The learning curve

Well, I have lot’s to do in university right now, so as procrastination I’ll try to start an interesting topic again.

What I would like to discuss, is the learning curve of unicycling compared to other hobbys, and throw in a few paint graphics and my random thoughts.

First of, a graph of 3 learning experiences I made. (Your experience may differ)

As you can see, progress in unicycling starts slow, then accelerates rapidly. (fun fact, same applies for solving the rubiks cube), wheras when I started bouldering, I started out pretty good (thanks to my high experience with all kinds of sports), and made slow but steady improvements after. When playing the piano, I learned a few basic songs easily, but improving became harder really fast.

(NOTE: this is perceived progress, it would be impossible to objectively judge these vastly different things, so this is just how learnig felt to me. I also plotted unicycling from learning to the first few tricks, in my 14 years(ish) of unicycling the graph would be all over the place.)

Next graph: how difficult it is vs. how difficult it looks

As you can see, unicycling is almost perfect for posing. Relatively easy, highly impressive to non unicyclists. (Again, just riding. It absolutely varies for different unicycle tricks. Example: Standup gliding: super impressive for spectators. Coasting: less impressive, but much harder. )

No graphics for this thought, sorry, but something I wanted to express for a long time: I don’t think unicycling is hard. I know some of you may disagree, and it’s your good right, but hear me out before you burn me.

As shown in the first graph, the learning curve of unicycling is a difficult one. No progress for a long time, which makes it hard to keep on practicing.
Falling of that weird one wheeled thing for hours gets old really fast.
You would have learned to play your first little song on the piano in that time, and you would think it is great (whoever has to hear it will tell you it’s great, but really not be that impressed). Meanwhile practicing unicycling, the neighbours are watching you fall for the 100000 time (not fun).
A little later, on the piano, you play some pop song that you heard on the radio and found notes for online, and it will sound okay, but any new song you learn takes the same amount of practice, and people get tired of the 3 songs you play.
On the unicycle front, you made the breakthrough: you are riding unsupported, within half an hour you made it from going 3m to going 50m, and you are stoked. The neighbours are impressed to, and you quickly learn to ride around town and people admire you.
This little anecdote should show my point: it is easy to impress others (and yourself with unicycling), but that doesn’t make unicycling hard. It’s not harder than most things, especially after you learned the basics. From then on, unicycling is like anything: more practice makes you better, and you will get a steady feel of progress, sometimes experience holds where you don’t learn a lot, sometimes learn 3 new tricks in a day. Just like any other sport.

Back to doing university stuff for now, I may come back another time with more paint graphs. Feel free to discuss, but don’t forget to not take everything too serious.

Of all other activities, unicycling is most like playing a musical instrument.

The first part of learning is very difficult. You cannot pick up a guitar, clarinet or unicycle and use it for its intended purpose with no previous experience. Any fool can kick a ball about or have a go at a racquet sport, or wobble across the river in a kayak, but a unicycle is “impossible” until you can do it.

Once you have played your first couple of tunes on an instrument, or ridden your first 10 metres on a unicycle, the learning curve is pretty much the same as any “normal” activity. You make rapid progress at the basic skills, then start to slow down as you try to develop your skills beyond the basics, then you continue in a series of slopes and plateaux until you find an equilibrium.

For the “audience” the comparison between unicycling and playing an instrument also holds good. Most people can’t do it and they have an initial exaggerated “I could never do that” reaction to even the simplest demonstration - but because they have no real appreciation of the difficulty, their reactions are poorly calibrated.

A non musician may become bored quickly if you can’t play a particular tune that they have just thought of that moment. They will notice an obvious bum note or bad chord, or if you forget the tune. They will become bored if you can’t “do any tricks” (ignoring the fact that just riding a unicycle is way beyond what most people can do) and they will notice and feel entitled to criticise if you fall off.

Paddling a racing kayak or a racing surfski is very similar to riding a unicycle. It takes ages just to be able to stay upright then years to master it in different conditions. I would say (from experience) it is a very similar time scale except it is easier to practice unicycling more frequently.

little off topic,
I’m curious how many ride, but know no tricks. Most people I know can ride a bike but can’t ride a wheelie, or drive a car and have a hard time backing a trailer up. I’ve been riding unicycles for 50 yrs now and never did learn any tricks. Always used them for fun transportation.

On a musical instrument, the elements of performance can be isolated. The musician can practice the rhythm on a single note, or they can practice saying the note names. They can slow the tempo, working on one note at a time. A pianist can practice only the left or right hand. If a musician is patient, they can approach a piece slowly and without mistakes.

Acceleration of gravity cannot be slowed down. On the unicycle, a whole bunch of things have to happen simultaneously; they can not be separated. This makes being a beginner potentially frustrating and failure-prone. Most beginning unicyclists, unless they’re savants, don’t have the luxury of learning without failing.

Most people who’re starting a musical instrument, I think, consider they are playing, though they might tell you they suck. When I learned to unicycle, I told myself that I wasn’t officially riding until I’d ridden the 1/4 mile loop around my neighborhood sans upd.

There are certain techniques of playing musical instruments that can be compared to higher-level techniques on the unicycle. For example, double tonguing on a wind instrument or certain techniques of bowing on a string instrument … may make a player feel like a beginner, again.

I second that elpuebloUNOdo, too right I do… !!

I learnt both ukulele and unicycle this year. The way I couldn’t ride the unicycle was quite different from the way I couldn’t play the ukulele. At no point, even at the very beginning, did I pick up the ukulele and find that no matter how hard I tried to hit the strings, my fingers kept missing them, or they just didn’t vibrate. Whereas now, I can unicycle about as badly as I play the ukulele, but people are impressed with my unicycling and embarrassed for me when I play the ukulele.

I’ve got lots of experience of that, and would suggest that it’s nowhere near as hard to get started. Because there is a learning progression in a way there isn’t for unicycling. Sure anybody who had never kayaked before or even who’d not paddled a racing kayak wouldn’t last more than a second or two in my extremely unstable racing K1 before getting wet - repeat hundreds of times. However you don’t learn to paddle racing kayaks in that - you learn in something far more stable which a beginner can sit in (for at least long enough to learn something). If a beginner can’t cope with a really stable racing K1, then there’s always a whitewater racer (or maybe a surfski), or if that’s still too unstable then a general purpose kayak.

There is no far more stable version of a unicycle.

I ride but don’t know any tricks. I’m just not interested in tricks and wasn’t even aware unicycle tricks existed when I started.

Wow, I wouldn’t have guessed! The question of which unicycle tricks will impress people and which ones will not can be quite interesting.

A good unicycle performer can (or must, actually) take one trick and milk it until it becomes a full five-minute routine. You get on your giraffe, then you pretend you’re going to fall on people for a minute and then you tell them a few jokes. Then, and only then, do you finally pull a rabbit out of your ass or whatever.

As far as comparing learning curves, we could easily have an in-depth discussion about unicycling only. The process of learning some unicycle skills will resemble learning to ride, though speed of acquisition of each skill will vary a lot. Learning to ride one-footed took me a lot longer than just learning to ride, and learning to wheel walk took even longer. Learning to ride SIF didn’t take nearly as long, but I still remember a process of trying to go an extra meter or two each day, and that was quite similar to learning to ride.

Personally speaking, my experience is that unicycling (and Rubik’s cube solving) looks easy. However, mastering unicycling was one of the hardest practical/physical things I have ever done. It took me longer than the average time to do my first 100m. It also took me 40 years to solve my first Rubik’s cube, although I wasn’t at it all the time. I got a second one for Christmas that is all but solved (once I take the stickers off, and put them on the right faces!)

OK, so the comparison with playing a musical instrument doesn’t match on every point. There are similarities and differences.

I’m in my 30th year of unicycling and have tried various instruments in the last 40 years. My three current instruments are folk harmonica (which is very easy to make a start on), Anglo concertina (which is much harder to start with), and pipe and tabor (which really is a patting your head and rubbing your tummy sort of skill).

Playing concertina: it took me a few hours of practice before I could play 8 bars of melody with a chordal accompaniment, which is about the equivalent of doing 10 metres on a unicycle.

Years later, I can add a complete new tune to my repertoire, with a decent chordal arrangement, in a month of “five minutes here and there” type practice - which I think is comparable to when I learned to idle, and later when I learned to idle one footed.

So I suppose to some extent it depends on the instrument. There is no similarity between unicycling and playing the Stylophone, for example.

That said, the main thing is that with the unicycle and certain instruments (and racing kayaks) there is an initial steep climb and a hump before you you make any progress at all.

This contrasts with most other sports where you can go home from your first session feeling that you have “done a bit of it”. You may not be good at it, but you can have a go at shooting, archery, fencing, football, cricket, tennis, badminton, squash, running and so on and go home saying you did it and you want to do it again. Half an hour trying a unicycle for the first time and you are unlikely to go home feeling that you “did” it, but you might go home thinking that you would like to learn to do it.

I have played in bands for years, most of my life to be honest but unicycling, well… sitting on a giant tuning fork with one wheel beneath you, and a deuced uncomfortable situpon is a hard task to beat in my humble opinion, especially when one tries to get this weird contraption to move by self propulsion. It is the carrot and donkey scenario all over again, but doncha’ just love it… ?? :smiley:

This is an interesting thread! Spinningwoman, you crack me up!
I tend to agree with Mikefule. I’m an equally mediocre unicyclist and guitar player. :smiley:

I’m still asserting that paddling racing kayaks isn’t actually like that. When teaching a total beginner to kayaking you don’t even put them in a racing kayak, and there isn’t a session they won’t come away from feeling they’ve achieved something right up to the point they are successfully paddling a reasonably fast boat at a decent speed.

I find the musical instrument analogy interesting though - even if I’m not entirely sure it’s that accurate. I’m a trumpet player and know a sax player quite well - my kids are currently learning cornet (pretty much the same as a trumpet to play) and trombone, hers are currently learning clarinet and violin (though her oldest played guitar for a bit). We’ve had some interesting conversations on the relative difficulty of playing different instruments - my personal take is that brass instruments are possibly the steepest initial learning curve in that it takes rather longer to be able to even play a couple of notes accurately. But once you’re past that then you rapidly catch up or even overtake the other instruments where you can get a note almost instantly, but putting together a sequence of different notes is more difficult.

In any case, even with a trumpet or trombone, it takes a fraction of the time needed to learn to ride a uni to be able to produce a note, or even to play a basic three note tune. For my kids that basic three note tune gave a sense of accomplishment similar to learning to ride. I note that my trombone playing son (who’s been playing 3 months) has just started to learn to ride a uni, so I have a fairly current idea of the relative difficulty of learning!

I’ve no idea at all about the instruments you play, but I’m not sure if 8 bars of melody with chords really is equivalent to 10 metres on a uni - before you do that on a uni you can’t do anything, how long did it takes you to learn to play a few bars of a basic melody?

Ultimately what I reckon is similar to learning to ride a uni - or even harder - is learning to run. It’s just none of us remember learning that!


Well this is interesting. Some interesting points but music comparisons I don’t get. I’ve been riding since 1994 and have shared unicycling in one way or another to any one willing and interested in trying it ever since. Its something I enjoy very much, so much I cant seam to pass up a cheep Craigslister just to give away. I generally compare unicycling to walking not riding a bike. Before we ever get started on a unicycle we generally start with a silly walking exercise exaggerating the rotation of the cranks as they relate to travel . That has worked well for me. As far as speed of learning to unicycle. That is up for interpretation. I have heard others talk of learning to unicycle in a few hours, well I don’t know about that and have never personally seen it.Maybe a few days , still that would be impressive. I think the requirements for saying you can ride a unicycle are free mounting, picking a heading and traveling more than 100’, turning each way, then intentionally dismounting where you want qualifies to say you can ride a unicycle. Everything else learned on a unicycle is just polish, and man some are sparkling shinny!

When removed from the wheelset and struck with the side of the hand, mine yields a nice Ab.

So striking a unicycle frame with your hand Hertz?

I have a KH36 frame, and it makes a low Bb. It sounds like we could be building a scale here.

Ab major or F minor so far, though building a whole scale would involve taking apart a lot of unicycles, or else figuring out a way to tune them! It’s better to ride instead.

During a very brief gig I once had, I learned that singing and playing a ukelele while riding is far easier than while idling. My song was somewhat unusual, so I idled and faced the audience during the verses, to be sure they could hear the words. For the chorus, which was more repetitive, I rode in circles to give myself a rest and catch my breath.