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Learning to ride on gravel

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  • Quax1974 Thanks, I’ve been doing well. I’ve made it up a hill twice in the past two days that I haven’t been able to previously do. My sitting has been pretty good I thought. The dirt road I’ve been riding is a pretty poor riding surface right now. I’ll move onto the nearby paved road and see how that goes with about 30 psi in the Duro wildlife leopard tire instead of the current 24 psi.

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    • No hands riding?
      (actually, for unicycle that means "not being able" to flop your hands to balance...cuz it's holding on the seat or a handle)
      There seemed to be a few mentions of wanting to ride handle bars...so I thought I'd throw that in here.

      The key is really in your pedaling.
      Precision. Precision. Precision.
      Perfectly even pedaling by applying equal foot/leg force on both sides allows you "not to veer" to left or right.
      In addition, equal force on all hand positions on the rotation clock.
      Upper body balance has nothing to do with it, because you can still steer in the opposite direction of your lean.

      You may notice we are have "imperfections" in our body.
      One side might be stronger, or actually longer than the other.
      In addition, your "foot placement" on the pedal must also be consistent.
      If you are beginner you will probably not have both foot positioned exactly the same on each pedal.
      So, learn to "wiggle" your feet at a certain clock position to be able to re-position that foot.

      Okay, so now that you are aware that "you are not" symmetrical or have equal pushing power on each pedal let's fix it.
      Pay attention to your pedaling and your unicycle wobbling and steering tendencies.
      If you are going to the right, then a few things are happening or all:
      1.) You have "more power" on your right pedaling that your left. So add more left power, or "lighten" the right side.
      2.) You're "holding" the right pedaling longer than your left. So do the opposite.
      3.) You're right foot is more "away" from the hub than your left. So "very carefully" look down and "wiggle/reposition" your feet so it matches the other.
      4.) Here's something I should have mentioned earlier. Take a look at your seat, sometimes it's "twisted" and not straight. If you fall a lot it may be the case.

      Okay, so now that you are aware of your body and know how to "compensate" lets put it to the test.
      No. Don't just go to unicycle.com and order a pair of nimbus shadows right away. You will just end up "spearing" your chest free-mounting and doing a nose-dive UPD trying to ride.
      Instead, start small:
      1.) Place one hand on one thigh during riding. Can you keep a straight line? Now try the other side.
      2.) Okay, now place both hands on each thigh during riding. Can you keep a straight line?
      3.) Okay, now grab the seat one hand, only.
      4.) Okay, now two hands on the seat.

      Note: Are you compensating by "adding" more power to the opposite side?
      Are you compensating by "lightning" the power on the power side?
      You should be aware of doing one or both.
      In fact, if you are able to compensate by both methods, then I would say you are ready for handle bars.

      Also, keep in mind if you are a "seat balancer" or a "pedal balancer".
      If you are a seat balancer and you cannot go straight, then you need to "add more pedal weight". It's easier to balance 5 lbs per pedal vs. 1 lbs per pedal. So, get off your butt.
      If you are a pedal balancer and cannot go straight, then you should try to "subtract pedal weight" on the "veering side". This gives more power to the other side, and you will automatically compensate.
      Last edited by slamdance; 2020-05-03, 02:54 AM.

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      • Thanks Slamdance, this is a great write-up.
        On a personal level, I've been struggling (ok that might be a strong word, no-one has been hurt) with veering to the left. "Thanks" to lockdown I've essentially been riding a 20" in the underground car park lately, a change from being outdoor on a 29" or 32". It's been a good time to go back to basics, and my pedaling got smoother for sure.
        I found out about what you're describing, but in a more intuitive way. Thanks for putting words on it. I am what you describe as a "pedal balancer" and my left foot tends to drag too much - it keeps weighted even when the pedal goes up - and therefore my right foot is constantly working harder than it should.
        I'm going to print your exercices and concentrate on them before we're allowed outside again and go back to larger wheels which tend to smoothen out the riding/pedaling.

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        • Slam dance wow, now there are a lot of things to think about and observe during my next riding session. Concentrating on, correcting and practicing your tips will improve my riding skills and peddling efficiency substantially. I know by the snake like tire track I leave in the dirt that I am not peddling smoothly. The snake print is not really so large anymore but it’s there. I can ride with either hand holding the seat but not with both for very long. Foot placement and repositioning while riding is an issue and often causes a upd. So lots of room for improvement. I think that I will now be more aware of what I am doing while riding. Thanks for the info.

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          • Slamdance, I’ve been working on my ‘precision peddling ‘, It is quite an eye opener how many variables there are that make me weave on the road, besides drinking. It is hard to correct a lot of the bad riding habits on the bumpy road I’ve been using so far this season. I will move to pavement soon. My wife was watching me ride yesterday, She said that I’m going much straighter for longer than I was a couple of days ago. Would I be correct in thinking, that when on a ride there must normally be some weaving for most of you experienced road riders, unless you are concentrating on riding something narrow.? Or once you get into a rhythm do you go in a reasonably straight line similar to a two wheeler?

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            • Originally posted by lowerstackmac View Post
              Would I be correct in thinking, that when on a ride there must normally be some weaving for most of you experienced road riders, unless you are concentrating on riding something narrow.? Or once you get into a rhythm do you go in a reasonably straight line similar to a two wheeler?
              Sounds like a question of weaving vs. wobbling. Weaving is like a drunk person who keeps correcting course. When we (unicyclists) refer to wobble, that's the natural "wagging" of the wheel as you pedal, which happens in rhythm with each rotation of the wheel. Some amount of wobble is pretty much always going to be present, but you can work to minimize it. On your bumpy road though, I wouldn't event worry about it; save that for when you find smoother terrain. :-)

              John Foss
              www.unicycling.com

              "Who is going to argue with a mom who can ride a unicycle?" -- Forums member "HiMo"

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              • Originally posted by johnfoss View Post
                Sounds like a question of weaving vs. wobbling. Weaving is like a drunk person who keeps correcting course. When we (unicyclists) refer to wobble, that's the natural "wagging" of the wheel as you pedal, which happens in rhythm with each rotation of the wheel. Some amount of wobble is pretty much always going to be present, but you can work to minimize it. On your bumpy road though, I wouldn't event worry about it; save that for when you find smoother terrain. :-)
                "weaving" sounds more controlled than "wobbling", but to other peeps a unicycle track might look like someone was drunk.

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                • Setonix, yes that’s how I see it too. Two things are happening, the peddle action wobbles the uni and leaves a weaving track. johnfoss says it’s called wobbling so wobbling it is. I’m sure the few people that walk on my road wonder what is going on when they see the tracks I leave.

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                  • I’ve been riding everyday since my last post two weeks ago. I now have my tire at it’s max of 35 psi for my dry dirt road and the pavement. I’m still holding the saddle with one hand but I’m trying two which is difficult. Going uphill I am seated. I find that I have been making gains everyday, I do get an improvement in at least one of the following by, going further, faster, less winded or I make it up a hill I have not previously crested. My free mounts are now pretty good and I usually can get going within a couple of tries.
                    I have two questions to ask please. The first is, while peddling uphill, is standing helpful or is that something that works for some but not others? I’ve been working hard at sitting down into the seat for quite a while, so now it feels strange trying to stand up and peddle. My other question is for uphill riding also. Does lifting up on the seat help? I’ve been pulling on the seat and I’m undecided if that or pumping my arms is easier. I think I’ve read a post about someone saying they push down on their seat while going uphill. I’m gettin there. Thanks for any observations on these.

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                    • Originally posted by lowerstackmac View Post
                      The first is, while peddling uphill, is standing helpful or is that something that works for some but not others?
                      ...
                      My other question is for uphill riding also. Does lifting up on the seat help?
                      I would say: for road riding, don't stand up until you need to. Any weight on your back pedal means your are fighting yourself, and wasting energy; you want as much weight as possible on the front pedal and saddle. Standing up takes the saddle out of the equation, so it needs to be steep enough for the front pedal to support all your weight. That's pretty steep. Bike people can choose the right gear to make it happen, so standing on a bike is a lot more efficient (the road bike people call it "dancing on the pedals" when they get it right, but it's pretty rare to hit that sweet spot on a unicycle. At least for me).

                      There are always exceptions. I'll stand up sometimes when I don't "need" to, just to take a break from sitting, or if I'm tired and just don't have the strength to ride sitting down. But I try not to.

                      Pulling up on the handle is for when you are standing, and your body weight and riding motion isn't enough to keep driving that front pedal down. You can stomp down harder by pulling on the handle. Pushing down on the handle while seated takes some weight off your butt and is generally a good thing to do for riding comfort, but I don't think it has anything to do with going uphill.

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                      • Thanks for the insight on hills Mrimpossible. It’s hard to tell what works for you when you’re not a very efficient rider. I’m not sure now what holding onto the seat with one or both hands does. Does it help you balance better when leaning forward, help you peddle harder or has it to do with weight relieving and muscle strain? Same thing for a handle and they look potentially painful.

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                        • Oops I forgot to mention I know that holding onto the saddle keeps you on the seat over rough terrain and while doing certain techniques. The question was for any other purposes, thanks.

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                          • Originally posted by lowerstackmac View Post
                            I'm not sure now what holding onto the seat with one or both hands does. Does it help you balance better when leaning forward, help you peddle harder or has it to do with weight relieving and muscle strain? Same thing for a handle and they look potentially painful.
                            Most everything I do is with two hands holding the seat/handle. My sit bones are on the back corners of the saddle, and I have both hands on the front of the saddle / bar ends. I will only remove one hand on the occasional steep, uneven section of downhill, if I momentarily lose balance going up hill, or while wheel walking (where I flail/swim with the arms). Everything else is two hands. Here is what I've learned to do holding on with the "four points" position (two hands, two sit bones):

                            Pirouettes. I didn't think it was possible, but I'm doing them now. Still stands of more than five seconds. Backwards figure eights. Idling. Riding backwards downhill on uneven terrain. Hopping up stairs. Riding off curbs forward/backward.

                            My understanding is that balance fundamentally changes when both hands are on the seat. The balance moves to the core, the hips. Being a beginner unicyclist is dangerous because the uni can so easily shoot out the front or back, causing a bad fall. Not the case when the butt and hands are engaged. I ride with high tire pressure, and hitting a tree root typically causes the uni to hop off the root, becoming momentarily airborne. As a beginner, by contrast, my setup had less stability and more compliance. I ran a higher volume, lower pressure tire and let the unicycle absorb the same tree root.

                            I spent many hours experimenting with bar setups. Over time, my position on the unicycle evolved from sitting more upright with a more upwardly facing bar setup...to a posture more like a bicyclist, leaning forward, with the bar ends set lower. At one point, I stopped using the upwardly curving Shadow extension and went to the straight extension. During this evolution, I steadily put more and more weight downward onto the bar ends while riding. As a beginner, I only understood the bar ends as something to be pulled up on while hill climbing.

                            My suggestion is: If you're not falling in love with your bar ends, or if they are acting like a place to rest your hands passively, then lower the setup and lean forward more. Use the one or both hands on bars to help you stay more glued to the saddle. Imagine that you are using a rowing machine. For maximum strength, you will pull the bar toward your abdomen. Setting the bar ends lower will help you be stronger. And you will feel more comfortable putting pressure down on the bar ends.

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                            • Those are great explanations guys they really do help a lot. With no hands while riding on a level road I’m not flailing or swimming, my hands are pretty much hanging down with just a bit of corrective arm extension required. I can hold onto the saddle with either hand full time, but not very well or for more than a few seconds with both. So two hands on, improving my balance and working towards a handle is going to be my focus for now. This should keep me busy for a while, thanks for the info.

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                              • Originally posted by lowerstackmac View Post
                                Those are great explanations guys they really do help a lot. With no hands while riding on a level road I’m not flailing or swimming, my hands are pretty much hanging down with just a bit of corrective arm extension required. I can hold onto the saddle with either hand full time, but not very well or for more than a few seconds with both. So two hands on, improving my balance and working towards a handle is going to be my focus for now. This should keep me busy for a while, thanks for the info.
                                I find that holding both hands on a saddle or handle bar is easier with more speed and easier with a tire or surface that is more sensitive to road camber then not. That makes it easier to travel on a paved road then dirt or gravel because the camber effect is more on surfaces with more friction. At first it feels really uncomfortable to hold on with both hands but after a few hundred miles it is the only way to travel. When I fist learned I would put all my safety gear and just go for it. Even though it feels very weird at first I never have crashed or did any kind of UPD because I had two hands on a handle bars, you can always let go if needed.

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