What makes a beginner a beginner?

That sounds like a fair description of “Beginner Unicycle Rider”. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Then we branch out into the many forms of unicycling, each with its own set of expectations:

  • I've been driving cars for close to 40 years, but would be an absolute beginner race car driver.
  • I have much experience with Freestyle unicycling and was once at the top of the Freestyle pyramid, but by today's standards my level of skills would be considered quite a bit lower.
  • I've had a geared 36" since 2010 but when it comes to shifting, I don't feel like I'm much beyond a beginner.
  • Trials? Definitely a beginner though I've had some of the basic skills for many, many years.
  • Slopestyle? Not sure if I'm even a beginner since I don't really get what it is.... :-P
You get the idea.

It’s the best way to learn things. Similarly, Hockey is a great activity for beginning unicyclists. You learn to make quick directional changes, freemount in a hurry, and have lots of control over the uni because you have an immediate need to do so. You can do other riding games, even Follow the Leader, but I use Hockey as an example because the hockey stick itself is a riding aid for people who are still working the rough edges off their riding.

If Roger and John are describing themselves as beginners then there truly is no hope for the rest of us!

In reality I’d suggest that if you’re not looking at very specific things then none of us who can freemount reliably and ride along without thinking about it are really beginners at unicycling, even if we can’t do a crankflip, wheelwalk or ride a Schlumpf 36er at speed.

That’s my feeling, as a right-at-the-beginning beginner. If the term is to be helpful at all, it has to be limited. Unicycling is unusual among skills acquired as an adult that it has a period of various lengths when people actually can’t perform the activity at all - a bit like starting golf and finding you literally couldn’t hold the club or hit the ball. It would be a lot easier to search this forum for advice on this stage if lots of over-modest ‘improvers’ didn’t use the same label.

I’m a perpetual beginner and learner, and I’ve been riding for 30 years. What interests me most about unicycling is always learning something new, and there’s always something I’m a beginner at. First it was just riding, then freemounting, then hopping, then idling. Then it was muni, distance riding with a big wheel, and now I’m doing trials, flatland and freestyle stuff, and then I’ll go back over it all again and apply what I’ve learned to other styles. I’m always a beginner with something, and it’s truly awesome. I’m 43 years old, and the more new stuff I do, the younger I feel. In fact, I feel much younger now than I did as a desk jockey at 30. I’m too lazy to exercise for the sake of exercise, and if I’m not learning, I’m bored. Being a perpetual beginner is how I stay healthy and feeling young.

I say this all in a lighthearted, well meaning fashion, but to even hint that it’s difficult to find information on the Internet for a “true beginner” is kind of absurd. You guys today have it all served up to you on a silver platter, and you are so incredibly spoiled. There are countless posts on this site, an almost infinite supply of YouTube videos, websites dedicated to learning, and even published books. There’s even a 40+ Facebook group dedicated to middle-aged riders.

In fact, I think in some cases, social media may be a hindrance, and what you’re really looking for is emotional support and hand holding, which is completely fine and helpful to a point, but beyond that, it’s possibly detrimental. The only real way to learn to ride a unicycle is repeated practice, not splitting hairs over the definition of a “true beginner” or searching for just the right tip to learning until your fingertips are bleeding from typing and you develop carpal tunnel from overusing your mouse (being silly here, of course).

When I learned, I had to find my own unicycle by digging it out of my cousin’s junk (there was no UDC back then, or the Internet, for that matter). There was no one to teach me, encourage me, or even look in my direction. The practice and learning were all on me, and it was its own reward. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled now to be part of local and global unicycle communities, but it’s simply nice to have, not mission critical, and at the end of the day, it’s just me and my unicycle and the practice I’m willing to put into it.

Maybe you guy are just being lighthearted and maybe a little silly about this; I’m not sure. No way to tell tone from written text, but I don’t see any real value in this arbitrary definition of a true beginner, and it almost seems that you’re implying that the challenges you’re facing are somehow more than the challenges others are facing with new, possibly advanced skills, which is not true at all. I’m absolutely terrified at some of the stuff I’m learning as a middle aged adult. In fact, I had to stop working completely on one skill as I kept getting so injured that now I’m afraid to even attempt it. For me, the challenges only get more extreme, not easier, and I’m certainly not getting any younger.

The Internet may be a source of inspiration, support, and provide a few basic ideas, but at the end of the day, you have to own it, and you’re left only with improving through repeated practice. If the practice and progress are not their own rewards, then you’re in wrong hobby and the wrong sport, which is fine, too. It’s not for everybody. I spent a fortune on roller blades last year, and even though I used to avidly ride in my late teens and early 20s, it’s no longer rewarding to me or as fun as it used to be, so I quit. No big deal. If this is becoming a chore, and you find yourself worried about not finding just the right reason/tip/excuse/secrete/definition-of-a-beginner/etc to move you forward, maybe this isn’t for you, or maybe, as suggested in another thread, you need to take a break for a while and come back to it at a later time.

Wow. I find the thread fascinating, second to Spinningwoman’s beginner thread. Nobody mentioned it being a chore? I considered myself a “beginner” for a couple months, maybe up to the point I could ride a mile or so, and turn some corners. I still don’t free mount consistently, and I don’t consider that a “beginner” skill.

No, no idea where the chore thing came from - that wasn’t my intended implication at all! I’ve really enjoyed the fact that unicycling is not something you learn from ‘instructions’ but rather from just doing it, enlightened and encouraged by other people’s stories of learning. I think I came up with this thread (which I didn’t start) when I was trawling the archives for more back stories. If I have come over as somehow whiny, my apologies. I have been posting on the other thread most days because I want to be able to look back when I get there and see how it went, not because I want someone else to fix my ‘problems’. If I was the only one who posted on it, that would be OK, though I have really appreciated people’s comments and encouragement.

I’m sorry if I came across wrong, but I did say my words were meant as well meaning and lighthearted, and I also said that you can’t tell tone from text.

Being a public forum I was also addressing other beginners who have indicated, in so many words, that learning to ride a unicycle has become a miserable chore, and my advice was for people that felt that way. If you don’t feel that way, great! As you mentioned, you search the forums for information apropos to beginners, and I have certainly seen posts from other beginners in the past that have managed to turn it into a miserable chore, even to the point of extreme frustration and anger, which is counterproductive.

I think we need to be really careful when we read text online and make sure we’re not reading with a bias. I have argued this until I’m blue in the face, but you can’t tell tone from printed text. Even if you know someone personally, you may not be able to tell tone from the written word. It’s scientifically impossible. Also, if there is to be a meaningful dialog, sometimes we have to be frank with each other, and while I wouldn’t say you’re being whiny, I was, in a friendly and slightly joking way trying to say, “Quit stalling and get back out there and practice.” I’m sorry if it came across as anything else. Keep up the good work! You’re doing well.

I’m not going to dispute that, but this is where we start getting into the real grey area of being a beginner (as opposed to a beginner freestyle rider, beginner trials rider etc.) We all learn stuff at a different speed and in a different order - I’m hoping nobody is going to suggest riding backwards is a beginner skill, as I’m still working on that after 5 years!

I suppose for me I learned to free mount (at a very basic level and not consistently) within a week of being able to ride to the end of my road and back, so it’s kind of something I associate with learning. Though I’m also looking back now and for a long time it wasn’t a consistent skill for me, and it feels like at the point it was I was a confident rider so it seemed like a good point to demarcate the end of being a beginner.

I’m certainly not suggesting you are still a beginner - I’d probably be tempted to put the end of that in the same point you do, if it wasn’t that I was trying to find some compromise between John Foss and Roger Davies claiming to be beginners!

I love the concept of me riding backwards. I know I can barely ride forwards, but the other day, when caught attempting to ride by a dog walker and asked if I can ride backwards, tried and fell stupidly. A moment of mad exuberance, but I tried. I laughed and laughed afterwards. I hurt, but carried on laughing, I still do when I think of it:D

I wonder if this is early onset insanity? I expect so… let the show commence…!! :astonished: :sunglasses:

I don’t think I’ve seen any of those, except the guy with insane anger management issues who wasn’t sleeping or eating and was practicing 9 hours a day. I think you may be confusing misery with being British.:slight_smile:

Beginner is often a kind term for less skilled. For example, if someone asked me what crank length they should use for trials, and they still are hopping less than 3 pallets, I would say: “It doesn’t really matter for a beginner.”, pointing on the time spend practicing rather then at the actual skill level.

That aside, I would loosely base “beginner” on skill.
Time spend practicing just has so vastly different results for people depending on previous ability, that it really is not a great measurement. For example, I would say I completely skipped being a beginner at Muni, because I had so much previous experience in trials and street, that the things most people struggle with when riding Muni for the first time were not an issue to me.
Someone suggested stopping being a beginner, when you stop thinking of yourself as one, but first of all the point of my post is to describe what I would categorize other people and myself on, and secondly, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a very real thing.

Anyone who doesn’t freemount is still a beginner to me, it is, after riding, the one essential skill, after that you can branch out in all the different disciplines. When freemounting and riding is nothing you need concentrate on too much, you stopped being a beginner to general unicycling for me.

But then, you can branch out to all the different disciplines of unicycling, where things aresometimes harder to define, I would base where someone is a “beginner” on “skill families”, where applicable.
A varial roll and a double flip are two flat tricks people usually learn at roughly the same time, but that is not because they base on one another in any way. You can have riders doing trey triples, and struggling with rolling wraps, or riders doing x- rolls not being able to do a crankflip. Pretty easy to define, and after you can do one or two tricks in a “trick family” you stop being a beginner.

It becomes much harder for Muni (and I guess long distance too), where skills are not so much hard skills. It is pretty easy to define who is better at rolls between two riders by looking at consistency and total amount of roll tricks (harder to decide on a how you balance your judging criteria on that, but that’s not for this post). In Muni, it all depends on so many things: being able to react, being able to do sharp turns, to use the brake, to deal with roots, to anticipate how much you are going to slide after a drop in a sandy section, pick a good line or anticipate and change what position your cranks are going to be in when you get to an obstacle. All not things you can really measure in “I can do that 7 out of 10 tries”. I can say a rider is better or worse than another rider, but it is very hard to draw a line somewhere.

Just for all the “beginners” out there, this is a varial roll, and this, as far as I know, is a double flip.

There are some unicyclists in my area, but most of them probably haven’t even heard of these tricks, so me learning the varial roll, for example, would involve a lot of Internet activity. Oh well, it might happen one day, but I want to learn gliding first, and to do that apparently I’ll have to first learn one-footed wheel walking…


If you read a lot of forum posts, you might come to the same conclusion. Riders are giving encouragement to others for relatively modest skills acquisition. In some ways, this is a support group.

For the record, I don’t know any riders who think they’re awesome when they’re actually not. Maybe that’s a problem within your crowd.

I agree with what you said about “skill families”. I like to refer to it as the “trick multiplier”, when a bunch of variations on technique start to emerge. Another way of thinking about passing from “beginner” to “not beginner” is when style starts to happen, when the tricks/techniques start flowing together.

Thanks for the link, PuebloUNIdo, I hadn’t heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect before reading Finnspin’s post. It is definitely a phenomenon relevant to all levels of unicycling, -one of its corollaries even more so, perhaps: “high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.” This definitely was my impression of all unicyclists when I was a beginner. I would be fighting for balance, my arms flapping wildly, and a unicyclist would cut right in front of me -dangerously close, it seemed at the time- and I would panic and fall off.

Whether you are arrogant or humble, a fast learner or a slow one, once you’ve learned a skill, you immediately start to forget how much trouble it was to learn it! That’s one of the reasons charting your own progress or teaching others can be interesting.

Perhaps another corollary to the Dunning-Kruger effect could be formulated for people engaged in activities where personal risk is involved. Many unicycling skills can be picked up more quickly if you are not afraid that you will fall. Your own self-appraisal as a “high-ability individual” (or “low-ability individual”) can impact how quickly you learn. I guess that would be the self-fulfilling prophesy corollary, otherwise known as the catch-22!

Some would say yes it is, while others would say NO WAY! I think it still has to do with the “type” of beginner one has in mind. That being said, I would consider the definition of “total beginner” as someone who can’t yet ride unassisted, let’s say, more than 2 revolutions of the wheel. In other words, a person who is still learning how to ride, at all.

From there, people have different “needs” as unicyclists. Some want to freemount and go places as soon as possible, while others have already reached their goal. In more recent years, some people are learning to ride because they want to do Trials, or get out onto technical mountain bike trails. They still have a ways to go.

That’s conditional beginners, the idea being that you can be an expert rider for a long time, and still be a beginner depending on the circumstances. I haven’t thought of myself as a “general” beginner since 1980, the year I joined a unicycle club and started learning what was out there.

Just don’t think that such a skill is beyond you. If you want to learn it, you most certainly can. :slight_smile:

I recently rode on stage with an eleven year old girl who had been riding about eight months. She has a 16 inch uni and had never ridden anywhere beyond the netball court.

I asked her if she knew any tricks.

“Like what?” she replied.

“Riding backwards?”

“Never thought of that”, she said, as she rode off backwards for a few metres.

She got it on the first attempt?? I dunno, after 8 months of unicycling, I could definitely ride backwards, but it had taken me a few days or weeks to learn that skill, and it was only possible (in my case) after learning to idle, which had taken about a month of pretty consistent “work.” Are you sure she was telling the truth?

There are definitely big differences in how quickly people pick up a unicycling skill, and, as I tried to explain in an earlier post, fearlessness (if it doesn’t kill or maim you) can be very helpful. Wheel walking, for example, requires you to lean back. I was determined to learn wheel walking without ever taking one of those painful, scary backward falls, so it took me several months. Had I been more reckless, I might have learned faster. Weighing 15 or 20 kg less might have helped as well, but in the end, I got so excited about my wheel walking that I tried it in the rain and fell down anyway!

I believe her. She is quite unpretentious. And she only rode about two or metres on her first attempt and a little further on the next.

It may be a product of how she learnt. Her parents bought her a unicycle after she was impressed watching a performer. She said she learnt on her own and it took her about a month of persistent practice to be able to ride, with the first week just to get on it and another week to get it moving.

So it appears she had started by learning a static mount and may have inadvertently picked up the essence of backwards while trying.

She was able to stall and reverse directly from forward.

I also explained what was involved in idling (I can’t actually idle myself) and she was able to perform the basic action but was not competent.

I saved my dignity by demonstrating hopping which I can do indefinitely while she couldn’t do it at all. The next time I saw her she said she had managed two hops.

Funny! :slight_smile: Reminds me of the lyrics near the end of “Time” on the Dark Side of the Moon album by Pink Floyd: “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.”