(The) three reasons for falls

This is not going to pose a question. Rather, I think that being forced off the road by snow and ice makes me take to the keyboard, as the only way I can still engage in unicycling for the moment. I have been thinking about falls lately, because I took a couple of nasty spills and I wanted to understand why they happened, and how to deal with such situations in the future. All this deals strictly with road riding because that is what I do.

So far I have identified three main causes of falls and upsets (an “upset” being my term for a dismount where you just walk or run it out, without getting knocked off you feet. I know some people use “UPD” but I am not a fan of acronyms, when avoidable.) In no particular order, the three causes are overspeeding, terrain, and exhaustion. Exhaustion I think is self-explanatory, in that I find that sometimes I keep on riding to the point that I am so tired that either my strength or my concentration fails.

Terrain problems generally come up in low light, around dusk, when I can no longer see clearly the bumps in the road, and one of them throws me. Both of these causes have relatively obvious solutions. The last one is trickier. By “overspeed” I mean that condition when we get going so fast that we can no longer apply sufficient control to keep from falling forward off the cycle. The reason I say that this situation is trickier is because I see it a bit like falling into a trap, the trap of speed when things are going very well indeed, and strength and confidence come together so that you are really rolling along very nicely, and then you end up just beyond the point of control.

For those who sail, it is a bit like flying a hull in a catamaran just a bit too much, so that the rudder loses its bite and the wind flips you over. I know I said that this was not going to be a question, but the fact is that I am curious, how do others deal with this “overspeed” condition?

The next obstacle dismount: so busy concentrating on the obstacle that you are approaching that you UPD on something simple.

The complacency dismount: so pleased that you have just overcome a difficult obstacle that you relax and fall off on the easy bit.

The overconfidence dismount: you fail to take an obstacle seriously enough, just ride at it and fall off.

The under-confidence dismount: you have a go but you don’t really believe you can do it, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The high speed, matchstick-precipitated dismount: you are riding at 100% of your available speed, hit a matchstick and suddenly you need 100.5%, so you fall off.

The fatigue dismount: riding for so long that the cumulative effects of hard work and concentration become too much. You can ride each part of the route easily, but not all of it in one go.

The stage fright dismount: someone is watching. You either want to impress them, or you don’t want them to have reason to make fun of you. You fall off for no good reason.

The justified dismount: you are learning or working on something specific, and you dismount several times whilst trying it and developing your skills.


I had a spill in the dark a few weeks ago. When I returned to the scene of the accident in daylight, it was not a sudden unevenness in the asphalt, but rather a bulge extending over a couple feet. The reason I fell, I think, is because I initially compensated when I felt the unevenness, but I didn’t continue compensating, since I wasn’t able to see the bulge. Also, I was at the crest of a long climb and was probably lulled into complacency.

I went back and watched some of the Noli Ergas video. On most of his falls, the unicycle shoots out the front or back quickly. In some situations, such as technical muni, getting the unicycle clear of you may be the safest thing. But, when the unicycle shoots out quickly in other situations, you’re not going to land on your feet. Creating a more rigid connection between your body and the unicycle, by using handle bars, for example, can help you land on your feet more often.

Andy, you ride a Hatchet, right? The wheel of the Hatchet is a double-edged sword. It has inertia to keep rolling over stuff, but the same inertia makes it more difficult to make (and to sense the need for) corrections.

I rarely ride at my maximum cadence. I use longer cranks with plenty of leverage. I sit on the back edge of the seat. If something jarring happens, I may get knocked into the center part of the saddle, where I can quickly readjust myself backwards. If I started in the middle of the saddle, something jarring would cause a dismount, because my weight would be too far forward to begin with, and my “four points” posture on the saddle would be compromised. So, there’s a little fail-safe built into my riding posture for recovering that doesn’t rely on just pedaling faster.

I still fall forward occasionally. There is a rock garden at the end of a hill near my house. I have fallen forward onto my wrist guards quite a few times there. I could hop the section, but since it’s technically rollable, I try to pick the best line and go for it.

If you’re getting vibed out by falls, which is understandable, I suggest practicing Mikefule’s “justified dismount” on a forgiving surface. Riding on resistant surfaces, such as thick grass, will help you develop a stiffer connection with the uni, keeping it from being knocked out from under you. If the weather only permits riding on pavement, then try to keep your cadence slower.

One more thing. There may be a tendency in some riders, when they need to apply more pedal pedal pressure, to put their center of gravity forward. This is a kind of a gamble. If it doesn’t work, you’re going down. At a certain point in my unicycle progress, I started feeling like I was more “behind” the wheel, rather than out in front of it. During this time, my frontal UPD’s drastically diminished.

Good luck, Andy. Hope the weather improves and you can get out riding again soon!

A molecule train crossed your path: you just fall and you wonder why :wink:

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Among a lot of the people I ride Muni with, falls are usually blamed on ants tripping people - really vicious little beasts.

Sorry, relatively obvious answers:

  1. Practice riding fast - some people’s overspeed is a comfortable speed for others. Of course there are limits, but if you look at the cadences they get to on track races, there is still loads of room for most of us to push “over speed” upwards.
  2. Not getting into “the trap” in the first place, so choosing a speed that you know you can sustain. The better the rider, the closer you can be to your maximum speed while still not going to fast to control I think.
    Leaning forward from the hip can also help to not get into the “overspeed”-problem, since quite often you get into that situation because of hitting some uneveness/bump, which doesn’t immediately throw you off, but throws you forward enough that eventually you can’t recover. A bit of forward lean from the hip helps to deal with bumps.

Tailgating tomblackwood: Self-explanatory. Tom Blackwood likes to UPD in front of others.

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Very juicy suggestions, thank you all. Elpueblounido, you hit the nail on the head, the upsets have to be practiced. I thought about that too, because I always dismount from the back, it is more controlled and decorous. It is hard to do a frontal dismount without looking like a chicken that’s been thrown out the window. So that when I end up doing the frontal dismount involuntarily, I have zero practice, and often enough I trip and crumple to the ground like a broken marionette. Back of the seat, huh? I will have to try that. As for wrist guards, yes indeed. I am sure I would have worn my palms to the bone by now if not for them.

Finnspin, this may sound a bit ridiculous, but when I ride very fast I begin to bounce up and down. It is strange, that never happened to me on a bike, it only happens on the uni. I have not yet figured out the cause or the cure, usually I stay in second gear, so to speak. Anyway, now all that’s lacking is a good thaw to clean off the roads so I can ride again.

Couple of things…

  1. I’m a bit wary of a frontal dismount/UPD if there are handlebars
  2. Bouncing up and down… I think maybe it’s pedalling hard with a high volume tyre? I get that on my 27.5 muni riding on road

For me when that happens I concentrate on pedaling in a circle rather then just pushing down on the power stroke.

When I started covering more distance (say 10km+), I had one main reason for UPDs:

Being distracted by the thought about how far I rode my unicycle up to this point without a UPD.

It’s not happening that often anymore, though.

Missing one that can be really nasty: the slow or zero-speed fall.

Typically when learning to ride or (practicing) mounting.
Resulting in falling onto the unicycle or onto your back by having a pedal preventing you from putting a foot down.

I hate the instability of zero speed!

Edit: to put it as a reason for falling: lack of speed

Everyone has a different bar setup. Mine flows out of, and is an extension of, the saddle. During my occasional forward UPDs, I don’t get caught on the bars. Mostly because my hands are only removed from the bar ends later in the process of the UPD. If I had a longer or an upward facing bar setup, UPDing would be pretty freaky. But I think, regardless of the shape of the bar setup, learning how not to bail out too quickly with the hands is a game changer. As a skill, this can be practiced by riding on a very resistant, soft surface, such as thick grass.

I took a 13 mile canyon loop ride yesterday. My only UPDs happened near the beginning of the ride, when I stopped at a park and practiced riding along curbs and in sand. For the rest of my ride, all my Ds were PDs, no UPDs. That proved that I was able to keep my concentration during the ride. It also proved that I wasn’t picking hard enough lines, otherwise I would’ve had more UPDs.

I never try to ride at 100% speed to prevent this.
But sometimes I still get there by accelerating to prevent an UPD, and another one and another one…
And then eventually I will hit that matchstick or ant and get to run for my life.

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I’ve always found that gravity is by far the main factor in falls.


Down to earth explanation.

Unfortunately, gravity determines the direction of falls, or perhaps thank God, otherwise many of us would be in orbit.

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Quax1974, you have pointed out a good one. Mounting or dismounting, you lose your balance and dance around on one leg, the other foot still on the pedal and the uni stuck into your crotch. I can’t think of any good solution for that one, except to avoid pedals that catch your foot.

My Shimano flat city bike pedals just arrived, I can’t wait to try them out but there is no good place to ride. Even if the roadway is clear the shoulders are still covered with snow, so there is no good refuge when you have to get out of the way of traffic. Maybe I should just take the Hatchet battle tank across the baseball fields in the park, snow be damned.

The worst fall I’ve had was the ‘lycra dismount’ about 6 years ago

I was doing my normal 10 mile ride along the promenade and I noticed this lovely young lady wearing lycra shorts

I was so busy looking at her, I hit some soft sand and went down face first - it was just like a cartoon dismount, I lay spread eagled on the ground

My glasses had flown off, a voice (it was a little old lady) said “are you alright young man?”
I replied that I will be when I can find my glasses!

A young lad retrieved & handed me my glasses as I slowly got up, bruised & grazed

I still laugh about it now, my trouble is that I still think of myself as a teenager, but the truth is I’m a pensioner :slightly_smiling_face:

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Some time ago I came across a Tibetan saying, “Full of desire, like an old man.” I was immediately struck by it, and have not forgotten it, you can imagine why.

I have all-plastic pedals on both my 19" (Nimbus) and 24" (Fixation). The Nimbus pedals are less aggressive, the Fixation, more. Sometimes if I’m trying something hard on my 19" with the Nimbus pedals such as riding backwards on uneven terrain, I’ll slip off the pedals and land on my feet gracefully. I have tried some of the same stuff on my 24" and fell on my rear, because my feet did not release from the pedals soon enough. Pedal preference involves a whole bunch of factors, so I’m not making any recommendations. But for me, aggressive metal pinned pedals cause more problems than they solve.