Musings on Geared Riding - inspired to get back to writing here due to reading @hillin post
This post is to allow me to share the realisations I’ve had that both speak directly to the process of shifting up, but also more generally on the art of this weird experience - riding a uni in high gear.
I’m by no means a great geared rider, but I’ve had lots of stuff whirling around my head about it and how it both makes me feel, and how I tackle areas I find either challenging or am fearful of.
I tend to use metaphor or simile or just plain odd ways to describe what I’ve experienced and that “eureka moment”, so please bear with
1– It’s all forward!!!
What do I mean by this? Moving forward on a unicycle is pretty essential as speed is your friend. I’ve recently realised (or my brain has finally transferred this realisation to my body, and disengaged its over-control) that focusing forward is even more important on a geared wheel.
I had a bad experience shifting when I was too behind the wheel and the free play of the shift led me to fall backward flat on my back. Not fun.
You want to fall forwards. Always!
2– It’s muscular
When it gets asked if a G26 is like a 39” wheel or rides like one - or if it is harder or easier etc etc, I personally kind of shrug and mental type back my reply: “It’s just different”.
Geared riding for me feels like a whole new animal in the Kingdom of The One Wheel. Is so different that I’d be inclined to say it isn’t anything like normal fixed unicycling, and the ride is much more like on a bike*!
(*in some ways, not the balancing bit— that’s like unicycling )
So the way the trippy, buzzy, feeling of riding a geared up unicycle strikes me most is: it’s muscular.
This means, it is initially more of a physical work out, and your legs do feel they are doing more to get the results you get. Am I riding a virtual 39” wheel? Possibly, I can’t tell - but I am riding a more muscular 26er, YES! It has more grunt, more weight, more heft, more leverage, more MORE…
But speed to my mind comes way down the list of what the system can offer. (Admittedly I’m a scaredy-cat, and enjoy the continued integral nature of my skeletal structure— but I don’t think you automatically just go faster in high gear)
So you’re landed with a new unicycling species - it’s more gorilla than rocket
I think this chunk of text completed grunt point … But what’s with the weight aspect, Felix?
It may be stating the obvious, but any wheel geared up will “feel” more weighty. I guess this is coming from the increase in the torque - cranks to tyre, and the fact that moving said crank from from 12 o’clock to 1, shifts tyre-rubber over dirt by double the distance.
I hear the words: “virtual 39er” forming on someone’s lips somewhere. Yes. I guess this is why we’ve come to coin the comparison via the extrapolated 1:1.5 wheel ratio. G34>>36er, G36>54” etc., etc….
But the wiring in your brain is being altered when riding an actual 26” wheel, in its high gear mode. I don’t believe it feels the same as if I just hopped on an actual 39” wheel. So we come back to my feeling the wheel is a weighty 26er in high
More heft and more LEVERAGE comes next, as a way to sum up the feelings I have too I feel.
With weight, you also get more heft or power if you like. Press down hard enough to go over X size root and you will quickly realise you don’t need to press as hard. At least I think that’s the case logically. The brain’s rewiring happens by itself and I’m no electrician… but the sense is that you get more for your input to the pedal rotation. That’s not to say with less energy expended though.
So heft being power, what does that really get you in the unicycling space? Power via gearing on a bike is all about speed in high, upwards gearing — but on a geared unicycle it’s also leverage.
I think the easiest thing to forget when first getting acquainted with high gear riding for me, was that it works forwards and backwards.
I could feel the forwards sensation and the increase in the rotational torque I had under my toes, but it took me a while to realise this was on tap in equal measure on rear pedal pressure, or in effect “braking”.
I still forget this from time to time, even today! The gearing is fixed in high so you’re able to control the wheel forward and backwards in the same “heft space”, if you follow my mental picture
I think it is this control, that is makes the whole experience of riding a geared so trippy and almost magically unreal. If you ride bikes you know the feeling of a high gear and its cadence, but it’s not quite the same feeling on a uni in 1:1.5.
You need leverage for the process of riding (unless you freewheel) so having it under your front and rear foot does make you feel like you’re atop a larger wheel. It’s darn cool
The above point leads me nicely onto:
——A) I recently realised that shifting up into high gear wasn’t going to make me suddenly go faster.
I’d always just tense up at the idea of pressing the button and not in any sense looking forward to the experience of the shift. It was to me like I was about to press Turbo or the Ejector-seat switch - and my brain was solely focused on the shift being likely unpleasant.
This was a misconception, as I’ve realised that shifting up isn’t about increasing your speed, but slowing your pedals cadence. At the point of having just shifted, they - the pedals, feel stiffer, slower - and I now see that you have to trust your body: it won’t be pressing down on them at double the pressure instantly after shifting.
Just like on a bike, if you shift up into a high gear too early, things become slower regarding your pedalling and you may need to stand up and work harder to match the bike’s gearing size, with more speed.
Another way of looking at this - when unicycling up a hill, falling off suddenly doesn’t really happen, it’s more that the wheel gets too slow or hard to turn and you stall. So I’ve started to focus on trusting it and mentally picturing that I’m shifting /across/ not /up/ - across to a different Rotational World Order.
——B) I had always felt when I first started riding in high gear that I should: “hold it all together” and cling on in there. This tense Felix was going no where fast. It was exhausting!
I was in fact making myself sit too much behind the wheel. On a fixed unicycle the principal of being always in a state of falling forwards can (after practice) feel like an acceptable thing and when you get good you want to have a body position that’s more forward, over your wheel — on a wheel in high gear I found this much, much more scary.
But you don’t need to be scared (I’ve discovered). It’s again back to the leverage the high gear gives you. It may seem like you’re reaching into the abyss by trying to fall further forward, but you’re helping ensure you put direction into those pedals, and as you do, the high gearing brings things back into line as with a fixed wheel, it just does more of it: so you need more of that falling forwards too!
——C) Needing to anticipate more…
It dawned on me yesterday, after I’d taken a big dive forwards when my high gear control had been lost —that I was over-reading the road.
All of the stuff I’ve said so far for A - re shifting not being an instant turbo boost is true at that stage, the shift - but I think it is very easy when settling into high gear to at times over-compensate for the road. You can think you need X when you need Y - and this can lead you to get into uncontrollable speed.
Ride the hill, when you’re on the hill -
I was looking ahead far down the path, and physically over preparing myself for a small uphill hump. I was starting however to ride as if I was there already - in the hill, but before the hill. Big mistake
While high gear riding can feel like you’re on top of this big muscular wheel, you are in fact still riding the patch of earth beneath you - just like any wheeled device.
So, I’ve now recognised the need to dispel the desire or misconception: to be prepared for what’s coming up. Scan the road for sure, but riding that hill when I got to it, would have been a piece of cake and a matter of a bit of extra pressure to push the gearing and me up and over it. Doing this too early in anticipation, got me going faster than intended and I stopped reading the road where I was riding… and probably missed a slight mini-downwards section of the track which is what led me to go flying forwards off the GUni and…. splat.
[I swear when you fall like this, your brain’s film speed goes up to something like 240fps. It was all so gloriously slow. CRAAASH!]
So I’ll draw this long ramble of a post to a close with some recent practical tips that helped me shift up better-er than before:
Speaking to yourself out-loud when struggling to shift - “Come on! Now! Go go go on you ****** thing!” - whatever takes your fancy, actually helps. I used this when I was determined I’d get it to shift, and was trying to push my brain past its natural caution and reticence. Shouting at yourself as you ride may make you look a little mad to other passers-by, but heck they don’t know the lengths a Schlumpf owner has to go to master their art
Steady pedalling - this seems key to a nice non-shock of a shift. I found my last two shifts to happen without any real jolt or balance correction, and I credit the fact I was focused on keeping my pedalling going evenly round in circles and not letting the process of shifting change this. Like tapping your head with one hand, while doing circles on your belly with the other
Once you’ve shifted, take a beat and ‘be’ there in the new space. You’ve got to keep pedalling of course, forward forward forward, but I have found it helps centre oneself to take a few seconds - 30 even, directly after shifting where you focus on controlling your speed. This lets you recognise you have geared up backpedal braking at your disposal, which I find reassuring when I the decide to put on a bit of steam and move forward faster.
I’m sure I’ve got few other ideas rattling around in my head regarding this magical version of unicycling - but I’ll let them brew and distil for another day.
I’m cog-nisant this post has gone on for long enough