Introduction-Unicycling

If you’re looking for a challenging hobby… if you’ve already mastered everything out there… if you’ve been cleaning out your uncle’s basement and you happen to come across an old unicycle, this is the post for you.  Unicycles are heavily associated with the circus so undoubtedly, at least one person in your life will call you a clown once you get this down.  This takes patience, consistent practice and well… the access to a unicycle if you can find one on ebay or unicycle.com.  My childhood friend Carl got me into unicycling and we all have that one friend ‘Carl’ and we are not surprised that Carl learned how to ride a damn unicycle… Damn it Carl, what the hell??

Remember how long it took you to ride a bicycle? And remember how long it took you to take your training wheels off?  Well, unicycles are harder to ride and there are no training wheels available for them.  It takes a lot of practice and definitely can be frustrating at times, however this is something that only a very small percent of people are able to do.  You’ll be among a very eclectic and novelty group.

To start, wear a helmet.  Then, take your unicycle and make sure the crank is perpendicular to the ground.  You do NOT want the crank parallel to the ground as you’ll find the pedal furthest away from you will come back and smack you in the shin.  This is called ‘pedal bite’ or the equivalent of having a small girl hit you in the shin with large stone. Once your cranks are perpendicular, place one foot on the bottom pedal.  You’ll notice that when you apply your body weight to the unicycle it will not move.  This is good.  From here, put the seat or saddle between your legs and under your butt, then hop up to try and get your remaining foot on the remaining pedal.  This is called a ‘mount’.  Once here you’re going to begin riding.  This alone takes practice so here are some tips to mount and ride:

Tips: 

  1. This tip you probably already thought of before you read this post: hold on to something.  When you’re mounting, you’ll find that you haven’t quite got the balance of the unicycle quite yet because the unicycle will be twisting and turning when you apply your body weight.  If you hold on to something, you’ll be able to mount the unicycle without missing the pedal with your second foot or lose your balance as easily.  This helps you get the feel of the way the unicycle moves without falling over and over again.  Somethings to hold onto: a friend (a good friend that won’t let you go unexpectedly), a tree, a wall, a car, a railing, crutches (a little more advanced), a fence or an overhead pull up bar if you got one.  A tip for the friend: if you’re holding onto the a friend, have them stand in front of you with one foot wedged in front of the unicycle between the tire and the ground.  This way, when you mount, there’s no initial movement and you can situate yourself better.  Also, they will be able to pull you up if you didn’t hop enough.
  2. Lean forward.  On a bicycle, all you have to worry about is falling left or right (maybe falling forward or backwards if you brake too hard or try and pop a wheelie). However, on a unicycle, you can fall forward, backwards, left, right or any degree in between.  Therefore, if you’re pedaling forward, you have to lean forward in order to go forward.  Otherwise you’ll land flat on your back.  Make sure you’re holding onto something and try and gauge how much you have to lean in order to go at the speed you’re interested in going.  It definitely takes a while to get used to.
  3. It’s all about them hips!  This is the hardest thing to get used to while riding the unicycle.  Since there is no second point of contact with the ground, when you apply pressure to the pedals to make the tire move forward, the tire will turn to the opposite side and you’ll find yourself falling to the side of the pedal your pushing. For example: If you push the right pedal down, the tire will have a tendency to turn left, causing you to potentially fall to the right.  Don’t fight this movement, just go with it.  Swivel your hips with this movement and keep your torso facing forward.  Have your hips go with the tire.  In our example, you would turn your hips to the left as your tire turns to the left and when it’s time to push down on the left pedal, the tire will compensate and turn right, at which time you will swivel your hips to the right and repeat.  Some advanced unicyclists can fight this natural movement however, for now, just go with it.  The end result will be that you’ll travel in a mellow ‘S’ shaped path, not a straight one.  To prove it, on a sunny day, find a puddle or wet your tire with water. Now walk the unicycle and you’ll find the water trail the wheel leaves is wiggly-wobbly, not straight.

What it’s good for:  Unicycle isn’t good for much.  I can’t imagine your standing balance would be improved or your coordination would be affected since this is such a novelty and special skill.  I don’t see how it relates very well to normal day to day activities.  It’s actually a very slow form of transportation so commuting wont be super useful.  However, because of it’s rarity and perceived skill rating, you will have another item to check off your bucket list.  Plus, unlike a bicycle, you have to pedal to move, you can’t coast.  So if you chose to pick up unicycling, you’ll me pedaling, balancing, swiveling and working the entire time.  This is excellent for weight loss.

The best thing the unicycle is good for though, is self esteem.  Once you master riding the unicycle, you’ll definitely have a reason to brag.

Progressions:

  1. Idling.  Idling is riding forward and backwards quickly so you can stay in one spot more or less.  The way to idle is to pedal a half a turn forward then immediately pedal half a turn backwards.  Then repeat.  You’ll find your torso staying in one spot while your tire moves forward and back.  The trick here is to again move those hips with your unicycle and not lean as much as you would if you were riding forward.  You’ll find yourself actually not leaning forward or backwards much at all.
  2. Jump. This technique is pretty simple and a good way to turn your unicycle into a pogo stick.  While riding, stop pedaling and make sure the crank is parallel with the ground.  Grab the front part of your seat (saddle) in between your legs and pull up while jumping with your feet.  This might be another way to idle– by just hopping over and over.  Try to jump higher and higher to make this progression more difficult.
  3. Riding Backwards.  Riding backwards is a little more difficult than riding forward simply because you cannot see behind you.  Same rules apply: lean, move those hips and take your time with it.

Good luck.

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