Unicyclist fitness and strength vs cyclists and other athletes

When my KH 20 was broken, I could only practice a couple of places with a wall and flat ground. My other unicycles were not off road, and would not move on grass and were very uncooperative under my weight. The flat practice areas were snowed in.

Now the I have the KH 20 trials repaired and back in action, I also go to grassy areas where there is a fence and uneven ground. When I started out, I flattened the trials tires, and had to get a high PSI tire on a conventional 20" rim, only good for perfect flat ground. It’s good to be light enough that the trials tire can hold me up. Now I can practice in more places.

I find practicing on rough uneven ground beside a fence beneficial, as it gives a lot more leg feedback. I have gotten up to 2 rotations unassisted away form the wall on grass and gravel, 3 on pavement.

I want to be able to ride on rough surfaces and get as many Muni skills as I can. I like being alone in the wilderness, and from past experience, I do not like riding bicycles in traffic at all. So especially in the beginning I plan on trail riding in secluded areas and picking up the Muni and Trials skills I am capable of learning.

I don’t think I would use a unicycle as a commuter until after I have had years of experience of proper riding ability.

On the wall I try to get my momentum and rhythm, then I turn away from the wall and go as far as I can struggling to stay upright. I find my brain is working overtime to figure out what to do to maintain it.

I think that learning idling is very important. I want to be able to get a good sense of going into and out of that balance point from all directions, and be able to react accordingly to maintain control.

I have been practicing going backwards since the beginning. Sometimes, I found I had to go backwards or fall off, so I found myself just pedaling backwards. I don’t just touch the wall both sides, I go forwards and backwards along the wall.

Once my weight got low enough I could use a 19" trials tire without flattening it, I immediately was practicing on grass and gravel, when there was a fence nearby. The perfect flat practice areas with the much needed fence rail or wall are few and far away. Now I can practice in more places. I find the conventional 20" wheel to be unrideable on anything other than those few perfectly flat surfaces.

I don’t see any reason to stop practicing on rough ground, or riding backwards. I want to be able to ride in control in all directions on rough unpredictable terrain as well as smooth surfaces.

If the mountain and trials fat tire off road unicycle did not exist, I would have been far less interested in learning unicycling. I find my non off road unicycles to have an inferior flimsy feel compared to my KH 20.

thanks everyone, for all your input and feedback :smiley:

Yeah, I sometimes see people take an interest in idling when they climb on a unicycle for the first time. They want to feel that they’re in control before hurtling themselves into the void; they want to learn everything they need to know about riding before actually riding. I have never seen this approach succeed, though. I won’t say that it can’t happen, as people follow many different squiggly paths when learning this sport, but I have never seen it, and my guess would be that it never happens. I learned to idle after about 6 months of riding, and only because I worked at it methodically for a month because I was confined to a small wheel. People who ride larger wheels often don’t learn idling for a long time, if ever. I know a guy who only rides a 36. He goes on 40-mile rides quite often, and can turn on a dime, which is impressive on such a large wheel, but he doesn’t idle.

As Rich said: “mount, ride, fall.”

My plan is to get the basics of unicycling, then see what Trials and Mountain Unicycling and other skills I can learn.

I saw what I thought was this interesting series in Seth’s bike hacks, how he learned unicycling. Right off the bat he says how you become a better rider when you practice multiple cycling discipline’s. So cross training with different forms of bicycling should be very beneficial and interesting. I would also think that to add in other balance and agility skills like skateboarding would enhance unicycle skills.

No worries! I found this video of the day I learned to ride in 2005 . The grass was very short and the ground beneath was hard (Dad’s lawn!). I wouldn’t recommend grass otherwise.

Most of the time I’d just fall by stepping off but this particular video shows a rather exaggerated fall.
I suspect just prior to this try I was falling by stepping off backwards, then decided to exaggerate the forward lean to see how that felt. I obviously leaned too much this time and couldn’t accelerate the wheel to keep it under me! Clearly I was running out of space anyway.

I have a couple of dozen videos like this. I perfomed tries like this two or three times per minute continuously for half an hour, had a break and did another half hour. After that, I was making it over to the flowerbed under control (probably over 100-150 tries) I went out into the road (quiet cul-de-sac). I could ride in an approximately straight line for ~50yds by the end of the day.

I was twenty and in pretty good shape having only recently joined the RN (still in the Navy… still in shape). Though not a particularly talented athlete, my youthful enthusiasm allowed me to work at extremely high intensity, jogging back to the upended bench I was using as a starting point.

This in my opinion was absolutely key to my rapid learning. The whole thing was a dance, I’d fall over into a barrel roll, spring up, jog back, wave my arms etc. Quantity not quality until your body develops enough data points to determine exactly what quality looks like. It doesn’t know yet and don’t let your brain try to convince it otherwise!

The low-res videos don’t show the blood, sweat or grass stains!

Back on topic: fitness should be viewed holistically, any studies you might find on this topic are likely to be only true under certain conditions or totally unfalsifiable pseudoscience malarky. Have fun!


If I was in as good physical condition as you when I started out, I would have done the large volume training like you did, and everyone is suggesting. It took me a long time just to be able to pedal this thing 120 feet along the wall without my body giving out.

I need to catch my breath after I go 120 feet before I give it another go. There is no way at this point I can go at it like you did, and many others have. If my body was up to it, I would be doing it that way from the beginning. I can do a lot more than when I started, it is making me leaner, but I have a long way to go.

I feel that I am getting closer to not needing that wall. For now it is stamina building. As the correct way for a lean fit person to learn this is out of reach, I have to adapt. “Workaround enabled.”

Last year I found getting on a bicycle and riding around very easy. Attempting to ride a unicycle just killed me. So I went for the big challenge instead of what was easy.

If I leaned out by other methods first, would they have even worked as well or just dragged out the process? I would have been able to train hard on the unicycle and learn to ride it at best in a few hours, a couple of weeks at the most.

When I go to my local unicycle club, the other beginners have no lack of stamina to go around the whole perimeter contiunously. I think I should concentrate on building up a comparable level of stamina first. My balance is better than theirs, but they blow me away in stamina, as does 99% of the human race.

You are hanging out with a bunch of wall-huggers? Don’t get caught up in their groupthink! I once substitute-taught unicycling for a couple of weeks in a basketball gym. My students were 10 to 12 year-old girls, and they had all been taught to cling to the wall so much that only one of them could ride unassisted, even though class met three nights a week.

The video posted above by Rich is probably the best beginner unicycling lesson you will get on this forum. His method and timeline for learning were pretty much identical to mine, although my first rides were definitely not in a straight line, they were all counter-clockwise circles, or pieces of one!

Pedaling a unicycle along a wall doesn’t strike me as a great way to build stamina, and in any case, doing what Rich does in that video does not require much stamina, as it only takes a few seconds. Repeated attempts like he describes might be a different story, but you could always rest between attempts.

There are a hand full of beginners and and a bunch of skilled experienced riders that play unicycle hockey. I just noticed that everyone else is very lean, and has far more stamina than I do, including all the beginners.

Put us all into a powerlifting contest and I will blow every one of these unicylists away by a wide margin.

Make it any endurance contest, and I will be dead last.

Making it the length of the fence non stop is 3x the distance I could go last year. I am drenched in sweat and have to catch my breath at the end, so for me this is a tough workout. I had it in my mind to build up to complete circles both sides, and in both directions, spending as much of it not touching that wall as possible.

The 3 pedal rotations unassisted are better than I could do last year, when I could never get a full rotation without falling.

After I build up to normal endurance, I will pedal into the wild blue yonder more often.

I expect by next year to be as lean as and have as much endurance as any unicyclist.

As it is, I have and inner battle going on:
One half of me telling to to throw in the towel completely and go do something else far more productive. (I miss the other exercises I had to sacrifice in order to do this activity, and would save a lot of time by getting a bicycle for cardio instead)
The other half telling me to keep at it no matter what. (I will eventually be rewarded with a skill few people have, a get a very strong core and balance as an added bonus).

I am making significant progress in my stamina and endurance. The rest will come in time. If I push too hard, it just puts me at risk for avoidable injuries.

In the world of weight training, people insisted that I should train as they were. A lot of them make big gains, get juiced up on steroids, etc. Then they just had to push themselves to reach a certain lift and injured themselves to do it, often several times.

I figured out my own system, and decided to take small baby steps. I never got any serious injuries, unlike my fellow gym rats.

Everyone laughed at me and my very relaxed and easy workouts. Within 3 years, I slowly progressed and got bigger and stronger than those who took the fast route everyone else was doing. As easy as it was on most of those exercises, within 5 years I had few equals among my fellow lifters in raw physical strength and size.

Initially they became bigger and stronger than I did. I passed them, and then continued to make small and steady gains where they could not. I continued to leave most of them further and further behind. I did so without steroids, without stress, without burnout, and above all, without injuries. I did so with patience, planning, and persistence. Many of those impatient gym rats became physical wrecks due to accumulated injuries.

I had many naysayers telling me that my methods would not work when I came up with them. They were proven wrong. They did not expect me to equal them, let alone pass them.

Recently I declined an opportunity to acquire an impossible wheel. I just had a feeling that I would hurt myself with it. I might take it up after I am good at both unicycling and skateboarding. I have not taken up the skateboard yet.

Hmm. Well, if endurance is really that much of an issue, a bicycle might be a more efficient and more entertaining way to train than a unicycle, at least until you learn to ride. Then you could ditch the bike, or just resort to it for situations where you need to be inconspicuous.

Once, while unicycling, I happened upon the scene of people being arrested for protesting police brutality. The whole area was lit up by helicopter, and heavily armored stormtroopers were piling the dissidents into unmarked vans. Though I made it to safety, that situation was definitely one where I did not want to stand out, and would have been better off on a bike or on foot.

But it sounds like you know what works for you, and you seem to be making progress in weight loss, endurance and unicycle skills with your riding-along-the-wall workouts, so in my opinion you should continue with them. If you get away from that wall, though, it is highly possible that you will see your progress suddenly accelerate by leaps and bounds.

I liked reading about your approach to weight training. I respect that you took it at your own pace . Lifting is not something I’ve ever persisted with but I would be much more organised and steady (and even take notes!) if I had goals to improve my lifts. I assume you mean the Olympic style of lifting which has a large skill element as well as strength.

I’m currently helping my daughter (13mo) learn to walk. My son learned before he was one. It’s different for everyone.

Learning to ride a unicycle is closer to a toddler learning to walk than it is to an adult training to lift progressively heavier weights. It’s much less formal and trying to quantify or control it too tightly just leads to frustration for everyone! Fail often and move on.

Consider this an ‘accelerator’ programme: Five quality tries like in my video, spaced thirty seconds apart. Every day. It’ll take less than five minutes and you won’t break a sweat because you won’t go anywhere (yet). If you put your foot down straight away, count it anyway. Good luck!

Thank you to those who commented about finding value in my post. I’ve lurked for many years but rarely contribute!

Unicycle training takes a lot out of me, and it has not exactly been the most enjoyable pursuit up to this point. I see once I have the stamina to train properly and no longer need a wall, it should bring a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment at that stage.

In hindsight, I should have probably just started with bicycling for cardio. I can just jump on one of those and ride for miles on flat ground. Instinctively I would have taken up running if I didn’t get so many warnings from so many people that I would likely damage myself in the process.


Actually I have several routines for different purposes. Olympic weight lifting will give you the best results, but it absolutely must be done with a skilled trainer. Too much can go wrong and serious injuries can result if certain mistakes are made. Olympic lifting requires you to be able to squat deeper than most people can go, under very heavy loads. It requires great ankle, shoulder, and wrist flexibility. If you blow a lift and the barbell is over your head, you need to be able to bail without it hitting your head, or back, or knees etc. Just powercleaning the barbell to your shoulders done wrong can break your wrists.

If I were to go back into Olympic lifting, I would need a lot of work to get the needed flexibility back. I dropped out because they wanted me to really push myself and compete. I wanted to hold back and avoid risking injuries.

I have an optimal bodybuilding routine, optimal strength building routine (not olympic lifting, powerlifting), and many variations to tweak them. The bodybuilding routine and strength building routines are very different from each other. These routines take up a lot of time and effort. I always made sure that I was not putting in excessive effort without results. Adjustments were always made along the way, as the iron game is about numbers and adaptation.

I also have routines worked out to give me good results with minimum effort. Currently I am using a minimal time maintenence weight training routine. This gives me the most bang for the buck, and leaves me as much energy as possible to practice this unicycle discipline while maintaining muscle size and strength.

I definitley agree that learning unicycling is like learning to walk!

If I did not have the bodyfat, and was used to unicycling, I would emphasise bodyweight training. When I adapt to unicycling, I will gradually start to do more bodyweight training again. I am going with my weight training at the moment, because it is far easier to do.

Olympic lifting is completely different. If a person is up to it, learn both gymnastics and olympic lifting, then take up indian war clubs and kettlebells. In hindsight, I wish I took up gymnastics instead of the weight training.

I mentioned a study where ballet dancers were found to be more fit than swimmers.

I recall when I first started going to weight lift in gyms. There was a gymnastics and acrobatics club nearby. Many of the guys were dating the girls from that club. Eventually, some of the guys went to the gymnastics club and quickly found that they could not do the simplest gymnastics moves. Then their girls would join them in the weight training gym. It was priceless. Those girls completely destroyed their boyfriends in weightlifting, beating them in weights and reps on every exercise, usually by wide margins, even though they were much smaller.

I think that people into gymnastics and rock climbing are very strong, and very lean. I know fighters who took up ballet to compliment their training, and said it was far tougher and more beneficial than they expected. I wonder how ballet people would measure up in comparison to gymnasts? Kris Holm was a very good rock climber, and still is, before he got into unicycling. I think he was into minimalist equipment balance training before he started unicycling. This must have had a lot to do with why he learned unicycling the first day he had one.

The rock climbers I have known were very good at doing one handed chin ups. Something few people can do. Certain physical disciplines like gymnastsics, rock climbing, can make you very strong without all the bulk direct weight training gives you.

Yes, gymnastics is awesome! I have been able to dabble in it recently thanks to the Internet and people I’ve met who do calisthenics, acro-yoga or hand balancing in the parks.

As a kid in gym class, my exposure to gymnastics was limited to forward rolls and a bit of light stretching, and it always seemed pretty dull. If they had taught us to do flips or handsprings, we all would have wanted to become gymnasts, but those of us who practiced flips did them at home on our beds, and knew for a fact that they had no connection to anything we might learn at school.

Yeah, it didn’t seem fair to me, at least from the overview. Since it measured strength in proportion to bodyweight, and included balance and flexibility, the defeat of the swimmers was a foregone conclusion!

The crawl stroke does require some shoulder flexibility, but what swimmer is going to waste time working on the splits? I also don’t see why swimmers would have especially good balance, other than just being generally athletic. In a bench pressing contest, though, I think the swimmers would probably defeat the ballerinas pretty easily, possibly even if there were weight classes.

When I used to do a lot of slacklining, random people would sometimes show up and give it a try. The ones who were professional dancers all managed to walk on the slackline the first day they tried it. The only other person I saw who managed this feat was a professional tightwire clown, and he didn’t really count as a beginner. He didn’t bother to walk, though, he just got on the slackline and stood there for a minute or two, perfectly balanced, wondering what the point of it was.

Intriguing - so they’d already developed the right sense of balance from their dancing? Despite doing a lot of balance sports, including some which I’d think might translate (currently doing a lot of skating) I still find slackline tough. At some point I’ll get myself one and learn properly, presumably it’s just training the right instincts in the same way as learning to ride a uni?

Well, my sample size of dancers was only three or four, and they were of the type that go to conservatory -classical and modern- but, yes, they all got it the first day, and no one else did except the tightwire guy.

I learned to ride a unicycle after that, and I don’t know how much the slackline helped. It is pretty different- much more pure balance than a unicycle, in my opinion. You have to really suck your stomach in and stack your vertebrae up one on top of the other, forming a straight vertical line from your hips to the crown of your head, a bit like the Alexander Technique that dancers and many musicians have to study. That’s not really what you do when you ride a unicycle, or at least I never did, but I suppose having experience with that might give you some sort of a head start.

Prior experience with slacklining might also be why I spent my first few days of unicycling going in counterclockwise circles and making very strange arm and hand movements as I tried to get my balance. On a slackline, you almost never fall forward or backward, but the side-to-side balance issue is quite complex, and can’t really be solved just by charging forward, the way it usually can on a unicycle.

It doesn’t particularly seem to help the other way round - though reading your post it occurs to me that I may be missing the fundamental technique for slacklining in my trial and error attempts (as you suggest it may be a fundamental technique which comes naturally to dancers, and from the description it’s not particularly like anything I do in any other balance sport).

If you don’t mind my asking, what part of Wet West Canada are you in? Sounds like Vancouver or Victoria? You mentioned a unicyclist with a juggling record. What did he do? Reading your story makes me think of a guy I saw in New York City in the late 80s, trying to do a Guinness record for juggling 16-pound bowling balls on a giraffe unicycle. This guy weighed at least 250 pounds. I don’t remember him freemounting the giraffe, but gave him lots of props for being up there with an extra 48 pounds of bowling ball.

I can’t remember how many catches he got; everybody counted them as he went; I think he was going for 20 or more, and I believe he got it after a several tries.

We can’t see what your practicing looks like, but it seems to be wearing you out too much. I get the impression your seat may be lower than it should, and you are probably not putting enough weight on the seat yet. What kills most riders when they’re learning is the constant strain on most of their leg muscles as they’re all activating while trying to learn the right moves. So the more you can remove your upper body’s weight from the equation the better.

For seat height, you don’t want a completely straight leg like a Freestyler, because you’re not riding on smoothness. The general rule is to sit with your heel on the pedal at the bottom, with a just a little bit of bend in your knee. If you find that spot, take about 1/2" inch off of that. Sorry about the pounds and inches, we Americans are backward. :stuck_out_tongue:

If adjusting your seat like that seems incredibly high, you’re definitely riding with it way too low, and this is probably the major reason for wearing out so fast.

I can feel the pressure from everyone from you to just focus on riding out into the open. But I realize part of your reluctance, beyond the normal reluctance that’s normal for most beginners, is of taking a hard fall and possibly getting injured. I appreciate that you have a lot of discipline and patience, as described in your weight lifting regimen. It’s okay to stick with what works for you. If it’s not working, then it’s time to adjust.

The other thing you might try is to add some lower-resistance cardio to your workouts; take some of that uni time, and use it to jump rope, or ride a bike uphill or something. If you lived near my grandpa’s school it would be a great workout; his school was uphill in both directions, and usually into the wind. :smiley:

Yes. Imagine standing on top of a 10" high watermelon seed, on a field of grease. It’s something like that. Harder than a Freewheel uni. Save it for later.

It is, in terms of being something very new for your body to figure out, with lots of picking yourself up over and over until you get it right. It probably works out your brain as well, while working out lots of muscles all over your body.

In the end, you will start making more revolutions. I think you’re pretty close to the “click”, where progress starts to accelerate exponentially. That will be the beginning of the payoff, for all your hard work! Don’t quit now.

Hi Up Rite

This is my first post here – been lurking for a while both registered and unregistered and have read quite a few of your posts. I learned to ride last summer and thought I would share some of my experiences with you as someone who is also relatively new to this.

I didn’t perhaps learn in the most conventional way. I learned to ride on a 24" Nimbus in the yard at the back of my house. The ground is rough but hard, fairly uneven with stones and some holes, I didn’t have a wall or fence to ride along, so it was a case of launching myself off from the kitchen window from the beginning. I also learned to free mount when I could only ride a few feet.

I was pretty keen to learn to free mount since I only had around 30 to 40 yards maximum that I would be able to ride at the back of the house. The motivation was that if I went somewhere else I didn’t want to have to rely on finding something to mount against.

So I started learning to free mount when I could do a few revolutions after pushing off from the window. I would alternate free mount practice with trying to get an extra pedal revolution when riding. As I said, I never rode against a wall.

This is probably not the recommended way to go about things, however I think it was useful for me personally. Reflecting on it I think that committing to ride away unsupported from the outset and taking those first ‘leaps of faith’ on a static mount gave a degree of confidence that I wouldn’t end up bruised and broken on the ground.

To be fair I did fall backwards a couple of times, the worst dismounting backwards after a fairly successful run, falling on the stall and gouging a chunk out of my calf with the pedal pins (the scar will probably be there for life, but it is better than getting a tattoo :slight_smile: Neither of these things put me off as I would typically always just jump off to the front.

The static mount took a lot of persistence, some evenings it seemed to be getting there then I seemed to lose it again. I was indefatigable in it, perhaps to the point of arrogance, that I’d be able to do it. Gradually I got it, and I was able to ride further as well. Also learning on uneven ground made things seem somewhat easier when I moved to ride on tarmac.

Like you I get tired pretty quickly, but I can stop and get my breath, then mount up and go another few hundred yards. At the stage you and I are at stamina probably does come in to it, but that is probably due to lack of technique.

I never had an epiphany moment when everything just clicked but one key thing I found was getting the right saddle height, as John mentioned above. Again that came down to confidence one night to just put the saddle up, then up further, and further again.

You mentioned learning to idle and ride backwards. I’ve tried idling briefly at the back door of the house – what I found with that is that I could sometimes almost start to get it, then I’d reach over and touch the door frame just to get some stability. I think knowing that I could just put my hand out and do that meant that I did. I think that might be similar to you riding along a wall. I have never tried riding backwards, the two backwards falls I had kind of put me off that! I think I’ll leave those things until I get hold of a 20"er to learn some of those types of skills.

I used to do a reasonable amount of cycling, latterly on recumbent bikes and trikes as well as conventional bikes. Although the unicycle has me worn out after a few hundred yards just now, bikes are not a problem. As well as the balance and weight on the seat I think a lot of this is to do with freewheeling. I tried to consciously not freewheel on a bike the other week and that tired me out quite a bit more than a normal bike ride – I think riding a fixed-wheel bike might be good training for the unicycle. Riding it up and down hills and doing track stands couldn’t be bad from a cardio, leg strength, and balance perspective.

So in summary, I think how I learned worked for me, everyone is different. I also found that giving it a rest for a few days paid dividends insofar as when you went back to it things sometimes seemed easier. I think my initial learning curve might have been steeper but, for me at least, I think it paid off. I bought an Oracle 32’er in a very good Black Friday deal UDC had – I free mounted it on the third attempt and was able to ride it in minutes despite not being exactly proficient on the 24’er. I think that might have been down to the early work put in free mounting.

Anyhow, apologies for the long post. I think that at the stage we are in the game, unicycling is a pretty good workout, but the relative intensity may fade as skill and technique grows. I also think that a fixie bike would be a good inconspicuous trainer to get the fitness, strength and balance up, so I’ll maybe give that a try.

Good luck in your quest to become a gyroscope.