Beginning Unicycling

Collected Wisdom on Starting Unicycling
Last Modified: 03/95

I have gone through all articles related to Unicycling from the rec.juggling archives and culled what I felt was useful and interesting information which all beginning unicyclists would like to know.

This is a big document, probably of interest only to those who cannot yet ride a uni. Because of its size, I have divided it into four stages and you could maybe read this document in stages.

-Ram Prasad

Begin Part 1 of this document


there are 2 things to remember when trying to learn to ride 1. you must keep your weight on the seat, NOT on the pedals. 2. sit up very very straight, as if the seat post is going straight up your ass into your back (look at the great riders, that is how they look)

other things: when you start the pedals should be almost on a horizontal plane,and your f first leg "stroke" will be to push down. getting on with one pedal up and one down ensures you of severely whipping a pedal around into your shin when you make that first step on. a good idea in any case is to wear nice padded hightops and kneesox and long pants and chainmail.

then, when you start going, KEEP PEDALING. forward momentum is critical. when you are riding you (and the uniseat and fork etc.) will be leaning very slightly forward, which is the direction you are traveling.

it is nice to have something to hold onto to start, like a lamppost or a wall. also nice is a hallway with walls sort of close together, so you can put out a hand when you start to lose your balance.

hey, i remember what the third thing is! keep your eyes focused ahead of you, not down! like any other balance thing, walking a wire, balancing a club on your nose like a seal or like sandy from purdue (you should see it it is VERY amazing and spectacular and funny!) you keep your eyes on the endpoint if it is an object, and off in the distance ahead of you if it is you traveling. there now. i am sure i gave lots of silly misinformation in a difficult to understanding fashion. but at least it gets the ball rolling. hahaha next week: rolling globes!

Christian Dechamplain:

I know a better way to get on that uni:

-Put the pedals in an almost vertical position, your dominant leg using the lower pedal and the other on solid ground.

-Make balance with your dominant arm while holding the seat in front with the other hand.

-Place your inbetweenthelegs comfortably on the seat (this is very important)

-Swing your body along with the seat over the wheel

-Release the holding hand to make balance

-Start to pedal

This is a lot easier than pushing the unicycle under you because this way you and the unicycle will always be going in the same direction.

I also advise beginners to use a wall when they start, its a lot more reliable than anything else. I used a wall myself to learn to go forwards, backwards and on place.


(Glen Raphael):

I advise people *not* to start on a wall. Leaning on a wall throws off your balance. The best way to start to unicycle is to get two chairs and place them back to back a couple feet apart. Put the unicycle between the chairs as shown:

     |   ===   |
     |    Y    |
     |    |    |
+----+    U    +----+
|    |    U    |    |
|    |  - U-   |    |
|    |    U    |    |
|    |    U    |    |
The chair backs should be at about waist level when you are on the unicycle.

In that position, you can brace yourself against the chair arms for support as you sit upon the unicycle. Practice stepping forwards or backwards off the unicycle just letting it clatter to the ground a few times (tape the seat first so you don't scratch it up) and you'll know how to stop without killing yourself. Then, practice just pedalling forwards and backwards in place a half rotation or whatever you can do while still holding on to those chair backs. Do this until you feel sort of comfortable on the thing, until you don't feel like you are about to fall forwards or backwards as you do this. (Falling sideways will take care of itself. Don't worry about it.)

When you get up enough courage, just pedal forward just like you did in the forward-and-backward-in-place exercise, but let go of the chair arms and keep pedalling. Flail your arms around wildly (I mean this). When you start to fall over, step forward or backward off the unicycle letting it clatter to the ground. Return to start. Measure your progress in how many feet you travel before falling/stopping. When you can do thirty feet, you can go indefinitely.

REMEMBER TO FLAIL YOUR ARMS AROUND. That's the most important part. If you keep your arms at your sides you will never learn to unicycle. As soon as you let go of the chair, put your arms straight out from your body and do what comes naturally. You will find with time that you can use your arms to steady your balance, throwing them one way to get your body to lean the other way. But until then, just flail. Scream if you have to to get in the mood, but flail. That's an order.

More advanced stuff:

Turning the unicycle -- Just flail one arm more than the other in a swimming motion. Allow yourself a lot of room, like a parking lot. Bring a folding chair or two in the trunk, or lean on your car to start.

Keeping the unicycle from clattering to the ground -- You should be able to catch it with one hand as you dismount, but this is less important than getting off without falling.

Keeping your hands at your side -- Once you can ride 50 feet and turn while flailing, THEN you can think about reducing the flailing and using more subtle movements to correct your motion. Just gradually try to lower your hands to waist level as you ride around town. You can always throw them out again when you get into trouble, and you will.

Unicycling in place, starting up without leaning on anything else, riding down stairs, skipping rope while on a unicycle -- You're on your own. Whatever else you want to do now, just give it a shot!

Glen Raphael

Ed Carstens:

I'll tell you how I learned to ride. First, I found getting on the uni to be difficult -- it required a wall or something to hang on to as I mounted (people will work for this too). Once I got pretty good at pedaling around while holding on to something, I got up my courage and started pedaling straight from the wall out without anything to grab onto. This technique worked for me with only a few spills and none really that bad. Main thing to avoid is falling backwards but you will probably avoid this by instinct. As I remember it I usually fell forwards or sideways. Use your arms and torso to steer the uni. (You won't be able to make a graceful turn until you get a lot more experience.) It took me 3 days to get to where I could ride straight for a long time before falling. It took me about a year to ride gracefully. Riding backwards took several years for me and there's still a lot of stuff I can't do on a uni. But juggling while riding straight is really easy!

Barry Friedman:

One tip I can give you is not to look down! Keep your focus straight ahead. It is basically the same principle that lets you walk without looking at your feet.

Begin Part 2 of this document

Dr. C.D. Wright:

I taught myself to unicycle and the best advice I can give is the following.

"You're not trying to stay on it. You're trying to keep it under you."

If you fall off forwards, you didn't pedal enough. If you fall off backwards, you pedalled too fast. Don't worry about sideways, start beside a wall on a hard, smooth surface. Grass is tough to cycle on. When you fall off, don't try to stay on too long, 'cos that's the only way you'll get hurt. When you fall off, think!

"Did I fall off because the wheel shot out in front?" Control it's speed.

"Did I fall off because the wheel stopped?" Top-dead-centre is a position in which you have now power to control the wheel.

Start beside a wall with the pedals level, left foot forward. Now let yourself fall forwards, keeping the wheel steady. After falling a little way (which will be further than you think) put the wheel smoothly and fairly quickly through a half turn. Your residual forward fall velocity should now be just enough to bring you back to upright. Now do it again, starting with the other foot.

That's how I learned, and how I teach. Seems to work, so give it a go.

Marc Majka:

I've only had a few hours on a friend's unicycle, but I was getting nowhere fast until I found an old pair of short ski-poles. I could use them to push the earth away when it started getting a bit too close.

michael elkins:

My suggestion is to go forward and slow down, and then start to go backwards, just to get the feel of it. Then, try imitating the motions while holding on to a fence. When you get the hang of it, try letting go of the wall.

Remember! Try not to let your oscillations become too small, lest you end up with your peddles vertical (a BAD THING (tm)).

Ab Wilson:

If it's any consolation I don't think there is an easy to learn the uni. You can try riding beside a wall running your hand along it to keep balance. You can try getting a friend to lend a shoulder to lean on. However all this will do is teach you how to ride a uni while running your hand along a wall/leaning on someone's shoulder when what you really want to do is ride the uni without any external aids.

IMHO the only way to learn to ride a uni is to.

1) Get on it. 2) Lean forward much further than you think you should. 3) Peddle as fast as you can until you fall off (not very long).

It doesn't actually take that long before you can ride about 20 feet this way (you may count your progress by the number of bruises you acquire). Unfortunately 20 feet was the size of the patio I learned on so I never got past this stage. My uni has currently got a flat tyre so I haven't been practicing lately.

Peter Lister:

I spent about three weeks going every other lunchtime to the sports hall at work, and practising for half an hour.

I started by supporting myself on a wall, and riding along it, which many people seem to reject as a bad idea. I think it works, but *only* if your objective is to use the wall a s little as possible. It means that you can learn the pedal control - unicycling is much more about controlling the pedals than balance - without falling over a lot. Then, when I could move along the wall fairly fast with minimal support, I tried to steer away from it. Trying to learn by relying on props simply means that you learn to rely on the props.

If you can find a wall which has a safe, uncluttered external corner, that's useful. Fortunately, the sports hall has a short tunnel leading to a fire exit, which meant that I could support myself on either wall to mount and build up speed, then continue in a straight(ish) line, beyond the end of the tunnel into a big open space.

Slow unicycling is difficult. Balance becomes much easier at a jogging pace. Don't worry about mounting or idling until you can ride forward. Don't worry about steering. By the time you've learned to ride, you'll have that worked out (though probably not consciously).

Do experiment with saddle height. I found that having the saddle as high as comfortably possible was good; falling takes longer, so you have more time to recover.


OK, here's how I learned to ride a unicycle. The following assumes you are right footed, make the appropriate modifications if you're not.

Start off with a wall and a smooth surface. Stand with the wall on your left and the cycle in front of you, right pedal mostly down, but slightly towards you. Put your foot on it. (the pedal) Now put all your weight on it. The cycle can't roll, but will twist. If your already sitting on the saddle, which you mostly should be, use your hands against the wall to stop the twist. You should now be able to sit on the saddle, have all your weight on the right pedal, your left hand on the wall, and your right hand flailing about madly.

Now, using both hands on the wall if you must, push the left pedal back until the pedals are at equal height. Thus you will have done a quarter turn backwards. Keep it balanced there. Rock back and forth by _very_ small amounts, just to get the feel of it. This is hard work, tiring, and if you've got this far you're doing really quite well.

Now for the theory. The art of staying on a unicycle is not to stay on, but to keep the wheel under you. If you simply pedal, it will shoot out in front and you will fall off. So, if you are going to travel forward you need to start by letting yourself fall forwards, and then pedal to catch up. So, here's what to do. Let yourself start to fall forwards, then in one, smooth movement, pedal forwards one half turn, then stop. If you succeed you will then have your left foot forward, be shaking, and ready for a shot of something strong. If it didn't work then either ...

You fell backwards        You fell forwards       The wheel stopped
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~       ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This is usually caused    Here you probably       Usually caused by
by not falling far        had trouble getting     not making the half
enough forwards first,    the wheel started.      turn fully under
and being too anxious     Make sure the pedals    control.  When the
to start pedalling.       are level to begin      foot gets to the
You pedal too soon,       with, and aim for a     bottom of the stroke
too fast, the wheel       single, smooth, half    you have no power,
shoots off in front,      turn.                   and the wheel stops.
and you fall back.

When you master this process, you can do it again, starting with the other foot. Then again, and again, until you fairly scoot along the wall with near perfect fore-aft balance. Then you're ready for the next step - the leap into the beyond.

Start from a corner, and simply cycle. Your arms will windmill, and you'll fall off, but this is the only way to progress.

That's it. Good luck.

Duane Starcher:

I am a bit long in the tooth (and the leg) to ride a unicycle, but I read some advice that I expect would be useful. The chap said that the first order of business was to learn how to fall. Practice what happens when you go over, forward, backward (sideways?). Just a bit of this will build confidence in what you have to do to keep from hurting yourself and will improve your attention to actually staying on top by having fall-recovery more in an automatic mode.

Ab Wilson:

Falling off is really easier, I got that sussed straight away ;-)

Seriously I don't think uni is that dangerous. 80% of the the time when you fall off you land on your feet. The worst thing IMHO that happens is this: you loose your balance, one foot slips off the paddle and the other foot stays on, this causes the other peddle to come spinning round and give you a crack on the shin that you won't forget for a long time. (Ooouch)

 >bit of this will build confidence in what you have to do to keep from
 >hurting yourself and will improve your attention to actually staying on
 >top by having fall-recovery more in an automatic mode.

Yep, once this had happened to me a few times I pretty soon learned not to do it.

Another related point about getting good at falling off: Most people will be happy to let you have a go on their uni, but they will all say, "if you're going to fall off then grab the seat". To which you say sure no problem and forget about it. Yeah right, you're attempting to balance on top of the single most stupid form of transport on the planet which is about as keen to have you riding on it's back as you are to swallow it whole with a bit of garlic butter to help the pointy bits go down, and the last thing that's going to pass through your mind as you see the ground coming towards is "grab the seat". Yeah, right. You then (almost immediately) fall off and send the aforesaid seat skidding and ricocheting across whatever surface you were learning on with the rest of the uni spinning and twisting it's mangled way close behind. It is only then that you remember "grab the seat" just as the owner looks round to see what that horrible scrapping noise was. The mark of someone who can't ride a unicycle, but who nevertheless is one stage up from all the other nobodies out there who can't ride a uni either, is that when they fall off they grab the seat.

Begin Part 3 of this document

M. Tillotson:

Try forcing yourself to sit bolt upright on the saddle, take maybe 70--80% of your weight on the saddle, try to keep equal force on both pedals, and DON'T LOOK DOWN!!! Look forward to where you want to get, push your shoulders and chest forward, then lean forward _more_ than feels safe, and only then start pedaling. The slower you go the harder you have to work. Concentrate on your destination and in keeping you legs from taking all your weight. Wiggle the saddle to keep the wheel pointing the way you're actually heading.

These tips really helped me to get to the 20 foot stage, through occasional use of a borrowed unicycle. I would also say that it seems important to get well warmed up first. You have to get over the fear of launching yourself forward before you can make progress I think.

Allen K:

I am a big advocate of learning hard things in easy pieces, and found it very useful to not have to learn the front-and-back and side-to-side aspects of balancing on a unicycle at the same time. So I recommend having helpers (such as a wall), as does the author of "How to ride a unicycle".

Take this with a grain of salt as I have only tried to teach two other people.


The best way to go from starting with the aid of a wall or similar object to a standing free start is to use something like a sidewalk curb or the bottom stair of a staircase. Put the wheel up against the curb or stair with the pedals horizontal to the ground and your dominant foot on the back pedal. You dominant foot is typically on the same side as your dominant hand (i.e. left or right handed). Sit squarely on the seat with all of your weight on the seat itself. If you try to relieve the weight with your legs, you will tire out much faster and have very little steering ability.

Now for the leap of faith: Push against the back pedal to stop forward motion and get comfortable with that. When you're ready, put your other foot on the front pedal and start pedaling forward. Next, pick yourself up, dust off and try it again.

The Schwinn owners manual has a tip that is priceless for gaining confidence and improving your balance. Hold your arms at 90 degree angles (bent at the elbow) out from your body and parallel to the ground with your hands pointed forward. You should look like you have bulls horns extending from your shoulders I'm not sure why it works but everyone who I've taught really seem to excel when they are at your level by using this. If you can get a copy of the Schwinn owners manual (about $5 from and dealer) it would be well worth the effort. I still have my original from 15 years ago.

Another piece of advise that was given to me a couple of years ago and has become a central phylosophy is the 10 minute rule. Quite simply, when you get bored with something because you can't seem to master it. Look at your watch and don't give up for at least another 10 minutes. I guarantee that you'll learn whatever it is that you are trying to learn.

Good Luck and happy wheeling. I've been riding since I was 12 and am now pushing 31. I ride every chance I get and hope to always be blessed with a healthy enough body to continue. A friend of mine is 72 and still rides every day.

Peter Lister:

Religious war starts here.

I find starting with a static wheel backed up against a kerb the most difficult thing to do. The whole point of unicycling is that the wheel hardly ever stops moving, so how star ting off with a static wheel is supposed to make things easier I fail to understand. The people who tried to teach me when I started made me do this. I fell off. Not until I was on my own and I mounted *parallel* to a wall was I able to feel how the wheel moved benea th me without falling over. After that it made sense.

I'm sure that starting this way also made learning free mounting easier, since free mount ing just developed from what I was already doing, but without the wall there to help. Han Religious war starts here.

I find starting with a static wheel backed up against a kerb the most difficult thing to do. The whole point of unicycling is that the wheel hardly ever stops moving, so how star ting off with a static wheel is supposed to make things easier I fail to understand. The people who tried to teach me when I started made me do this. I fell off. Not until I was on my own and I mounted *parallel* to a wall was I able to feel how the wheel moved benea th me without falling over. After that it made sense.

I'm sure that starting this way also made learning free mounting easier, since free mount ing just developed from what I was already doing, but without the wall there to help. Han ds up all the people who free mount by putting the pedals horizontal and staying motionle ss while lifting the 2nd foot.

Evidently, though, many people do learn this way, and they seem to find it easy. So the m oral of this story is; don't be dogmatic. If you are learning, try both ways and stick wi th the one that works for you; ignore anyone who tells you that "there's only one way". I f you are teaching, don't assume that the way you learned is the only one.


The man has a point about dogmatism. Try anything that feels comfortable. Another trick that I've used as a _TEMPORARY_ aid to get started is using two downhill ski poles. It increases your balance platform and allows you to get a feel for how it works. As soon as you feel like you understand what to do, dump the poles. Crutches are only good to get you moving; don't let yourself come to rely on them.

Rick Wilson:

I have to disagree. I started with stabilizers (training-wheels around here) on my bike. After a while they were in my way, I couldn't turn corners fast enough. So I had Dad take them off, and off I went. The better I got with them, the less I needed them.

I learned unicycle the hard way, shedding lots of blood, literally. I would think that ski poles would help avoid that, and the better you got with ski poles the less you would use them. They would eventually be in your way and you would discard them, bloodless.

Andrew Arhelger:

Preventing injury while learning to ride a unicycle:

I would recommend going to K-Mart and picking up a pair of soccer shin guards. They cost about $6, which is inexpensive protection.

When learning to get on the unicycle without holding on to anything you put the pedals horizontal with one foot placed on the back pedal. You then sort of hop on and get the other foot on the second pedal. If you miss with the second foot the pedal can come around and really whap you in the shin. The shin guards will help a lot.

Take it from a beginner...

Peter Lister:

Well, if you start off with the pedals *horizontal* then put weight on the back pedal it *will* whap you painfully when you miss.

Try starting off with the pedals almost vertical, the lower one about 20 degrees behind the axle. I've been happily free mounting this way for a year; never needed shinpads, even when learning. Also, since your second foot is aiming for the top pedal, misses tend to go over the top.

This is what works for me. I suggest you try several alternatives, different angles, etc, and see what works for you.

Begin Part 4 of this document

Rick Langlois:

To learn to "free mount" you might try putting a block of wood (or similar item) behind the wheel. Set your pedals up to where you want them, with the wheel touching the block. This will help you control the wheel a little and it puts one step between a wall mount and a totally free mount. One word of caution! Be careful not to land on the block if you fall.

Unicycling is a dangerous sport! Always practice with your mommy watching :-}

Bert Neff:

I looked at the JIS and Unicycle WWW help pages on unicycling, which are good. I especially like the idea of learning by holding friends shoulders/hands/ one hand - if you have friends who'll do this for 15 minutes at a time for 3 or 4 times. If you don't have these friends tho, the help pages seemed to gloss over the starting position when mounting the unicycle.

The important thing in my experience is to have the pedal arms horizontal, or maybe the back pedal up just a bit. The back pedal should be the same all the time till you get used to mounting, pick your best foot (often the opposite of your best hand). Stick an arm out to a good wall and push down on the back pedal as you quickly hop on, putting the other foot on the front pedal. If you miss the unicycle it is going to go backwards, just let it fall - don't go with it - this is also where knee/shin guards are helpful - the other stuff may not be a bad idea, but it's not like you're ever going to go real fast. This should get you on the unicycle, and from there, just follow along the wall for awhile (some say this leads to asymmetry, I think it will resolve itself). Notice how casually I said *just*. Something I did was following the front of the house, past the garage. Once I got good at that, and practiced a bit without support, I rolled up the garage door and tried to go from one side to the other.

This stuff probably could be determined by thinking it thru, but somebody told me and it saved time (and shins ;->).

I thought once I could go five feet or maybe ten feet I could go forever, but that was not the case. It took me a *long* time to get good at this, while my cousin picked it up almost immediately - he didn't spend as much time along a wall either - he's also not afraid to 'crash and burn'. Of course, in elementary school I got good grades in everything, but my coordination 'needed improvement'.

Peter Philip:

You seem to be suggesting that the back pedal should be level or higher than the front one. This method is likely to make the front pedal swing back with excessive violence and hit your shin if you are not ready for it - a feeling I remember well as a self-taught unicyclist. 8-(

Most unicyclists mount with the back pedal around 30 - 45 degrees lower than horizontal - exact angles vary greatly according to taste.

Jeff R. Allen:

Bert Neff ( wrote:

  The important thing in my experience is to have the pedal arms
  horizontal, or maybe the back pedal up just a bit.  The back pedal
  should be the same all the time till you get used to mounting, pick
  your best foot (often the opposite of your best hand).  Stick an arm
  out to a good wall and push down on the back pedal as you quickly hop
  on, putting the other foot on the front pedal.

The progression many of us use here at Harvey Mudd (where at least five new unics have been created this year alone) is somewhat different.

We have long balconies on our dorms with handrails at about seat height plus 9 inches. Using two hands on the railing, and a little strategy about where you start the pedals off, you can get your butt on the seat and get steady. Then you can practice moving back and forth along the railing to get the feel of pedaling it, and what to do when the uni falls. After a few hours of this (over a few days) people can generally go the length of the dorm (> 50 feet) by sliding their hand on the rail with very little pressure. This confidence makes it easier to go to the next level.

The next level is actually the lower level: we go down to the courtyard of the dorm, which has a friendly concrete block wall facing a smooth patch of concrete. There, you put the uni in front of you, with your back to the wall, and mount by pushing down on the rearmost pedal until the uni comes under you, and comes to rest against the wall. You can put both hands behind you on the wall to steady yourself and then you leave forward until you need to pedal to stay up, go a few feet, then fall. Repeat until you can ride!

I have found that learning goes in leaps and bounds. One day, the railing seems so hard, then later that same day, you only need to run a finger along it for confidence. Then you go down to the courtyard and you are completely hopeless again until it clicks and you go 50 feet instead of five. I always encourage people who are learning with this news: they may be frustrated now, but they may also be within two or three tries of the next plateau, making a quantum leap in their skill.

Learning to turn and free mount are the only other really important skills to use the Uni for day-to-day transportation. These seem to come essentially the same way, especially for free mounting. If you try it enough times, you begin to understand why it isn't working for you. Then you make a change, and it starts working every 10th time. Then you refine that a bit, and it works forever more. For me, I noticed that I didn't have the leg power to jump right up on, so I tried using a running start. My friends all say I am crazy to try to hit two moving pedals -- first the right as it comes up to me, then the left as my butt gets seated and the wheel comes to a temporary halt -- instead of just one, but it works for me.

I call this the "infinite monkeys" method of learning to Uni, since it is akin to leaving an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters, hoping that in infinite time, a masterpiece will result. The rest of what the monkeys produce is transmitted directly onto Usenet. :)

Brian D Milner

Les brought a pair of walking sticks to the club last night (for Uni practise). Every budding Unicyclist tried them out, and they seemed to work quite well. They were long enough to comfortably lean on, and most people could wobble across the floor for a while before the Uni would skid out from under them and knock down a couple of jugglers.

I'd suggest that others try this method - it's rather a good idea :-)

Compiled from rec.juggling archives
Ram Prasad / Juggling Information Service /