Troubleshooting Failure

I am taking a shot in the dark by asking for advice on why I cannot unicycle. I know it’s just up to me to do it, but maybe there is some crucial element I am overlooking that is preventing success.

So far in this project, I have put in more than 22 hours over the course of a month, and still cannot ride. I’m starting to get tired of leaving the park where I practice in total failure. It’s very discouraging to have people talk about what I’m doing and teens at the park verbally harassing me and shouting nicknames, yet not even being able to ride at all. That being said, I don’t need encouragement – I will not give up – but I wish I knew what I’m doing wrong.

I am a very thoughtful learner, so I have not been flailing around randomly. Every time I mount the unicycle I think about what might have gone wrong the last time and try to correct it. I have tried everything I’ve seen and read to no avail. Right now I’m at a place where I know that I can do it because I have done it briefly. Every once in a while everything will feel right and I will feel in control and able to pedal comfortably, which is wonderful. But then I may have a handful more successes and ultimately lose the groove and I’m back at square one. I only have a solid attempt once every half hour or so. It would make more sense if I started to gain distance and gradually seemed to improve over time. My record is about 17 feet.

My biggest concern right now is that I rarely feel comfortable sitting on the saddle. I thought I had a breakthrough last time by trying to sit further back on the seat, which seemed to help at first but not consistently. Every once in a while I will feel like I’m sitting correctly and I have comfortable control over what I’m doing, but those moments are few and far between. I don’t understand what part of the crotch curve is where my weight should be positioned. It probably doesn’t help that I have no body fat to cushion me so it’s painful and leaves a lot of soreness, but I am able to work through the discomfort. I could buy a new saddle, but I have no idea how comfortable this one is compared to others, and furthermore I just don’t think that should be a necessity for my being able to ride at all.

If you have any advice, I appreciate it in advance. I’m mostly hoping that the next time I practice I will have success and this will become irrelevant.

Welcome to the forum. One thought, some unis are simply a lot easier to ride than others. Can you try a different unicycle? Also the seat discomfort can be playing a part in your riding difficulties. You want to put your weight fully on the seat (in the middle is fine), if you don’t put all your weight on the seat then riding will be very difficult. Maybe wear padded cycling shorts under your pants to help with the discomfort?

And just the normal things, I like to ride with a little bend at the knee in the extended position, in general a 20" unicycle tends to be good for most adult beginners, and if you can find someone else around who can unicycle they may be able to help.

Personally, what I found really helped me was finding a railing and practising along that. After generally having balance (forward-backwards and left and right) a couple of sessions at a rail at the right height really got me riding.

Thanks for the welcome!

I am riding a 20" Sun unicycle that I bought used on eBay (after a lot of research skimming forums like this for suggestions). From your size suggestion as well, this seems like it should be fine. I did find out on my first day that the seat post was far too short (200mm) and I had to order a larger one. I have my seat at a position where my leg is fully extended at the highest point because I assumed that would help with keeping weight in the seat, so there really isn’t much bend in the knees.

I was very aware before I even started that I need to put my weight in the seat, so I always have that in mind. I have even at times wondered if I’ve tried too much to concentrate the weight there and I’m not using the pedals enough. I have tried using a little extra padding, but I just assume it’s never going to be totally comfortable due to the nature of a post being jammed between my legs. Many times it seems that just because I have weight in the seat it’s not necessarily in the right place, because I don’t feel that I have control of the unicycle anyway. In those rare moments when everything felt right, it seemed like my weight was down but in such a way that I was able to control my balance. Most of the time I feel at the mercy of the unicycle doing whatever it wants, even if I happen to scramble for 6-8 feet.

I do think that I have a tendency to lean forward too much to avoid falling backwards, but I can’t consistently correct this in a way that helps. Often if I stop thinking so far forwards, the unicycle will just try to fall backwards. Fortunately after so much practice I can reflexively (and miraculously) dismount safely off the front even when that happens.

I have been mounting using a small post, but I’ve tried not to hold on to anything as I go because I seemed to rely too much on it. I mean, I can and have ridden circles around the post indefinitely, but moving forward without it is totally different. I have seen some people mount using a backstop against the tire, but I don’t have a very convenient place to try this. The one time I did I felt less in control of how I started. And I can let go of the post and balance for a moment without touching it before I start if necessary. I’m pretty comfortable moving back and forth, changing pedal positions, and even adjusting the position of my feet on the pedals while holding the post.

Everything sounds normal to me.
Just keep it up and it’s going to “click” any time now.
I was 20hrs till I could wobble away till my legs and lungs gave out. (50ft to start)
I learned on grass and dirt riding away from our car shelter.

People will snicker at the beginner. That will disappear.

Slide your seat all the way forward (nose up) and fine tune that later. Keep going and your body will toughen up. Get biking shorts.

And of course I’m going to say to start learning and doing everything ambidextrous. It will make you a much better rider.

Keep it up.

I am just beginning myself. It helps me to simply focus on countering the effects of gravity, whatever that takes and however that gets done. If you are falling in a direction, frontwards, backwards or sideways, then steer and power towards that same direction and this is where learning to power the unicycle’s wheel both frontwards and backwards is necessary, whichever way is needed.

There’s really not much to give in the way of advice, only encouragement. Frankly: Try flailing around randomly. You’re probably over-thinking things. You can’t consciously obtain dynamic balance; your body has to learn how to do it on its own. Speed up a little, be more willing to be unbalanced, and let your arms flail to correct balance. It’s when you are imbalanced and correct that your body starts to learn how to do it.

Good luck!

I’m a beginner too, only just a little less than yourself (I started 3 months ago). I have a 20" wheel.

I checked my log and after 18 hours my best run was 10 feet. Once. So you seem to be doing a lot better.
The next day I received leg and wrist protections, so I ‘dared’ more and a few days later I was riding 200 yards, not consistently but several times per session.

A couple of things that helped me.

First, I fiddled a lot with my seat height. I also looked at videos of trials/street/flatland to see how the experts sit on their uni. I ended up with the lowest part of the seat about 4 inches below my belly button. Recently I’ve been considering going an inch or two lower.
Anyway, the height with the leg fully extended on the down pedal was impossible for me.

Second, I stopped worrying about putting my weight on the seat.
Beginners tend to put most of their weight on the pedals because it gives you more control. And having more control when you’re learning seems like a good idea to me.
Once you start riding ‘some’ distance, the pain in the thighs should be motivation enough to start putting more of that weight on the seat.

Anyway, you’re doing just fine :slight_smile:

Good post :slight_smile:

You have not failed until you give up.

Many beginners struggle because they are too upright, put too much weight on the seat and become dependent on supports like fences.

Starting out learning unicycle has very little to do with balance. Balance comes later. Fundamentally it is about putting the wheel under your fall. Fences encourage the learner to think about balance.

Use a fence only long enough to learn to steer by twisting then get away from the fence. Fences proscribe your track and inhibit the fundamental action of putting the wheel under your fall. A few minutes is enough to learn to steer. Any more than this on the fence and you will delay your learning.

Use a back stop to take off. Put one foot on the back pedal (at about 4 or 8 o’clock depending on your preferred foot) to hold the wheel against the stop. This prevents the uni rolling backwards. Lean yourself and the uni much further forward than you expect then step up to the other pedal and accelerate the uni quickly. You need to get past going slow because that is an advanced skill.

Think, put the wheel where you would put your foot if you were walking. This mantra uses parts of the brain already trained for walking.

Lean you body slightly forward but don’t hunch. The uni should be sloping slightly backwards. This is a much more stable and forgiving position than upright. Don’t lean too much though.

Keep most of your weight on the pedals until you have learnt to control the position of the wheel. Too much weight on the seat before you get the wheel position right will pop the uni out from under you. Grip the nose of the seat between your thighs.

Have the seat height so you can catch a fall to the side. Too high and you will feel uneasy about side falls. Too low and you won’t be able to grip the nose of the seat with your thighs because your thighs will be moving too much.

Try to find a place with thick soft grass on smooth ground with a very slight downhill. The grass slows down the response of the wheel and makes falling less frightening. You will fall a lot unicycling. Best get some practice in early.

Once you are comfortable about falling and can ride a few metres, move onto a hard level surface. Use wrist, knee and elbow protection.

If nothing sounds majorly wrong, that is reassuring! I loathe reading about people being able to ride around in two hours or less. I know the more effort I invest the greater the reward will be in the end, but I was very happy making incremental progress for quite a while. It became more concerning the last 6 hours when I haven’t seen tangible progress.

The teens I encounter are shameless about standing around and bothering me while I clearly prefer to be left alone. Their comments will probably make a good story someday.

Bike shorts are something I’ve never thought about and could consider. Thanks for all the advice!

Thank you for the suggestions! I definitely prefer being analytical with my approach, but it is a good idea to remember that my body will find balance on its own terms. The biggest concern that I grapple with is a feeling that each time I do it wrong I am ingraining bad habits. But I will take this advice to heart!

Thank you for the encouragement! I can try adjusting the seat height and seeing if some other position might help. I definitely fear putting too much weight on the pedals because it just feels like the wrong thing to do. But maybe I could use more control? My least favorite attempts with any distance are the ones where I more or less fall forward until I step off. There is something nice about times when I stall and just barely push forward slowly so it feels like standing still for a while. At least then I feel like I’m controlling my balance instead of barely staying up as I haphazardly fall forward.

Many of these tips I have read and juggled around in my brain as I have been practicing. The ones I haven’t tried yet I quoted above for my own reference and future possibilities to consider. Thanks!

Your seat is too high for a learner. Drop it down an inch or so. Keep those legs bent a little when they’re at the bottom of the stroke when you’re learning.

It just takes time. Accept small improvements and don’t necessarily expect constant improvement. You stated that you have rode as much as 17 ft, I’d bet that you could not ride that far on your first attempt. Learning is not really something that just clicks and you ride off into the sunset. It is a muscle memory thing and that takes time to develop. Muscle memory is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition, which has been used synonymously with motor learning. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.

Don’t be concerned about too little weight on the saddle. As you develop your muscle memory and react instantly without thinking about your actions you can then start to work on putting more weight in the saddle and taking some of the load off your legs.

Good advice here. I’d say that after 22 hrs I probably couldn’t ride even 10 feet. What seemed to work for me was just getting revolutions while riding along a fence, not worrying about getting riding, but just working my muscles getting them used to the motion. Pop in some earbuds to mute the peanut gallery and have some music you like. Try and enjoy the process :slight_smile:

I will definitely try this and see what happens. Thanks!

Thank you for your response. I do a lot of work that involves muscle memory, and in other disciplines I try to avoid incorrect movements so as not to solidify bad habits. I suppose it’s a little different with learning this because there isn’t a good way to mime it without doing it, nor is there a way to practice slowly. I will try to not expect steady improvement in this case.

Thank you for the perspective and encouragement!

Do you have padded bike shorts? Can you build up the padding around your crotch area? That would have the same effect as widening the seat. It might give you some stability, so the saddle would be less likely to move around under you. If you are skinny, even with weight in the seat you may still be lacking a stable connection between you and the seat. And that translates to a much more random, complex motion in the pedals. Unicycling is already so complex; removing some unwanted motion might help. If you have a few pairs of gym shorts, put them all on! (Cue the clown music, please!)

I liked Tholub’s comment: Try flailing randomly. Avoid thinking that you need to be in control or look in control. It could cause you to try to ride in a controlled fashion, which isn’t really going to help right now. You’ve got to look and feel out of control.

Keep us posted. We desperately want you to succeed (as you can see from all the responses)!

Aim to be a better version of yesterday’s self, always focus on the small steps (½ a rotation more than yesterday) break everything thing you want to achieve in unicycling and in life into a hundred steps and focus on each step as a big achievement

Agreed, from your description it seems too high.
Did you try riding with someone next to you for support? Someone who would lend a forearm that you can hold?

The most basic attribute to learning, and indeed all unicycling, is to have fun doing it. People watching you and deriding your attempts is not a good learning space. But it could be good training at centring focus.:wink:

The second attribute is persistence. Some people learn quickly and some take a while but anyone who persists can learn this. It takes massive concentration at first but literally becomes as automatic as riding a bicycle with practice.

For such a simple system, the dynamics of unicycling are mind boggling. There are many interacting skills that must be accomplished and coordinated to ride at all. The good news is all the time you keep trying, however you try, the more experience your brain get at several of those skills. All that “failure” is actually learning that you will use to become an accomplished rider, after you tame the thing.

Initial “riding” can be achieved using quite different techniques from an experienced riders who aren’t always the best models because their deft techniques are not available to the novice. It calls for “crude but effective”.

The absolute beginner needs stability at all cost because they have no finesse. Sitting on the seat is not stable and unless the wheel is perfectly placed, the unicycle tends to pop out from under the rider. Sitting down requires very effective coordination and you cannot build that skill without leaning to ride very poorly first.

By standing on the pedals and gripping the nose of the saddle between the thighs, the unicycle is basically part of the rider’s legs in a flexible three point linkage. Keeping wheel under you and staying upright can be understood as “put the wheel where your foot would be if you were walking”. This is why the novice must first learn to steer by twisting, another inefficient technique but an unavoidable step on the way. Steering by leaning the uni and the body comes later.

It is important not to get your body too upright. The unicycle slightly leaning back is more stable, controllable and forgiving of inaccuracies in the positioning of the wheel. The rider still has to be above the contact point so the further forward you lean the more the unicycle will be leaning back if you are not in the process of falling off.

Think of your upper body and the unicycle + legs as two separate entities hinged somewhere between your waist and the the saddle. An upright rider is incredibly unstable and the uni is easily knocked out from under them. The angle of the hinge also changes the forward and back balance of the system and is fundamental to the forward and back balance. That small lean forward changes all the time in a small operating range as part of balance.

You can have too much of a good thing and a very small lean goes a long way because there is a lot of body and not much leg/unicycle in the balance.

If you have the opportunity, observe an accomplished unicyclist riding across rough ground. They put more weight on the pedals and a slightly tighter angle at the hinge. However the novice should not try to emulate the extent of this manoeuvre by an experienced rider, just the concept.

Keep at it.

Do you record your attempts to aid/confirm your analysis (is what you suspect/believe is happening really happening)?

For example, are you bailing/stepping off the front (because you’e leaning too far forward or peddling too slowly) when you still have time to press a little harder into the peddles for another half revolution or two to catch your balance?