Riding backwards

This is something of a “duh!” post, but still might be useful to some of the other slow learners, like myself, out there.

I have been struggling with riding backwards, making steady, but very slow progress over the past couple of years.

Today for some reason I sat firmly in the seat, i.e. as with riding forwards I keep my weight on the seat not the pedals, and wow, what a difference. I pretty much doubled my furthest backwards distance and the improvement in control is significant.

I think in struggling with the additional issues of not being able to see very well where I’m going and the fact that it is different from riding forwards, I simply forgot to apply the basics to riding backwards.

Raphael Lasar
Matawan, NJ

Progress made slowly is all the more rewarding, or something like that… :slight_smile:

My tip for learning to ride backwards is to develop it from idling in a step by step process:

Normal idling = less than half a revolution of the wheel each way.

Next step, I’ve heard called ‘super idling’ with more than half but less than a whole turn of the wheel. This means left foot starts at the bottom, comes over the top and the right foot hits the bottom (or vice versa) then back again.

Next step I’ve heard called ‘mega idling’. More than a whole turn, so one foot starts at the bottom, goes over the top and stops at the bottom, then back.

Then you get to idling with two or three pedal strokes in each direction - riding backwards and forwards over a few feet of ground. The critical balance points are when you stop travelling in one direction and start in the other. At first you may need to idle for a couple of strokes at each ‘end’ of the forward and backwards run.

Eventually, you get up to the stage where you can comfortably ride 5 - 10 pedal strokes back and forth. By now you have good control and are able to regain your balance when reversing.

Then it’s just a matter of practice practice, practice.

I find reversing a few strokes a useful skill. I’ve never found a need to cover great distances, which means I usually lose it after about 50 pedal strokes in reverse unless I stop and idle for a stroke or two.


For what it’s worth, the key for my sort-of-success in riding backwards was to hold my arms out straight to the sides, as in good body form for Standard Skills competition.

Really made a difference for me.


I believe these are all roll-backs; true iddling is done with the roll of the foot in a peculiar pumping motion, and is destinctively different technique from a roll-back. I found it much easyer to roll-back than to iddle, and, as Mike did, used it as a gateway to backward riding. Attempting to use roll-back technique to truely iddle is frusterating and required much more top foot controll for this beginer than a true iddle would. Still, roll-backs are great, and are sometimes more practicle (such as on uneven terrain).

On the weight-on-sadle issue, backward riding is much easyer for me with the sadle high- it is quite a bit more difficult at hopping hight; I made big leaps in progress once the sadle was raised.


I agree with Mike Fule, I learned to go backwards this way; however I did not really progress until after I had done some distance riding with hills. My advise is to mix Mike’s technique with some distance or trail riding, 'specially with winter coming up and all…

I learned to ride backwards before I learned to idle. When I’d mount, I’d try to continue the 1/2 backwards pedal. It was difficult to start, but after a few pedals it levels out. -It’s exactly like learning to go forward, only different. At the time, I didn’t know idling was possible.

I know that in some places such as here in Australia, this isn’t as easy (I was lucky) but try to practice with a friend. I learnt to ride backwards with another unicyclist. He’d pedal forwards and I’d pedal backwards and then after a while and after I’d gathered a bit of momentum, I’d let go and pedal a bit on my own. Maybe if you don’t have a unicycling friend you could hold onto the handlebars of a bike. Another similar way is if you can go to a supermarket carpark and find a spare shopping trolley to use while you’re there. Then you can hold onto that and you can use it instead of another person on a unicycle. This method also gives a stronger thing to hold onto when you’ve just starting out. I also used this method to learn and found it quite useful.

Good luck,
Andrew Carter

p.s. I may not be the best person to take advice from because I’m not the greatest backwards rider. I sort of stopped learning after I could ride about 50 metres because I got sick of having to ride with my head turned around…it gets quite uncomfortable.

You must be very sensitive- most cyclists aren’t bothered by the Coriolis effect…


Sorry if I’m beign an idiot here but what’s "the Coriolis effect… "?

The same thing that makes water spiral down a plughole in one direction above the equator, and the other direction below it…

(I hope)

Phil, just me

The Coriolis force is caused by the rotation of the Earth. The further from the equator you get, the stronger the force. In the Northern hemisphere, this force causes wind patterns to turn to the right. Opposite is true for the Southern Hemisphere. This force is not strong enough to cause water to drain in a particular direction, though. That is just a science myth.

More info

I suspected not; I had a very vague feeling that it was just a myth, but I couldn’t remember. It’s the myth most people remember, anyway… :slight_smile:

<puts on Dunce hat>

Phil, just me

Techniques to think about/apply when trying backwards:
1.) Just like when first learning to ride forwards put heavy emphasis on the “down stroke” of the pedal, but at same time “resist” with the other foot.
So, when going backwards pay attention to the down stroke foot. Try to feel the pedal push away slowly almost in a straight horizontal line(i know it’s rotation…but try). It should “feel like” a second point of balance on the ground. Again, don’t forget the other foot, top pedal foot. Resist. It is coming over the top at 12 o’clock and reading to fall with gravity. Resist. Don’t let it just drop down. Apply steady resisting force…but keep it moving.
If you understand acceleration vs constant velocity, just think “constant velocity”.

2.) Knee’s inwards. Just like when riding forwards keep your knee’s inside to control the seat twist. Do the same when riding backwards. Knee’s inwards. You will notice that you can even control which way you are turning. This is key for the next phase “turning”.

3.) Lead with your heels. Not your toes. Your toes are for forward motion, but now going backwards what’s the front of your foot? Heels baby.

4.) Sit up straight. Don’t use any excessive back lean. Yes, if you lean back you will fall back. Unless you speed up your feet. Then you “have to keep going faster”. Never rely on “over-speeding”

5.) Pausing. What does that do? It allows the rest of your body to come forward(direction you are going). So, if you happen to fall back(direction away from you) just pause your legs for a moment. Then what happens? Yup, the rest of your body rocks forwards. In reality, unicycle riding(at least for beginners/intermediate) is like a back/forth porpoising motion. Upper body rocks forwards, pedal motion then body rocks back,…again…again… You will notice this dynamic most if you ride off-road on grass with holes on ground as “slow” as possible…how do you stay on? So, Pausing = rocking. Understand and use it to control your fore/aft compensation.

So, those are just a few backwards riding techniques that come to mind at this point in my developing backwards skills.
My level at this point is I can:
a.) Consistently pedal 2 or 4 pedals with absolute control.
b.) Go about 12 to 20 revolutions “most” of the time.

What I have yet to master:
a.) Go backwards “slowly” with rock solid balance.
b.) Learn to fully coordinate hip and shoulder twist to the backwards pedaling rhythm. (related to the first goal)

I don’t necessarily have a “perfect” double idle, but I have advanced fairly well in riding backwards.
So, I have proven to myself there is more involved than just idling to get the backwards thing.