride this weekend. I’m a bit nervous, as I am still such a beginner, but there’s no better time like now.

ok, I’ve been working on a few things… idling, riding backwards, and continue to work on freemounts. With each of these skills, I can see small movements of progression, though with idling and riding backwards, it is quite slow progress. As long as I see some progress though, I’m content, even if there are setbacks from time to time. One thing that continues to allude me is getting used to holding onto the seat for stability on uneven surfaces. With the exception of one brief period last week, reaching for my seat causes me to lose my balance. Any suggestions for how to begin incorporating this into my riding? Will it come more easily once I put myself in more difficult situations? Right now, I still tend to want to have both arms out in front, especially on roads and paths with camber. On flat surfaces, when I’m able to sit and relax my legs more, I hold my hands down on purpose to avoid using them too much. These are the only times I can reach for my seat without coming off the unicycle. Yet, these are the times I don’t need to hold onto the seat. How did some of you guys come to use this technique? Is it just a matter of riding more?

Be patient. Once you learn how to hold the seat/handle with one/two hands, you’ll have trouble imagining any other way. Here are some suggestions:

Try sticking your elbows out for balance, rather than having your hands outstretched. This will already get your hands closer to the seat handle.

Practice reaching down and touching the handle. Just for a moment. Later on, that moment will become longer. Then try it with the other hand. Baby steps. That’s how I learned.

For the sake of illustration, I’m going to simplify unicycling into two skills: balance with the upper body and balance with the lower body. Balance with the upper body is what beginners look like or people riding skinnies (or me one-foot-riding), involving the arms flailing madly. Balance with the lower body is with your hips and legs. It requires turning into and riding into the direction of your fall.

When you put hands on the seat/handle, you sacrifice the upper-body balance, but you allow the lower body balance to work more efficiently. With two hands on the touring handle, I’m able to push my hips to the left and right to help maintain balance. Any steering adjustments I do with my hands are more immediate and accurate than with my outstretched arms.

Keep practicing, and find satisfaction in even the smallest progress!


The best practice for freemounting for me was riding on a forest path with rocks and roots. This was about two weeks after I first tried unicycling, I could ride forward, turn a little and freemount on flat ground. The next day freemounting on flat ground was so much easier.

Question for ElpuebloUNIdo… I get the part about using the hips and legs for steering, at least twisting left and right. But, do you also use your hips and lower body by shifting side to side? Does that make since? I am trying to make since of some of the issues I have while riding on paths that aren’t totally level. My experience is that one leg will burn and become extremely fatigued, very quickly in fact. While I am constantly having to twist back to a forward direction. It seems while this is happening that if I could see myself from behind, my unicycle would be tilting one way, and my body the other…almost folding sideways. It’s hard to describe… Anyway, I am wondering if I am supposed to also be shifting my weight left and right, not just twisting my lower body and hips in the direction of my fall. Or am I over thinking this? Maybe it’s as simple as you say… keep practicing and enjoy the small successes. This rest will come with that I guess.

Kalervo, I am wondering how long you have now been unicycling since your join date on this forum was so recent. You give me a lot of hope! I have been riding a little over 2 months now and keep thinking I should be able to do certain things before getting on the trails. But, I am going tomorrow and I am beyond excited. I am having to let go of thinking that I should be at a certain point…I am where I am, and I’ll only get better by putting myself somewhere different. Tomorrow, that is on the trails with someone who is willing to let me learn! Yay!

I would have to videotape myself from the front/back to be sure of this. But my sense is, yes, I’m shifting my hips to the left or to the right. And if there’s camber, the compensation is part moving the hips and part pushing the bar-ends to the right or left.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong,but we tend to ride downhill relative to the camber. So, in my case, I’d be pushing my hips in the uphill direction to compensate.

But pushing the hips sideways doesn’t really make sense without the hands anchored on the seat/handle. So, again, keep taking baby steps toward hands-on the seat/handle.

I sense that what I’m saying isn’t really practically helpful, so here’s some advice: try practicing riding on REALLY BAD camber. In my neighborhood, there are no curbs on the side of the street, rather a sloped area a couple feet wide. Try riding on something like this, and pay attention to what kinds of compensation you have to make. And when you’re riding, later, on milder camber, it won’t seem so serious.

Another thing to try. Hold onto a fence or something, and practice flexing your body to the right and left, leading with your hips. Practice your range of motion, get used to what it feels like. As a beginner, I was not aware of, or able to use this kind of adjustment; rather, I was making balance adjustments at the ends of my body (hands/feet).

Good luck!

I have been unicycling for about 8 months now and my starter uni was nimbus muni 26". Almost half of my uni-time has been snow-covered and “everywhere was offroad”, spiked tire helped alot. I have also been lurking around here before joining.

In the beginning I learnt to ride at a sports field and as soon as I got a basic idea of freemounting I left the field and went everywhere it felt reasonably safe. Ride to work, to school, to shops. When you encounter too hard an obstacle, try it for a few times and walk over it before getting frustrated and ride something else. Repeat next time and eventually your skills have reached high enough to pass it and all the falls have been worth it.

Also I have just started to practice idling, hopping is something I need to learn to do properly too… but for me a really useful skill has been being able to stall for tiny moments and making sharp turns and that I learnt while trying to ride offroad or trails.

Have a great time on your MUni ride. I hope that you have some body armor. In the least some wrist splints and knee/shin/leg guards. Falls are inevitable and you will be a very happy camper every time you scrape or put a divot into your armor and not yourself.

Yep, I am well suited for sure. I’m borrowing some shin/knee guards while I wait for some to arrive. Thanks!

Thanks for all the suggestions…yes, ElpuebloUIdo, it is probably practical, but hard for me to envision just yet. I am guessing like everything else that seemed impossible, it is once you do it over and over again. It still blows my mind every time I get up and ride. Somewhere in my brain it just doesn’t make since. I guess I just have to do it until all of my brain gets it.

I’ll let you know how it goes today!

Well, I am hooked. Went to Bent Creek today with an experienced Muni rider. Wow, what patience. I rode about 40 - 50% of the trails that we went on. I was really pleased with what I was able to ride. Must work on holding onto the seat! In fact, after trail riding, I went back to the park to ride more before going home. Worked on just holding the seat. It will come. I can see that if I can’t do something now, I will be able to. The trail riding was exhilarating! I learned so much from watching another rider in person, and not just on a video. And, I saw improvement just in the time that we were out there. Watching his guy stand and power up hills was pretty dang cool. I am really excited to get to that point!

Cool! I’m jealous! It rained again today, so the trails near me are probably muddy and will be closed for a while. :frowning: I’ve got to find another place to ride that’s less muddy and dries out faster.

Yeah, holding the seat is sort of a catch-22 for me sometimes as well. I need to hold the seat to get over stuff and/or climb, but sometimes I want to have both my arms free to balance! Just can’t win, heh, heh! :slight_smile:

Well, that’s one more of us!

Congratulations. Learning to ride off-road was one of the most rewarding things I have done in unicycling. It’s a great ongoing experience. I don’t think you need any more encouragement :slight_smile: