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Cycling Balance: the No-hands Manoeuvre

By Sheila Ascroft

cycling no-hands

Meredith Miller (photo: Carson Blume)

Can you ride a bike no-hands? Should you? Well, I believe it is a useful skill—even for us recreational cyclists.

Professional cyclists often raise their hands in victory crossing a finish line, but I’ve never had the occasion to do that! I do go “no-hands” so I can remove my arm warmers or vest or zipper up my jacket, and to clean my sunglasses without having to stop riding. It probably only saves a minute, but stopping interrupts that flow and pedalling momentum. I also use it to open the wrapper on my energy bar or gel packet, and to switch the empty water bottle with the full one. (Yes, I always carry two water bottles on my bike because you never know when the next refill will be available.)

You were taught to keep both hands on the bar, and it takes a little technique and confidence to relinquish that control, but it is a bit exciting too! And, once mastered, it just becomes another practical tool in your skill set—to use only as needed.

First off, know that a bike is largely steered from your weight in the saddle and from your hips; very little comes from your hands. Yes, this involves having a little faith. But then, you learn to ride a bike, right?

So, find a quiet road with no traffic or even an empty parking lot. Make sure to wear your helmet and gloves in case you do take a tumble. Pedal away at your normal pace. Don’t go slower as you need the momentum to keep the bike moving straight. Place both hands on top of the handlebar and sit square in the saddle. Now, simply push back evenly and sit up. Lift both hands at once. Don’t leave one hand on the bar as it will twist your body off centre. Just sit back and keep your butt weighted in the saddle. Don’t lean forward or keep your hands hovering over the bar—sit up straight, breathe, relax and have confidence. Oh, and remember to keep pedalling!

After a few tries, you’ll get the feel for it. Once you can get into the no-hands position easily, then you will be able to make the bike go where you want it to. Just use a minor hip/butt movement to control the bike and you can get around a rock or pothole in the road.

If you find that you can’t keep a straight line, it may not be your technique. Your bike may be the problem. If your bike has not had regular or recent maintenance, something as simple as a wobbling (untrue) front wheel, or a misaligned fork or even a binding headset can make the bike feel squirrely.

Once on the open road, don’t ride no-hands unless it is safe to do so. This means waiting until the road is smooth and there’s not a lot of debris or gravel lying around that could put you into a skid. Make sure there are no gusty crosswinds, no traffic, no upcoming intersections, and nobody riding close to you. You don’t want to crash and you really don’t want to knock someone else down. If in doubt, be safe and just stop.

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7 comments to Cycling Balance: the No-hands Manoeuvre

  • Faith Elan

    Thank you Sheila Ascroft. Nice succinct instructions. Having the capacity to go one-handed shows a greater proficiency to ride the bicycle. I am hoping to get there.
    Of course there is a time and a place to do any activity. Just because I can, does not mean I will always do. I make that choice as an adult and I take responsibilty for my choice.

  • Mick Hall

    What makes me wonder about you lot is are you still alive because
    a 41 year old lady is dead BECAUSE it is said riding with one hand on the bars. CARMEN GREENWAY DIED OCTOBER 2016.

  • Aaron Travis

    Only idiots ride down the street with no hands. Apparent smoothness of the course ahead does not matter. It’s the bump you DON’T see coming that knocks you down.

  • Michael

    I ride on paved country roads and probably am hands free 80% percent of the time. The bike I ride has aggressive ergonomics, so it’s very nice to sit up and flow, while listening to some music.

  • FatBikerinBoston

    Great article!
    I recently learned after years of trying unsuccessfully. The breakthrough came on a bicycle with the saddle more or less flat. My regular bicycle has a slight forward tilt in the saddle which I find comfortable but which caused me to slip forward and lose balance when riding hands free.

    Another thing that helped me was practicing riding upright while balancing on my saddle and steering from the hips but still maintaining a few finger lightly on my handlebars. After doing a lot of this, focusing on putting all my weight on the saddle, I was able to take the plunge stress free!

    Your blog great and I hope to meet you sometime!

  • Betsy Kitchen

    Thank you for these pithy instructions for a manoeuvre that is both practical AND cool! I tried your technique and once I took the leap of faith and committed to letting my hips do the work, it felt so amazing I had to resist throwing my arms up in a Leonardo DiCaprio and shouting ‘I’m the King of the World!’

  • Marj Oneschuk

    Great tips!! I always thought this move was only for 10 year old boys, maybe this year I can learn to ride with no hands.

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