My unicycling history and progress

Deze pagina in het Nederlands


This page documents what brought me to unicycling - and what I'm worth at it. On several occasions I wanted to recall my skill level or progression at some point, and had to sift through notes, e-mails and posts. So this web page is intended to have a handy record for myself more than anything else. If it inspires you, all the better. Even though I started mid 2000, I am still very much in the learning stage (and enjoying it!), and I consider myself a relatively slow learner at unicycling. So don't be put off - you are likely to progress quicker!

In the mid-1980's I took a one-year class in acrobatics (one night per week). On one occasion the workshop leader brought some unicycles for a change. Quite a few of my fellow would-be acrobats enjoyed it and many could wobble for a few meters after just one hour of practice. I only made a fool of myself and decided this was definitely not for me. Never thought of unicycling again until...

My circus-crazy daughter Jorga wanted a unicycle very badly (how she got that unworldly idea I don't know), and we bought her a 20" Showtime for her 11th birthday in January 2000. I enjoyed teaching her how to ride and freemount. I was still a non-rider at the time but I quickly found and other internet resources. When I saw her picking it up I noticed a slowly-emerging itch to try (again) and learn myself as well. Many people in who had never met me were very helpful and several also advised like: scratch that itch - learn to ride too - why let her have all the fun.

In June 2000 we discovered a unicycle club not very far away (BTW also via - thank you Stef Huizer). They were very open to beginners and I took my first lesson in June but the second only in September 2000 after the summer break. So I reckon 10 September 2000 is day 1 of modern history.

After two lessons (four hours of practice) on a 24" wheel I could sometimes ride 1 meter unsupported. After 3 lessons I got 5 meter maximum, unsupported but along a wallrack which gave a secure feeling. After 4 lessons I made a couple of 10 m rides through the gym, what a blast to discover I could do it! I had clocked somewhat more than 8 hours of solid practice by now because I had borrowed Jorga's 20" uni a few times.

By mid October 2000 I could reliably ride a few hundred meters on a smooth road surface, and ride a circle of 6 meter diameter. I was practicing on a borrowed 24" Semcycle for 30-60 minutes every day, weather permitting, and even though I consider myself a slow learner on the uni, was very satisfied with my progress.

End October 2000 I knew this unicycling virus was here to stay and I bought a 24" Semcycle (a "general purpose" choice). Minke, my other (younger) daughter got infected as well and we bought her a Semcycle 20" so now we had 3 unis in the house. (My wife briefly tried and then gave up. Maybe she is like me and needs 15 years to let it sink in. Or really, it was mostly her back condition that stopped her.) I could ride circles of 3 m diameter, and I also practiced riding slowly. I started working on my freemount but I found it formidably difficult.

End November 2000 I began freemounting successfully though not yet reliably. Because of the winter (dark, cold, wet) outdoors riding was restricted to the weekends, often with one or both daughters. Less practicing means less progress: no milestones for a few months. I aspired to achieve level 1 (freemount, ride, dismount) but not more, as that would be sufficient to ride around the neighbourhood (town, parks, polders). Boy was I short-sighted!

March 2001 I obtained my level 1 certificate! After a half year of practicing I was entitled to say "I can ride a unicycle". Jorga got her level 2 on the same occasion, Minke nailed 1 earlier on but was not ready yet for 2. I realised that level 1 is not the end but rather the beginning, so I changed my adagium from "Level 1 and not more" to "Steady improvement with no end". Like most unicyclists, really.

April 2001 I built a 10 x 10 object that could also be adjusted to a lower height (as well as a bit higher just to be sure). We had good fun practicing to clear it at various heights, and found that the concept of stepping up the height by small increments worked wonderfully well.

In May 2001 I started riding distances on my 24", I mean like 5 or 10 kilometers, in the polders or on dunes near the seaside. Most of it on paved surfaces but some on unsurfaced paths. I had little or no physical problems such as saddle soreness or aching muscles.

In the summer of 2001 I discovered the fun of riding slopes up and down, we do have a selection of sloping paths and trails in a nearby park. I noticed that for me, riding down was way easier than up, but either way I could not nearly apply as much force to the pedals on the uni as compared to on a bicycle. If I did apply more force I lost the fine control for balance and bailed out.

In July of 2001 I participated in a music camp with circus as its secondary theme, and gave a workshop unicycling, together with Jorga and Minke. We could accept only 6 people, having 3 unis with us. After two hours, several could wobble a few meters by themselves! That is a different (indirect) kind of achievement but equally rewarding.

In the fall of 2001 I made slow progress with light offroad riding. I also put my unicycling website online (but not this "progress" page yet).

October 2001 (in the unicycling club) I tried a 24" unicycle with an axle that was eccentrically placed in the wheel with moderate offset, axle 2 or 3 inches off the wheel centre. I found it actually surprisingly easy to ride. Not good for speed though because of spontaneous jumping. Weird to get back to your normal wheel immediately after it: couldn't ride it because my reflexes were biased!

In December 2001 I started working on idling. For me, idling was easier to learn on a 20" than on a 24" wheel. Often got to 3 idles in a row. I think my forward/backward balance worked OK but the sideways balance was where it broke down.

In January 2002 I added idling with my weak foot down to the list of "things to be worked on". I found that the ability to idle greatly helped with the rollback mount, that quickly succeeded the standard "static" mount as my favourite.

In February 2002 I started working seriously on mounting with my weak foot. Had some success on a 20" wheel by just firmly pushing the pedal down before the actual mount (so-called beginners mount). But hey, it worked... well ummm somewhat.

In March 2002 also riding backwards was added to the practice roll. Initially I could not get past one revolution as I could not easily suppress my reflex to just step off the uni.

In April 2002 I added hopping on the spot to my list of exercises to be done each session. So now I had idling with either foot down (25 times resp 4 times), backwards riding (10 m) and hopping (15 times). In brackets are the maxima that I achieved a few times. Also in this month I passed the level 2 exam on a borrowed 20" unicycle. I still have to practice the weak foot mount on my 24". Decided that my next (second, that is) unicycle will be one geared towards offroad. (Hey I didn't say the unicycle would be geared. That would be nice though for my third uni...)

In May and June 2002 I focused on off-road riding, also known as MUni (Mountain Unicycling). I decided for myself that MUni is my preferred branch of unicycling. So other skill development (backward riding etc) slipped a bit at this time. I went out 2 or 3 times a week, weather permitting, to cruise the trails in our park. Got a lot of encouraging comments from mountain bikers. I improved a lot on the steepness of slopes I could negotiate. Downward I can now do pretty much everything in our park, while upward I improved a lot as well. June was concluded by a terrific weekend of camping and municycling in South Limburg, see separate page.
In spite of all the MUni, I spent one two-hour period in the uni club successfully trying stomach-on-seat, seat-out-in-front, riding two different giraffes (one with a 4" wheel but geared up 1 : 2.5 or so), and freemounting and riding a 28" unicycle, all of which I had never done. 

Early July 2002 I ordered my UDC Max Traction 24 x 3 unicycle from Because of the customisation delivery took a bit longer than usual, so I arranged with Roger to have it delivered after my holiday, i.e. end of August. In July and August I did not ride much due to being on (two) holidays and a back injury. Whatever MUni I did was still on the Semcycle 24 x 1.75. I made some modest gains in climbing slopes.

September and October were devoted to MUni on the UDC Max Traction 24 x 3. Waiting for the Velo KH seat, I used my Semcycle seat on it. From day one, the big tyre helped my downhill, but impeded my uphill, probably mainly because of the larger weight and rolling resistance. It took a month to be back on the hill-climbing ability level that I had on the Sem. Meanwhile I made an inclinometer, so now I know that slopes of 15% are easy for me, and I max out at about 25%. I've pulled off a 27% slope a few times. Of course, all my slopes are short so not much in the way of endurance is required. 

With all the MUni, the "level skills" practice went down to practically zero. I even lost the ability to mount with the "other" foot. Maybe for the winter season, I should start going to the club again for these things...

(Updated 28 Oct 2002, to be continued.)

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