Rear wheel unweighting vs real wheel lift: Episode #2 of the MTBSN podcast on Mountain Bike Radio

Episode #2 of my MTBSN podcast on Mountain Bike Radio is now available. Main topic: rear wheel unweighting.

See the show notes and links on the MBR page for Episode #2 .




Hey! Welcome to Episode #2 of the Mountain Bike Skills Network podcast. My name is Griff Wigley, also known as the mountain bike geezer. I’m the guy behind the Mountain Bike Skills Network blog, podcast, and online community, all designed to help you, the recreational mountain biker, have more fun while riding more challenging trails, terrain, and features with less fear and fewer crashes. That’s an overstuffed sentence so let me make it more concise: more fun with more challenge; less fear with fewer crashes.

You can learn more about the Mountain Bike Skills Network at

I’m coming to you from my world headquarters – my basement office in the small town of Northfield in the southern part of Minnesota, a state in the upper midwest region of the USA.

In today’s show, I first want to talk about a fundamental skill that’s not only seldom mentioned out there on the intertubes but also not taught in most beginner and intermediate level mtb clinics: rear wheel unweighting which is not quite the same as a rear wheel lift. A whole new world of technical fun will open up to you once you get it ingrained, no pedal scooping required.

After that, I’m going to provide a bit of a roundup of what’s happening in our online community, as it seems to be turning a fun place to learn and hangout, with almost as many women participating as men.

Rear wheel unweighting vs real wheel lift

I started a topic on rear wheel unweighting vs rear wheel lift in our MTBSN FB group on March 10. I linked to a Global Mountain Bike Network video in which Hans ‘No Way’ Rey (the original Danny McAskill) instructs the two Global Mountain Bike Network guys on a much simpler technique to get over the rock than the rear wheel lift they were doing. He doesn’t say it but it’s rear wheel unweighting. His voice:

“Try it, and let the rear wheel hit the rock, and in the same moment it hits, you lean slightly forward, or get out of the saddle for a split second. And then that’s all it really takes. See, right when you hit the rock, you get out of the saddle real quick, and that’s all it takes. So you don’t have to over-exaggerate the move. “

It caught my attention because I found it to be odd last year that neither IMBA Instructor Certification Program Level 2 nor Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association – PMBIA Level 1 taught this unweighting technique in their beginner/intermediate instructor training courses. Rather, they both emphasized lifting the rear wheel with a scooping/clawing of the pedal with the rear foot. That always has seemed to me to be a much more complex maneuver, a step that should be taught AFTER rear wheel unweighting has become second nature.

So think about this: What do you do when your rear wheel is about to impact a decent size rock, log, or ledge?

I would guess that many of you count on some combination of A) momentum, B) traction; C) your bike’s rear suspension, if you have it; and D) hope and prayer, to get that rear tire over the obstacle.

Depending on what type of trails you ride, that probably works 90% of the time so you don’t even think about it. And when you do fail to get over the obstacle and have to put your foot down, what goes through your rationalizing brain? It’s probably something like:

“I need more speed next time” or “I need new tires” or “I need a full suspension bike” or “I bet I could get over that with my other bike”. Worse yet, if you’ve gotten over the obstacle in the past, “I must be getting old” or “I need to get back into better shape” or “what’s wrong with me”

So I’m suggesting that you consider another possibility: you didn’t unweight the rear wheel. When momentum and traction are in short supply, that’s when you need it the most.

It’s surprising how effective this simple technique is for helping you to get up and over even large obstacles — big boulders, logovers and uphill ledges — the unweighting motion just has to be more exaggerated.
Of course, your approach speed is another factor that dictates technique. If you have a tight turn prior to a log or other obstacle, for example, that’s when you might need drivetrain power, usually the 3/4 pedal stroke technique. More on that technique in a future episode.

Another regular contributor, Olle Svensk Strand, chimed in with another advantage of unweighting over a rear wheel lift – keeping your rear tire in contact with the ground or obstacle just enough to provide some traction as you keep pedaling forward, especially if in a ascent. If you do a rear wheel lift, you have to stop pedaling to get your rear wheel is in the air.

So how do you do basic rear wheel unweighting?

The Global Mountain Bike Network video featuring Hans Rey that I mentioned earlier is a good place to start.

Also, Lee McCormack, mtb instructor and owner of Lee Likes Bikes and co-author of the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, nails this rear wheel unweighting technique perfectly, IMHO, in the 2nd Edition, pages 109-113.

In the online discussion, Ashwin Amanna, one of our regular contributors, linked to a Seth’s bike hacks video on learning to bunny hop in which the whole first segment of Seth’s video is devoted to unweighting the rear wheel. I like Seth’s progression advice in that video, too.

I made a short video a couple years ago, demonstrating rear wheel unweighting on some small pieces of wood in a parking lot, and I’ve added that to the online discussion. In the last segment, in which I ride up a curb, it might look like I’m using a scooping or lifting technique with my rear foot, toes pointed down. But I’m not. I’m just leaping, with hand pressure on my bars opposed with foot pressure on my pedals — the ‘bowl technique’ taught by Ryan Leech, another helpful tip from Ashwin Amanna in the discussion. More on this technique in a future episode, too.

So if my rant about rear wheel unweighting makes no sense to you, or if you disagree with some of what I’ve said, or if it resonates with your experience, be sure to join the discussion in the Mountain Bike Skills Network Facebook Group. I’ll put a link right to it in the show notes. There are a couple dozen comments there already from a half dozen people, including this one from Kathy Thompson who wrote:

This makes me feel vindicated. I’ve been using rear wheel unweighting technique quite awhile as I too have trouble with the “scoop” method. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you, Kathy. Spread the word!

Online Community Roundup – MTB Skills Network Facebook group

Okay, time for a short roundup of miscellaneous stuff from the Mountain Bike Skills Network Facebook group, the FREE group open to anyone who’s interested in developing their mountain biking skills. A reminder: A Facebook Group is more like a web message board or forum — an online community in which the communication is many-to-many. A Facebook Page is more like a blog that allows comments on the posts but it’s primarily a one-to-many publishing environment. I’ll link to the Mountain Bike Skills Network Facebook group in the show notes but if you do a Facebook search, be aware: my Page has the same name. If you do land on the page, you’ll see the cover image of me, inviting you to join the Group because that’s where all the action is.

We just passed the 1,000 member milestone in Mountain Bike Skills Network Facebook group, which is tiny in comparison to most other MTB-related FB groups but I’m pretty happy with both the quality and quantity of the participation. During the month of March, many different people added posts (I review and approve only those posts that I think are appropriate); nearly 300 different people added over 1,500 comments.

As I mentioned to Ben in the first episode, we have a relatively high percentage of women members – I haven’t counted lately but it’s around a third – and many of them are actively participating. I admit women to the group right away, usually within a day. There’s a waiting list for men, currently averaging around 100. I admit 5-10 men per day, depending on the number of women I’ve admitted. And I’m still greeting everyone individually with a welcome via Facebook Messenger. If I get a response, I invite them to introduce themselves in the special Greetings/Welcome topic. Almost 300 people have done so and it’s kind of cool to see so many people from around the world who’ve joined us.

One of things I started doing in March were Just for Fun posts in which I ask for quick responses on something mtb-related, just a way for people to weigh in without having to participate in a discussion. We did four of these and they generated hundreds of responses:

JUST FOR FUN #1: Fill in the blank: The mountain bike I’ll be riding the most in the next couple of months is a __________ (AOK to include a photo)

JUST FOR FUN #2: Post a photo (no videos) of you riding an obstacle or a section of terrain that you weren’t able to do when you first started mountain biking.

JUST FOR FUN #3: Post a photo of your bike leaning against something that shows an obstacle or section of terrain that you’ve ridden at least once, a variation of what happens in the FB Group titled “Look at My Bike Leaning Against Stuff.”)

JUST FOR FUN #4: Fill in the blank (see rule below): “The last time I crashed on my mountain bike I was _____” Since this group has more men than women, my RULE for this post is: MEN CAN ONLY COMMENT IF THE MOST RECENT COMMENT IS BY A WOMAN.

JUST FOR FUN #5: I just posted a new one for April: My MTB practice-related goal for the month of April is ____”

These posts don’t expire so if you’d like to chime in, just do search for the phrase “just for fun” in quotation marks. FB doesn’t have a great search feature but that seems to work pretty well.

Wrapping up

You can find today’s show notes over at
I’m interested in your feedback and suggestions so comment there on Episode 2 or, if you’re on Facebook, join the Mountain Bike Skills Network Facebook Group and attach your comment to the Episode 2 post.

Also in the show notes is my affiliate link to instructor Ryan Leech’s web site. Ryan has many comprehensive online courses for learning mountain bike skills, many of which I’ve taken and 3 of which I’m taking now.

Thanks for listening today, I’ll chat with you in Episode 3, due mid-April, maybe sooner.