One thing that seems to come back all the time in the “learning to ride” discussions is advice about posture.
Often there will eventually be a bit of discussion about the preferred posture being different during the early learning stages and the “more experienced” stage.
Sitting with a slight forward lean (not hunched) vs trying to sit up very straight.
I tend to agree that people that are still figuring out how to ride should not try to sit up very straight.
In my humble opinion this increases the risk of falling backwards because you have not developed the correct reflexes yet.
Once your body has figured out how to react properly (to bumps, speed changes, …) you can / will sit more upright.
As I was thinking about this I wondered how I typically ride.
Off-road I’ll ride with some forward lean.
I know that on-road I can ride, at constant speed on level ground, with the frame leaning forward (and the body backward) but this was just a test, inspired by reading other threads.
My normal posture? I’m not too sure.
So I decided to look through my images to determine my posture.
Feel free to share yours, perhaps mention your experience level too.
To keep things comparable let’s stick to on-road riding (no freestyle tricks etc) as this is what beginners will relate to.
Judging from my images I seem to sit up pretty straight.
But I do see that there is still an angle between the frame and my upper body.
Apparently I’m very relaxed here.
I’m a bit surprised by the relative “backward” lean since I’m actually riding uphill…
Image 2 and 3 are taken within one second by automated roadside cameras of Sportograph (as they were still setting up the equipment)
When upright, the rider is at the very edge of the window where they can stay balanced. Leaning froward a little puts the uni into a slight back lean which widens the window. Balance can be quickly adjusted by changing the angle between the body and the frame.
It also makes it harder to knock the uni out from under the rider by putting some of any disturbing force along the frame where it can be resisted. If you are upright all you have to resist with is the pedalling and if that happens to be in the dead spot then the uni is going to be knocked out. If you have your weight on the seat the disturbance actually has to lift your weight.
I know this from when I ride up kerb ramps between the road and footpath which I can hit at high speed provided I get the uni leaning well back. I ride a lot on cracked and displaced concrete paths. I’m constantly adjusting the angle as I approach the irregularities.
The uni turns more easily and become far more responsive the closer it gets to upright. It is just like on a bicycle or motor cycle. More rake on the forks makes it more stable but less responsive. The other extreme is freestyle where they are vertical and can turn on zero radius.
This is possible but impractical. Moreover I suspect the rider’s impression when they think they are doing this is not the reality. I would love to see a photo if you can actually do it. Many quite experienced riders are surprised when they discover the uni is normally leaning back.
I’m really pleased to see this being discussed. I have received some very disparaging responses from some riders when I contradict their advice to learners about being as upright as possible.
I took ages to learn partly because I followed that advice but have taught others to ride in as little as twenty minutes. My advice included that they need to get the uni leaning back because they must first learn more precise wheel positioning before they can get upright and start sitting down.
for riding offroad, it puts you in a more neutral position. You can absorb up and down changes in terrain more easily. Riding fully upright is like riding a mountain bike with the shock fully compressed, or fully extended. It’s better to be in the middle somewhere.
it’s more comfortable to ride in a “sitting” position, instead of standing over the saddle. Your weight is on your sit bones, instead of your crotch.
putting weight on the handle, or a handlebar, naturally puts you into a leaned-forward position.
as OneTrackMind points out, it’s better for avoiding having the unicycle knocked out from under you. Chest forward => rear end backward => frame tilting backward => backward force from bumps going along the frame and into your body.
Riding upright seems more like a style thing to me, than a practical thing.
After my forest runs I have some paved cycle path at the end. Then I find it very comfortable sitting upright, either having my arms crossed on my chest or hanging beside me. Like yous say, when riding off-road, or even when I want to give it some speed, I would sit more bent over. It just gives more flexibility and control. Same as with a T-bar, you can’t use if you have to sit upright.
I think you would have to show a series of pictures to capture your complete range of body positions because of all of the micro-adjustments being made continuously.
It looks like Q has used pictures from one side of his spectrum. (did you have others that contradicted these pics?)
I think an upright riding position comes when you know how to position yourself and your uni before crossing any irregularities.
If you don’t have the experience (muscle memory) you do whatever it takes to stay upright (lean body forward with uni tilted backwards and push or pull till you recover).
I compare riding to walking/running.
When people are unsteady or unsure of an obstacle they put arms out, maybe bend over, and finally cross the obstacle like it’s a biting dog. Same as on a uni.
When people are steady and sure of an obstacle they barely break their stride, throw weight where needed to assist the crossing, and they stay upright and balanced and cross the obstacle like it’s nothing. Same as on a uni.
I’m not a fan of placing blame to a certain skill (or lack of) for the difficulty of learning to ride a single wheel.
The body positioning is very counterintuitive to everything your body has learned up until then.
The brain is the big hurdle.
With much practice, your body will get as good as it’s gonna get. Some will be good and some will be really good.
Surely the frame angle is irrelevant (from a steering point of view) on a unicycle since the frame isn’t constrained to rotate about the head tube like on a bike.
It’s all dynamic and related to your lateral/longitudinal CG rather than the frame shape. For example, a Hatchet frame should handle no differently than an Oracle (other parameters like bearing spacing, weight etc notwithstanding).
I do agree that tilting your frame back and your body forward can affect handling in different ways since you’re changing your vertical CG, wind profile, shock absorption and probably other things.
I was thinking the same thing; that picture of Quax riding uphill indeed looks like he’s off balance to the rear. If there were another photo 180-degrees of wheel rotation later, I imagine it would look very different. Sometimes, like when I’m trying to ride uphill in high gear on my 36" and have run out of momentum, my frame/body angle is all over the place. And it’s not pretty.
I was thinking Eww, why show us that, when I noticed the beautiful Steve Howard frame! Is that a recent picture?
On a unicycle, your body is the equivalent of frame of a bicycle and you are riding a set of front forks.
The unicycle is constrained by pressure from the inside of you thigh on the front of the saddle. This is like the top of a MacPherson Strut. The lower control arm is the pedal where the power is being applied. It gets weirder still when the other pedal and any retarding forces are considered.
As such the steering axis is not fixed and the geometry is all over the place throughout the cycle. However there is still rake and trail like any other steering system.
I once spent an evening discussing unicycle steering geometry at length with a family friend who has decades of experience in motorcycle racing and knows everything there is to know about the dynamics of motorcycles. The next morning he told me he had lain awake for hours after our discussion trying to get his head around the dynamics of a unicycle and it “did his head in”.
The details are intractable but some of the fundamentals of steering geometry are certainly in there.
Once a week I get the chance to train in a MTB short track. It is muddy, with a lot of bumps and small drops/hills… I’m no good at Muni so I ride leaning forward a lot, bending forward when on bumps and pulling on the handle almost all the time. My main problems are about sharp turns on mud: if I lean the frame inside the turn I loose grip when pedalling at the end of the turn, I if try to stand I can make a sharper turn but I loose all the momentum I need not to UPD… providing I’ll manage better the uni, what should be my body position?
The track is flat (no downhill helping to keep momentum)
Occasionally I also have to make sharp turns, like when I ride past a path I wanted to take, then when I don’t think too much about the action, but more of where I want to go, I believe I turn with my hips. Naturally if you go too fast, a sharp turn will most likely throw you off, but that would be the same as when riding a car at higher speed, then you wouldn’t make a 90º turn either.
As I haven’t practiced rolling hops much I have also learned to “drive” the unicycle into curbs. I will lean back, as you described, with a lot of weight in the saddle and drive the frame into the curb.
My comment about riding with the frame forward, body backward lean is really about one specific test, inspired by reading topics about sitting upright.
It is far from my normal posture.
Unfortunately I do not have a lot of riding pictures as I typically take pictures.
But I will admit that I immediately thought of these pictures when thinking about starting this topic.
As John mentions, I really look off balance (related to the angle of the road)
Yet from the relaxed posture, dangling arms and expression I don’t think I’m in the middle of a speed correction.
The other two images I included because they are taken a fraction of a second apart. “Unfortunately” the posture doesn’t seem too counterintuitive compared to the other picture.
Reading some beginners questions and stories about their struggles I think some of them try to use their brain too much.
Interesting viewpoint; I always considered matching the lean (not hunch) with acceleration.
Most of the reactions seem to agree that some lean is preferred.
Then why is the “sit up straight” recommendation towards beginners so common?
Quax, I was talking about the lean into the corner.
I would lean the rider and uni straight like a broomstick instead of having the uni upright and the rider hinged at the hips and leaning into the corner.
I always tell people to accelerate in the corner.
Slowing down is easier and most of the time it just feels like acceleration but it’s really just maintaining your speed. (getting close to that “flying” feeling)
I tell newbies to “sit up straight” for straight forward riding to make the balancing object (rider and uni) longer.
My thinking is that a longer (or taller) objects are easier to balance than the same object that is shorter.
Why not with us on unicycles? Maybe?
When I have a “sharp” corner (90-110º), like on a cycle path and making a turn to a side path, I usually slow down and put both my hands in the air towards where I want to go, twisting my upper body (and naturally also leaning to where I want to go) and using the momentum to get through the corner and then put on speed to get out of the turn and take off again.
I don’t know if I sit straight as I do that.