Just by looking at it, most people can tell that riding a Onewheel is unlike any other board or PEV (personal electric vehicle). This translates somewhat to the approach needed to adapt yourself to the board and to really absorb the idiosyncrasies of its behavior. The Onewheel is, in a rudimentary sense, an electric skateboard. However, the way it’s ridden is quite the departure from most eskate experiences. Functionally, it’s closer to an electric unicycle, although the change in orientation creates a bit of a divide in riding approach between those two as well.
Practically speaking, what does any of this mean to a rider? Well, it means that the ever-common affirmation of “I’ve been a skater for 20+ years and already know how to fall” doesn’t apply here, and in many cases works against your ability to understand the few important truths of riding and mastering a Onewheel. On the surface, it’s fairly simple. It balances for you, and you lean to go or to stop. It is that simplicity though, that makes a successful riding experience entirely dependent on the rider’s understanding of the board’s function and the board’s limits. And make no mistake, it has very real (sometimes unfortunately low) limits.
But fear not. A healthy dose of humility and the safety of low expectations are two very rewarding mentalities to have as you begin. They’ll help you let go of the mildly incorrect ideas that your skating experience might save you from injury and that the board is magic and will never let you down.
Follow these simple steps:
- Finding your front and back foot
- Having a solid stance
- How to Get On
- How to Get Off
- Accelerating & Braking
- Making Turns
- Learning about the Pushback
- It’s a matter of Practice
It’s important to preface this by noting that the Onewheel is not a speed-centric board. It is not designed to go very fast, and the sooner a new rider really accepts that, the less likely their first fall is to be catastrophic. Nosedives and crashes are easily seen and read about on YouTube and Reddit/Facebook respectively, and along with them are photos of hospital visits and stories of several weeks of recovery from broken bones and torn ligaments. Are all of these preventable? Not 100%, no. However most catastrophic injuries can be lessened and sometimes avoided with the proper precautions.
It is not wise to ride a Onewheel while not wearing a helmet. Full stop.
Many skaters don’t wear helmets, and some eskaters don’t. It’s a horrible idea to skirt a helmet when travelling at 20+mph, but some feel that their experience in longboarding grants them abilities that others do not have. The truth is, though, that most bad falls aren’t a result of the rider’s skill. They happen mostly due to situations outside of your control, and those are the ones that lead to problems.
Moreover, the Onewheel doesn’t act like a skateboard when something goes wrong. Nosedives are the most common type of failure, and they’re often the result of the motor cutting out or giving out from lack of power (either torque or speed depending on the situation). The board remains level due to the balancing function created by the motor. It reacts to the position of the deck and keeps you flat. Without it, either the tail or the nose is going to touch the ground. That, in most cases, will lead to a fall. This is because in most of those cases, the board stops moving and you keep moving.
Now, this isn’t to scare you away from riding a Onewheel. It’s to remind you that the warnings on the box aren’t lies. Skateboarding of any kind is an inherently dangerous activity and proper safety gear needs to be used.
Bare minimum? A helmet.
Actual minimum? A helmet and wrist guards. Most falls from a Onewheel will land you on your leading side, often bracing with your hands. This is why I ride with these two items every single time I step on any of my boards.
Practical middle? A helmet, set of wrist guards or riding gloves (see my review and videos below on what I tend to wear), an elbow pad on my leading side, and if possible, knee pads. I currently only wear an elbow pad on my leading side (more on stance later), because in the two years I’ve been riding, I’ve only ever injured my leading elbow. I consider it a bit of a middle ground in caution. Check out my reviews on the Flatland3D Gloves and the Lazyrolling Padded Hoddie.
By the way, I have in the past, fallen without a helmet. It’s about as common a story as any, that the one time I went out without a helmet was the time my head would hit the ground. It was a fairly unpleasant experience, but fortunately for the sake of learning I caught it on camera. If you have the time and inclination to do so, please watch my video on it below.
Finding Your Front Foot
This is a fairly simple proposition. Your front (leading) and back (trailing) sides are the same as they would be on a skateboard, electric or acoustic. If you lead with your left foot, that is considered “regular”, and if you lead with your right foot, that is considered “goofy”.
I ride goofy (and push mongo on a longboard, as if life couldn’t get any harder).
Finding the best foot to lead with is almost the same as finding it on a skateboard, with one more added layer in order to make sure it’s the most comfortable way to go. The standard methods for finding your front foot can be found here (Link to another of my Guide)
*Once you have some kind of idea of what foot should go on the front, you can confirm this once you’ve mounted the Onewheel. Since the Onewheel operates nearly the same in either direction, you can take the time to try moving forward and back and try to feel with direction feels more stable. There have been several times that a new rider will show a foot dominance through some of the traditional tests, but then feel more comfortable leading with the other foot on the Onewheel. So once you manage to get on, it would be a good idea to stand as evenly as possible and give your body a small travel left to right, in order to see which direction feels better to lead with.
Keep in mind that everything feels unstable and awkward on a Onewheel the first time you stand on one. What you’re looking for is a moving direction that feels the LEAST awkward and unstable.
Learn The Right Stance
Stance on a Onewheel is a bit more static than it is on skateboards, and that’s because your leading foot (front), is activating a sensor that keeps the motor engaged. It’s also because your feet are keeping downward pressure around the wheel so that it can balance.
The choices of stance on a Onewheel exist in a spectrum of distance from the tire itself.
Keeping your feet closer to the wheel tends to feel less sure and stable at first. This is simply because most people feel more stable with a wide stance to help balance. Oddly enough, this is actually the opposite situation with the Onewheel. Since the motor is balancing you, a narrower stance with your feet a bit closer to the wheel will enable the board to more easily keep you balanced. This is due to there being less leverage on the board when you speed up or slow down. It makes bumps and uneven jitters in your stance more easily corrected, and overall leaves the board with more power to keep you level.
Keeping your feet farther from the wheel changes the feel of the ride, and alters the response of the board’s acceleration and deceleration. The response actually slows down a bit and requires slightly more body movement. Some riders prefer a wide stance, I personally do not.
The best place to start is right in the middle. Place your feet right in the middle of either foot pad, and angle your front foot forward just a bit. Give it a few degrees of point, nothing substantial like 30+ degrees. Start with it right across, and then just nudge your toe forward a bit. This will give you a good middle ground to start with, and you can adjust to your preference as you build comfort with the Onewheel.
For a visual on some of your options, you can do some supplementary viewing below, and I will try to update this guide as I create more targeted video content on the detailed aspects of stance and foot placement.
How To Get On the Onewheel
Before anything else, install the Onewheel app on your phone and connect it to your board. Then slide over to the “Mission” riding mode on the Plus/XR, and “Pacific” riding mode on the Pint. This is the best mode to learn in, and won’t put restrictions that you aren’t ready for. The beginner modes aren’t useful, so just use Mission or Pacific for now.
Take a deep breath. Now find some encouragement that there are riders with hundreds of miles on their boards that still struggle with mounting and dismounting. Quite frankly, my experience with dismounts depends on which board I’m riding. The Pint is a bit of a challenge (especially due to the unreasonably narrow tire I currently have installed). The XR is fairly easy. Either way, this is a spectrum of skills that take some real practice, and are sometimes never mastered completely. Don’t worry about it too much. The truth is that a fall or stumble from 1-2mph isn’t likely to hurt you at all if you’re wearing safety gear. The most common injury I’ve sustained from learning to get on and off the board is from the Onewheel banging into my ankle from really awkward stumbles.
Getting on is simple, and if you’ve never stood on a Onewheel before, I really recommend you find some help. Either a person, or a wall or handrail on a level surface. It’s absolutely possible to learn and practice without something to hold on to, but a bracing object or person makes the initial learning experience much faster. This is because a large part of learning the Onewheel is getting a feel for its behavior. This includes what it feels like when the motor engages, what it feels like when the motor shuts off, and what it feels like when you move.
If you’re alone, I’d recommend finding very smooth, even grass. Grass is in many cases, harder to ride over, however if you’re starting out, you’re not going to be doing a lot of long distance riding. The grass makes falls essentially injury-free, and since the tire will sink in a little bit, will feel a bit more stable for simply getting on and off.
If pavement is all you have, try to find the smoothest, most even pavement, with the smoothest surface. The sidewalk right in front of my house is unreasonable rough and coarse. It’s essentially sharp gavel in cement. Don’t practice on a surface like that. If you have to carry the board a block away, just do it. You’ll be glad you did when you stumble the first time.
Now, plant your back foot on the lower side, your front foot on the higher side (the tail of the Onewheel sits on the ground because it’s heavier). Center them both, and make sure you’ve got an even position with your feet. It’s now that you should try to hold something if indeed you have something to hold. If not, keep your hips right on top of the tire, and stand straight up. Don’t lean.
It’s about now that your mind is struggling with a choice. Do you look down at the board while you try to get on? Ideally, no. However we’re all human and we’re probably going to look down. The key here is not to lean over so much to look that you fall immediately. Check your feet, and make sure they’re solid. Then try to be as straight up as you can.
Then, the leap of faith, as it were. This is when you push down with your forward foot and straighten your legs. This will feel like going up a step sideways. This brings the board level, and turns the motor on.
In some cases, the motor won’t turn on and you’ll just stumble forward. Why might this happen? Well, the front foot pad has two sensors on it. They must both be engaged for the motor to turn on. This is helped by wearing flat soled shoes and keeping your foot flat and even on the pad. Most folks get it the first time, but then shift their foot and the board shuts off soon after. It’s important to keep your foot flat and even so you don’t deactivate the sensor while standing still.
It won’t deactivate while you’re moving, so don’t worry about it just tossing you when you start riding. The board shuts off when it detects only one sensor engaged and the board is going LESS THAN 1mph.
So when you bring yourself level, you will feel the motor turn on and it will “catch” you. It’s pretty disconcerting at first, because chances are you’re continuing to put pressure on your front foot and the board will balance that out by moving in that direction. Then you may compensate by pushing your back foot down and you’ll begin the very fun activity of rodeo clown wobble.
Don’t panic. Just breath, stay straight, and let the board level out. So long as you stand straight and even, you’re not going to go flying off.
It’s at this point that you will probably feel some unevenness from your toe to your heel. Since the board doesn’t balance this, you have to do it yourself. It’s frankly one of the more challenging things to learn, but it’s learned very quickly.
Toe/heel balance is what keeps you on the board and going straight. Also, the gyroscopic force of a spinning wheel make toe/heel balance easier when you’re moving. If you have trouble balancing toe to heel while standing still, don’t worry. Everyone does, even after hundred of miles. “Floating in place” takes a lot of practice, and you don’t have to worry about it yet.
Just practice getting on and feeling what the board does. Here’s a quick example of coming to balance on the Onewheel:
How To Get Off the Onewheel
Once you’ve gotten on, it’s time to get off the Onewheel. And this is where many people panic. So don’t. It’s very simple.
Jump off with both feet. Simply bend your knees a tiny bit, and hop off. Ideally, hop backwards. But make sure to do it with both feet. Frankly, you should practice this a few times just on the ground. Stand in what you think your stance is going to be, and hop backwards cleanly and evenly. This is the movement that will save you from uncomfortable riding situations when you’re learning.
Ankles are tired and you can’t balance? Hop off with both feet. Forgot how to slow to a stop? Hop off with both feet. Trying other dismounts and they’re not working? Hop off with both feet.
This is something to practice over and over again until it’s your knee-jerk reaction to troublesome footing.
I still hop off this way, both as a dismount and as an escape. Honestly, I sometimes have to hop off while still moving. Sometimes my feet end up on either side of the board like a split, but I still hop off with both feet.
Hopping off with both feet is the first and most important dismount you can do. Practice it off the board, and practice it most often.
So once you’ve gotten the board on and level, hop off with both feet. This is your bread and butter for the next long while.
There are other dismounts, like the heel-lift. They work fine, but themselves take practice and familiarity with balancing on the Onewheel. Sometimes, they’re more trouble than they’re worth until you’re comfortable actually riding around.
For supplementary viewing, you can watch the videos below until I again update with more targeted content on the various dismounts.
Accelerating, Braking, and Reverse
As I mentioned earlier, the movement on a Onewheel is simple. You lean in the direction you want to go. Leaning forward moves you forward, and leaning back will slow you down. The more you lean, the faster you go. The more you lean back, the harder you brake.
The simple nature of this means that you are responsible for the ins and outs of what your riding style is like, and there are some things to keep in mind. Accelerating too hard (by leaning too far forward) will result in the motor not being able to catch up. This will usually cause a nosedive in extreme cases. To avoid this, simply make your accelerations fairly mellow until you learn how the board responds to you as a rider. Some riders can really work the motor in a way that looks like they’re defying gravity with controlled manipulation. One day you’ll get there, but until then, keep your movements slow and intentional.
Leaning back too much may overpower the braking ability and cause the tail to drag. This isn’t too bad of an issue, as that will just slow you down faster by adding friction to the ground with the tail. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but if you can control a tail drag, you can stop more quickly in an emergency.
So as you start to get used to standing on the Onewheel, just keep it simple. Many will say to center your weight over the wheel and not to lean. This technically doesn’t work, since you need to shift your weight to move. What I think most people mean is to keep your head and upper body more centered over the wheel and use your midsection to shift your weight. This may sound complicated, but it equates to this:
Once you’re comfortable slowly moving forward and stopping, try using your hips to move instead of your whole body. Stick your hips in the direction you’d like to go. Want to move forward? Lean your hips forward. Want to slow down? Pull your hips back centered and then pull them the other way for more braking. Want to turn heelside (towards your back)? Point your hips/butt in that direction slowly and you’ll turn there. Switch this motion for turning toeside (towards your chest).
These motions all will feel awkward for a while until your mind simply gets used to how to direct its weight. Keep your motions mellow and subtle, and you will greatly reduce falls.
As I mentioned above, turning can be done in a similar way to accelerating and braking. I personally recommend using your hips to shift your weight toeside and heelside. This makes for more stable turning and better habits than simply moving your ankle to put pressure on your heels or toes. That’s one way to start turning, but it’s best to use your hips to lean a bit and let the board follow your shifting weight as you keep your upper body stable and countering the lower body leans.
Logistically, it’s similar to turning on a skateboard. The lean direction is what turns the board. But since you’re balancing on a single wheel, most of the turning response has to be felt out and practiced. The smooth use of a Onewheel depends on developing an understanding of how the board responds under your feet. Future Motion made a short video on turning (see below), and I will update with a slightly more practical approach that helped me turn more comfortably in the long term.
What about the Pushback?
The Onewheel has a function built into its controller called “pushback”. This is similar to an electric unicycle’s “tiltback”. What it does is give you a physical warning that you should slow down because you’re nearing the limit of the board. This limit is different for each board and each rider (depending on weight, terrain, riding style, etc.), but pushback itself is fairly consistent. On the Onewheel Pint, pushback happens at 14.5mph. On the Plus/XR, it happens at about 15-15.5mph. The pushback on the Pint is more noticeable and harder to overcome than that of the XR. It’s important to learn slowly, take your time, and learn what pushback feels like on your board. Many crashes happen when riders either knowingly or not, go through the pushback and run into their board’s speed limit in the form on a nosedive.
Chris Richardson made an excellent video on YouTube discussing this:
It’s just Practice
Once that is understood (read your manual, by the way), it’s important to practice. And to practice slowly. The riding gets easier very quickly, but the terrain will then start to present you with obstacles that you may or may not be ready for by the time they’re under your wheel. Different kinds of roads, sidewalks, grass, dirt, etc. all present different ride feels and approaches that are only dealt with by experience and practice.
Make every ride into practice. If you’ve got 50 miles on your board and you’re just going up the block to the bodega for some chips, make that a practice run. Pay attention to the ground, the way your tire reacts to it, and the way your body adjusts when rolling over different things. Put your gear on and turn a potentially dangerous errand run into a slightly longer (but safer) learning opportunity. Learn to go over crosswalk bumps, or off of driveway lips, or from pavement to grass and back.
The great thing about riding a Onewheel is the maneuverability and the freedom of travel it presents. This is a freedom that is constantly being unlocked by more and more practice and comfort in different scenarios. Don’t shortchange your skill development by cruising thoughtlessly. Instead, make every ride into practice.