Learning to manual: a wheelie with no pedaling

Bikeradar.com manual3-480-90-480-70I made a big step forward last week when I began to understand the difference between a pedal-powered wheelie and a manual. These articles helped me:

I’ve been using it this week to get over larger rocks and logs at speed.  And when I say ‘larger,’ I don’t mean large.  I mean bigger than the curbs on my street. Go ahead and laugh, but it was pretty cool when I got the hang of doing a manual over the curbs repeatedly.  And I can now see a bunny-hop in my future.


Thick Skull MTB Skills

Subscribe to my free Thick Skull MTB Skills/Mountain Bike Geezer newsletter and get:

Thick Skull Mountain Bike Skills video: Light Hands, Heavy Feet - Developing the Habit
  1. The free 6-part series, 'Light Hands, Heavy Feet': 17 mountain bike drills to develop the 'light hands' habit and make your riding more stable no matter what the terrain
  2. Exclusive how-to-ride related content every week that I don't post on my blog.

So do it. Get it through your Thick Skull.


8 thoughts on “Learning to manual: a wheelie with no pedaling”


  1. I thought I’d dust off this blog post and try to get better at manuals this spring. I got to the point last fall where I could sometimes manual over two rollers but not reliably.

    I’ve got a “how to manual” Pinterest board where I’m archiving videos and articles on it. Tonight, I watched and read this one by James Wilson at BikeJames.com which he posted on PinkBike.com. These two paragraphs stood out:

    You need to avoid pulling the front end up with arms (which results in bent elbows) or by simply leaning back forcefully with the lower back. Both of these techniques result in the bike center of gravity changing without your center of gravity compensating. You have to remain balanced in order to manual and the ability to drive from the hips and not the arms/ lower back is the key.

    In the video, he also describes pushing forward with the feet, heels down. And the connection to the kettlebell swing? It’s the “forward-backward projection of energy”:

    The swing is as close as you can come to a hard trail ride without throwing your leg over a bike. It ingrains body position, teaches you how to absorb impacts with your hips and builds massive forearm strength and endurance. However, the most important lesson you learn from it is how to keep the arms relaxed and drive the hips forward. It is a forward-backward projection of energy which makes it a unique way to learn how to drive the bike forward, which means that when you can do 20 perfect reps with a 16 kg (women) or 24 kg (men) kettlebell you’ll be able to more confidently loft your bike into the air.

    Joe Lawill’s “Manuals Made Easy” article in the May 2009 edition of Mountain Biking Action likewise emphasizes this hip action and he’s got a nifty way to practice it before you get on the bike. See his photos:

    You do not pull up on the bar to do a manual because the slightest unbalanced input will cause the bike to wander to one side or the other. Instead, use the shifting of your body weight to raise the front wheel. So the first exercise is to get the feeling of the weight shift. Stand to the side of the bike with your hips touching the handlebar. Now, thrust the bike forward. Do this in one quick movement. Don’t move your hips to the bar; bring the bar to your hips. Remember; push out, don’t pull up.


  2. I’m intrigued by this comment attached to that video by KTownRoyster (Oct 4, 2012 at 8:59):

    its best to learn without using the brake to get the fear of falling off the back over with. sounds crazy but fall off the back a few time on purpose to learn your personal balance point.

    Makes sense to me.


  3. Funny, I have read all the same articles and even comments as you did Griff. I guess there is nothing left then practice practice practice. My arms are still sore from yesterday (which makes me think I pull too much)


  4. Nico, I think you’re probably right. Sore arms likely mean you’re pulling the bars. I’ve not worked on my manuals for a while but I noticed this spring that I was able to easily manual over two rollers without really thinking about it too hard… which made me happy, of course, but also curious since I’ve not been practicing the maneuver.

    I’m guessing that it’s mainly due to the fact that I’ve increasingly incorporated ‘light hands, heavy feet’ into my default riding style which makes it much easier to manual using my hips vs my arms/lower back.

    Hope that makes sense!


  5. It certainly makes sense!
    I’ve watched some more videos and am eager to try it again, as soon as my arms have recuperated :) I think my main problem is being scared of falling off, having had the wind knocked out of me a few times when I was younger.. A good tip I once got, but haven’t applied so far, is to carry a backpack filled with towels or blankets, so if you fall, you fall soft :)
    Some good tips here also: http://forums.mtbr.com/california-norcal/30-day-wheelie-manual-challenge-949879.html


  6. Nico, I think wearing one’s hydropack/camelback is a good alternative to carrying a backpack filled with towels. I also wear padded shorts that have tailbone padding.

    I didn’t know about that MTBR discussion thread, so thanks for that. My inclination, however, is that it would be better to separate the learning of two skills (manual and wheelie). Some argue that the wheelie is a good foundation for a manual so I’m going to try that since trials pro Ryan Leech is launching his online 30 Day Wheelie Challenge course ($30) in a few days:
    http://www.ryanleech.com/wheelies/

    http://reviews.mtbr.com/take-the-ryan-leech-30-day-wheelie-challenge


  7. Yes, that’s why I quoted above from the BikeRadar article: “Forget wheelies and learn a skill that matters.”

    But since then, the reasoning I’ve heard (not sure where) for why a wheelie is a good foundation for learning to manual is that it gets you comfortable with finding and holding the balance point on the rear wheel, even though the wheelie is done sitting while the manual is done standing. I guess I’ll soon find out!

Leave a Reply