A reply from the Chairman of the IUF Skill Levels and Rules Committee:
Many thanks to everyone who took the time to voice their opinions on the skill
levels issue. I have just spent over an hour going over the many posts you sent
in, compiling a list of the major points and comments.
Before going further, I’d like to re-state my opinion on skill levels. To me,
they exist as a quick source of a list of things for people to try. They also
exist as a rough way to gauge the relative skill level of one rider to another,
in regard to specific skills. If used as a worldwide standard, they can be used
by people on opposite sides of oceans (as we are) to make quick comparisons to
What our skill levels are not, and were never intended to be, is an accurate way
to measure general relative skill levels of riders. They are also not intended
to be a complete list of the things to try.
In the past, there were only four levels. When the IUF introduced its set of 10
levels in the mid 1980’s, they completely replaced the previous four USA levels.
Riding down a curb was changed to riding over a block, and riding a mile in
under 8 minutes was removed. All props (except the block) were removed as well.
The newer set may not be any more accurate than the old one, but it goes higher,
and gives riders quite a bit more to try.
We also have a Standard Skill list, which is intended to be much more complete
(though not to include everything), and more accurate in its scoring (though
there is even more room for differences of opinion there). I don’t think we
should take this skill level issue more seriously than it deserves to be taken.
Let’s provide the world with a good listing of things to try, try to get it in
an accurate order, and get on with the larger job of getting more people to ride
Here is a brief summary of peoples’ comments, in no order:
Andy Cotter: Like most of the people, believes the overall important thing is
that there should be consistency between the organizations. He asks why the
skill level issue was not brought up at the IUF Business Meeting at UNICON VII.
Answer: Because the agenda at the IUF meeting was so full, the skill level issue
was left for later. I felt it was a subject for the appropriate IUF committee in
any case. We would discuss it, and report our findings to the IUF board.
>The USA rule committee has (in the last couple of years) defined what
>trick is and how it is to be done. This was done so people knew exactly what
>was ‘legal’ and what wasn’t. While these defined rules are not yet finished,
>the people working on them are planning on having them available soon.
This project was started by a subgroup of the USA Rules Committee, not involving
me. I would like to be kept up to date on this, and am curious as to who is
currently working on this project.
Bill Gilbertson: Finds hopping on the wheel to be much harder. Also believes in
consistency between the organizations.
>It seems that multiple standards are the bane of organisations and any areas of
>endeavour - such as sports, computing etc. Different standards only serve to
>dislocate, divide opinion, confuse, and reinforce any parochial separatism.
A great quote, which I think reflects the way many of us feel.
>For this reason I think the IUF and USA skill levels should match completely.
>After all, being a small and largely non-commercial sport, unicycling seems
>relatively free of such infighting, and we shouldn’t lay ourselves open to
>create any division in the future. After all, a person having passed level 6 in
>one place may find themselves demoted in other places - hardly a recipe for
>peace and satisfaction.
If we do things right, we can keep the rest of the world in the dark about our
infighting. Either that, or we can refuse to infight? What a concept!
Dirk Iwema: Suggests that riders can finish level 5 by doing either skill, and
level 6 by having done both. An interesting idea, similar to another one below.
Dennis Kathrens: I would boil his message down to the simple idea that our
organizations should ignore the politics, and do what’s best for our sport.
Ken Fuchs: Believes walking the wheel to be the more difficult of the skills,
and thinks USA should change back. Has been very vocal (if that word can be used
to describe email), challenging other people’s posts one by one, often with
questionable logic. His opinion is very clear.
Bkonarsk: Sees this turning into a larger issue (one which we will tackle
someday), of realigning all skills in order of difficulty. Each individual has a
different opinion of relative difficulty of skills, and there have been no
formal studies showing which skills a rider tends to learn first. Hence, this
will long be a subject of debate.
Doug Borngasser: He’s only starting to attempt both skills, but is of the
opinion that the hop will be much more difficult for him.
Karl Frankowski: Contends that now all the riders will get stuck on level
6. He does not like the idea of formal skill levels, and suggests that people
are deterred from trying skills in the higher levels, just because they are
listed in such high levels.
My own comment: When I was learning, I had the relatively new levels 1-4 to go
by. I assumed the list to be relatively accurate, and so attempted skills in
roughly the same order that they appeared in the levels (I was part of a
unicycle club). However, this did not stop me from trying any other skills that
crossed my mind.
Craig Milo Rogers: Described the sequence of events that led USA to makes its
decision last summer.
>The issue was raised with the Skill Levels subcommittee of the USA’s Rules
Committee. >The Skills Level subcommittee declined to address this issue.
Others are welcome to disagree, but the above is true. The USA Skill Levels
Subcommittee was very small, and kind of faded away on doing its duties. It
consisted of one USA Director, and one other member, to my knowledge. The larger
committee, of which I was (am?) a part, was not involved in their activities.
>The Skill Levels list were initially developed by highly-skilled riders. It
is possible that >to this group of extraordinary riders the relative difficulty
of some of the skills is >different from the relative difficulty of the same
skills among “ordinary” riders.
This is an interesting thought. Were not these ‘highly-skilled’ riders
‘ordinary’ riders when they were learning the skills in the lower skill levels?
I believe that most of their opinions were based on how difficult skills were
for them, and how difficult they were for the many other riders with which they
were in contact. The survey that Sem Abrahams conducted in his process of
developing the skill levels went out to a huge number of riders – of all
levels. Even if it did not, I think I would have to go along with the opinions
of higher skilled riders, rather than lower ones, on any such issue. What do
>The present USA leadership feels that raising New Business at a General
Meeting, and >reaching a decision via a vote of the membership present, is a
legitimate function of the >Society, and that advance notice (publication in On
One Wheel) is not must be balanced >against the timeliness of the
I agree, but I believe the USA made a mistake on this particular decision.
>The present USA leadership gives precedence to the needs “youth” and
“ordinary” riders >over the needs of “highly-skilled” riders, when there is
perceived to be an irreconcilable >conflict between the two groups.
I find this to be a very disturbing concept. I suppose it should not worry us
too much, and we must work to avoid ‘irreconcilable conflicts’ between these two
groups. Otherwise, extreme use of the above idea would conceivably lead to lower
and lower standards of excellence, and lower expectations of what a ‘good’
unicyclist is within the USA, as well as a lowering of the competitive level of
American unicyclists at the international level.
Julian Orbach: Suggests that a level can be finished by substituting a skill
from a higher level, if necessary. This would even things out a great deal, at
least until riders reach level 10, where they would then have to do all the
skills they hate. I think it’s a novel idea, and would like to hear more
opinions on it as well.
John Foss: Our organizations should cooperate. Though I have always agreed with
the skill level change, and suggested that the IUF also make it, I am saddened
that things happened the way they did. The USA knows where it got its 10 skill
levels, and if it’s own internal committees did not come up with proposals that
is a USA problem. When it came time for a change, the USA could have shown the
IUF a little more respect.
Though I like Julian’s idea above, I don’t think it’s a good one for our skill
levels, because they are supposed to be more of a simple list. I, too, am stuck
on a level, and able to do all the skills in the level above. You saw me
demonstrate level 9 in the video tape, but I won’t pass level 8 unless I learn
the dreaded " hand wheel walk." It’s the same problem, only at a higher level.
I’m content to wait a few more years and see how many riders actually reach the
level where this becomes an important issue . . . .
An official mailing has been sent to the members of the IUF Skill Levels and
Rules Committee, asking for their opinions on this issue. I hope to be able to
have an answer in time to report it to the USA board at their NUC in July. Most
likely, the IUF will make the same change that was made by the USA, though this
is not yet certain.
A good USA would be happy and relieved at such a decision. The USA that voted to
make the change that they did last summer would not be interested either way in
the affairs of the IUF. Let us hope the USA reacts favorably.
Stay on Top! John Foss, Chairman IUF Skill Levels and Rules Committee