I’ve been learning to unicycle the past few weeks, and just got to the point where I can go on a 7 kilometer ride. So, while everything is fresh in my mind, here are some of the tips that helped me learn:
- Put all your weight on the seat. As a bicyclist, I'm used to distributing my weight between the pedals and saddle, but this doesn't work when first starting to unicycle. If you put too much pressure on the front pedal, the unicycle will shoot ahead of you, so you have to pedal softly and be able to press the rear pedal to control your speed. Putting all your weight on the seat makes it easier to pedal circles and control the unicycle. As you get better, you can put more weight on the pedals.
- Point your feet slightly down. The proper way to pedal a bike is with the pedal axle directly below the ball of your foot, typically holding your foot level. When initially learning to unicycle, I found it easier to point my foot slightly down, and to place the ball of my foot slightly in front of the pedal axle. This helps with learning to pedal smooth circles, which are necessary to get past the point where the cranks are vertical. Getting past this point was the hardest part of learning to ride. I'd feel OK riding while I had a fence or shoulder to grab, but as soon as I was out of range, I'd unintentionally stop one of my pedals at the bottom of the stroke, immediately stopping the unicycle, causing me to fall off. Switching to this awkward pedaling style helped me get past this point. As I get more comfortable on a unicycle, I'm moving back to the more efficient bicycle-style pedaling.
- Wear shinguards. I didn't really need them, but they helped eliminate my paranoia about bear-trapping (hitting your shin with a pedal). With shinguards, I was relaxed, making learning easier.
- Focus on a distant point. On my bike, I can look anywhere, and still ride in a straight line. But, for the first couple hours of unicycling, I had to really stare at one point in the distance to keep my balance. I still can't look around as much as I do on a bike, but this is rapidly improving.
- Breathe. Yeah, I know, this is obvious, but I kept forgetting to breathe. When I was first able to ride a little without holding onto something, I kept falling off after riding the same distance. I wasn't quite sure why, then my brother noticed I was holding my breath. Apparently, I was nervous enough that I was clenching my abs and holding my breath. This limited my distance to what I could ride in one breath. Once I started consciously breathing, I could ride several times as far. Now I don't think about breathing anymore.
- Wear a helmet. You probably won't need it, but why take the risk? You already have a good bike helmet, right?
One more thing that helped me learn was having a unicyclist around. My brother has unicycled for six years, and he helped me for the first couple hours of unicycling.
Now, to improve my free-mount success rate and make it over that curb…