Answering your “how to manual” questions!

Click the image (or here) to see the full vid!

Thank you all for joining me this month!  I’m finally back on the bike and healthy, and I’ve been riding my moto a little bit and camping out with my daughter a ton.  I’ve been mostly riding my 27.5 wheeled Mojo HD5 this month, and that little bike is surprisingly good at manuals!  It got me thinking- I wonder what all of you struggle with the most when it comes to manuals?  Well, thanks for all your great feedback!  All of these items are very common challenges when it comes to manualing, so this made for a great template for a video that should be really helpful for many!

The Mojo HD5 is a 153mm travel 27.5 bike with a SHORT chainstay, and it sure likes to spend time on the rear wheel!

I arranged these questions so that they run us from to start to finish through a proper manual.  To get started, Randy asked such a perfect question:

  • Randy’s question brings up a critical point.  If you want to be cruising long manuals, you need to be really smooth and efficient with the motion to get the front wheel up.  If this is not done smoothly, you’ll have a heck of a time not only balancing, but keeping the manual in a straight line, which is actually the hardest part of a manual.  Not only that, but if you’re going to use the manual on the trail as an actual riding technique, then it’s critical to have a smooth engagement of the move.  
It might look like I’m simply “sitting” into the manuals, but I’m also generating a big downwards pump with my legs and hips before pulling the bars back and up.

So how do we get that front wheel up smoothly? Geoff asked exactly that:

*I’m assuming most of you are on mountain bikes.  Geoff’s BMX bike was a MUCH easier machine to manual.  Larger wheeled mountain bikes, especially full suspension bikes, take a lot more effort and pump to pop into the manual position.  As you pull back, you also need to be driving your legs down.  This creates that pumping effect.  Second key point here is that on mountain bikes, body position is much more critical than on the BMX bike.  You’re going to need to be much lower to the mountain bike.  If you’re riding tall, you won’t have the available leg reach to provide a sufficient pump.  Get low, pump, and return to being low on the bike.  

Notice how compressed the rear shock is? While we all know that pulling back on the handlebar is critical to get the wheel up, a bit of a secret is that you also need to generate a lot of downforce with your legs and hips. This helps immensely with a smooth beginning of your manual.

The sweet spot for most of my manuals has me just a tad past the rear axle. While that might not look or sound like I’m way off the back of the bike, it’ll feel like it’s quite far when you’re first learning it. Also, I sit back into it, keeping a straight back.

  • Now that we’ve got a smooth lift of the front end, and a solid pump with the legs, it’s key to know how high up that front wheel needs to be.  Well, there isn’t just one height.  You can manual with the front wheel low to the ground or with the wheel high above the ground.  The difference is that your torso needs to match the angle of the bike.  Consider your body and bike to form a perfect V- both sides need to match.  If the front wheel is up really high, have yourself leaned forwards, and if it’s fairly low, get yourself way far back.  
I’m a BIG fan of practicing an intentional hop-off-the-back fairly often, as this will be your emergency bail out should you really loop it out. HOWEVER, THIS IS REALLY DANGEROUS! It’s easy to suffer an ankle injury, or worse, when jumping off your bike.

Also, it’s critical to spend some time intentionally going over too far backwards.  Hop off the bike and run out of it to safety.  

Notice how close I am to the handlebars? Notice how high off the ground the front wheel is? This is an example of a tighter V. It’s possible to wheelie with your front wheel super high, but you need to bring your torso higher as well. This is a lot harder to balance than the a broader V, with a lower front wheel, but show’s that your body weight simply needs to be a counterweight for wherever your front end is positioned.

My preferred manual position is with a slightly lower front wheel and keeping myself a few inches above the rear wheel. Oh, and FYI, whenever I’m teaching this in person, the single most common mistake is being too high above the rear wheel. Notice how close I am to the tire!

I DO use the brakes a ton to control my manuals.  It’s worth your while to spend some time doing braking drills- it makes a real difference.  One finger on the brake is plenty for manualing.  You can cheat the system a little by doing manuals down a hill, as the available kinetic energy will help make up for a loss in momentum by over braking.  However, this is dangerous!  

I’m not afraid of using my brakes lightly, with one finger, to control my speed AND balance.

  • With enough practice, you’ll learn how to initiate the manual smoothly and you’ll learn about the balance point.  But the hardest part, like I mentioned earlier, is to keep the bike going in a straight line.  Fix this by setting an intentional “finish line” to use as a goal for each manual.  This will help your balance AND it’ll make it MUCH easier to keep things straight. 
    This is a pretty wild manual on the trail. It’s from log drop to root drop, and at a brisk speed. However, I’m using the root drop as my finite “goal” to manual to, which will also keep me going straight.

Every month, I upload a new riding tutorial video solely to my Patreon page. I put a good deal of work into these videos, and they are pretty watchable- they’d probably outperform most of what I have publicly posted on YouTube, TBH! I have $7 and $10 tiers readily available through Patreon, and I send all supporters a quick sticker pack. If you’ve been enjoying my videos, please consider becoming a Patron- not only do you get extra content, but it helps keep my videos as ad-free as possible!

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