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Old 2018-02-10, 10:30 AM   #1
OneTrackMind
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Possible learning tip

I was listening to an interview with a helicopter pilot who had spent years doing rescues involving a lot of precision flying, including skills like hovering with the rotor tips less than a metre from cliffs.

He said the most important thing was for the pilot to keep their head completely still because then they know every movement sensed in the balance vestibules of the ear are due to the movement of the helicopter, making the control feedback much more precise.

It occurred to me that the same thing might be worth applying to unicycling, particularly when learning.

As it happens, I am currently learning backward riding. It has been very sporadic due to health issues but I got on the uni this afternoon for first time in a couple of weeks and had my third session of trying to ride backwards across the lawn. Prior to the earlier sessions I had spent an hour at the verandah rail trying to idle and ride backwards a metre or so and some similar attempts about eighteen months before.

This time, focusing on keeping my head still, I was able to achieve several runs of three full revolutions and for the first time I felt like I was riding in control. One even ended in a still stand rather than an awkward dismount. Previously I had only made two revolutions and was frantically trying to stay upright the whole time.

Maybe I was going to do well this time anyway. I have experienced cases of improving without riding when I have had an extended break before. But there just might be something in keeping the head still. Probably worth a try for anyone learning forwards or backwards, and maybe idling too.
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Old 2018-02-10, 01:21 PM   #2
Mikefule
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It's certainly a good idea to keep your head still and vertical. On a motorbike, for comparison, as you go round a corner, you try to keep your head upright because it helps your balance organs to do their job.

Another good idea for riding backwards (or idling, etc.) is to focus your attention on a static point either 10 metres or so ahead of you on the ground, or at eye level in the middle distance.

There is, however, some headology going on as well. While you are concentrating on "the useful tip" with your mind, the rest of your brain is free to get on with riding the unicycle, without your mind interfering.

I found this the other day when practising my ultimate wheel indoors. I was consistently riding about 50 pedal strokes before each UPD. I then decided to see if I could play the harmonica whilst riding, and I was suddenly able to ride and steer for several minutes at a time because I was concentrating on my harmonica technique and my breathing and my conscious mind left my legs and balance organs to get on with riding the ultimate wheel without supervision.
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Old 2018-02-10, 08:12 PM   #3
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There's a phrase used in gymnastics, "The head leads the body", that I've applied to many other things. Point your head where you want to go, look where you want to go; both of those are good for unicycle (as well as motorcycle) students. Keeping the head upright should help in eliminating extra sensational information being transmitted to your balance-sensing equipment.

The technique is probably not as effective on a unicycle as it is for a helicopter pilot, though. While the helicopter pilot can keep his head steady in relation to the movements of the machine, on a unicycle your head is one spine and neck away from the saddle, and attached to that saddle in a very flexible way. In other words, you still may have a lot of other extraneous movement going on, especially when learning very new stuff, like riding backward. It's hard to eliminate all of that, at least until you get comfortable doing the thing you're trying to learn, but worth it to try to keep your head as steady as possible.

At least we don't have to worry about rotor blades...
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Old 2018-02-11, 12:51 AM   #4
unibabyguy
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I'm impressed you're able to ride backwards on a lawn. Usually I would practice that on a flat smooth surface since it's much easier. I guess you're trying to cushion yourself in case of a fall?
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Old 2018-02-11, 01:36 AM   #5
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Learn the hardest way possible then anything else is too easy.
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Old 2018-02-11, 02:10 AM   #6
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Keeping your head still is a fairly standard technique for all balance sports - but not really for the same reason as the helicopter pilot, because the reason isn't so much of an issue for him. Your head is quite heavy - as soon as you move it you're disturbing your balance. Personally I first consciously thought about this when learning to paddle tippy racing kayaks 25 years ago - I found a useful technique was to focus on something slightly above the eyeline. Not only does this result in keeping your head still (whilst things move around underneath), but it also ensures you keep your head up. There's a natural tendency to look down and when you do this you move your head forwards which means your weight is no longer going in a straight line through the centre of your spine and tends to do bad things for your balance. I've since applied this to lots of other balance sports (apart from unicycling) - the other one I'm doing regularly at the moment is skating where keeping your head up makes a huge difference (though the focusing on a fixed point becomes difficult, because a lot of the things I'm doing involve turning around).

So this is a technique I've applied to learning to ride a unicycle - when learning to ride forwards I used the standard focusing high technique, however for backwards riding I tend to focus on a spot on the ground in front of me (the natural posture for riding backwards isn't badly affected by dropping the head a bit). I guess for riding backwards (and idling) I do still tend to use this a bit, though for forwards riding I just look wherever I like because I don't need the help anymore.
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Old 2018-02-11, 02:33 AM   #7
elpuebloUNIdo
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Canoeheadted View Post
Learn the hardest way possible then anything else is too easy.
To paraphrase what I think you mean...if you practice hard stuff, the easier stuff gets easier.

I did not do a particularly good job keeping my head straight while learning to unicycle. I recently discovered how important is keeping the head straight while practicing wheel walking. My other systems of balance, while wheel walking, are so underdeveloped that I rely more on looking toward the horizon. When I was a beginner and could ride around 100ft, I tried a couple times to ride after the sun set. I had difficulty, I think, because my sense of the horizon was diminished. As I improved, however, looking at the horizon while riding became less important. For example, as a beginner, looking down at my feet or closing my eyes would cause a UPD. Now, for most situations, it doesn't seem to matter. Except when learning new, really hard techniques, such as wheel walking. The same probably applies to riding backwards. For these new and difficult techniques, it seems that keeping the head aligned with the horizon is really important.
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Old 2018-02-11, 05:30 AM   #8
Canoeheadted
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I kinda meant that learning on a perfectly smooth surface (easiest) may not be the best for everyone.

An example is that I learned basic unicycling in my yard which is grass and dirt (hardest). The local biking trails were my next riding steps.

Then whenever I took a ride in town my skill level jumped up one whole notch because I was used to dealing with an imperfect surface while riding. The pavement was just too easy.

Another example is when my riding finally "clicked" I was going in to winter. Most of my riding would be at night so I kept riding by headlamp which was very difficult at first because you can't see your feet or your surroundings, but I kept with it.

Now I can mount and ride with my eyes closed because I don't need to see my surroundings. Wether it's sweat in the eyeballs, branches in the face, or blinding snow, it's now easy to do.

Try following a fellow rider by sound on a dirt road with your eyes closed. 10 seconds feels like forever at first.
Another fun one to try is to ride on a perfectly even cambered road with your eyes closed. You can feel when you're too far to one side by the camber pull. Pull it back and ride the crown.

I feel it gives me a little more connection to my wheel and if I ever lost my sight it wouldn't be a uni deal breaker.

Make like a Jedi... use the Force.
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Old 2018-02-11, 07:42 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unibabyguy View Post
I'm impressed you're able to ride backwards on a lawn. Usually I would practice that on a flat smooth surface since it's much easier. I guess you're trying to cushion yourself in case of a fall?
I learnt riding forwards on the same lawn. Back then it had a lot of holes in it which I have since filled in. It is reasonably smooth now. But yes, I prefer falling on grass.

Being in my front yard and not having to get fully geared up makes me more inclined to do it as well. Though I always wear a helmet and Hillbillies for learning new stuff. (And hard shin guards after finding out how easily pedals bites can be acquired learning to go backwards.)

Although originally learning on that rough grass was very difficult, I was able to adapt very quickly to irregularities when I took to riding on the road because I already had the skills to distribute the weight between saddle and pedals. It meant that these abilities were included right from the beginning which I hope made me a better rider. The first time I rode on a tarred surface I was amazed at how easy it was. I'm hoping it will be the same for backwards.

Backwards Muni anyone?
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Old 2018-02-11, 08:01 AM   #10
OneTrackMind
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Canoeheadted View Post
Another example is when my riding finally "clicked" I was going in to winter. Most of my riding would be at night so I kept riding by headlamp which was very difficult at first because you can't see your feet or your surroundings, but I kept with it.

Now I can mount and ride with my eyes closed because I don't need to see my surroundings. Wether it's sweat in the eyeballs, branches in the face, or blinding snow, it's now easy to do.
Riding under less than optimum conditions can definitely help a rider understand the dynamics better.

I used to ride the end of my route in complete darkness during the first winter after I learnt because I would go farther as my skills improved while the sun set earlier each day. It definitely taught me to ride by feel and I have ridden with closed eyes too, though not to the extremes you have.

My 36 is way too high for some of the places I ride due to overhanging vegetation and I have learnt to ride it with my body horizontal and my chin virtually on the bars. This really reinforces that control is in the hips.

I also did a few rides with hard soled shoes on pedals that didn't grip very well. That taught me to move my feet in circles and put the forces in the right direction at the right time.

Even just playing around on an Ultimate Wheel has helped my uni riding yet I am very far from going anywhere on a UW.

I am a great believer in getting as much variety as possible. All size wheels and crank combinations, Q-factor, tyres, pressures, surfaces. It all transfers across all riding because it teaches the brain to separate out the factors. (I tell my wife that is why I have 15 wheels.)
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Old 2018-02-11, 12:26 PM   #11
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When on a unicycle, we are in a different situation than the helicopter pilot. A Helicopter moves (mostly) as one singular unit, it doesn't change shape like we are when we adjust our balance. If our head is sideways, that can mean this:


or this:


Note how the position of the hip is different, making it a completely different situation, but for all we can feel with our balancing organs in our ears, it is similar.

However, just because it's a different situation, it doesn't mean it's not a good idea to keep your head still. But except for extreme cases, it wouldn't be a tip I'd give to someone. I'm guessing your improvements were mostly due to the fact that you concentrated on posture as a side effect of trying to keep your head still.

Now to the side note.
Let me just say this: I think it is most efficient to learn under optimum conditions. It allows you to focus on the thing you are trying to improve on. Then, later you can bring it into more challenging enviroment. I'm not saying that you can't learn on a grass surface, and then be already prepared for challenging surfaces, but I am pretty sure that it is less efficient than learning to ride on smooth asphalt, and then moving onto more difficult terrain.
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Old 2018-02-11, 04:00 PM   #12
elpuebloUNIdo
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Optimum Conditions

A smooth surface gives more immediate response for practicing balance corrections. Increase the tire pressure, and the unicycle becomes more responsive, maybe to the point where it is twitchy and harder to ride, and the beginner starts struggling more. Is this optimum? Is there a certain range of responsiveness that is optimum? Learning to ride on grass may not be optimum, except that it may force the rider to place one hand on the grab handle for stability, which is a prerequisite for muni. Sometimes in non-optimum conditions, we are forced to learn new techniques. If learning involves falling, then grass may be the optimal surface.
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Old 2018-02-11, 05:26 PM   #13
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Where'd you hear that interview? Sounds fascinating.
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Old 2018-02-12, 02:17 AM   #14
OneTrackMind
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Where'd you hear that interview? Sounds fascinating.
ABC radio in Australia. Here is the link to the interview.

The pilot has written a couple of books too.
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Old 2018-02-13, 09:53 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elpuebloUNIdo View Post
Learning to ride on grass may not be optimum, except that it may force the rider to place one hand on the grab handle for stability, which is a prerequisite for muni. Sometimes in non-optimum conditions, we are forced to learn new techniques.
What I was saying is: It's more efficient to learn riding on flat ground, with both hands free, then practice riding with one hand on the saddle, then on grass. I'm not saying don't challenge yourself by trying to ride in difficult terrain. But I am very sure that if you want to learn a new skill, you should enable yourself to focus on the one thing you are practicing as much as possible first.

Think of school: You don't learn multiplication by trying to calculate 23x18 until you get it right. You start with 2x3 and work your way up. Learning a movement is very similar to that.

Once you learned the "hard skill" you are trying to learn, you can try it in more difficult conditions. There are also things I'd call "soft skills" things like reading the terrain, reacting to bumps. These are what you learn when riding in more challenging conditions.
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