Learn to ride a unicycle: It really works your legs and core

•  Fitness  •  Life  •  Pacific NW Magazine  •  Wellness
Originally published by Seattle Times April 3, 2015 at 11:15 am

Unlike riding a bicycle, unicycles require constant tension in the legs, a lot of core and staying in your seat for balance.


Fitness - Unicycling

SANCA instructor Nick Harden demonstrates a balance and a hopping exercise on the unicycle to Hannah Bittner, middle, and Aleksandra Kogalovski. (Benjamin Benschneider)

By Nicole Tsong
Special to The Seattle Times
AFTER 50 MINUTES on a unicycle, clutching rails and wobbling all over the place, I asked instructor Nick Harden if he promises people they will ride a unicycle on their own by the end of the 12-week session.
He smiled. “I don’t promise.” But you most likely will, he clarified.

After taking my first unicycle class, I could see why he didn’t make that promise. Nick’s skills as a teacher are lovely. My skills on a unicycle were decidedly not.

I went to SANCA (the School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts) in Georgetown with fun, zany classes that unleash your inner child, generally alongside kids who pick up this circus thing fast. The unicycle class is for kids ages 8 and up. There was one other adult for each class I joined, and we were grateful for the company.

Before you can ride a unicycle, you have to get up on a unicycle. We worked at a set of rails lined up to make unicycling lanes. Each time I grabbed the rails to haul myself up, I wondered if it would get easier.
On the other hand, falling off your unicycle is not hard; luckily it’s easy to land on your feet.
Keeping your head up while sitting on the unicycle is also challenging. It’s tempting to look down to make sure the floor isn’t coming fast and furious.
After learning to get up and down, we practiced riding slowly between parallel rails, gripping the rails tightly. Nick mostly let us ride, while a much younger unicycle prodigy named Penelope rode around, grinning happily and without any apparent need for help.
Unlike riding a bicycle, unicycles require constant tension in the legs, a lot of core and staying in your seat for balance. It was tempting to stand out of the seat, and Nick kept reminding us to sit down.
We also practiced jumping the unicycle like a pogo stick. This was the one trick where adults had a weight advantage over kids. I was even willing to let go of the rails to bounce around.

We spent most of the class working on riding and trying to pick up speed. If we felt balanced, Nick told us to play with clapping our hands. He also encouraged us to go to the outer rail and hold just one instead of two. Surely that wasn’t going to be so hard, right?

By the end of the class, I was dripping sweat. My legs were exhausted from gripping to stay upright, and I was in even deeper admiration of Nick’s ability to jump rope on a unicycle.
I came back for a second class, hopeful that muscle memory would make it easier. I was right. Getting on felt easier, and holding only one rail became normal. I felt like I could even balance occasionally while riding.

Nick had us practice standing up balancing on the pedals, getting us accustomed to the various ways a rider must adapt to how the unicycle moves.
We practiced within the safety of the rails. Nick escorted each of us on a solo ride, holding onto his arm. While it was slow going, it was fun to consider some day I too could ride without assistance. Mind you, it will take a few classes to get there.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: papercraneyoga@gmail.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.