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We investigated the coordination of balance and propulsion processes in learning to ride a unicycle through a principal component analysis (PCA) of the nature and number of functional degrees of freedom (DOF) in the movement coordination patterns. Six participants practiced unicycle riding on an indoor track for 28 sessions over separate days. The movement time and performance outcomes were recorded for each trial and body segment kinematics were collected from the first and every succeeding 4th session. The first appearance of no-hand-support performance varied across participants from the 5th practice session to the 22nd session. The PCA showed that initially in practice the 39 kinematic time series could be represented by 6–9 components that were reduced over practice to 4–7 components. The loadings of the PCA that reflected balance and propulsion processes became more coupled as a function of successfully riding the unicycle. The findings support the proposition that learning to ride the unicycle is a process of making the system more controllable by coordinating balance and propulsion while mastering the redundant DOF.
Lee and Newell are with the Dept. of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. Liu is with the Dept. of Athletic Performance, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan.