Broken pedal
Oops, I broke the unicycle. A bit too much hopping and rough ground for this poor “beginner” unicycle. The pedal axle snapped in half. It left me, as the guy in the Bike Chain pointed out, with a uni-pedal uni-cycle. I’ve repaired it now, but it’s a sign that this is not the unicycle for learning trials-style tricks on.

Today, in addition to my usual circuits, I was practising doing “stops” – riding along, briefly stopping, then riding on. You lean backward slightly whilst riding, then stop the pedals. The wheel stops, but you keep going, resulting in the perfect forward tilt to resume riding. I also practised riding slowly, which is another good way to practise balance.

Update: Managed a few more moves: seat-out jump mount and 180 degree spin/jumps are nailed. I managed a little bit of seat-out riding, and tried (but failed) a 180 jump mount. The jump/spins are very practical – no need to do a tricky balanced turn when you can just hop round in one go. 🙂 I also have clearly forgotten this morning’s lesson on the tensile strength of pedal axles, because I’m still doing hops on this unicycle. Time to go shopping

Establishing the perimeter

Tonight, I ended up riding around Inverleith Park in the evening sun. I rode 1.5x round the rough ‘jogging track’ which goes around the outside of the park. I’m starting to really enjoy unicycling on rough ground. It’s everything I enjoy about mountain biking, but about twice as hard. You are constantly analysing possible paths, looking for bumps and checking out which way the local “downhill” is. Sometimes it’s better to ride over a rough bit of ground to get “up high” and then be able to ride downhill from there, or to weave to the side in order to cross a root at right angles. All these plans are made and executed (or discarded) in the space of a second or two. Often, you run out of time to figure out the best route, and have to live with the consequencies of whichever route you were setting up for (how bayesian). Might as well hope for the best, keep pedalling and see what happens!

Kerbs & bumps

It was a lovely morning, and I ended up riding out to and round Ocean Terminal and the harbours, a ride of 5+ miles. I want to learn how to get up kerbs without dismounting – this involves riding, transitioning into hopping, hopping up the kerb, then back to riding. I can do all these bits individually, but only manage them all together about 20% of the time. It’s a great skill to practise – a combination of several moves, and a highly useful outcome at the end.

Riding rough terain is getting way better. The gravel paths and off-road muddy bits on my route are now all easy. In fact, gravel is almost easier than tarmac because the unicycle turns easily on the gravel.

Jumping shindig

I did a wee bit of hopping/jumping practise this evening. I’m improving at seat-out hopping, and so tried jumping my trusty 10x10cm lump of wood seat-out. On the first attempt, my foot slipped off before I landed and I was rewarded by a pretty solid pedal/shin contact. The next two attempts were better – I landed fine, but stepped off before I could get another hop in. I tried doing a “high” jump too (the raison d’etre of jumping seat-out) and landed it fine. The other thing I’m practising is hopping with my weaker foot back – I can sort of do it, but I often tip over forward/backwards. It’s weird that it’s so different to hopping on my ‘good’ foot.

Seatless mount

Ahaha, I just figured out the mount used in the unispin tutorial video, eg. at 1m10s. It looks like Jason puts his foot on the pedal at 6 o’clock, rolls the unicycle forward so that the pedal is at 9 o’clock, then jumps onto it. But that doesn’t work – I tried it! Rather, you gradually transfer your weight onto the lower pedal at the same time as rolling it from 6 to 9. The momentum of the “roll” acts to oppose the increasing weight you’re putting on the pedal, giving you time to get your body up and over the centre of the wheel before the weighted pedal finally defeats the momentum of the roll.

I’ve not mastered it yet. I can get onto the pedals, but usually end up in the dead 6-12 position. I once managed to roll into a seat-out hop though, so I can see where I’m going. Just more practise required. Seat-out hopping, which felt completely mental the first time I tried it, is starting to get better too.

Practical unicycling

I used my unicycle as pure transport for the first time today – a short trip to Tesco to buy some pizzas. I locked up the ‘wheel’ part to the cycle racks and put the seat part into my bag. The effect on my balance of carrying two pizzas and a D-lock was pretty minimal. Going down the steep path felt substantially harder though. Both pizzas survived the journey intact.

Earlier today, I was out under blue skies at Portobello esplanade. I tried three jump mounts, and landed them all. I tried three suicide mounts too, and whilst I landed on the pedals fine, the seat tipped away before I could sit down. I also did about half a mile along the esplanade, with a few cobbles and kerbs thrown in to keep me on my toes. It’s incredible how tiring it is compared to a bicycle. Your legs are spinning much faster, against less resistance, but you’re also constantly adjusting your pedalling rate – pausing a bit, then pedalling like crazy.

My main aim was to practise turns. I got really good at turning left – doing tight turns around some park benches. But I totally suck at turning right .. as in, I can barely do it. I guess I’m not an ambi-turner. Going left, I can pause mid-turn and change direction easily. Turning right, my pedalling speeds up, my positioning feels all wrong, and it feels like my body just doesn’t tilt that way. I need to just stick at it .. stop ‘practising’ the direction I can do and force myself to learn the other direction. Same with freemounts too. I can freemount with either foot, but I waay prefer starting with my right foot. Actually, same with idling too. I spot a pattern here.

Until I master turning right, I’ll just need to do 270° left turns instead …

Suicide mount

“Hold the unicycle upright on front of you, pedals level. Let go of the unicycle and, before it falls over, jump up into the air and land evenly on both pedals, then ride away”.

That’s a no-handed jump mount, aka the “suicide mount”. There’s a rather large psychological barrier to get over here. On all my early attempts, I’d manage to bounce slightly on my toes before some deep-seated self-preservation instinct kicked in and I bottled it. It’s a fully committed jump onto, err, a wheel.

Learning to hop, and riding in/out of hops teaches you how to keep even pressure on the pedals, even when slightly off-balance – an important precursor to doing the jump mount. But, after that, you just have to “go for it”. Strangely, I found that I had more time than I expected in mid-air to find the pedals. Landing is a teeny bit more stable than I’d anticipated. Even if you land on one pedal a millisecond before the other one, your weight pushes the other pedal up towards your feet, creating somewhat of a platform to land on.

So, that’s five different ways I can get onto a unicycle: standard (left & right foots), reverse/rollback, side, jump and no-hands jump. I think I could probably manage all the level 2 skills on a good day, plus hopping and a bit of idling, and I can ride for half a mile in one go. Solid progress.

A jump to the left

Given that I can hop on the spot, what next? Hopping over objects! I started small, hopping over a twig – which was a good idea since I landed right on it first time, crushing it. A bit later I was hopping across a long 10x10cm offcut of wood. It’s a kinda interesting thing to learn. To hop on the spot, you keep the tyre under you. But to hop sideways, you need to arrange things so you start falling to the side, such that when you’re compressing pre-jump you’re pushing down back towards where your tyre is. Then you launch into the air, remembering to pull up onto the seat because the unicycle isn’t going to magically stick to your feet (i can attest to this). In mid-air, your tyre overtakes you so that it lands beyond your centre of gravity otherwise you’ll tip right over. Then hopefully you can hop a few times, and then line up for another jump.

I went out to the park later, where it was blowing a gale. Turns are improving – a few wide 360’s, still lurchy but getting better. I can freemount into a hop, then go from a hop into forward riding (need to set up a forward tip). I can sometimes manage to go from forward riding back into a hop, but it’s a bit hit-and-miss. I rode down one of the steeper paths in the park, and also rode back along the rough path near to the river.

I am, however, completely knackered now.

Idling breakthrough

Aha, I think I’ve started to suss idling. Two things have changed since yesterday. Firstly, I realised that the ground outside my flat is slightly sloping. I’d always been starting at the downhill end, and wobbling quickly into the wall. Now I’ve switched to starting at the uphill end, I have much more time on the unicycle before I run out of space. It’s an ungainly crab-wobble, but I’m staying on.

Secondly, I think figuring out turns has helped a lot. Idling requires quick and definite hip-twists to keep the wheel under you. But the twists need to be timed properly so that they don’t unbalance you. There’s a sweet spot in the forward/backwards direction, and if you only turn at that sweet spot, you stay upright. So after yesterday’s turning practise, I’m getting that right without thinking about it .. freeing me to focus on the other bits of idling.

I’ve also noticed that I need micro-pauses in my forward/backward pendulum motion. If you watch videos of people idling, it looks like they going forward/back very regularly. But the regularity is a bit misleading. The aim isn’t to go back and forward regularly per se. But you do need to keep the wheel moving in order to keep it below your centre of gravity, and allow you to migrate side-to-side. You’re limited to about a half-turn of the pedals forward/backwards, and if you find that’s not enough then pausing momentarily before changing direction can give you back your desired lean angle.

So, all in all, here’s how I learned to idle:
* Practise rocking back/forward in a narrow corridor for hours until the rocking motion is second nature. Keep your upper body still, pivoting at your pelvis. Try letting go of the wall for as long as possible, but don’t fret about the fact you can’t do side-to-side balance (it’s not possible in a narrow space, at least at first).
* Practise unicycling in a straight line, over gentle slopes and gentle bumps so you get used ‘feeling your balance’ and adjusting.
* Practise doing wide turns, so you get used to twisting at your hips and the effect of doing that on your balance.
* Then practise, practise, practise on idling itself. Keep your weight on your seat, look into the distance, wave your arms around etc.

Going round in circles

This morning I found a useful square of tarmac just off the cyclepath – slightly sloping, large enough to practise wide turns and with a handy sloping kerb which offered gradually increasing drop-offs.

I’ve figured out turns. They’re not very graceful – more like a succession of lurches – but they’re effective. It’s just a case of leaning/looking where you want to go, then some quick pedal work to make sure the wheel stays under you. Turning left is much easier than turning right – probably because I’ve been practising right-foot idling so much.

I did a mix of other stuff – the rough woodland path again, some speed bumps, and a bit of hopping. I managed to ride off from a side mount successfully once (lost count of unsuccessful attempts). Freemounting is becoming second nature – so glad I learned that last year.

I still haven’t nailed idling. I’m beginning to think that practising in my corridor isn’t working – the walls are too close, so there’s no space to change direction. I’ve started practising outside, which also means I have to learn how to mount straight into an idle.