One Week of Wheel Walking

Hi, first post, my name’s Lance. Very quick background:

I live in San Marcos Tx, next to Austin, I study philosophy and I’ve been riding one year. Male, 22. I recently joined San Marcos’ Unicycle Football League (it is just what you think it is), about two weeks ago, and I’m playing against some very skilled cyclers, so I’m just starting to take my cycling seriously. I can idle and ride with great control, but I do not know any tricks. I started with the wheelwalk 1 week ago…

And for those of you wishing to learn, the more information you can read the better, in my opinion. So here are some tips from the perspective of someone who is still learning:
My average is about 15 steps and my max is 33, but I only really got the hold of it yesterday, so those numbers will increase daily. Also, it would be premature for me to say there is a best way, or one way, or that my way is best, but I will tell you what has been working for me, and I think any other method would be quite similar.

  1. “Lean Back” ?

I wish I had not been told this advice over and over, because it slowed me down. What happens when you are above one wheel and you lean back? You fall. This is elementary. If you are kicking a tire forward, which you will be doing, you will just fall faster. My advice for posture, and maintaining this posture seems to me to be the key to wheelwalking, is to arch your lower back so that your butt is thrust backward, but your head is in the same plane (vertically), in relation to your tire, that it would be if you were riding normally. So, riding from left to right, your posture should be something like this:


O -> -> ->

You’ll be ‘crouching’ a little bit, with your head lower than usual, but otherwise in the same spot.

2)Start with support

You will probably want to get away from support as soon as possible, but if you go into the wheelwalk off-balance, then you won’t really be learning the skill properly, will you? If you were starting to learn the guitar, would it be best to start learning your chords and scales while jumping around the room and jamming out? Probably not. At first, you should find a wall not just to lean against, but to hang on to. You want as much balance as possible because right now you’re just working on footwork. I spent the first couple of days missing the tire as I kicked at it. That won’t do. Try to find something like a bunch of mailboxes at an apartment complex - something with an edge you can hang on to so you can correct if you start falling to either side. Try the posture that I recommended and move slowly. Just try to get a feel for two things:

A)It is possible to maintain that posture if the tire is moved correctly. FEEL that.

B)Each time you put the next foot onto the tire, introduce your TOE first, and do it very high up the tire, very near the crown. This will allow for the possibility of longer kicks in the future, which can be helpful if you want them. Move slowly. Just like any other skill, your brain will learn through muscle memory the precise movements you have been doing, which means speeding up in the future will be easier. You aren’t going to get this on day 1 or 2, so for now, just be precise and even, rolling your whole foot down the tire, starting with the toe connecting with the tire high up, at nearly 12:00 position, and ending with the heel in contact with the tire and the leg pretty well extended. In the future, you will begin to see that having your heel against the tire this way makes for easy braking, which is what you’ll need to do to correct your posture if you start falling back too far. Conversely, if you lean forward too far, you will need to kick the tire very swiftly to maintain the posture, or if you are inexperienced like me, it may take two consecutive kicks sometimes, but I think it should only take one when you are better. No matter.

The quicker you get away from supports, the quicker you’ll be wheelwalking - but don’t rush it. As you get your feet working well, you’ll tend to let go of the mail boxes for a moment or two. Get those feet down to the point where you won’t be kicking wildly, and then you’ll want to start to use support differently. After a day or two, or three, or whenever you feel comfortable with your feet, use the support just to get your foot up on top of the tire and your balance even, and then ride for it. Don’t think speed - don’t think anything except for maintaining posture. There are the secondary details such as connecting the toe high up and keeping the foot on until the heel is what’s left on the tire, but these will be your natural tendencies when trying to maintain posture. you’ll probably kick the crown a few times, and you’ll probably get into situations where your tire stops momentarily because your feet accidentally grip it. These are mistakes, but they are fortunate things, because you will realize that these can really be used for tactics as control, once you can control them.

3)Move slowly

It is all about the muscle memory. Be precise, or as precise as possible when learning the footwork so you have a strong foundation. You will get farther by kicking faster, but it will be sloppy. If you want to be a GOOD wheelwalker, it seems to me that control should be of the utmost importance. I go farthest when I move slowly, and it FEELS right, even though it takes me longer to get there.

4)Arms Out

It feels silly to have your arms way out to your sides, at least it does to me, but just watch wheelwalkers, they all do it. My skill practically doubled when I remembered to keep my arms outstretched. Don’t be afraid to flail them; that’s what they’re for. It takes a little while to learn this skill obviously; I’m a quick learner and I don’t even have it down after a week. But you will see improvement on a daily basis if you work at it, so it’s easy to stay motivated.

5)It’s a knack.

Like most skills, it’s knacky. It just can’t be perfectly broken down into words, not every element at least, and you will need to go out and figure out the balance for yourself. Lots of people recommend going uphill to begin. While I do not recommend going DOWN hill, I do not find this necessary. Flat is good, but a slight incline will add more resistance without changing the technique.

That’s all I can really think of off of the top of my head, but I hope some of these tips were useful to someone.


this all seems to be exactly what i have learned, although i dont really know what i look like leaning back. going slow is key

I agree about the posture and maintaining the posture. It helps me to tighten my abdominal muscles, too. I can do circles and am working on figure eights.

I want to learn wheelwalking someday, but I have some other skills to work on first.
Thanks for this write up Lance! I’ll be sure to revisit it when I’m ready.

what other skills are you going to learn first? you dont need to be extremely good to learn to wheelwalk, but i would suggest that you be able to ride with one foot(both feet is a plus). other than that i dont see that anything else is completely necessary

My time is limited, work, family, getting dark outside earlier now… so in the little time I have to ride, I need to choose what will bring me the most satisfaction to hold me over until my next riding opportunity.
I ride muni. Hill climbs, hopping over obstacles, and just general endurance is important to me right now.
If I’m going to ride around on the street, it would be to practice shifting my schlumpf, or maybe sif riding/hopping.

But all tricks have some value in refining balance which should make me a better rider overall. And it impresses the neighbors. :slight_smile:

Thank you, IntoIt! I was just looking for some additional advice to learn the wheelwalk. You seem to have the right skill set for being a trainer! This is all very well observed and you bring the points very well across - and all the points you made are very relevant!

To add my five cents:

I am a slow learner concerning such skills and I still can’t do it, but I keep progressing.

I have my unicycle now on my balcony. Being easily accessible and having a handrail make it the perfect training environment for me. In my case there is no risk of falling of it, but this is not a general recommendation! ;).

Concerning the advice to lean a bit back I had also the thought that this is probably a suitable advice for an advanced learner who keeps dropping off forward, but not necessarily for a beginner. The issue I see as well is that WW introduces a new pattern of UPD, which is falling backwards while still having one or two feet somehow in touch with the weel or the pedals. I perceive it as an important subskill to learn, when the game is over, dropping off backwards cannot be avoided anymore and switch focus to how to avoid landing on bump or back, by making sure the feet keep actively clear from wheel and pedals.

Cool! I’ve been trying to wheel walk for a while without any luck. Maybe after reading this I’ll be able to do this! :smiley:

If you can look down and see the hub just in front of the seat, that means your weight will be right over the hub where it should be. When you find yourself falling off forward most of the time it’s because the hub is too far behind the seat. Concentrate on the position of the hub and the wheel has no choice but to follow.

Also, a good intermediate skill to learn, is to:

  • ride normally at a relatively slow pace
  • on the down stroke of one of the pedals, remove the other foot from the pedal and use it to push the tire one revolution
  • return that foot to the empty pedal and continue on [/LIST]

    It’s like a one foot wheel walk but keeping the stationary foot on the pedal instead of the uni crown. This also gives you practice at transitioning from wheel walk to riding. Once you have that skill down try it with the other foot.

  • Good advice, all around. I just wrote a similar post myself, from the perspective of applying what I learned while learning to juggle 5 balls, to wheel walking.

    I’ve recently been starting from a curb, and I was very surprised with how my posture changed. I’ve always read about the importance leaning back. From a curb, I instinctively started leaning forward, but in the way that you describe, and it something about it felt better.

    blueharmony, I like your thoughts on posture. I’ll keep them in the very small part of my mind that still has room to think about things while I am trying to wheel walk. Also, that’s a really good practice technique. I’ll definitely be trying that.

    whenever I say lean back while teaching wheel walking I usually try to tell them it’s not their body they need to lean back but their hips. The FRAME needs to be leaned back slightly or your COG is off and you’ll fall. I’m a much more visual learner than a reader and I’m much better at teaching by showing. I made a video a while back about wheel walking. I’ll post the link here if anyone is interested. I might re-make it eventually to include returning to the pedals(probably was the hardest part for me)