Riding a unicycle is fun, challenging and great exercise. People of all ages and statures can learn to unicycle. USA members have taught thousands of people in classes across America and the following information provides helpful hints for beginners. Our sincere hope is that you soon discover the joy of riding on one wheel and be among the growing number of people who can stay on top.
A Few Basics
- Equipment. Obtain access to a good 20” unicycle. Some learn on 24” wheels but only very young riders should use small unicycles. If you decide to buy one, look for quality. Many unicycles on craigslist are cast-offs from people who tried to learn but gave up because their unicycle was so bad. For more information on unicycles, see buying unicycles (link).
- Where to learn. Gymnasiums are preferred (unicycles with plastic pedals and bumpers do not harm wood floors) but any flat area such as a basketball or tennis court is sufficient.
- Unicycle seat height. Adjust the seat to about belly button height. Ideally the seat should be high enough to allow a slight bend in the leg when your foot is all the way down.
- Protective gear. Unicycling is generally an extremely safe sport with a very low rate of injury. Safety equipment is always recommended when there is even a remote possibility of getting hurt. While wrist-guards, helmets and knee pads may help avoid an injury, the use of such equipment is up to each individual (and their parents if the unicyclist is a minor).
- Shoes. It helps tremendously to wear good fitting athletic shoes. Lace them up tight and tuck in those shoestrings!
- Unplanned Dismounts. If you feel like you are losing balance, the best thing to do is to step off the unicycle. Good unicycles will not break if they hit the floor or ground so if you are falling, simply step off and let the unicycle go.
- Relax. It’s natural for people to put a great deal of effort into learning to unicycle and you will be developing leg muscles not used in other activities. Don’t let this get you tense. Relax and try to ride smooth.
- Sit up straight. Good posture=good riding. Look ahead and try to focus on a spot in the distance.
- Arms out. Keeping your arms out offers greater balance and stability.
- Foot placement. You will be learning to control the unicycle with your feet. This works best when the ball of your foot is in contact with the pedal.
- Sit down. Keeping your weight comfortably on the seat reduces fatigue and teaches you to stay on by using pedal control.
- Keep trying. Many students occasionally feel like they are not making progress. It takes the average person 3-6 hours of committed practice time to ride a short distance alone and more to master turning and free mounting skills. Do not despair! Unicycling is rewarding and a skill and you will enjoy it for the rest of your life.
Time to Ride!
- Mounting. As you begin it helps to be near a wall and to have a volunteer. (Volunteers should help new riders to maintain balance by offering an outstretched hand or shoulder. They should not hold the seat or support weight of the rider.) To get on the unicycle, roll wheel until the pedal of your dominant foot is nearest. Put the seat between your legs and mount by stepping down on the pedal. When the seat lifts you up, get your other foot on the other pedal.
- Stabilize. As soon as you are sitting on the seat, get the cranks into the horizontal position we call “pedals level”. Do this by rotating wheel until both feet are the same distance from the floor. This position will offer you the greatest control and stability while on the unicycle.
- Get Comfortable. When the unicycle is stable with pedals level, you can easily take weight off the seat by straightening your legs. Many men find it advantageous to take this opportunity to get comfortable in the seat. Also, adjust your feet and make sure you’re sitting up straight.
- Rotate the wheel ½ revolution. When ready, rotate the wheel ½ turn until you are again in the “pedals level” position. It will take some help but soon you will be able to do this while holding onto the wall with one hand.
- Assisted riding. The best way to learn how to unicycle is by riding while holding the hand of an assistant (or two). Some are ready to do this right away and for others it takes some time before they are comfortable leaving the wall.
- Into the great wide open. As you continue practicing, less help will be required to stay on the unicycle. At some point you will be ready to try unicycling on your own. The push off-method can be frightening but teaches people quickly what adjustments are needed to stay on the unicycle. To start, mount your unicycle near the wall with the tire parallel to the wall. While keeping pedals level, rotate your body ¼ turn so you are facing away from the wall. Lean forward and start pedaling as you push off from the wall. In the beginning you will probably only go a short distance but keep trying! You are getting close to the thrill of riding solo.
- Smile and have fun! People ride one wheel all over the world. As you learn, you will be connecting with an amazing number of people in the global unicycling community. Enjoy your pursuit!