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Learning to ride no-handed has been on my new year resolution list year after year after year and I still haven't done it. I'm 46 so I need to be careful about falling off. Do people have fool-proof techniques for learning to ride no-handed they can share?

Just to clarify after Daniel's comment below I have three bikes, a racer, a commuting bike, and a mountain bike. The mountain bike is twitchy but the others feel stable.

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    A lot depends on the geometry of your bicycle. Some bikes are naturally stable, others are designed to be more "responsive" and the handlebar does not naturally center, requiring a lot of "body English" for no-handed riding to work. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 10 '12 at 14:58
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    Try to pick the bike (probably the commuter) that seems most stable, and work with that at first. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 10 '12 at 20:47
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    Another tip is that the faster you are going the easier it is to ride no handed. Trying to learn at low speeds will be almost impossible. Even when you're quite proficient, riding no hands at low speed is very difficult. So get some speed up and then practice the techniques mentioned in the answers. – Mac Apr 10 '12 at 23:30
  • +1 @Mac, this is called centrifugal inertia AFAIK. It's much easier to feel this on a motorbike, because of the greater mass and speed. – jv42 Apr 11 '12 at 8:47
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    I could have written this question myself, only I'm a LOT older. But I do have a though about how I could improve my chances. When I was doing the Physical Therapy for my ankle broken because of clipless pedals, they had me do 'balance' exercises. I was amazed at how unbalanced I was and how I improved over the time. They had me do a few different exercises, mostly balanced on a teeter totter board, first on a 2x2 then on a 3x3 and finally with a piece of 4" PVC (as I recall the dimensions). They would have you balance on the teeter totter in a door way and use your hands on the jamb to keep y – Joe Feb 24 '13 at 3:05
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Do it little by little.

Like a learner driver, go find a car park or a quiet road, you don't want to be doing this in the traffic. Ironically, you probably don't want to be doing this on a surface that will give you a soft landing. I suppose a flat playing field might work, but cycling on grass isn't as smooth as cycling on tarmac and you'll need a predictable, flat surface to work with.

The biggest skill to master is steering through weight, not through moving the handlebars. You probably do this anyway, but it's something to work on deliberately while you've got two hands on the bars. Just sway your weight from side to side and try to go in the direction you want - in a moment you'll be steering like this for real, so try and get it going well when you don't need it.

I don't think it's worth going one handed first - this is an all-or-nothing exercise. Get going in a straight line with your hands lightly on top of the bars (if you're on dropped handle-bars) and just relax your hands. Hold them flat on the bars and just lift them. Don't look at them. Just lift them a little. A fraction of an inch will feel like a foot ...

But then just try to do things with the hands off the bars. Do the leaning and swaying from side to side. Just a little amount. Just enough to drift a little off line then get you back going in a straight line. Then once you're happy, try to sit up. The more you practice, the less of a problem this becomes.

You will feel very unsteady as your centre of gravity moves around. The key here is that on most bikes your centre of gravity is quite low, somewhere around your knees, but as you take your hands off the bars and sit up, it rises significantly, so you need to be happy in controlling it and how to react to how the bike is taking it.

Pretty soon you'll be taking corners.

Of course, don't forget that, unless you're on a fixed or have non-standard equipment, the only way to stop suddenly is probably quite painful ...

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    I've actually found it's much easier to sit all the way up then just hovering over the bars. Also the "heavier" feeling the steering is the more stable it will be. My cruiser with wide handlebars and a thick tire rides no handed quite well, but I find road bikes much more challenging. – Glenn Aug 1 '12 at 15:35
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    @Glenn Actually it has very little to do with how "heavy" the steering is. It is all to do with the geometry of the fork. The parameter at work here is called "trail". The more trail you have, the more your steering will respond to shifting weight. Cruiser bikes tend to have a shallow head angle, which translates to a larger trail (per fork offset). Conversely, roadies tend to have relatively steep head angle. – Aron Jun 29 '16 at 2:26
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You should find it pretty easy to pedal with no hands for a second. Once you're able to do this, progressively leave your hands off the bars for longer. It's easy to work up to riding no handed comfortably.

Two things you should note:

  1. Riding no-handed is actually pretty dangerous. If you accidentally hit a walnut-sized rock it can turn your handlebars enough to toss you.
  2. Riding no-handed is illegal in some areas, and you can get a hefty ticket (e.g. Ontario).
  • Thanks - this is actually the approach I've tried (minus the rock and the police) but I've never gone beyond the 30 - 90 second mark. I never feel in control so when I have to steer I need my hands. – dumbledad Apr 10 '12 at 20:12
  • But would you rather hit a walnut-sized rock, or a rock-sized walnut? – David Richerby Mar 6 '18 at 20:29
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One thing to mention is if the bike is messed up at all, it's a lot harder to ride no-handed. I have a "beater" I bought for $1 at a garage sale to ride/leave at the train station. It must have a bend in the frame somewhere b/c I can't let go of the bars w/out it pulling. My road bike however, I can go easily and corner no handed.

I think it's easiest to do while pedaling, and to learn to "stear with your hips".

Hope that helps.

  • Thanks @Don - all three bikes are old so I may try my wife's as that's had less wear. – dumbledad Apr 10 '12 at 20:11
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Half off-topic, as this does not really answer your question, but I think this warning is quite in order, and thus on-topic:

Don't ride no-handed.
At the very least, not without shoes that lock into your pedals.

The reason is the failure mode, which I, for one, unfortunately learned the hard way: When you ride no-handed, you have exactly three points of contact with your bike. The saddle, and the two pedals. That suffices to keep your balance and allows for steering. But there is no redundancy at all. If you loose one pedal from under your foot, you immediately loose the other one too. Your pedals are connected to each other, and the pressure of one foot provides the counter-pressure from the other pedal to the other foot that's necessary to keep both feet connected to your bike.

After you've lost your pedals, you only have one connection left to your bike, the saddle. And that is neither enough for keeping balance in the long run, nor for any kind of steering. You immediately, and utterly loose control over your bike. It's just game-over. If your bike is heading for a moat, you'll end up in the moat. If your bike is heading for an oncoming truck, you'll meet this truck. You'll neither have a chance of braking, nor to regain control in any way. When this happened to me, I was heading towards a traffic light that was about 5 to 10 meters away, and there was nothing I could do to reduce the impact. This encounter got me four weeks on crutches, and a lesson well-learned.

I hope you do learn this lesson from me, instead of learning it the hard way as I did.

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I've just re-learned this at age 40. It's a lot easier (at least for me) on a rigid bike than one with suspension, as the bike is more responsive to shifting your weight. Also - remind yourself to look ahead instead of down at your handlebars, and make sure you are comfortable perched on the saddle with your weight back - the saddle is going to be the main way you move the bike around. I agree with cmaster that the best place to do this is away from a road where you would interact with vehicle traffic, as it takes an extra second or two to get your hands on the brakes for an emergency. There are bike lanes closed to vehicle traffic where I live, and you can easily steer around the odd pedestrian without holding your handlebars.

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