Video: Actually Learn How To Manual, How To Bike Season 2 Episode 7

Dec 22, 2022
by Pinkbike Originals  


The hardest part of learning how to manual is getting started. There are countless tutorials that cover the steps in learning how to manual, but none of the steps matter if you don't get out and practice. Ben Cathro has built a progression plan to get you cruising around town on your back wheel.

Huge thanks to the brands who have helped make How To Bike Season 2 happen.

Continental - tires
Shimano - drivetrain, brakes and pedals
Santa Cruz - frames
Reserve Wheels - wheels
Dharco - clothing
Deity - cockpit & saddle
Bluegrass - helmets and protection
Adidas Five Ten - footwear
Swatch - official timing
Cushcore - inserts
Ohlins - suspension
RideWrap - frame protection
Outside - support
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Cam Zink's advanced trail riding progression course.

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Member since Feb 15, 2012
1,096 articles

  • 52 3
 Everyone who can't manual: "I can never get manuals to click, they are impossible."
Evereyone who can manual: "Have you tried practicing?"
Everyone who can't manual: "How dare you."
  • 10 32
flag tacklingdummy (Dec 22, 2022 at 9:22) (Below Threshold)
 I think a lot depends on physical build and shorter people have a tougher time because the bike has to be more vertical to reach and maintain the balance point.
  • 20 1
 @tacklingdummy: I’m sorry but that’s total BS, if you’re bike fits you, you can learn to manual it with practise
  • 9 0
 It's the amount of dedicated practice that sets manuals apart from most other bike skills. There's a huge amount of coordinated muscle memory that needs creating.
  • 4 1
 @tacklingdummy: not if the bike is smaller
  • 6 2
 @tacklingdummy: Agreed. If you are a smaller person with say 29" wheels, or just long chain stays: you are going to struggle to get half your weight behind the rear axle. If you're bike also has longer reach its going to get even harder.
  • 5 5
 @hcaz: if you can’t manual your bike it’s too big for you, end of. If you’ve gone so long with your geo to make yourself feel so safe that u cant even pull up on the bars then thats on u. Unless you’re literally a midget i don’t think u have a point. Coming from a shortish guy who can manual, cuz I practised..
  • 5 0
 @ScroopyNooples: some bikes are REALLY hard to manual especially if you go off of manuf. sizing these days, so tough to blame the riders.....

I agree to a certain extent, but I am old school and I think manuals are a good metric to test for for general riding (excluding DH racing or XC racing), it's a practical skill on many trails, if you can manual a bike I think it's a good test of fit and would generally put many guys on slightly shorter bikes.
  • 2 4
 @RadBartTaylor: sounds like you completely agree with me tbh..people buying bikes that are too long for them and using this as an excuse to not be able to perform one of the most basic techniques of mtbing.. also i’d say that any dh or xc racer worth their salt can pop a manual on their race bike
  • 1 0
 @ScroopyNooples: I do agree, sorry if it didn't come across like that.

I dunno, aggressive XC bikes are nasty when it comes to stuff like manuals, some of the the more modern setups are better but setting up a bike to climb is the antithesis of a good manualing bike.

A top level rider can manual a DH bike but I wouldn't hop on a DH bike and use a manual as a litmus test for it like I would a trail bike.
  • 3 3
 @RadBartTaylor: yeah, the point I was trying to make is that there’s people on here basically saying ‘what about short riders on large 29ers?’ And I think thatif you’re so short you can’t manual your long reach 29er maybe u should go 27.5 or mullet size small or medium, and then shut up and learn to manual :p which will still feel hard to start with regardless
  • 3 0
 I resent you refering to me up in front of an international audience.
  • 2 1
 @ScroopyNooples: yep im feeling super safe. Fast rough trails are best on a long wheelbase (hence dh bike geometry). Another guy here said manu recommended sizing can put people onto bigger bikes, i went manu recommended and would size down next time. And yeah i might go mullet next time, but thats not my point. Hasn't geometry generally become long though? Regardless, a longer chainstay is going to be harder to manual than a short chainstay. You might have noticed many bikes use the same chainstay length through all of their sizing. Congrats on your practice paying off. No i havent locked in any long manuals on my 29" meta. Maybe ill get some practice in next year.
  • 1 3
 @hcaz: you’ve digressed a lot here, originally you were agreeing with tacklingdummy’s completely false statement about short people struggling to manual. What you added to that was if you have 29” or long geo you’re going to struggle with manuals, which seems like a pointless comment to make because if you’re bikes sombig you struggle to manual it, size down, end of. Then DH bikes got mentioned..DH bikes aren’t the easiest to manual but you still need to be able to pop the front up on them from time to time while downhilling for fun or racing…it’s gotten me out of a spot of bother or two on the big bike..
  • 2 0
 TIP 1. Learn on a BMX bike.
  • 1 3
 @hcaz: that’s absolute nonsense. Manuals are really easy on a mountain bike and the bigger the bike the easier it is to manual and even easier still if you’ve got rear suspension.
  • 1 1
 @thenotoriousmic: go ride a bmx or DJ bike and get back to us, or better yet, go watch that Niklas Tilk vid here and picture somebody doing that with a 190mm travel DH bike:
  • 3 2
 @ScroopyNooples: @olafthemoose I think a Mythbuster type article by Pinkbike is in order with lines showing the angles the bikes need to be to achieve the balance points with with many different sized and weighted riders. It would be a great article. I still stand on my theory.
  • 2 0
 I have two 29ers, a HT with 420mm chainstays and a full suss with 443mm chainstays. The full sus is easier to manual. Bottom bracket drop has big part to play in how easy a bike is to manual, especially on a hard tail were it remains constant. A bike with a lot of BB drop tends to be harder to get into a manual as you kind of have to get it level before it tips back if that makes sense. More effort is required to get the BB level with the rear axle than is needed to get it to go higher than the rear axle. I think with chain stay length they have to be really quite long before it makes it significantly harder to manual and other dimensions like reach and stack might have more of an effect. Also, longer stays are perhaps easier to balance once in a manual as it's less twitchy.
  • 1 0
 @motdrawde: I think it's a lot more complicated than you say and while geometry plays, using (2) examples is not going to prove anything.

Just look at modern competition trials bikes, they have BB + Rise, they SUCK at manuals.

Geo is complicated but generally speaking in the BMX world lower bottom bracket bikes are better for stuff like manuals, higher ones keep more weight on front end.

Full sus bikes don't necessarily have higher BB than HT's, it really depends on sag and likely 'dynamic' sag since when you initiate a manual on a FS bike you are MUCH deeper in the sag than you would be just sitting on the bike.

Base on my experience long CS bikes can manual ok, but I'd still say short CS are easier to keep bike balanced.
  • 1 0
 @RadBartTaylor: it’s way harder to manual my bmx than any of my mountain bikes. On my bmx the back wheel is directly under me. The margin between dropping the front and looping out is tiny and it’s all technique. On a mountain bike you just hang off the back and drag the brake. Simple.
  • 1 0
 @thenotoriousmic: it's a slightly different technique but you have a lot more control of a BMX.

MTB's are big and lazy and you are not doing the crazy manuals the BMX guys do....
  • 1 0
 @RadBartTaylor: I don’t think you understood what I said
  • 1 0
 @ScroopyNooples: God damn bro calm down
  • 1 0
 @ljXnyxfD: I am calm, what is it with you people
  • 28 0
 Someone remind me of this video in 3 months. It's -30 right now.
  • 15 0
 Life doesn't come with a manual. You have to learn as you go through it.
  • 3 0
 I watched this and then last night I had a dream we were staying in Scotland, met Ben and he invited us round for a bite of dinner. As you’d imagine, Ben and his other half were charming, gracious hosts and it was a nice evening, so we we’re eating in their garden.

This is where the story takes a twist. Their garden was very steep and rather than being on a flat terrace the table and chairs were both on the slope. This didn’t seem to bother the Cathros at all, but I couldn’t stop sliding on my chair and none of the delicious looking stew would stay on my plate.

I took two things from this dream: Just because Cathro makes it look easy, doesn’t mean it is. And, Ben needs to sort his garden out.
  • 3 0
 I've put varying degrees of effort into learning to manual over the years... never quite picked it up, but could always make enough progress to make it fun and useful on the trail (at a minimum I got a lot less mud in my mouth when I was practicing). This video gave me a little inspiration to get back after it. I will never give up!
  • 2 0
 I learned how to wheelie in the 1900's... Anyway, when the Haro video came out in the, 1900's, I tried it out and got it pretty quick. I've manualled about any size bike, even an e-bike, 12" kids bikes, road bikes. Really, anything with wheels, shopping carts, big wheels, even a shipping dolly. You HAVE to practice! Find a gently sloping parking lot and go downhill, from line to line. I think I've gone 1/4 mile. But in the spring, after not riding for 3 months, it's hit or miss until I do 20 or so.
  • 2 0
 the only thing you really need is to learn to use the rear brake to get the front down when you go too far back. so, wheelie until you learn to use the brake to get the front down and it should be easy from there since you can save it anytime. the hardest part for me is to use *just enough* brake to correct and not put the front down.
  • 2 0
 Bought some Chesters to try and practice wheelies and manuals. My first NYE resolution.
Pedal deal:
  • 1 0
 I learned manuals on a BMX. Manuals on a BMX is pretty easy.
On a BMX my front tire is between 6 to 12 inches of the ground.
I learned manuals brakeless as well. On a BMX, looping out is relatively safe.

I never really transferred that skill to the MTB, because of a few factors, where the balance point is(it is scary to have your front wheel that high off the ground), using the brakes on manuals and the suspension just eating up the micro adjustment when i use my butt to find the balance point.

  • 2 0
 I'm old, started MTB in my late 50's and really want to manual like it's second nature, I'm sort of OK at it but with the physical limitations I have doesn't seem worth the effort to practice after 6 years of MTB
  • 1 0
 I really need to do some dedicated practice on this one. I can wheelie fine (well, until I lose the front gyro, then I'm iffy). I can bunnyhop really well. I can do small manuals on the trail to smooth out rollers and such. But still can't do full on manuals and use them to pump features.

No excuses other than I just haven't put in enough work.
  • 1 0
 Buy a BMX or a dirt jumper to learn. I had a Nimble 9 that would manual for days. The guy who bought it from me landed on his ass 10 feet into his first ride when he tried to pull the front tire over a curb. I still regret selling that bike.
  • 1 0
 Here's a thing that I don't think anyone mentioned: find a very slight decline and get your rear brake feel and bite dialed. You'll need to trust it and your timing of using it to gain the confidence and comfort of the sweet spot in your manual... feeling like you're too far back and gonna flip over backwards is just about where the action is, just give the lever the slightest little pull if you are feeling like flipping out.. That's the most important thing I think: getting good with your rear brake action. It's gonna take a lot strength in your quads to hold yourself in the right position. When you pull up for your manual make sure your hips and shoulders are lined up straight and keep your back foot leg strong to keep the bike from shifting to that side.. Do all that A LOT and boom, you're manualing. Good luck with your manual game, it's one of the best feelings on a bike.
  • 1 0
 I’ve put in a lot of effort to learn to manual but have really bad knees (both have been replaced); I just don’t have the range of motion and it hurts like f#$&k so it’s a skill I’m going to have to admire rather than pick up myself.
  • 2 0
 I found a sidewalk or empty parking lot was best so that you can track your progress using the lines, its instant feedback of your practice paying off.
  • 3 0
 A great manual to learn to manual
  • 1 0
 What are people’s opinion on the manual stand that holds you up from tipping over and gives you a chance to find the balance point?
  • 2 0
 I learned to me manual without one when I was a kid, my dad bought one recently to try and learn so i thought i’d have a go, and honestly felt like i was bending the rear wheel. A big part of learning to manual at the start is learning to pull up and jump off the back onto your feet and practising pulling the rear brake to bring the front down, do these two things and you’ll never hurt yourself looping out so no need for wheel bender
  • 4 0
 I don't think they are needed....just go out in driveway and practice.
  • 2 0
 They don't work imho . I can manual like a boss , usually minutes at a time on any type of bike . I tried one of those manual machines and couldn't do it to save my life .
  • 2 0
 They don't help. I can get the wheel up much easier and hold it on the "manual machine". It's not transferable at all to the real movement.
  • 1 0
 If you get (or build) one, I suggest practicing on a bike with no chain. It’s to easy to cheat by using pressure on the pedals to bring the wheel up. It also doesn’t help much with the lateral balance you need to develop. Best to just work on it outside.
  • 1 0
 I've not tried one personally but people look super awkward and not in the right postion on them.
  • 2 7
flag SenderRampsUSA (Dec 24, 2022 at 12:04) (Below Threshold)
 These work! We have so much positive feedback from our customers who use the SENDER RAMPS USA - Pro Core Skills Trainer. Not everyone can run out of a looped out manual like we all could when we were in our teens and twenties. The reality is looping out can be dangerous, especially on the trail. Front wheel lift is ESSENTIAL to riding a mountain bike. The Pink Bike podcast agreed in their episode about manual machines. Weather you are lifting your front wheel up and over a log or rock, or punchy climbing section you need to know how much is too much. Manual Machines help you find your bike's unique balance point...because they are all different. You can certainly learn to manual on your own by practicing daily (It took me 2 full riding seasons to actually master it on my Bmx when I was 16. And this was after HUNDREDS of looped out running sprints). I have personally witnessed HUNDREDS of riders question our machine at events like SEA OTTER, Crankworx, and all over the PNW, but they say one feels very similar to real life! So if you are looking for something to dial in your balance point, master front wheel lift, and even be the cool guy in the parking lot or trail busting out manuals, then do it the fast way. Get a manual machine with a couple of your friends, share it, and master it in weeks not years. Not to mention getting one hell of a core MTB workout in your garage during the offseason. Sender Manual Machines FLEX and slide back and forth to protect your rear wheel. The Rear Derailleur side of our machine is also much lower than the non drive side to protect large RD's and 203 rotors. In 5 years of selling the Pro Core Skills trainer we've NEVER ONCE had a customer report wheel or bike damage! ASK US ANYTHING!
  • 2 0
 They don’t work at all and if anything they’re a hinderance because you’re just going to learn a bunch of bad habits that are going to hold you back from actually learning to manual. Your time would be much better spent actually practicing doing what it is you’re trying to do. Ideally somewhere away from cars, with the smoothest surface possible going downhill.
  • 5 0
 @SenderRampsUSA: cringey plug
  • 1 0
 Watching the "bailout" section I realize I should probably learn the skill without SPDs. I might be more motivated to attempt it a second time,,,,
  • 1 0
 Sure thing. I'm pretty good at getting out of my spd's when needed but when I set out to practice any type of trials-liek trick I put on my flats. A loopout is a super awkward position to click out from.
  • 1 0
 I think many of these moves require one to be prepared to fall off the bike jn a safe manner when practising.. it’s the way to reach the balance point
  • 1 0
 A real manual is all balance, no brake. Most important tricks are Butt much lower then expected Legs bent more then expected Arms straight. Get comfy looping out
  • 2 0
 Unfortunately bikes these days are designed to make manuals hard. 29" wheels and long wheel bases.
  • 1 0
 I can wheelie but can't manual. I can barely lift up the front tire. I'm 5'5" but I have super short legs with a 27.5" inseam on a 27.5 bike.
  • 1 0
 I feel like the hardest part is beeing constant at it, particulary on every kind of bike.
  • 2 0
 This might be the first PB video with a flock of sheep in the background.
  • 1 0
 It's a super fun skill to have. Can recommend 5/5. Also get a bmx if you wanna learn faster
  • 1 0
 Hey Ben, do you want some lotion for that left shin?
  • 1 0
 It puts the lotion on its shin or it gets the hose again.

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