I first saw electric unicycles in Naples while on holiday last year – and straightaway I knew I had to have a go on one. So, back home (Truro, Cornwall), and reading that they are not recommended for people older than 60, I immediately bought a V5. Although far from ‘one with the machine’, I have reached the stage where I can ride it and even wobble round in quite small circles. And having discovered his forum, I thought it might help some oldies (who failed to ever grow up!) get to grips with this wonderful contraption.
I had a bad start! Training started indoors – our dining room is 6 metres long and uncarpeted – and almost on the first day, the unicycle slipped from my feet, madly spun in a tight circle and crashed into my leg, just below the knee. Undaunted, over the next couple of weeks, I spent 15 minute sessions each day in the dining room, managing to ride short distances between rows of chairs for support. My knee now sported a huge black bump from the first encounter with the machine, but otherwise I seemed to have survived – although the dining room had fared less well with a few dents in the floor and paint chips on the walls!
Despite the fact that all I had achieved was the occasional wobble of a few feet, my confidence was high and I felt sure I could make more progress outside where there was more space. So I set up a step-ladder in the drive to help me mount the unicycle and attempt a traverse of the tarmac – some 10 metres. Holding my breath and letting go my frantic grip of the stepladder, I set off, immediately falling to one side, and the unicycle hurtling round to smack my knee yet again with a hammer-like thud.
Training was suspended after this – with two huge angry bumps on my right knee and a hematoma caused by all the bruising, it was two weeks before I could stand up again. But the enforced rest gave me time to plan for a fresh attempt, which involved buying a pair of large wellies and some kick-boxing shin protectors. These latter I stuffed into the wellies with their ends poking out to cover my knees, giving me the appearance of a samurai warrior.
I started again, still in the dining room and managed finally to ride the full length of the dining room without falling off. But then it began to stagnate, so I progressed to our terrace where I set up two ladders, strapped to a workbench and two chairs, making a 15 metre handrail. Within a week, I could ride this distance without holding on and was beginning to get a better feel for the subtle means of controlling the unicycle. The next step was to do away with the support and tackle the drive, some 50 metres long, and to learn how to get onto the unicycle without holding on to anything. Things have progressed quite quickly since then, and I can now ride the length of the drive almost every time, and occasionally manage to turn at each end and continue back down the drive. Unfortunately the whole drive is on a slope and broken in places by long tree roots, which makes it difficult to judge the controlling the 180 degree turns. But every day I get a little better.
Now I need to find somewhere larger to practice and Cornwall, being famous for its steep hills everywhere, is proving to be a challenging environment. The closest I have is the car park outside the Truro Magistrates Court. Given that unicycles are not permitted on the roads in the UK, it is rather ironic, I think, to be indulging in an illegal activity so close to the arm of the law.
Anyway, I thought it might be helpful to some readers to know what significant learning points I discovered in my training:-
1 Get the leg protection you need. If you take medication to thin the blood, watch out for bruising at the beginning when you tend to grip the unicycle more than you need to.
2 Make sure you can control the unicycle well with either foot before trying to ride without holding on. The problem with the unicycle returning like an Exocet missile to hit my leg was caused by my trying to jump off it when it toppled to the right while the left foot was not on the pedal. So as I jumped off there was no control at all. I overcame this by making sure whichever side I came off, the other foot could halt the machine.
3 Learning to look ahead instead of at my feet made a great improvement in staying on the unicycle.
4 The next point was trying to make a standing start. You have to lean forward as you get your second foot on and, on my sloping drive, that sometimes means leaning forward a lot – so that you actually feel you’re going to fall over. But, of course, the unicycle accelerates under you to ‘catch up’, so you don’t fall over. The other issue is how quickly the placing of the second foot has to happen (I haven’t managed to master gliding with one foot and giving the second more time to settle – maybe I don’t have the strength in the leg to achieve this). Lots of times, I didn’t get the second foot on properly which made a bad start – and even now, I don’t always manage to get going smoothly. But certainly having the confidence to lean forward has meant that most times I get away.
5 I haven’t mastered turning, but I discovered that on the slow turns I attempt you don't need to lean into the turn – instead you should stay more upright to keep your balance. However, you do need to keep the forward motion, as the moment you back off, you stop. Now I’m finding, as the turns are getting smoother, I can feel the need to lean inwards – it is challenging, but that’s the fun of it all…