The Trail Starts Here: Mastering The Manual

The Trail Starts Here

Welcome back to “The Trail Starts Here,” our collection of helpful tips for riders of every level. In this installment, we’re going to focus on a riding skill that’s more than just a stylish parking-lot trick. This skill is commonly called a “manual”—a move often confused with a wheelie due to the similarities. Knowing how to manual is a skill with many on-trail benefits. Learn how to add style, efficiency and grace to your riding with this handy technique.


The balance point of a manual is right over your rear hub. Focus on positioning your hips right in the sweet spot.


First and foremost, a manual is a standing wheelie where the rider uses his momentum and balance, not the pedals, to keep the wheels rolling. Manuals are a great skill to learn for showing off to riding buddies, but an even better skill to master for conquering certain trail features. A manual can be used when riding through rollers or to pick up your front wheel before going over an obstacle. It can also be used as a way to get through a small stream or to avoid putting your front tire in a ditch. The stylish manual is much more than just a trailhead stunt; it’s a riding technique that, when used correctly, will take your riding to new levels.


First, work on the motion required to get your front wheel off the ground. Most riders want to just tug on their handlebars when in fact most of the motion is created from your legs. It also requires momentum, so maintain a safe rolling speed while practicing.

Start in a standing position resembling the way you would ride down a technical trail. Then, move your hips back and push down and forward with your legs. Keep your arms straight with a slight bend and maintain a relaxed grip on the bars. Using your hips as a counterweight and pressing hard with your legs down and forward will pop up your front wheel with little effort from your arms.

Side note: keep a finger over your rear brake should you pop the front wheel too high. A light tap from the rear brake will set the front tire back down.


Once you’ve figured out how to get your front wheel off the ground, it’s time to work on your balance. Manuals are all about weight distribution, so thinking of a balance beam could be helpful. Once the front wheel is up, squat down over the back tire. Keep your arms straight and scoot your hips back and forth to keep your balance. The goal is to make small and slow movements while you focus on finding your balance. Keep yourself relaxed, and don’t get discouraged as you develop this new skill.

The technique used to manual has on-trail benefits such as carrying the front wheel over holes and divots.


Keep your hips centered over the back wheel, since that’s the point of balance you’re working over. A low center of gravity will help you keep your balance, so work towards getting your butt as close to the tire as you can. There’s also no need to have the front wheel too high. Ideally, you want the front wheel around 1 foot off the ground. The higher you go, the more likely the bike will fall to one side or the other. Meanwhile, if the front wheel is too low, it will require the rider to place more weight over the back of the bike. Spend some time moving your weight in front and behind your rear hub until you can feel the difference in weight distribution.


Practice going the distance once you’ve learned the basics. An empty parking lot can be a great place to practice, since you can use the evenly marked parking lines as a measurement for distance. An open dirt lot or trailhead could work as well.

Once you start to get the hang of lifting your front wheel, you’ll want to learn the controls for raising and lowering the front end. Moving your hips back by straightening your legs will move the front end up. When the front end begins to come up too high, lower it by bending your legs and bringing your hips in closer to the bike. Remember, the rear hub is your balance point, so movements should be done in the front and behind that point. Also, remember the manual is performed with your legs and hips. Your arms are just for hanging onto the bike.

Once you’ve mastered how-to manual, take it to the next level by introducing turns.



Now that you’ve got the hang of a manual in a flat, open area, it’s time to take it to your local trails. Manuals can be performed over a variety of obstacles, from man-made rollers to natural rock gardens. Look for holes and divots in the trail where you can carry the front tire over and ride the rear tire through. Man-made rollers are a great example of this. As you approach a roller, drop your hips and start to move them back by straightening your legs right as the front end heads over the first roller. Keeping your hips low and back will carry the front wheel to the next roller.

Then, be ready to get your hips back over the front of the rear hub to set the front wheel back down. This move not only adds style but can allow you to carry more speed down the trail. Now that you have the basics, get out on the trail and find new ways to ride the same landscape.

Subscribe & Renew Here

Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun.

Call us at (800) 767-0345

You might also like