360 Degrees of Error


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Part One- The experience

At the top of my Christmas list this year was a new unicycle Unicycle_WFL. I thought that learning to ride would be fun and exciting, and I was ready to embrace the mental and physical challenges that lay ahead. I had read blogs and watched just about every youtube video I could find. During my studies I think I picked up a few good tips, but I noted that lots of teachers made statements like:

“keep trying to go further and further each time &…

               try not to fall off”

That just didn’t sound like constructive advice to me! Nevertheless, I thought it would be easy enough to master this skill as I studied it like a true scholar. You pedal harder when the tire trails behind; you pedal softer when the tire gets ahead of you. You push harder on the pedal you want to turn into.  You rotate your hips and keep your head and shoulders centered above you.  You don’t want to lean back, but neither do you want to lean too far forward.  You flail your arms around to keep your balance and practice, practice, practice. You begin with the help of a fence or buddy to steady yourself, then you simply “go-for-it”. Falling is part of learning, so you quickly learn to fall “well”.

Some people seem to pick up the skill rather quickly, but from most of what I read, I learned to expect 15-30 hours of practicing time before I was competent. I haven’t counted the hours I’ve spent making a fool of myself in the road outside my house, but I can assure you I’ve exceeded these estimates. It’s been humiliating at times, but I have my fan base too!  They slow down as they drive by to watch (mostly I think to watch me fall off again).  

I started this venture thinking that a systematic scientific approach could help me learn to ride the unicycle. Science says, 1) measure what you have 2) make one change 3) measure what you have now 4) if change resulted in a benefit, keep doing things that way- if not, go back to the original state 5) repeat this process trying every type of riding modification you can think of.  Once you’ve exhausted all of those trials, try making two changes at the same time (stay leaning forward and flail your hands high above your head as if you were drowning-one of my personal favorites as I look so very cool that way). Then combine all of the individual actions choices in pairs and see what works. When you still have not found “the” solution, try and focus on sets of  3 variables at a time. This makes for a lot of combinations, and I thought to myself “this must be why they say it takes so many hours to learn to ride this blasted thing”. But then it dawned on me. While this task involves physics, riding a unicycle is not a systematic science; it’s much more of an art.  That’s probably one of the main reasons a 9 year old child can learn to ride much quicker than a 46 year old man, they think less and act more.

In the end, when I’ve mastered riding the unicycle for myself, I’ll put up my own youtube video and offer a few words of advice for new riders. My clip will be short because all I’ve learned about riding a unicycle is 1) there are 360° of error involved, so try any reasonable tactic to stay up many many times 2) get good at falling well and 3) keep trying to go further and further each time & try not to fall off.

Part Two- Lessons Learned

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