Riding by the seat of your pants

My riding really got going as we went into late Autumn here in Australia. The days kept getting shorter as I rode further so I soon found myself riding in the dark. I don’t have lights.

In the daylight I am constantly preparing for the potential perturbations in the track that I have seen ahead. I ride a lot on concrete footpaths (sidewalks?) and cycle ways. The biggest dangers are reshaped driveways that can be hard to spot coming.

In the dark I do try to get a glimpse of what is coming in the lights of passing cars and the odd street light but largely it isn’t possible to see everything.

Of course I only do it on familiar tracks where I am already aware of the big threats but riding in the dark has helped develop my sense of responding to changes in the feeling of the seat and pedals.

When I can’t see I tend to put more weight on the pedals and keep flexible to ride out the undulations. I suspect I also put more rake on the seat post to lessen the likelihood of overbalancing when the wheel hits a bump.

BTW Last weekend I had the opportunity of riding around on a big flat tarmac with no obstacles so I tried riding with my eyes shut. Surprisingly it is very easy, much easier than on a bicycle.

I don’t know how they do it there, but here it is illegal to ride a bicycle after dark without the specified minimum lights and reflector. The cops here (enough of them to be a hazard, anyway) apply bicycle laws to unicycles even though the actual law does not support their position (I looked it up).

New obstacles have a way of cropping up. A rock. A pothole. A buckle. Oppossum. For the usual case, you’re more or less fine. It’s the exceptions that’ll get ya.

That aside, the skill that you mention is very cool. The feeling you get when you successfully ride out what would have been a UPD just by feel is great. Then you (I) get to beat yourself (myself) up for not having been paying enough attention to the road ahead. But being able to make the adjustment just from feel is awesome. It only works so well, though. A brick in the road will still throw me off if I don’t see it coming.

I know, right? Ain’t proprioception grand? Well, that and those dealies in your ears that tell you when you’re right-side up.

I wear a high visibility vest with reflective bands and try to stay off the actual road itself. I do have a rear red reflector on the uni. :wink: Police are few and far between in Murwillumbah.

My technique is by no means one hundred percent reliable. Small bumps sometimes have me on a UPD.

I am curious about how the shape rather than the size of a perturbation affects the outcome. There is one in particular that has surprised me a couple of times. It is quite a dip but I am always out the other side before I know it.

Some will send me veering off to the side as I go down the entry slope and I suddenly have to correct my line on the next half turn of the crank. I would like to understand the dynamics that cause this.

I learnt to ride on my front lawn which had several hard to see potholes that frustrated me so many times.

However I think this experience deeply embedded a seat of pants riding technique that has been a plus in the long term.

It’s the small, oddly-shaped obstacles that throw me off. A big crater in the ground full of water is no match for me whatsoever, but a little twig in the road at the wrong angle sends me flying. Probably something to do with me learning to ride uni’s in the first place on farm tracks… :smiley:

As for riding in the dark… Yes, it’s terrifying at first. The nature trail I ride on pretty much daily gets 100% pitch-black by about 6pm in the winter, and while I have a powerful Cree light that straps to my head, sometimes I forget to bring it as I’ll go out when it’s light, and get caught in the dark on the way home. Even the perfectly-smooth path along here gets crap on it (It’s surrounded by trees, so twigs and even logs are common). I think riding almost-blind is a skill well worth learning - as you said, learning to overcome obstacles by feel, as opposed to going ‘there’s an obstacle, so NOW I’ll react, before I hit it!’ is something you can’t really learn without doing it :smiley:

Maybe we are onto something. Perhaps everyone should learn on a waterlogged, potholed, gravel road covered with logs (and twigs).:wink:

If you live nearby spots that are filled with those things, you will learn them faster purely because you have to ride on them to get anywhere, at least that’s my situation. I for example struggle with big, rocky, MUni downhill tracks, because really there’s only one or two near me and I rarely go near them. If my town was so full of them I couldn’t avoid them, I’d imagine I’d grow to be an awesome DHer :smiley:

I think Kris Holm must have learnt like this.:smiley:

Any unicyclist would know just how quickly a perfectly steady ride can turn into a UPD. Reaction time is often too long.

Hence SOP riding is mostly about adopting a style that isn’t easily perturbed.

Being really relaxed is very important to minimise how much of the body is affected by any sudden change in the uni’s motion. As Isaac Newton said “a body in motion remains in motion”, so if you let your hips flex, your upper body will tend to keep going just as it was regardless of the uni.

Since your body will be exactly where it was going to be despite the bump, all you need to do is have the uni exactly under it just where it would have been too. If you keep pedaling at the same speed it will be.

However the bump means you needed to push harder to do that. So focus on maintaining that rotation at all times rather than how hard you push. I call it position feedback. Get it right and your legs automatically increase the force as a reflex.

Of course this does not always entirely overcome the effect of the obstacle and a subsequent rapid acceleration of the wheel is often necessary. But the right style has given the rider the moment required to react.

The most important factor in that sudden acceleration is the inertial mass of the tyre. My ability to ride out perturbations improved hugely when I fitted a Maxxis DTH tyre on my 24 inch Torker. It only weighs 375 grams.

The second big improvement was changing from the original 150 cranks to 125s. The other big inertial mass in the system is the legs. Shorter cranks mean less leg movement allowing the wheel to accelerate faster. Shorter cranks also decrease length of the dead spot at top dead centre.