Unicycling myths

When I learnt to ride I read whatever I could find about how to do it. Some was good advice and some was so wrong.

The myth that stood out to me was:

“Imagine that your back is an extension of the seat post.”

Seems like reasonable advice to me. As long as the post is leaning slightly forward when riding.

nothing wrong with this …

I find that the straighter I keep my back, relative to the seatpost, the more weight I’m able to put on the saddle (as opposed to the pedals), and the more relaxed I can ride. This only works for level ground, though. Uphill or downhill inclines, turning, or any other deviation requires one to lean away from the center.
But in general, I don’t think it’s bad advice for a new learner.

Yup, good advice actually. My sole teachers were probably the same guys that you are watching from Youtube.:stuck_out_tongue:

Oooops, didnt realize you are an excellent teacher to your grandaughter and son. What is your preferred method/ visualization when they first sit on the saddle and try to achieve any sense of balance?
I just have my 9 yr old go around and around my van for many times hands between fence and van. My teaching is minimal, I just let him learn it natually with trial and error. Fortunately, he just natually picks it up and nearly rides on his own. Though, he did watch me plenty of times, with plenty of falls when I first learned:D
Admittingly he’s a fast learner…

Can you post a photograph of someone riding with the seat post leaning forwards?

Watch the video at the bottom of the wiki page I linked. He repeats the “back as an extension of the seat post” advice.

However observe him progress to a short take off at about the three minute mark. Although the seat post leans forward to start it immediately moves to a raked position. Admittedly he is only doing one revolution but that is normal the riding position he is adopting for a moment.

Although the centre of gravity of the rider and uni must be forward of the point of the contact with the ground or you won’t move, the uni actually leans backwards in normal riding.

When I taught my son to ride in what amounted to less than half an hour, one of the things I specifically pointed out was the importance of raking the seat post when riding.

Leaning the uni forwards is the starting position, it leans back when riding.

Leaning the uni forwards is inherently unstable. I will explain why in detail in my next post.

Normally a seat post is leaning backwards, especially when the rider leans forward. I will be hard to have the seat post leaning forwards, I think, except on a steep uphill.

EDIT: Oops, I didn’t see the post by OneTrackMind.

No, dont critique my teacher, Jeremy…:(:o:p:D

Yes, true, the seat post is at a slight angle back, maybe 5-10 degrees, (at very least near the extension of the seatpost). But I get his point. I think many very beginners begin not knowing and tend to heavily slouch. That slouch is probably due to the fact that the body naturally wants to launch foward to get uni going forward, and when the body slouches forward the fall would be lesser. With the major slouch the rider will at best get in a couple of revs and resulting in the uni immediately dropping or shooting backwards. So I think Jeremy’s point is get biginners to pay attention on having a staight back (even though it feels unnatural at first) and the with a very slight lean fowards…even if its not an exact staight seat post extension.

Hey, Jeremy. …if you’re there, thanks for teaching me.:slight_smile: :sunglasses:

Had a few people round here ask me for advice on how to start learning (I think I’ve started a trend…). I always tell them to imagine you’re balancing a broom on your hand. The wheel is your hand, and you’re the broom head. Tilt your body (And the uni seatpost/frame) forward, and pedal (‘move your hand’) forward enough to keep yourself upright. Repeat :smiley:

Let me complicate things a little, if I may… When riding with extended T-bar I definitely am leaning forward constantly as I ride. I can ride faster with this riding posture than with the upright posture.

Even without the handlebars my body leans forward slightly as I gain speed. This helps to prevent the wheel from accelerating in front of me which could be disastrous causing me to fall backwards.

Wheel walking is an exercise where the rider has a very upright posture even when going fast.

I think in general though that the seat post is very often at an angle to the body meaning that the body and seat post cannot be considered as one continuous straight line.

I think O.T.M. has point.

The problem of many beginners I teach in my training group is, that they try to sit on their uni like on a bike, with the hip far behind their feet and the upper body forward.

Problem is, they have fear of falling off, so they lean their upper body down forward which makes their hip go backward, just like a jackknife. So the seatpost is leaned backward an when the put weight in the saddle, the unicycle tilts more and more backward which they try to compensate by leaning even more forward. I must hold them at the saddle bumper so they don’t fall off to the back.

Then I tell them to push their hip forward trying to bring the middle of the wheel, the hip and their shoulders in one vertical line. Non before they sit straight, the unicycle will stop tilting backward under their weight. This advice is the same as the one you mentioned. And it’s one of the best advices you can give to a beginner, as important as pedaling constantly and not looking to the ground.

The other point is, that they will mostly never reach the perfect strait position where seatpost and backbone are one line. But tryin it brings them to the position they need for roding, despite it’s not a perfect line, but it prevents the mistake described above.

That a rider who is not a beginner any more can ride in nearly every position of the upper body is another point and should not affect tips for beginners.

“Imagine that your back is an extension of the seat post.”


I’ve just been reading the article containing the above quote and noticed that the writer qualifies his instruction with the preceding heading by saying “Sit up straight when riding at normal speed” ]So when you read the quote in context the article makes sense.

Having said all that, when I was learning on my own I remember leaning forward, making sure that if I fell that I would fall forward and not backwards and the countless times I upd’d I always landed on my feet. I learned to free mount and ride all in one. I learnt on the grass with nothing to hold onto. As I got better at riding I began to sit up straighter on the uni while [riding at normal speed]

Learning with a good teacher there to support you and catch you, should you fall backwards, is a great way to learn. But for anyone learning on their own, leaning forward a little might be helpful until they get better at riding etc.

On one video I watched, the guy said to imagine that you were being pulled forward by a rope attached to your chest. I found that that thought helped me to improve my upright riding posture.

I’ve often wondered if a rider gets some stabilising trail with the seat post angled (as you do on the forks of a bike)? Someone enlighten me…
For instance … if I put more pressure on the handle of my 36 it seems to track straighter. Is this just because I have more than one point of contact or because, with the redistribution of weight the seat post angle (trail) is increased?

Cheers, Joseph.

That is exactly it. And one reason why riding with the seat post leaning forward is a myth.

Initially it might seem frivolous to talk about steering geometry in a unicycle because there are no joints but it is definitely relevant. Technically unis have a fork but no frame. The rider’s body serves as the frame and the seat post is the steering axis.

A backward leaning steering axis is vital because it affords rake (or caster) to the steering geometry. Caster has been a fundamental part of any steering system (at least since it was patented by Arthur Krebs in 1896) because it places the point of contact with the road behind the steering axis. This distance is known as trail.

The forces on the point of contact tend to return the wheel rotation to the forward orientation.

The greater the trail the stronger the forces holding the wheel straight ahead.

Take a look at a bicycle and the trail is easily recognised. Project a line through the steering axis and compare it with the point where the tyre touches the road. Trail is why vehicles tend to continue straight ahead when you take your hands off the steering.

Without trail the steering is unstable, with any slight change in the steering direction powerfully reflected in an immediate directional change.

With a forward leaning axis is even worse because small changes in the axis are amplified. Anyone who follows the advice to lean the steering axis forwards will inevitably find themselves veering off very quickly.

As skill improves the steering axis of a uni can be brought more upright. This trades stability for responsiveness.

The stability versus responsiveness factor can be seen by comparing the trail on different types of motorcycles. A road bike has a steeper steering axis than (the aptly named) trail bike because the trail bike needs more stability.

Unis are quite unique in this regard. Continuously adjustable caster is something not easily achievable in any vehicle with more than one axle yet it is inherent in the unicycle.

More unicycling myths:

Unicycling is hard.
Unicycling takes good balance.
Unicyclists aren’t really clowns.

A second reason for the leaning the seat post backwards is the response when the wheel rolls over a bump.

In this discussion take caster angle to mean the seat post angle relative to vertical.

The upwards forces generated by an incline less than the caster angle will push the the wheel forwards and upwards. This automatically counteracts the tendency for the uni to stop moving forwards when it hits the bump.

Lean the seat post forwards and bump exceeds the caster pushing the wheel backwards increasing the tendency to overturn in a UPD.

Sudden inclines, such as ramp up from the road to the footpath (sidewalk) are generally steeper than the normal caster, hence the tendency to overturn on the way up unless the rider compensates by accelerating right before the going up.

This problem is exacerbated by the dip into the gutter that usually precedes the ramp. The wheel drops down faster than the rider’s body, decreasing the caster just when it is most needed.

The loss of trail going up the bump also destabilises the directional stability. It happens just as the rider gives an extra push to get up the bump so it can tend to turn the uni sideways.

The one time the seat post needs to be leaned forward is at takeoff, especially for beginners. I expect this is what the video is getting at.

Standing still is an advanced riding skill just as it is on a bicycle. We learn to ride at speed first. Stationery is unstable so the goal for the learner is to get the rider and the cycle moving ASAP. Learners simply don’t have the skills to take off slowly.

Getting the entire system moving fast enough by simply pushing is impossible. The inertia of the rider is too great. You need to use gravity. Essentially takeoff is a matter of leaning forward more than you think to get your body moving quickly by falling then “flicking” the cycle under you with that first push on the pedal much like we flick the leg though when we run to prevent the completion of the “continuous fall”.

At takeoff the pedal rapidly accelerates the cycle from the forward lean to the raked position where the steering then becomes stable. The whole cycle rotates rather than moves forward so the seat and hence the rider don’t have to accelerate forwards so quickly but the wheel is suddenly moving very fast.

At this point the system has enough momentum and the intersection of forces create a rapid acceleration. As any new rider can attest, getting moving fast enough to get over the first top dead centre of the cranks needs some serious momentum.

To stay in line with what this thread is actually about:

Unicycling makes your balls hurt.

The general advice to sit vertical is effective for people who are still learning. The tendency for most beginners is to bend forward at the waist, creating a less-efficient, harder to control and less-comfortable riding position.

Leaning the frame forward, when starting off, is also sound advice. For beginners who tend to lean forward too much, it is hard for them to get their center of mass out in front of the axle to get started. Reminding them to sit up straighter and line things up definitely helps get the uni rolling.

Cruising with the seatpost actually leaning forward is a pretty unnatural position, not comfortable, and kind of scary if you’re bending back at the waist. It can work fine if the unicycle seat is rear-of-center over the post, like on my old carbon MUni with the Thudbuster Uni-pivot seat post. On that one, the seat hinges up and down to the rear (with an elastomer). But even on that one, the frame doesn’t lean forward unless you really sit up straight.

This is true for bikes, but I’m not sure how effective it is when the “frame” isn’t attached to anything. Since we are also applying power, unevenly, to that front wheel, it tends to wobble at least a little bit, no matter how good a spin you have. So the traditional effects of rake or caster are probably less, if not non-existent in the two-wheeled sense.

Yup, the rougher the terrain, the more of an angle you want to have between frame and upper body to absorb the bumps and shocks, including the effect of losing balance toward the front.

Wait. Are you saying unicycling hasn’t hurt your balls??