Sweet, tonight I watched one of the Voodoo Unicycle tutorials (Edinburgh folks can play spot the location). Now, 360 unispins are a bit beyond me right now, but it gave me the idea to try hopping on the spot. Ten minutes later, and I’ve totally nailed it, woot!

I’ve tried hopping before without success, but this time I a) lowered tyre pressures waay down, b) lowered the seat waay down, and c) tried to hop in a four-corners-of-a-square pattern rather than on-the-spot. The last thing is what made all the difference. Trying to hop on the spot was just a dumb idea. The whole point of hopping is to ensure that you land with the wheel under where your centre of gravity is going to be. So, if you tilt a bit to the side, you need to be jumping to the side. By forcing myself to jump around in a square pattern, it made me do a side-to-side pattern which is what led to my breakthrough. Four hops led to ten hops, then thirty, then fifty, then a spectacular crash before I finally managed to do a hundred. I love numerically quantifiable progress. 🙂

I also tried cycling backwards tonight in my corridor (lots of walls to hang onto). Strangely, it doesn’t feel too different to cycling forward. When unicycling your sense of balance is primary and your eyes are kinda secondary. Someday I’m going to have to try it out for real without a wall. Given that I still haven’t nailed idling, I’ll try cycling backwards for a while and see if that helps me grok idling.

Oh, and I finally changed the title of this blog to be a bit more accurate. Can’t remember who told me I should do this, but I’ve finally done it!

Going the distance

I was up early today, and went out onto the cycle paths with my unicycle. It was a good morning – I ended up riding for 4.5 miles, including a wee bit of rough woodland path. I’ve figured out a fair bit of direction control, enough to avoid riding over potholes or broken glass, by doing a one-handed breast-stroke kinda thing. I can consciously move from the left side of the path to the right side to go past walkers and dogs, and can get round curves and bends.

My balance is improving. Forward/back is pretty solid .. I only had one UPD (unplanned dismount) and that was when going up a hill. I can feel how the balance point changes when going up and down hills and adjust my position accordingly, but hills are definitely hard. To keep balanced, you need a very smooth pedal stroke. Hills act against that, either by speeding you up or slowing you down. Downhill is particularly weird. It feels like you are pedalling backwards, because you are constantly opposing gravity’s efforts to make the pedals go round fast.

Left/right balance is improving due to my idling practise. I twist and bend at my waist more than I used to, and also change the pressure that I’m putting through each pedal.

I can see why people use larger-wheel unicycles for going distances – the wheel size is your gearing. On my smaller wheel, you can go at maybe 3x walking speed before the pedaling rate gets crazy high.

I rode through a puddle and noticed that the wet track I left weaves left and right noticably. I think that’s why it’s easy to balance once you’ve got some speed up. You’re spending half the time with the wheel left, and half the time with the wheel right of your centre of gravity. If you start to tip to the left, you can briefly slow down your pedalling rate when the wheel is on the appropriate side and that corrects your balance.

Last week I bought a longer seat stem, since I’m tall and the stock stem was over-extended. I also got a pair of flat soled grippy shoes. I’ve been unicycling in walking boots up until now, but the irregular sole pattern sometimes messed up my foot placement. The new shoes are much better. They’re almost too grippy though – it’s harder to readjust your foot placement once you’ve been on for a while.

Right, looks like the next thing to nail is doing tight turns.

Unicycling v2

Last year, I started trying to ride a unicycle. I quickly learned that there’s no “magic trick” to it. It is just genuinely very very difficult. You “balance” by ensuring that contact patch of your tyre is directly below your centre of gravity. Simples! That lovely state of equilibrium doesn’t last long though. If you start to tip forward, you need to pedal to move the tyre forward so that it’s underneath you again. If you pedal at just the right speed, you end up in a state of perpetual forwarding-falling called “actually riding a unicycle”.

That’s the analytical version anyway. The reality is more humbling. There’s no time to “think” this stuff. You just try, again and again, hundreds of times. At first, you have no clue what you’re trying to do (except falling off without injury). After days/weeks of this, something clicks in your brain. In your random flailings, you stumble across something that seems to work a little bit better than average. You try to recreate this magic moment, and after countless more attempts, you experience it again. It might take days before you can reproduce it reliably. You might be able to vocalise what you did, but more often than not, it’s just that the sum total of tiny adjustments which you’ve accumulated has finally crossed a threshold of actually achieving something visible (the “experience phenotype”?!).

All of this sounds like unrewarding strife. But think what a four year old goes through trying to learn to ride a bicycle – it’s the same experience. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve stuck at unicycling. It gives me a great insight into what it’s like for my child to learn to ride a bicycle.

Last year, I managed to ride 50m in a straight line a few times, and learned how to freemount (ie. getting on the unicycle without holding onto anything). That makes me a level one unicyclist, according to the American Unicycling Society of America.

This year I’ve started trying to idle on the spot. I’ve spend countless evenings trying this, but still haven’t nailed it. I’m getting there though. I’ve managed to balance for about 5 seconds. I’ve started to “understand” what it is that’s going to keep me from falling to the side. And I’ve managed (once) to cycling in a straight line, pause, cycle backwards, and then resume forward travel. Just once, and I’m not really sure how I did it.

But all this idle practise (ha!) is paying dividends in other ways. I went unicycling in the park today for the first time this year. Managed my 50m a few times, and started to grok steering by virtue of a “wax on, wax off” hand gesture. The idle practise has given me a finer sense of balance, and that makes it feel like I have more time to sort things out mid-cycle. I unicycled back from the park (in stages), handling sloping driveways and a fairly steep hill near my flat.