What is a manual?
Before we talk about how to manual, let’s discuss what a manual is. Frequently confused with a wheelie, a manual involves balancing on the rear wheel of your bicycle using only your body weight and brakes to stay upright. It differs from a wheelie in that a wheelie uses the force of pedaling to lift the front wheel and keep it up. The easy way to tell them apart? Ask this question: is there pedaling involved? If you answered “yes,” then it’s a wheelie. If you answered “no,” it’s a manual. While this tutorial focuses on manualing, check out this post by Syd Schulz to learn how to wheelie.
Why learn to manual?
Being able to manual is an extremely useful skill as it allows you to get your front wheel off the ground without pedaling. This gives you the ability to get your front wheel on/over obstacles (roots, rocks, curbs) while you’re moving at any speed. It’s also the first part of a bunny hop. The most important reason to learn to manual though is to impress your friends. Everyone’s impressed by a good, long manual!
There are two steps to doing a manual:
- Getting your front wheel off the ground
- Balancing on your rear wheel
Number 1 is the more important and useful skill and a requirement for number 2, but number 2 is the one you really want to learn to impress your friends. So, I’ll talk about both.
Getting your front wheel off the ground:
There are myriad ways to get your front wheel off the ground, but the best for manualing is as follows:
- Start in ready position (standing on your bike with your feet parallel). If you have a dropper post, put it down as it will give you more room to maneuver.
- Shift your weight forward and push down with your arms to compress your front fork. The more you compress your fork, the more it will rebound, helping you get your wheel off the ground.
- Lean back and use your weight shift and the force of your fork decompressing to lift your front wheel. Don’t pull the bars towards you, instead, keep your arms straight and shift your weight backwards to lift the front wheel. Think of this movement as rotating your body and your bike around the rear wheel, sort of like a pendulum.
This is hard. Initially, you’ll probably only get your front wheel a few inches off the ground. That’s okay, just keep practicing. As you get your front wheel higher and higher, make sure you keep your finger on the rear brake. This will ensure that when you get your wheel high enough to reach the balance point (the point at which your wheel isn’t immediately dropping down) you can hit the rear brake and to keep from going over backwards.
Balancing on your rear wheel
Once you’ve figured out how to get your front wheel to the balance point, you’re ready to learn to hold a manual.
There are three parts to this, keeping your front wheel from going too high (and tipping your over backwards), keeping your front wheel from dropping and staying upright from side to side. To keep your front wheel from going too high, you’ll be using your rear brake. As you start to tip backwards, touch your rear brake and your front wheel will immediately drop. This will save you from going over backwards, but it will also stop your manual, so you have to learn to feather the rear brake to keep from going backwards while not pulling it so hard that your front wheel drops all the way to the ground.
Keeping your front wheel from dropping is harder. Unlike a wheelie, where you can pedal to keep your front wheel up, during a manual you have to use your body weight and your legs. Shifting your weight backwards will help keep your front wheel up as will pushing your rear wheel forward with your legs. This isn’t pedaling, it’s using your legs to push your rear wheel forward. There’s no secret to this except practice, practice, practice.
Once you’ve got these skills down, you’ll probably find that you’re tipping to one side or the other. There are a number of ways to correct this. Try turning the handlebars the opposite direction that your tipping and sticking your knee out. You can also try shifting your hips and shoulders. If you find that you’re always tipping to one side, try starting with your other foot forward. It’ll be harder, but you might find it fixes your tipping problem.
At this point, you’re manualing. Now it’s time to work on making it longer. Start off by trying to manual between the lines of a parking spot. Then try two parking spots. Then try holding a manual while you count to five. Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t come quickly (it won’t), manualing takes a lot of practice.
Set yourself the goal of practicing for 10 minutes every day for a month and then share your progress in an Instagram video. Use the hashtag #ospreymanual and tag me @mackyfranklin so I can see your progress!
Written by Macky Franklin