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I've been practicing riding hands free (when I've got a safe traffic-free opportunity of course). This is partly because I'm trying to learn to ride a unicycle and hands free balance is a skill I can work on while commuting. It's also good o be able to have a stretch on long rides.

Having tried several different bikes, it's clear that not all are equally easy to ride without hands. In approximate order, starting with the easiest:

  1. An old BSO, 26"x2ish wheels, at least 1 size too small for me (I'm fixing it up for an errand bike to do about 3km/day and store outside work). 71° head angle
  2. The rental bikes near work - heavy step-through frames with low gearing (Nexus 3-speed hub gears), 26x1.75ish", either Marathon Plus or a few with solid tyres.
  3. My hybrid (GT Traffic 3.0 from about 2010), 700C, currently with 35mm studded tyres but normally 28-32mm Marathon Plus. This is fitted with a single pannier. Sometimes my D lock is clipped to one fork leg, which makes it slightly harder. 72° head angle
  4. My 29er hardtail (Saracen Tufftrax Comp Disc, 2.3" tyre at the front, 2.1" at the back). This is about equal with the GT. 67° head angle
  5. Hardest by far my tourer, Genesis Tour de Fer, 700x32mm tyres. 71° head angle

I've added the head angles, I could find specs for the Genesis and the Saracen, and used those to check my measurement technique with an angle gauge and spirit level. I confirmed by eye that compared to the Genesis the GT is steeper and the BSO matches.

It's clearly not about quality, unless in an inverse sense. There does seem to be a little getting used to a specific bike after switching from another, but that can be done in a minute or two. On the first few I can do a few hundred metres including gentle bends and speed bumps, often limited by running out of clear enough space, a change in gradient, or too many bumps causing me to slide forwards on the saddle.

So what factors affect the ease? I'm interested in fundamental things like geometry, but also setup/maintenance factors like tyre choice and loading.

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  • This question here is quite related: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/73391/…
    – fgysin
    Apr 12, 2022 at 8:32
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    The last bike has a steeper "road" head angle. Perhaps it will perform better no-hands at speed! The caster and trail are key.
    – Noise
    Apr 12, 2022 at 8:33
  • @JoeK 71° for the Tour de Fer, 67° for the Saracen (2019 spec rather than my 2017) apparently. I'll try to measure the other 2. I can't find the trail for the Saracen to compare. I haven't tried a true road bike no hands, but they clearly can be ridden like that.
    – Chris H
    Apr 12, 2022 at 8:42
  • @fgysin are you saying it's all (or mainly) down to fork offset?
    – Chris H
    Apr 12, 2022 at 8:42
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    @ChrisH it is easier to ride a slack head angle no hands as the bike usually has more caster and more propensity to travel in a straight line
    – Noise
    Apr 12, 2022 at 8:46

2 Answers 2

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The most important parameter for hands-free riding is the wheelbase (distance between front and rear wheel).

  • A long wheelbase results in good straight-line stability. Easy hands-free driving.

  • A short wheelbase conditions a maneuverable driving behavior. Difficult hands-free riding.

Another aspect is the head tube angle.

  • A flat head tube angle increases caster and thus improves straight-line stability, increases steering forces.

  • A steep head tube angle reduces caster and increases maneuverability, thus reducing straight-line stability.

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    If the wheelbase is more important than the head angle, my tourer should be really easy. It's got practically the longest wheelbase on the market for a single rider bike. The BSO and rental are much shorter, and not just because they're smaller frame sizes, with the hybrid and MTB in between
    – Chris H
    Apr 12, 2022 at 10:56
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    A slacker head tube angle combined with the fork's rake produces trail, and increasing trail makes the bike self-steer better, up to a point where it goes wonky again like in a lowrider or those really long forks on a chopper-bike.
    – Criggie
    Apr 12, 2022 at 12:33
  • Rim/tyre width plays no role at all? Geometry for sure does but is it coincidence that my bikes from 23 over 25 to 38 mm are increasingly easy to ride hands-free? OK, the first two are road bikes and the latter is a tourer, so no big surprise...
    – DoNuT
    Oct 22, 2023 at 15:27
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    @DoNuT It may play a role. Also the tire pressure has an influence. There are probably many more factors that have some influence. But the geometry, in detail the wheelbase and the head tube angle, have the greatest impact.
    – komape
    Oct 23, 2023 at 12:14
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look into apollo II vintage touring. Great look and brilliantly balanced! I can ride up gutters and do mono's with it using no hands. It has something to do with the curved front fork which sets the wheel base in front of the handlebars somewhat. I can send a picture just lmk.

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    Welcome to Bicycles SE. Can you add additional information to back up your answer?
    – Ted Hohl
    Oct 22, 2023 at 5:57
  • Welcome - adding a photo of your bike would help a lot. Ideally take a well-lit photo from the right-hand side, straight on, and with the lens about a metre from the ground.
    – Criggie
    Oct 22, 2023 at 10:32

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