October 2010 Archives


Video 56 0 01 48-18.jpgI've enjoyed October this year. Mostly dry, sunny, reasonably warm for Minnesota. This morning I got away for a late morning ride out to the trail and back for a ride of a bit over 12 miles of mixed road, paved trail and dirt trail.

What I learned today was that some of the first advice I got is still good advice to follow when I'm having trouble with something. "Put your weight on the seat" was helpful for me to remember and follow when I was feeling out of balance on the steep camber on some of the roads today. It also was worth remembering as I ascended some longer hills. Stay down in the seat, pump with your thighs and make small circles with your feet. Next thing I knew, I was up some pretty long and steep hills.

Regarding road camber, I find that in those situations I have good luck in keeping good balance and cadence when I sit a bit more on the edge of the seat toward the high side of the camber. It almost feels as if the seat post is angled toward the low side and I'm riding on the high edge of the seat. Then I have to think about pedaling with a longer leg stroke on the low side and a shorter leg stroke on the high side. It sounds very convoluted, but it all comes together pretty well and results in good control and pace through those steep camber sections.

I didn't ride all week due to weather and work, so I have to admit I'm kinda beat after the ride. Great to get out. Here's some video from the ride.

Slow progress? Maybe not.

If you feel like you aren't making any progress with your riding, think of a route you haven't ridden in about two months, and ride it. Riding this forgotten route will highlight those improvements that are incremental and go unnoticed when you regularly ride the same set of routes.

Balancing with hips and lower abs


shadow.jpgThe more I've been doing with trying different hand positions the more I'm coming to think about hips. Here's what I think is going on. When I ride I naturally want to move some part of my body opposite to the force of my legs. Its just like running. When you stride forward with your left foot you reach forward with your right hand an bring your right shoulder slightly forward. Your shoulders rotate opposite your hips. If my arms are extended they tend to pump opposite my legs, and also help balance. This makes for awkward riding. When I hold my arms behind my back, my shoulders stay square and instead of arms and shoulders compensating for leg movement, the compensation focuses down at my hips and lower abs. I find that if I keep the hips and lower abs loose to work in collaboration with my legs, my shoulders and arms can stay quiet.

Now the first exercise I do when I get on the unicycle is to get the arms quiet, maybe even behind the back, and focus on getting the hips and lower abs loose, flexing, and collaboration with the legs. It makes for a more stable ride than with arms flapping. I think that may be because most of my fine balancing is being done by hips and abs very close to my center of gravity, rather than balancing by moving shoulders and arms which are more distant from the center of gravity, and where even small movements can add to jerkiness.

Here's a vid of the day's work.



Two ideas were running through my mind when I mounted the unicycle this afternoon. First, I realized I rarely UPDed as a result of being too aggressive. Rather, it happens when I'm too timid. Second, I heard my Irish Traditional Tune mentor in my head saying, "don't get stuck in the slow ghetto". His point was that it is a bit lazy to keep playing tunes at convenient speeds and that I should push myself to play faster...within myself and within the context of the tune, but faster.

I then committed to make this ride, which was to follow my usual route around the St. Paul Campus, through the state fair grounds and back along the dirt tracks on the experiment station, like a lap, rather than a ride. If I ride it like it's a lap, then I'm putting some urgency in the ride, keeping a strong pace, staying out of the slow ghetto and consequently reducing my chances of tentative UPDs.

I'm glad I did.

Half way through the ride, when I was on the state fair grounds, the wind whipped up as it can suddenly do on the prairies. In the past those winds have knocked me right off the unicycle. This time maybe the winds weren't as intense, but I also think that my urgent riding and more aggressive attitude kept me in the saddle, particularly when cornering on dirt trails in a sudden gust.

I didn't watch the clock so I don't know, and don't really want to know, my lap time, but my legs tell me that it was a good workout. That's good enough for me today.

Ride to Wisconsin


thumb wi ride.jpgWisconsin is just across the St. Croix via the old lift brigde. The bridge is a town landmark and traffic bottleneck that congests the downtown on the Minnesota side and limits growth on the WI side. A new bridge was about to be built when we moved here, but neighbors told me they had heard that before, many times. They were right. Still not built, in the courts, money, who knows. So the lift bridge remains a focal point of the town.

This morning I crossed it for the first time. It isn't long, or a hairy ride or anything, I just hadn't done it. We're up on a big bluff and getting downtown is a long steep descent. That means a long steep ascent to get back, so I've only ridden down to Main Street on the unicycle once before. This morning I wanted to ride over to Wisconsin just to say I did, so down the hill I went. It took some concentration to stay on top of the unicycle and keep my speed controlled, but I made it down just fine. The bridge was lifting for a boat just as I got there. The traffic and I waited until it cleared and the lifted section was back down to road level.

The bridge is only maybe 15 feet about the water, well maybe 20, but nothing scary. There is no room on the roadway, but there is a sidewalk that I could ride. On the other side the sidewalk turns into a dirt path that skirts along a cliff down to he river. Actually, when I looked over the edge of the cliff in that section, I did get a little scared, so I didn't look over the edge any more. Our town attracts motorcycles, and three guys on Harleys crossed the bridge when I did. One of them, with open pipes and blatting exhaust lost power heading up the hill. Kinda hard to horse around a large heavy dead bike on a slope. I turned off on a side street to go down to a small park on the WI side where the town sets off fireworks during the summer. The paths are sand and I just sink in and fall off, so I dismounted and took a few videos of the fall scenery.

Getting back home means riding up the bluff. There's a road south of town that has a much more manageable slope than the ones in town, so that's where I headed. Even though the slope was a bit more mild, I still had to climb to the same elevation, so that meant it was a loooooong hill. Once at the top I took a route past a bike shop/coffee shop and saw that the lycra crowd still was sipping cappas even as the weather turned cool.

Only a 5mi ride, but the hills and bridge made it an event.
WI ride video

Long shadows

It was approaching 5pm when I finally got to the trail today. I haven't been on the 29 for a while and I botched three free mounts before I finally did a Megan and got going. Since the last time trees have lost most of their leaves and the trail was covered. Sometimes I could tell where the twin tracks ran because of tufts of grass signaling the central strip, but other times I really didn't have a clue.

It hasn't rained in Minnesota for nearly 3 weeks, and under the leaves the trail was loose and sandy. Or that's my excuse anyway for not getting up the bigger hills. I crested about half of the moderate slopes, but UPDd on the other half, and the biggest hill completely had me half way up. Maybe I could switch tires to something with grip, but then I'd really have no excuse, so I'll stick with the big apple for now.

On the way out to the bridge at Manning avenue the sun was at my back, and I so wished that I had the Flip with me to film the shadows. My shadow was a long, skinny scarecrow on a single wheel sliding down the autumn trail.

Riding back was a pain because the same sun that was casting the long shadows was now in my eyes. I took the pavement back because I was getting a bit tired and I couldn't see the trail very well. Only a few bikers were out, and all were courteous enough to tell me that they were "on your left", which I appreciate. One guy asked how far I was going this evening. I don't think that 10 or 12 miles sounds like much to them when they are going 20 or 30, but it was nice of him to ask.

The pavement ride back also reminded me that I have a more even cadence on the trail than on the pavement. I'm also more rhythmic uphill than downhill. Plenty to work on.



keyhole.jpgMaybe it is just my personality, or because I was riding on the hockey rink again, but I had the urge today to set up some drills.

Keyhole: I had a couple of 15 gal plastic tree nursery containers in the back of the van so I put them out on the rink to use as markers for doing figure 8s and other turning exercises. My favorite drill was to ride straight at a container, then when I was about 6 'away turn sharply right, bank into a counterclockwise rotation, and continue around the container in a smooth tight rotation. When I got back almost directly in front of the container I then made another sharp right turn to go back along the same line that I entered the drill. The sharp turns required leans opposite the way the body would be oriented during the rotation, so it was a good agility drill. The path that was traced by the unicycle wheel was a keyhole shape...round at the top, long and narrow at the bottom. Done both directions...clockwise and counter clockwise.

Stall-on-a-dime: I laid out the two containers and two other objects along the length of the rink maybe 30 feet apart. I started at the end boards, rode to the first object and did a stall with one foot back, then rode to the next object stalling with the other foot back and so on. The reason this was a good drill for me today was that it forced me to focus on stalling at a particular place with a particular foot rather than doing it whenever it felt ok.

I had lots of remounting to do during the stalling drill and I focused on remounting quickly and with minimum effort and alternating feet each time. I could tell when I was getting tired because I would miss my mount. Once, toward the end of the session, as I was swinging my free foot up to the pedal I missed planting my foot solidly and fell forward. I still remember watching the asphalt rushing toward my face. I recovered from that fall with just a little road rash on my elbow and a bruised wrist. I made sure I got back up on the unicycle right away and worked out the aches while riding. I really have to remember to focus on that pedal where the free foot is going. If I keep taking it for granted I'm going to break an arm.

Stalls on the 24

Today I was out to the local hockey rink for some agility work with the 24 inch. The asphalt and boards were recently painted white, I suppose so to reflect the sun, keep the ice cooler and resist melting. I really killed the eyes though - it was a very sunny day and the reflected glare was almost painful. I set up two barrels and did figure 8s for a while. Actually, the first thing I had to do was get used to riding the 24. It felt jiggly, probably because of the lack of wheel momentum compared to the 29, but also because of the shorter cranks. I couldn't pull tight turns. I don't like that Nimbus seat as well as the KH either. They look so similar, but the Nimbus seems deeper, and that doesn't seem to be a good thing as far as control.

After 20 minutes of working on 8s, turns, lengths with hands behind back I had built up enough control to try something new, so I worked on slow riding, stalls, then trying to stall, crank back once, then forward. The plastic pedals don't inspire the same confidence as the aluminum, but I don't worry as much about scraping shins either. Had to do a lot of mounts because of all the dismounts during the aborted stalls. I found that if I was a bit more aggressive in mounting, I would be balanced more quickly than if I were more tentative.

I'm marking an exam this weekend, so I think I'll go out again tomorrow morning. Anything to delay having to face those papers. I wish I could find the inflation needle for the pump so that I could take a basket ball out there and dribble while I ride.

8s and stalls


Yesterday I finally faced up to the need for more flatland work on balance and control. Over lunch I rode to a nearby playground with side-by-side basketball courts and a hockey rink.

The center circle markings on the bball courts provided the course markers for riding figure 8s. I like 8s because they are a balanced drill...you do turns in both directions. I did 10 of them, trying to reduce the diameter of the circles each time while still keeping them smooth. Occasionally they were smooth. It seemed to help when my inside foot was putting pressure on the outside of the pedal and I focused on putting equal pressure on both pedals through their power strokes. I did 10 more where I did two loops around each center court before riding to the other circle. By the end I was feeling like I had gained a notch in control.

I have a basketball in my locker...I think I should bring it out to the court next time.

Then it was on to the hockey rink to work on stalling and eventually on rocks and backward riding (not all today!). I did lengths of the rink trying to stall and start, stall and start, first one foot back then the other. I've been working on this for a while, and never really felt good progress, so it was easier to just go out to the trail and bomb around on the horse paths. This time I focused on riding slowly and keeping as much control as I could. Then I'd focus on stopping one foot back. I noticed that if I pushed the unicycle forward just a fraction before stopping the pedal I keep in reasonable balance. I'd then let my body back carry forward over the unicycle to my usual riding position and I could restart going forward. That sounds way more complex then what actually happens. You just stall and start, simple. But the feeling to me is that either my body is leaning back, or the unicycle is moving out front, simultaneous with the force stopping the wheel. That seems to be necessary to maintain balance.

I did have some success, and in particular had one case where I rocked back a bit and then forward, and believe me, even small successes like that are thrilling.

I came off plenty of times too, and that gave me the opportunity to work on free mounts without holding the wheel (I've been doing Megan mounts on the 29er until now).

About this Archive

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

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