Alternative Training Devices - Sunday Comics with Taj Mihelich

Mar 24, 2019
by Taj Mihelich  

Learning to manual is hard. I don’t know if there is a shortcut around the hours and hours of learning to feel where the balance point is (and lots of looping out on to your butt). Stationary “Manual Trainer” contraptions attempt to ease that learning curve. Do these things actually help you master-the-manual with very little risk? It seems to me they must help some. It also seems to me that other skills might be acquired with the help of similar devices.

I absolutely meant this to be a joke, but then I remembered that the great Hall of Famer, BMX rider Brian Foster once told me that he taught himself tailwhips with the help of a device not too different than this.

Ok, I admit that I drew this idea once before but I drew it a little bit better this time.]

Just let the graceful form of the Heel-Clicker seep into your spirit.


  • 54 1
 The heel clicker trainer is definitely the next build
  • 26 1
 Someone needs to bring them back unironically.
  • 6 2
 I want to build all the devices lol but i think im just going to go to Ollivander's and get a wand it may be easyer lol @brianpark:
  • 1 1
 @brianpark: Whats the heel clicker?
  • 8 0
 @Nella-Bella: It was the 90's.
  • 22 1
 @brianpark: That was my signature move back in my day. Needs to make a comeback...
  • 9 2
 @zalgrath: solid claim to fame.
  • 4 0
 @brianpark: it’s too bad Joyride victory laps aren’t full of goon riding. Schlable tops, heel clickers, 4 or 5 stars
  • 6 0
 Or the stylish and timeless crank flip
  • 4 0
 @brianpark: watch Marvin Musquin win supercross races he won't let heel clickers die
  • 1 0
 @brianpark: I guess that someone needs to go back to 600mm bars as well. (HC's on 800mm bars' not going to happen anytime soon)
  • 1 0
 @freeriderayward: check out Veronique Sandler!
  • 24 1
 "Danny Mac's fence flip trainer" is missing..
  • 18 1
  • 17 2
 @sergeyeremin: Speed + fence = stiches Smile
  • 4 2
 @sergeyeremin: flip's easy. what you need trainer for is landing Wink
  • 2 0
 @Grnnilddcv: @evildos: That's easy, just flip a poolside fence! Wink
  • 17 1
 Taj is a legend in the bmx world. I ran into him at the michigan tech trails a couple years back. Made my day.
  • 3 2
 He has all the pencil skills and a sense of humor.
  • 15 5
 Brilliant! And perfectly depicts how rediculous manual trainers are.
  • 13 3
 if you want to learn manuals, practise manuals
  • 6 5
 It's like saying if you want to ride faster Uphill pump up your Fitness. People buy e-Bikes instead.
  • 5 2
 I developed micro tears in my shoulder ligaments practising on a manual trainer. It's been 8 months and I still have a lot of pain. True story Now the Heel Clicker, I overstretched my groin muscle.
  • 11 6
 No wonder since it takes quite a lot more force to pull the front wheel up in it compared to “normal” way. Manual machines are built with good intention but hell is paved with good intentions.
  • 1 4
 That probably would have happened without one too as the weight/lifting jerk is the same, plus you might have other injuries to go with it. Had the same thing from doing wheelies as a kid on a heavy old clunker.
  • 9 1
 Just looked at pictures of what a manual machine is, but I don't quite get how you're going to accelerate the rear wheel. Are you going to lift the front wheel by just throwing your weight back and then hang by the arms? Of course that would be hard on the shoulders! I can't hold a manual yet but to get the front wheel up, the rear wheel acceleration you get by throwing your weight back and pushing the pedals forwards are a major help in getting that front wheel up. Don't leave that part out. If you're really worried about looping out, just get more protection. Helmet with more rear coverage, back protector, hip protector, elbow pads... until the point where looping out just isn't much of a deal.
  • 5 9
flag colincolin (Mar 24, 2019 at 2:07) (Below Threshold)
 @vinay: you shouldn't need the pedal stroke to start the manual. in fact if you can't do it chainless then you're not there yet.
@waki: how exactly is it harder stationary than with spinning wheels?
  • 13 5
 @colincolin: because rear wheel can’t accelerate forward under you. If you look at someone riding and pulling a manual, and consider the rider as a point of reference, in other words rider is not moving the ground under him is, as he pulls up there will be a point where rear wheel will move forward, creating a virtual pivot point closer to BB rather than rear wheel axle. Then as the rider negotiates the leaning back and forward inside the float zone, you will see most movement at the rear whee travelling back and forth.
  • 3 2
 @WAKIdesigns: thx for the explanation waki. that makes these manny machines even more useless than I thought.
  • 2 3
 @colincolin: It’s good for learning to wheelie though. Maybe we should just call it the ‘Weelie machine.” Anyway it’s a fun toy, that lets you work on your ballance in safe way. Lots of people never really try manualling (or wheelieing) because they are afraid of falling.
  • 5 4
 @colincolin: people have good intentions with this. They want to learn something cool, but they are afraid of looping out and injuring themselves. They also think this is better than nothing... It’s just that... it isn’t... and itnis so hard to tell them, sorry but no... it does not help at all. It doesn’t even teach you rear brake reflex...
  • 5 1
 @WAKIdesigns: I actually spend some time during the winter on the manual machine. It helped take away the fear of looping out, I could find and maintain the balance point, and now I can manual with no issue.

It now doubles as a bike rack, so win win for me.
  • 5 1
 @WAKIdesigns: exactly. people are always looking for shortcuts to skills that take time and dedication.
as long as your rear brake works and you know how to use it there isn't even a real risk to it.
I would know because I destroyed my left ankle when I was younger one-wheeling my bike which had an almost non-functioning rear brake. thank god I'm good at it today or otherwise that injury would have been for nothing.

It's certainly less work to bleed your brakes than building that donkey rape rack.
  • 6 0
 I’m learning on a brakeless dj. Admittedly I’ve got nothing to brag about here. Just want to make a semantic point.

The first thought in my head when I decided to start trying to learn was “looping out is probably my biggest fear with this”. So what did I do? I went to a slightly graded field and literally just spent an hour looping out on purpose. Now maybe that hurt me because I tend to loop out far more often than just dropping the front wheel back down. But when I do loop out it’s as simple as just stepping off the bike at least it feels like it to me. I figure most things in biking hinge on a combination of commitment and confidence, with skill rounding it out.
  • 4 2
 @colincolin: I didn't say anywhere that you need a pedal stroke to start a manual. I said you need to accelerate the bike. That is, push the bike forward so that swings your body mass rearwards (conservation of momentum) so that once the arms are stretched the pull the bars back, lifting the front. No drivetrain involved. Either way, the manual machines I've seen in pictures don't seem to allow for these dynamics. For comparison, it is easier to slide out on a banana peel when it actually slides forwards than to topple over when you're just standing and have proper grip.

@hardtailhooligan: Practicing looping out on the upslope is actually safer and more reliable than to practice it on level ground, because you don't need to put that much effort into raising the front there is also less risk of overdoing it. The only challenge I find when doing this is that it is hard to get enough speed going uphill.

In short, you can't explore a balance point if you can't experience instability. The closer you are to this instability, the easier and safer it is to explore it. Riding bikes with stabilizers may teach a kid to pedal, but not to properly ride and maintain balance. I haven't seen any kid ride with stabilizers these days. They just go straight from those two wheeled walking bikes onto pedal bikes, no issues. And riding a two wheeled bike won't teach you to ride a unicycle. If you want to learn to ride a unicycle, get on a unicycle.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: It is better than nothing. At least, with the machine, you learn where the balance point is, without falling. It’s a very long way from there to a manual, but it’s a first little step.
  • 5 0
 @Hardtailhooligan: I spent the last 8 months learning manuals from scratch and never once looped out because of learning to use one finger braking and covering the rear brake. I'd rather not depend on stepping off the back when hauling ass down a hill. Can do 100ft+ manuals consistently now. :J
  • 2 0
 @Humboldt: I mean that’s legit too but for us brakeless riders out there that’s simply not an option. Besides I don’t do a hell of a lot of high speed stuff when riding street. Maybe gap a stair case? But then I’m probably not trying to manny into or out of that.
  • 1 0
 @Hardtailhooligan: That's fair, but I'll be doin them on the trails.
  • 2 0
 @Humboldt: Different strokes for different folks! On the occasion I ride my bigger bike on some of the xc trails in my area I’m right there with you. Honestly though other than looking cool it’s a useless skill for the trails where I live. They’re not the most technical some rocks here and there. Even the most tech one I know of in my area you can clean any of the small boulder/large rocks with a simple punch (that’s what someone called it for me at least). Sure you could probably get more flow out of a manny up to it. Just being honest for myself though, I don’t have any intention of trying to climb the xc or even freestyle ranks. I just enjoy the challenge of learning new things, which helps because I’m basically a beginner lol.
  • 3 2
 @Thustlewhumber: @FuzzyL - Hi guys, all I meant was that it is a rather questionable way to learn. We are all unreasonable to some point, especially when fears are involved (like I am scared of jumping a jump that is only taller than jumps next to it, that I am perfectly comfortable with, there is literally no reason to be scared if one can clear the other ones) We can also see an example below where someone rides brakeless, which is at least one level deeper in hell than riding a fixie by non-track racers when freehubs are extremely reliable. I heard it on multiple occasions that riding brakeless is the best way to practice, it's insane, but I won't really judge too much. I could not care. Manual is a movement requiring excellent coordination of compression, shift back/pull and then push with legs. Then you need to be able to balance the bike sideways. None of which can be trained on Manual Machine. Feeling balance point argument is beyond me, there is no balance point in manual, it is a zone, it's a constant floatation back and forth where rear wheel moves under the BB. Which Manual machine does not provide. Indeed the balance point exists but only on the machine, i can't understand how can this translate to actual manual, I am pretty sure it can't. Without being able to pull up with forementioned coordination, you are highly unlikely to get into the balance zone on a real manual, because you are pulling in the wrong way, and too hard.

Some people advise to get a smaller shorter bike, which is shortsighted (pun intended) because while pulling is much easier (due to shorter chainstays and higher BB), controlling the float zone is much harder. I am very profficient at manuals, can manual pretty much without using the brake, tens of meters, repeatedly and can take larger turns while manualing. Can do 180 turn manual at low speed sometimes - working on that. At the same time I cannot manual a race BMX for any good distance. And race BMX has stays almost as long a 26" DJ, so manualing a street BMX is a hell no for me.

If I was to advise anything, I would tell you to learn wheelie first since once you get good at it, you can start doing coaster wheelies and after that the road to manual is very short. And i advise to do it on a 26-27,5" hardtail. Learning on a full suspension bike is harder (requires experience to know when the front is falling, simply: once you realize it is falling, it is too late because as it falls, the suspension will straighten up accelerating the process). Pulling long stays with lots BB drop of a 29er makes it too hard to pull up enough, which is the main problem for beginners. Once you have it up there, hell yeah the float zone seems gigantic.

One of the best ways to practice "loop out defense mechanism" is riding down a grass slope with back protection. In most cases it will be your arse, taking the hit.
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: I agree with most of what you said, though I think you meant practicing looping out on an uphill grass slope, not down.

I also think it is important for people to realize that for pretty much everything we aren't balanced, we're just constantly passing through that balance point. Even in robotics they've come to realize that. Early walking robots were awkward and clunky because they constantly tried to be balanced. Once they implemented dynamics, just constantly try to move towards the balance point instead of try to stay there, the motions got more natural and definitely made it easier on the computers too. When people see me ride my unicycle some also say they're impressed about my balancing skills. And I'm like no, I'm not balanced. I cannot stand still. When I want to go faster I allow myself to fall forwards and then pedal to compensate, if I want to slow down I lean back and push a bit back to stay upright. Now most people don't ride unicycles so let's give me another example. If you walk, you don't let your weight follow your feet like some cartoon character. You allow yourself to fall forwards, they your reflexes make one foot take the step. This goes for a lot of motions. It isn't the weight (balance) following the motions. It is the other way around. We create imbalances, then steer/accelerate/move to catch ourselves. And the range within we can do that is quite large. Stand still (on your feet), allow yourself to fall forwards and then see how much you can delay that step forwards to catch yourself. There is quite a range. And that goes for anything. The thing is, just like with learning to walk, ride bikes etc, our body needs to develop the reflexes. And it overcompensates a lot initially, which is fine. But there is no shortcut to learn reflexes other than exposure. A kid on stabilizers won't learn to ride a bike quicker than a kid who learns it on one of these walking bikes. And a kid whose always being supported (held by an overprotective/overactive parent) won't ever learn to walk. Release them, see them wiggle, fall, get back up. The process isn't much different now that we've become adults.
  • 1 0
 @Humboldt: 8 months from scratch is impressive, it's taken me the best part of 25 years to get them balanced (nearly) every ride.
I also wouldn't recommend learning without a rear brake unless on a BMX or small bike where you can get comfortable with landing on your feet when looping out. I couldn't have learned on my 27.5 mtb without the brake covering technique.
  • 2 0
 @tremeer023: Thanks, Put in around 5hrs per week of practice. Was tired of wheelie/manual dreams and then waking up to realize I couldn't do them in real life. I spent 4 months of that focusing on wheelies (also from scratch). 12 years of dreaming and it's real now baby!
Freshly learned skill here, so I've got tips if anyone's plateauing!
  • 2 2
 For me it was 2 years solid wheelie, then 1 year solid manual. All solid practice, previously it was totally half arsed attempts. The most important tip I can give is to break it apart like we do at Ryan Leech Connection. No point frustrating over side balance when you can't repeatedly lift the front wheel near effortlessly and can't control the rear brake to avoid looping out. So keep hammering the lifts and braking until you get them boringly easy. Then it is time for side to side balance and there are 3 ways of doing it.

@vinay, uphill grass? That sounds extremely frustrating and tiring unless you have a downsloping grassy halfpipe Smile
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Seriously? I thought that was what I should practice when safely looping out. I guess I'll have to review these instructions. Yeah it is a full-on sprint towards the beginning of the upslope and then I lift the front, loop out and jump off the back. Was it really supposed to be on a downslope? I guess it must be quite tough to actually loop out like that, but I'll try.

You recommend practicing the wheelie first before I should try the manual? I saw more use for the manual so I just went with that first. Plus I saw that the wheelie practice required a raised saddle and I'm too lazy to raise the saddle Wink .
  • 1 2
 @vinay: whoops, I'd have to check... you can try wheelieng standing, very tiring but trains your posterior chain really well. Bicep and quad will burn as hell, takes so much more energy, but frankly it is the most often used one in terrain, especially when getting over steps and over logs, not to mention wheelie hucks. Prerequisite to pedal kick to finish it off.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: Yeah, part 2 - confidence, float zone part 1, 1:24.

Yeah technically I do kind of mini wheelies to at low speed turn around but it probably doesn't really count because it is more of a pedal kick than that I'm doing full rotations. On the unicycle I'm now practicing to ride standing and seat in front (SIF) so that I can then start doing bigger hops. I can do small "seat-in" hops but for bigger obstacles I really need to learn to do SIF hops. Yeah it is tiring but well, that's part of why I'm out there Wink .
  • 3 0
 @WAKIdesigns: I’m not upset that you disagree with brakeless. What upsets me most is you claim it’s worse than fixed gear.

Have you ever met the Americans that ride fixed gears? They’re as bad as vegans. Usually they are.

You sir are just preposterous. That is all.
  • 1 2
 @Hardtailhooligan: I'm vegan and don't you dare lump me in with those fixie narcissists!
  • 2 0
 @Humboldt: Honestly you seem alright, I won’t lump you in with them. I’m specifically talking about the people who tell you in the first 30 seconds of meeting them and then want to try and make you feel like a nutsack for having a different diet. Maybe it’s just cause they ride fixie and the combo of nothing but veggies and weird hubs does something to them mentally and just makes them the worst kind of people.
  • 1 0
 @Hardtailhooligan: Oops, I suppose a unicycle counts as a fixie. I'll install a freehub asap and see how it goes.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: okay you can do that but considering the mechanics of a unicycle that sounds like a bad idea to me.

Come on man you have to know I was referring to fixed gear bicycles..
  • 1 0
 @Hardtailhooligan: It is called an "impossible wheel". I personally don't know anyone who rides these though. Some riders place their feet on top of the fork/frame crown and roll down like that. It is called coasting. I can currently perform none of these. Indeed installing a freewheel in the hub is probably possible but considering it is already hard enough to make a solid axle that's strong enough, it seems to me you're either going to need a huge hub shell or you're going to weaken the system considerably.

Yes I realize you were referring to fixed gear bicycles. I'm not judging any of this as long as it doesn't affect anyone else. Same with riding brakeless etc. I'm pretty sure the only annoying fixed gear riders are those who need to tell you about it in the first 30 seconds. All the other ones, you simply wouldn't know.
  • 2 0
 I'm a level 5 vegan, I won't eat anything that casts a shadow.
Would never run a fixed gear though ;-)
  • 1 1
 @tremeer023: l thought level 5 is using nuclear waste as dressing and using poop as alternative to vaccines. Protects even against chemtrails
  • 2 0
 @vinay: Well first off, I don’t pretend that I could even ride a unicycle in the first place with a normal fixed hub. However good lord what you referred to as coasting sounds terrifying. I get it’s the centrifugal force that keeps you upright, but that just sounds like a recipe for disaster. Normally I’m all for bad ideas but not this one lol.

@tremeer023 okay so I’m beginning to think I have long misunderstood vegans. I believe now that only the ones that ride fixie must be the ones that I have met most of my life. It seems unfortunate that I have been biased for so long, but with the circumstantial evidence I think the jury could find empathy in my reasoning here lol
  • 2 0
 @Hardtailhooligan: oh the vegan circle jerk again. LOVIN' IT. you just spewed more stereotypical BS in one comment than any fixed gear riding, organic, feminist, mustache wax using, zero waste vegan can fulfill even if they try.
have the evil vegans hurt your feelings in elementary school?
it amazes me how you can talk normally with someone about any topic in the world but bring up the fact that animals suffer for our food and clothing choices and they feel threatened in their whole existence. so bad that they bring the topic up in completely unrelated wheelie threads.

edit: this is a response to the first time you brought it up.
have a nice day all!
  • 2 0
  • 1 0
 @colincolin: Oh man you got me dude. I’m super serious about my hate for vegans and fixie riders. The SCOURGE of the planet, and I’m on my reunion tour or destroying them and all they stand for. Yeah my first plot to turn vegetables into animals went wrong so now I’ve decided to slander them online. I figured it’s the best way to get it done Smile
  • 1 1
 @Hardtailhooligan: so you enjoy eating pieces of dead animals as a way of stopping them from releasing methane into the atmosphere?
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: I only eat living animals. I catch mountain lions and bears with my bare hands and chow down. It’s the only way to live
  • 1 0
lol your picture profile, hey do you have a pic of your machine?
  • 1 0
 @Hardtailhooligan: you are eating them like a majestic wolf would eat a human? Alive starting from the ass or face?
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: do you really need to ask? Ass first, it’s the easiest way to get inside and get the good meats. Oh doctor fresh liver, kidney and gallbladder is something to behold. A little S&P for me bud!
  • 3 0
 Anyone ever hang a tire with a rope from a rafter as a makeshift harness, and used it like an invisible halfpipe? Reminded me of the superman trainer.
  • 2 0
 Taj, I thought the key to manualing was a cold beverage when you need some leverage...stick it in the fridge, stick in the fridge, in the fridge.
  • 1 0
 I'm old, I remember Taj in his BMX heydays, what a rider- his tailwhips were ace.
  • 2 0
 More graffiti on bikes frames please
  • 1 1
 How would you learn to tail whip by hanging above the bike... don't ya need FWRD momentum for that?
  • 1 0
 Tiny algorithmic juxtaposition
  • 2 3
 Manual Trainer?? learn it like a man!! back in the day...:
  • 1 4
 It's not a manual when you're sitting.
  • 1 1
 f*cking Taj writing for pinkbike hell yea. How's the 906 treating you?
  • 1 0
 More Taj please...
  • 1 1
 More please!

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