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.