July 2010 Archives



Recently I've felt like a skateboarder. I've been trying to ride down curbs and over bumpier than normal terrain. When I pitch off, I find myself retracing my path and trying it again, just like skateboarders who try tricks over and over again with the hope of maybe doing it right just once.

Yesterday near the end of my ride I was going around a grounds cart that was parked in the path right near the display and trial garden. Going round the cart meant heading off the dirt track on over onto some short turf with dips and peaks of unknown depth and height. I pitched off and retraced my steps to try again.

But as I was ready to remount and run through that area again I heard a couple of former students who work in the garden call out and come over to see the unicycle. "I really want to see how you get on that thing", one of them said.

Of course, with an audience, it took me three tries to get up and going. Sheesh. Of all times to botch my mounts. But at least I was able to successfully get around that cart and through the grass.

Three observations

Here are three observations from my unicycle ride yesterday.

  • Mounting technique - I've been working at maintaining a very light pressure on the foot that I initially place on the down pedal when preparing to mount. My goal is to apply just enough pressure to keep the wheel stationary - which is very light pressure - and particularly not push down so that the wheel rocks backwards. When the unicycle rocks back the free (up) pedal shoots backwards making it a much more difficult moving target to squarely hit when I am swinging up my free foot. A mount where the wheel rocks back may be successful, but I find it jerky because the initial momentum is backwards, the up pedal and swinging foot slam together and the unicycle's and rider's momentum must quickly transition forward. My mounts feel much smoother when I keep the wheel steady. It feels like the frame of the unicycle is the only moving part as it rotates up and over the wheel. My free foot can find the open pedal easily because it is stationary, I develop forward momentum almost immediately, and frankly it is just a more satisfying mount.

  • Hands on thighs - In previous posts I mentioned folding arms when riding to develop better balance. Yesterday I tried lightly placing my hands on my thighs. As with any new hand position I try, it was initially awkward, but didn't take long to feel comfortable. I think it is slightly harder than folded arms, but that might just be because it was new to me. I also need to work on riding forward while looking over my shoulder, each direction, for approaching cars. I take some left turns when riding on the street, and really need to get a good look behind me.

  • Curb drops - I tried a few more curbs yesterday and I was beat by those that were 6" or higher. It felt really awkward going off the edge of the curb with the cranks in a random position rather than in a 3 o'clock / 9 o'clock position like I'd have them if I were riding off curbs on my bike. I've got to get used to just continuing to pedal as I ride over the curb. I'm not sure whether to just ride off or to try to do a bit of unweighting just before leaving the curb.

Keeping up with the technique

I spent a couple of hours on the unicycle last Sunday. The initial ride was just for fitness - around Lake McKusick and through the Eagle Ridge neighborhood - but then I went back to the Junior High for some technique work on the tennis courts. When I'm on the fitness rides, I often feel like I'm not making progress on basic skills. In the case last week, I thought I was having more difficulty than I should have with simple mounts and also some discomfort with tight turns. Also I was unwilling to drop off curbs. So after the first part of the ride I continuted on to the tennis courts to do reps of mounts with both feet, reps of tight figure 8s and more practice with dropping off curbs. I don't know about you, but I really need to work that type of practice into my regular riding routine or I think I'm never going to get better.

I feel like my balance is better from the arms-folded work I'm doing on the longer rides (as noted in earlier posts). I feel like my arms and upper body aren't thrashing and jerking around as much, although that might just be wishful thinking. I'm finding rocky and rooty trails to be a challenge, as is turf. I feel much more comfortable if I can clearly see the path and there are no surprises. Lastly I want to mention cadence - maybe because of the bike commuting I'm doing or perhaps just comfort with the unicycle, my cadence is up. This is particularly helpful on downhills where my first reaction is to freeze up and go real slow. I find that I have better control if I keep that wheel turning.

Here's the Sunday ride. Total distance was just shy of 6 mi.

View Sunday ride in a larger map

Arms folded


Chris Taylor, an author of online unicycle riding instructions, has a page on idling that I read a couple of weeks ago. The part that particularly stuck with me was at the very end where he said, "...practice idling with your arms folded".

Well, I can't idle yet regardless of arm position, but that "arms folded" comment stuck with me as something that might be useful. During the last few rides I've been trying to fold my arms and keep my upper body as quiet as possible when riding on relatively smooth, flat sections of road. The first ride it felt about as uncontrolled and awkward as the first ride when I tried to grasp the saddle handle with my left hand. I could maybe go ten strokes at the most before letting go to regain my balance. The next ride when I tried arms folded it seemed easier to get to ten strokes and beyond. Today it wasn't very tough at all on the flats so I tried folding arms up and down gentle hills and some bumpier trails. It really isn't that big a deal as a skill in itself, but I think it has been helpful for me in focusing the balancing adjustments on subtle shifts in the midsection of the trunk of the body rather than on flailing arms. I think I ride quieter now because of the arms-folded practice.

Now I need to get back to learning to idle.

Up and Down


My mental image of my seat position changes when I'm going uphill on the unicycle compared to when I'm going downhill. I was at the cemetery today doing hills and having some luck on pitches that were trouble before. Well in truth they are still trouble, but at least I've had a bit of success. What I noticed was that it felt like I was having more luck going uphill when I made sure my butt was right under me, hips rotated forward. Also, it helps if I really focus on keeping a rhythmic pumping of my thighs up the hill. It is soooo easy to stall and fall on steep grades, and my defense is to keep a rhythm.

Going down the hill I felt like I did better when I rotated my hips back so that the seat was behind me just a bit. That way I seemed to have a more effective angle of breaking on the pedal upswing. It felt like I could engage the braking a bit earlier so that the crank rotation was just a bit smoother.

So there you have it. Rotate the hips forward and keep a strong rhythm up the hill, rotate back and smooth out the breaking action going down.

At least that's how it feels.



Here are a few things I forget about until they happen when I'm riding:

  1. Keep your momentum up even when you are relaxing. Otherwise even a little stone, branch or dip in the road will through you off.

  2. Related to the first one, keep your pedals moving.

  3. Don't let your mind wander. This is the most common reason for the first two above.

  4. However, don't forget to look around and enjoy being outdoors.

  5. Hit transitions with speed. Can't be timid.

  6. Don't wander all over the bike path. There will be bicycles coming up behind you.

  7. Get your seat under you when you are going over irregular surfaces. You are more likely to get thrown off if you are buckled over at the waist.

  8. Keep your concentration at the top of a long hard climb. Nothing worse that making the climb then UPDing at the top.

  9. Smile

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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