Bikes, Balance, and Riding No Hands

Test Riding the Paper Bicycle
So, yesterday something monumentally cool happened: I rode no hands for the first time. (Before anyone points out that the picture shows one hand on the bars - this is not captured in the picture!) I was alone with no one to witness my no-hands magnificence but the drivers passing me on the quiet side street. I had both hands off, and not just hovering above the bars, but properly off - dangling at my sides as I sat back on the saddle. I rode that way for an entire block, then put my hands back on the bars when it was time to turn. Then I took them off again and rode that way for another couple of blocks. I would have kept practicing, but it was freezing. 

I was riding the Paper Bicycle, coming home from skating, and somehow the bike seemed to whisper to me "You can take your hands off the bars now, do it..." - so I did. I was absolutely amazed that I could do it, and that it felt relatively safe and intuitive. The front wheel just kept going unwaveringly straight as I pedaled. But having tried the same maneuver on a couple of other bikes (both upright and road), it didn't work and the front end seemed way too unstable with my hands off the handlebars. So this appears to be bike-specific for me. I am wondering what it is that makes some bikes easier to ride no hands than others.  If I practice long enough on the Paper Bicycle, will I eventually feel comfortable riding a "normal bike" no hands as well, or is the skill unlikely to transfer? I will try not to get too excited, but this is making me feel like maybe I am not an entirely hopeless case!


  1. Peppy (the amazing "not really me" cycling cat)January 27, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    I saw the whole thing. It was... BEAUTIFUL...

    This is mewatching (turn sound on).

  2. When i was a dorky teenager, my friends and i used to ride no handed while yo-yoing, all the way to school.

    i also had another encounter in high school where my stem came off (not sure, but i was clueless back then on how to fix it). i figured that since i rode no handed all the time, i didn't really need the handlebars. i just held 'em in my hand so i could brake, and took off riding the 4 miles home. Seemed like a fantastic idea, and i probably got a good mile along, until i started going down a hill, and was forced to bail quite spectacularly.

    either way, congratulations!

  3. Sweet! I am still practicing... :/

  4. Riding no hands has more to do with the balance of the bike and its geometry than your balance. If you can ride a bike, you've got enough balance to ride no hands, you just need the right bike.

  5. You should get on a Multi-Use Path, ride no-handed, and move your arms like a runner/jogger as you pass by them (as I have done like a complete dork :P ).

    ...anyway, congrats on your riding confidence!

    It always baffles me when I see "certain" cyclists in heavy traffic riding no-handed, but I (like you now) am content to do it in smooth, straight, low/no-traffic situations

  6. I could never do no-handed riding as a kid.

    When I got a mixte a few years ago, I found myself riding up on the tops of the drop bars a lot...and then barely touching the handlebars....and then it was no big deal to try not touching them at all for a little while....and then I could ride whole blocks with my hands by my side. With a huge goofy grin.

    I'm still not someone who could just do whole trips no-handed, but I did figure out that I can turn my Raleigh (which I can ride no-handed now that I've removed the basket) no-handed, if I was already riding without hands. I have to do it with a lot of intention, though.


  7. I ride long stretches no-hands to rest my wrists. It takes a little more effort in the hip flexors to keep yourself stable and to direct the bike to some degree. I've been able to do it on a few different bikes so I don't know what attributes are necessary.

  8. Congratulations -- that's a wonderful feeling isn't it? I haven't worked out entirely what makes some bikes easier to steer this way than others. Medium-high trail and relaxed seat angles are good predictors, but there are exceptions that invalidate simple theories.

    The one thing I really miss riding a Brompton is ease of no-hands steering. I can do it with effort, but it's not relaxing at all. I have an old Koga Miyata Road Gentleman bike that I can ride for miles no-hands, steering easily around corners, slaloming around potholes, etc. It's my favorite aspect of that bike. Relax the back, hands, arms, neck...

    Grippy pedals or foot retention help a lot, as steering happens with the hips tweaking the saddle this way and that, using the pedals for lateral resistance.

  9. I've never been able to ride no hands comfortably for long distances since I was a kid on my Dunelt 3 speed. I could have multitasked on that thing, it was like having an autopilot. Not so on any of my current bikes and I have a good selection of all different kinds of bikes. Lucky you! How fun!

  10. In my experience, no-hands stability is all in the bike's geometry. I have a track bike that practically rides itself, and a hybrid that starts wobbling as soon as my fingers leave the grips. I think that the difference is that on the track bike, the wheelbase is much shorter, and I'm practically on top of the front axle.

    1. I have always been able to ride without hands, but on my current/new bike I am not able as the front end feels very unstable. I suspect its the geometry, since I have never ever not been able. Any thoughts?

  11. I still can't ride no-handed, and now I'm wondering whether it's got more to do with the basket on the front of my bike affecting the bike's stability, than my crummy bike skillz!

  12. I frequently did this as a kid on both of my bicycles: Huffy Newsboy Special (believe or not) and a Raleigh 3-speed Colt (?). I cannot do it at all on my current bike - and my balance is still fine. Could it be something to do with how much trail a bike has?

  13. Cool. So you had to turn this celebratory moment in geometry...

    Boring things first: bb drop, long-enough wheelbase, dialed angles, proper fork spec, low CoG, rider balanced btwn the wheels.

    I saw this coming from a mile off: you are way more relaxed on the bike compared to a year ago. It was apparent your shoulders are now relaxed, back not hyper-extended. Weight on the butt properly, supported by legs, arms just along for the ride. We have bikeyface in motion, yet no V.
    Silly still pictures.

    Balancing is a piece-o-cake after slicing around on two blades on top of ice.

    Please, someone say this bike is stupid because it enabled the rider to do something she hadn't done before.

  14. I hope you realize that you were in violation of Mass General Law 85.11B.(6). Tsk, tsk, tsk.

    The skill is somewhat transferable. Different bikes do it differently, and you will not immediately be comfortable on the other bike, but you will improve with practice. Faster is easier, and I can tell that I am slowly still improving because my slowest-comfortable Dummy-no-hands speed used to be 11mph, and now it is below 9 (and I ride no-hands for minutes at a time, given the chance).

    Generally, what you experience (on a new bike) is either a feeling that the bike is going to dive sideways into the nearest obstacle, or else the feeling that bike is ignoring all your good efforts. Once you become accustomed to a "twitchy" bike, the less-twitchy bikes will ignore you.

    No-hands seems to depend a lot more on the front of the bike than the rear of the bike -- a cargo bike rides about the same no-hands with 50 extra pounds in back, but switching from big slicks to snow tires makes it much less responsive. Tire inflation also matters a lot.

    A recent experiment (towing a heavy bicycle) suggests that your feet are also important. I took my feet off the pedals coasting down a hill (hands-on, not off), and the bike got a whole lot more squirrelly in terms of excess shimmy from steering corrections.

    You can also get some frame shimmy (on some bikes) riding no-hands. Sometimes you can fix this just by gripping the saddle a bit more tightly between your legs, or by letting one leg (if you are not pedaling) rest against the top tube. The shimmy IS sensitive to bicycle loading; I get it with an empty cargo bike, but it disappears with any load at all in back.

  15. She could've just as easily done this on the Urbana, I believe.

    1. I could almost do it on the Urbana, but not quite. Of course that was last April and my skills have probably improved since then.

  16. Urbana = Paper = Omafiets = low CoG & bb.

  17. But GR Jim: my magical no-hands Miyata has a relatively high BB. that's not the whole story.

  18. Most Omafiets I've tried don't have low BBs. I am not including the Electra Amsterdam here though.

  19. Todd, bb drop I meant to say. Surely it's > 6cm? It is not the entire story but a major factor, imo. Other factors listed above.

    V, same answer. bb drop from axle line. 28" wheel w/moderate drop will still give you a highish bb vs. 700c.

    Low and high are relative terms and are somewhat meaningless.

    BTW This is something you should be excited about because it's huge! Go get drunk or sumthin.

  20. It's quite suprising how fast cycling skills have faded from the population as cycling has declined as an everyday form of transport.

    40 years ago any child over about 8 years of age who couldn't ride no-handed would have been ridiculed by his or her playmates on the side streets and cul-de-sacs.

    It was taken for granted as a normal childhood skill to be achieved after learning to do up your own shoelaces and before learning to do joined up writing.

    1. Yeah yeah make me feel bad : )

      For what it's worth, I rode a bike as a teenager and so did all my friends. This was in the 90s in New England. I don't recall anyone riding no-hands, and we all had our saddles too low.

    2. Maybe it was my stingray-style first bike, but I couldn't ride with no hands, and I'm bonafide middle-aged now.

      My boyfriend can ride almost any bike with no hands, and I can't ride any bike that way, especially The Raleigh.

      And for those of you who haven't watch Peppy's video, you NEED TO DO SO.

  21. The first time I rode no hands, it wasn't even intentional: I had my windproof jacket on, but the sun came out and I got sweaty on my ride back home, and suddenly I catched myself unzipping my windproof jacket with both hands. My bike wobbled a bit due to my being surprised.

    It was a very nice feeling, as if it was a second degree of freedom (the first one being riding a bike).

  22. I've found that there are three things that contribute. The first, as stated above, is the combination of fork rake and trail in the design of the front of the bike. That is, shallow rake, long trail is generally more stable. The second is the speed you are riding - faster is better. The spinning of the wheels contribute a gyroscopic effect that helps keep the bike stable and upright. That last, for me, is my pedal cadence. I find it much easier to ride no hands pedaling faster as opposed to slower. That is, you can ride no handed relatively slowly as long as you are in a low gear with a medium to high cadence.

    Did I read in an earlier blog that you have difficulting driking while riding? If so, the most stable position while riding one handed is as close to the stem as possible rather than in the drops or brake hoods. This hand position could also be a good placement to practice riding one handed as a precursor to riding no handed as well.

  23. I used to ride no handed as a teen on my too small ten speed. I can't do it now though. ( except on the trike)

  24. I think the ability to ride no-handed is largely based on the bicycle design. I consider myself an adept cyclist, but with my my current bicycle the design is so light, shaky and unstable I consider it dangerous to take my hands off the handlebars for 1/4 second.

    I remember in school as a child I used to ride a whole block without hands. But that was a heavy framed and fat tired bicycle where it was easy to do such a thing.

  25. I doubt it has much to do with design. I am lousy at riding no hands, no matter what bike I am on, though I can do it with some concentration. My wife, on the other hand, can ride any bike no-handed, and can change into or out of a jacket or sweater while doing so--even in LA traffic.

    She also studied both kung fu and ballet for ten years each (simultaneously), which may have helped.

    I'll bet your skating session helped, by leaving you happy and relaxed. All skills improve when you relax.

  26. Like some others, I could ride no hands with ease when I was a kid. Heck, I could turn corners on my 1965 (I think) Schwinn American single-speed just by shifting my body weight. I don't have that bike, anymore, but I'm guessing low center of gravity, weight of the bike (it was a tank), and front end geometry allowed me to do this. I can still ride no hands on some of my newer bikes, but they are twitchier and it's much more difficult. Of course, it could just be my advancing age.

  27. Long ago when into more serious speed riding I used to ride all the way home w/o using hands. It was a trip of around six miles, mostly on bike paths, between Eugene and Springfield, Oregon. It seemed to work a completely different group of leg muscles and I rather liked the workout and tired feeling afterwards. Nowadays I'm too afraid of lifting my hands off the bars....sad getting old :)

  28. Now that I think about it, I would ride no-handed all the time as a kid on the Fuji (in it's original configuration w/drop bars), but now as an adult on the same bike with porteur bars I can't! And it can't possibly be a lack of practice (or change in components?) b/c I can ride the Kettler no handed. Very curious. I may experiment more. :) Congrats on your success!

  29. Re: transferable skill. Prediction: you'll be able to do this on a modern road bike by summer.

    Jumped my road bike accidentally no-hands last month. Not good.

    I expect you to be able to pass this test eventually: hands behind back, lean forward, pedal with nose almost touching stem, back horizontal.

  30. The photo shows a left leg at full extension. There is no bend worth mentioning at the knee. The crank is at six o'clock; when the crank is a few degrees forward the leg will be hyperextended.

    The recent Van Nicholas photos show hyperextended legs and hips rocking left and right to reach the pedal. If it's plain to see the rock in the hips past the obscuring overcoat that's a lot of motion.

    There is no visible weight on the downside pedal. It's just a reach.

    Rocking hips has always been the prime indicator of a saddle too high. A fully hyperextended leg I haven't seen for so long I almost forgot about that.

    Maximum power for 10 seconds is going to come with the saddle 3-5cm below what the photos show. Since you don't care about 10 second power, since it's winter, since there's a pre-existing isssue with balance, put the saddle down 5-8cm.

    With a lower saddle, lower CoG, and circling your legs within ordinary range of motion you would likely ride any of your bikes no hands immediately. The front brake problem and downhill problem would certainly go away.

    A while back V made a comment about needing a lower than normal saddle to manage getting a toe to the ground when stopping. I thought to myself "Does she think we vault into the saddle?" I tested that on each of my bikes (never thought of it before). Even on the DL-1 with oversize tires and extra high BB with a bit of a stretch I can flatfoot while in the saddle and while keeping the bike vertical. That would be a saddle position consistent with doing a 58 minute 40K on non-aero kit well past age 50. So I may be a throwback and may have an anomalously low saddle by current standards but a lower saddle does not keep anyone from getting down the road.

    Make it easy for yourself. Put the saddle down

  31. YAY!!!! Good job. Some bikes are better than others for riding with no hands, it really depends on the steering head angle and "trail" which is how far the front tire contact patch is in front of the imaginary line from the steering head. A bike with the curved front forks that puts the front axle way out in front of the steering head angle will tend to go straight and be very stable even with no hands, but it will be harder to make it turn at high speeds. A race bike with a very steep head angle,almost straight up and down and straight forks will be less inclined to keep going straight, but they are very easy to make a turn even at very high speeds. Like a Tour de France bike. You can have one or the other at the extremes, or some bikes are a nice mix or the two, Pretty stable but still turn quickly. Touring bikes like to go straight and race bikes like to turn - you have to steer a race geometry bike frame. Oh, I LOVE your site!

  32. @pete 02:16 is so right! I'm a 49 yr old SoCal girl and you were nuthin' if you couldn't ride with no hands. I also loved 'popping a wheelie' down my street to the cul-de-sac. I can still ride with no hands, but the wheelie thing has long disappeared from my repertoire.

    Congrats on your new skill!

  33. It is definitely a bike-to-bike thing for me. On my old '88 Schwinn Voyageur (now my sister's) I could ride easily no-hands. My guess is it had something to do with it being a touring bike and being fairly stably built.
    My '70 Raleigh Ladies Sports can't be ridden at all no-hands. It doesn't surprise me since it has fairly sporty handling.

  34. Like others, growing up we rode many miles and many hours without hands. I was surprised that my kids never did (not that I was encouraging it), but it turns out their bikes really didn't lend themselves to it. I got away from it because my upright was wobbly without hands, and so was pleasantly surprised when my road bike turned out to be supremely maneuverable without hands. I thought I'd lost my talent, and it was just my bike.

  35. Anonymous - I too thought the seat height looked to be on the high side. For road bikes we used to set the seat height using the heel on the pedal so that when the ball of the foot was on the pedal there was some flex at the knee. That way there is more power using clips or clipless. That is, there is very little power with the leg fully extended. On a city bike I agree that you could probably go lower. At the same time, I think a lot of it is just personal preference.

    Joe J - I agree that more trail results in more stability - the caster effect. It is a result of the combination of headtube angle, fork rake and wheel diameter being designed to work in harmony to the desired purpose. I disagree however that increasing fork rake for a given head tube angle increases trail. Actually, it will result in a decrease in trail. This is because the contact patch is actually BEHIND the imaginary line drawn through the head tube. This is what produces the caster effect. More trail = more stability, less trail = less stability.

  36. Doug & Anon - My saddle is not too high, I promise. No one who's seen me ride in person, or who's up a bike for me, would say it is too high; if anything it is a bit lower than cyclists normally have it. I pedal flat-footed (as opposed to with my toes) and with a slight bend in my knee, and never ever have my hips rocked back and forth.

    1. I have yet to ride no hands to my satisfaction but I agree about touring bikes having more stability. However, I know someone who can ride and turn no hands on any bike. I've seen him. He has no car and has ridden his bike every day for years and years. He's just got great balance. I once saw him ride a Terry road bike for miles no hands and turn it no hands.

    2. "who's up a bike for me" should read "who's set up a bike for me"

    3. The camera sometimes lies. OTOH it's just easier to balance when closer to the ground. Flats are easier than heels. Nobody lost anything by city-biking low in winter.

  37. You are going to hate me: your seat isn't too high, but it is slightly higher than what a very experienced fitter who is also an exercise physiologist with the proper tools might recommend.

    Might have something to do with riding no hands or getting a bottle, might not.

    Also I suspect there are regional differences in the usage of these tools.

    I still don't think of all the fittings you've had you've been hooked up with velcro dots, had angles and power output measured, knees tracked with lasers, flexibility tested, health issues discussed, etc., and had an ideal fit dialed in.

    Not really possible since your fit has changed drastically but you're fit enough now to be close.

    1. No hate, but genuinely curious now how the photos are managing to create this impression. I've been measured by a number of framebuilders recently, and the consensus is that I keep my saddle on the low side. Also, whenever I want to borrow someone's bike and that someone is the same height as me or even a bit shorter, I always have to lower the saddle, to the point that I am teased about it. My legs are longer than average, so it's not because I have short legs. It's possible that I am self conscious about having my saddle low and somehow end up pretend-extending my leg when I know I am being photographed without being aware that I am doing it. That is the only way I can think of to explain it.

    2. I'll take the curiosity as an invitation. Please refer to your own flickr file. Sorry, I don't quite know how these things are paginated. There are a series of photos of you riding the Van Nicholas at what is this evening bottom of p.2 and top of p.3.

      Look at how many photos show a leg completely straight down. There's a full broadside photo with the near leg at about 8:30 and the far leg at 2:30. The near leg shows the sort of knee bend that would be good to have when at full extension. Full extension is several inches below 8:30. There are 3 photos that more than suggest hip rocking. You are enough of an artist to know how even a still portrait conveys weight. There is no sense of weight on the pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke. More like stretching and reaching to a limit.

      This sort of photo analysis has real limits. John Howard used to start races looking like his saddle was so high he was about to tip forward. Looked clumsy. An hour later he was stretched loose and pure poetry in motion. I'm sure there are other ways the photos could tell an imperfect story.

      A too high saddle would fit with other elements of your story. It's a lot easier to learn balance if you just make it easy. Downhillers and trick riders sit real low. Riders who ride to de-stress sit low. You want to go down windy hills. You want to ride no hands. You complain of stress. Try sitting way too much too low. It's winter. Can't hurt.

      Fitters fit with their eyes. The rest is dog and pony show. No software or armature or laser makes a fitter better than his own riding experience. All fitters must bow to what the client is willing and ready to accept. Fashions will override the judgement of the best fitter.

  38. Firstly, congrats.

    A good piece of advice is just to relax, sit upright and back in the saddle, and let your arms hang loose.

    Also, why no rack in the picture? I thought that was the most recent bauble for the paper bike.

  39. Whaaoou !!
    I think that you can watch this, now :

    1. Very cool, though I don't much care for the ending
      : )

  40. Your feet positions are all over the place in photos so it's hard to tell exactly how everything works together, but this one looks natural to me and is maybe the most telling:

    It seems like your knee is bent about what it should ideally be at the bottom of the stroke, yet you aren't close to it yet.

    If the eff builders are measuring you and coming up with numbers, that's one thing, but a dynamic fit with all the bells and whistles shows a good fitter things. More measurements, mostly.

    Not all builders are good fitters, not saying the ones you went to aren't. They get you in the ball park. And not all fitters are good. In fact, not very many of them, imo, but they're getting better.

    Overall your position looks good, but a couple of mm up/down, fore/aft could make a dif. But again, it's just conjecture.

  41. Congratulations! I have yet to master that skill. Slightly jealous...

  42. Anon fitter - wrong. Best fitters take into account rider ability and the tools they use put them in the proper spot. Eyeballing a fit is full of gross errors.

    Here's a story: go to my guy, he fits me, things are better. Woman next is a world class triathlete, I'm allowed to watch. She's a complete mess, sideways. Guy gets her on her bike, measures power output, where the stroke is weak, which leg is stronger. Takes her on the mat, works some things in her back, hamstrings and butt. Gets back on the bike, she's sitting straighter and power output more even, way more at ease.

    Call that snake oil if you want. If so, I get to call you a Luddite.

    PS - No one looked worse on the bike than John Howard. Well, maybe Ned Overend.

  43. Congrats!! It means that you must be getting more comfortable on the bike.

    I'll never forget the first time I tried riding "no hands". I was 8 years old and made the mistake of trying it on a downhill stretch of road. I ended up with road rash covering my left arm and part of my thumb. It turned into a huge scab.

    At college I commuted on my Trek 520 touring bike and sometimes rode the whole way "no hands", including turns. Twenty five years later, it still feels completely natural. But I avoid it in situations where I'm likely to need to brake suddenly (such as in city traffic, riding in large groups, etc).

    On long rides, when on the bike day and night, riding no hands becomes an extremely useful skill. It allows one to stretch, eat, change clothes and rest pressure points.

    It's interesting that saddle height was mentioned. I'm surprised no one has mentioned saddle shape. I can't imagine riding "no hands" on one of those scary looking "noseless" saddles.


  44. Saddle height / Bike fit - here are some sites based on a quick google search on saddle height. It appears that the first two of the sites include the heel on pedal method as a rought starting point along with two other "formulas." And both also advocate an approx. 25 - 30 degrees of knee bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The two formula methods appear to be easily measurable and should provide a good starting point for saddle height and perhaps go slightly higher or lower based on preferance, flexibility, etc.

    Love your blog by the way. And also trust that you know what works best for you.

  45. Yer doin' it wrong! :-) I submit that shows a saddle not too high. I submit also that Velouria knows enough by now to judge for herself. In the absence of specific pains or abnormal fatigue patterns, there's a range of "correct" saddle heights, rather than an invariable ideal that only an expert can determine!

  46. I submit if you're going to only ride to the grocery store on an Omafiets it doesn't matter where your saddle is!

  47. Oh yeah - and congratulations on adding another skill to your set. I think it's a valuable one. I'm 60 and have been riding road bikes since college and can ride all my bikes no hands - road racing bikes, mountain bikes, Cx and vintage Schwinns. On my current road bike the front tire actually oscillates from side to side as I pedal but still tracks straight.

    I also think I'm going to take some of my own advice and takes some measurements. I'm curious as to how consistent the seat heights are on the various bikes, which includes my first pro road bike from '77, and also how close they are to the "formula."

    Lively discussion - I like it.

  48. I am kind of taken aback by the direction this discussion has taken, the internets are fascinating.

    Here's something: On my roadbike, when my cadence is too fast I bounce up and down on the saddle. The only way to stop the bouncing is to raise the saddle, but then I won't be able to reach the ground with a toe and so I don't want to do it. This bouncing is one reason I've been told by bicycle fitters that my saddle could stand being raised. I could keep up a pretty high cadence, if it weren't for the bouncing.

    1. I think I sent the discussion this way. All I was thinking was you are in no way a hopeless case (last words of top post) and that the simplest adjustment would let you ride all your bikes no hands first try. Bike riding should be easy and fun and low comfortable saddle is conducive to that.

      Moving the saddle up to control bouncing is as goofy as anything I've ever heard. I would not listen to anyone suggesting that. And reach the ground with a foot, not a toe.

      It occurred to me that female physiology is different enough maybe my rules of thumb and photo interpretation are gender biased so I just watched a bunch of videos of the lovely Victoria Pendelton. She does sit quite high. Much more bend in the knee than Velouria however. While I was there I also watched some Theo Bos. Great showman. It was easy to see how much he's sent his saddle up and down. It's not an absolute. And at any height he has a good bit more bend than Velouria.

      You do know the icons. My first fitting was done by Jimmy Walthour, Jr. Don't think he woulda been much impressed by a fitter's certificate from some institute. And I've been riding for a quarter century with Graziella Val. Last time I asked her how many tri world champs she had she didn't know. Lots. Her bikes fit like old shoes.

  49. Two ways to fix bounce: saddle height or work on technique.

    In the respect there is no need to change height if everything is ok, of course. But you aren't able to ride no hands on a road bike or get a water bottle, so either the set up is slightly wonky or it's a skill that will come. The discussion is about balance, so the higher your saddle, the higher your center of gravity, the tippier you are, and the farther you are away from the cage.

    Not making any hard judgments here - those are the facts and the pictures are just approximations of reality.

    The other thing about proper road bike fit is if you want to go farther and faster it works. Those who don't share this desire will naysay fit. That's the way doctrines work.

  50. Mine bikes are setup like yours - that is, I can just touch my toe when stopped. This makes sense as I set my seat height with my heels on the pedal at the bottom of the stroke so that when I'm stopped pointing my toe down covers the distance from the pedal to the ground.

    As far as bouncing - are you using clipless pedals? That often helps up until very high cadence rates. I've also been recommended to pedal "circles." That is apply force for the whole 360 degrees of pedal stroke - which is impossible to do without clipless. I like to imagine a manual eggbeater as I pedal. When you are trying to catch someone in front of you they call it "reeling them in" as it's very similar to a fishing reel. To catch them you have to spin faster than they are to make up ground. And like an eggbeater, you apply force all the way around on a fishing reel handle.

  51. Side true story: I'm telling this bounce story to Mrs. GR and she's frowning: "sounds like her pedal stroke is too up and down and she needs to smooth it out."

    Like I said, regional fit differences and ways to band aid technique.

  52. Hey Velouria one day when your serious about getting a road bike that truly fits you should get properly fitted by some one who knows there shit! They will help determine which frame will fit you correctly for the type of riding you want to do. It'll be money well spent!!! plus it would make a interesting post to read. Its great to see your skills improving.You can take this for what its worth , some of the bike you've been riding and purchased can you say "this road bike fits me perfectly" some new carbon road bikes are very "true" precision instruments to ride and will track straight with hands off the bars, some used road bikes you've had your not really sure of the history if they been crashed once or twice? A good indicator when riding is pulling the hands off, they can get twitchy or veer one way or the other and leave you thinking you have a problem with balance on the bike . Its something to think about. Hope you find a road bike that fits super ,your riding is going to improve by leaps and bounds. oh yeah this winter you'll have lots of time to practice clipping in***I know I'm annoying April Glenn in the northwest

  53. I routinely use riding no hands as a way to balance-test a new bike I'm thinking of buying, including folding bikes (which often perform badly in that respect, but my late lamented Dahon/Cumberland that my stepson broke was great for riding no hands from the start.

    I am, however, unable to ride no hands properly on a road bike, because I'm not self-assured enough with one to get into the upright position after letting go of the handlebars.

  54. Riding no handed is easy on my Sam Hillborne at 18 mph or faster. Couldn't (didn't) do it on previous bikes.

    Adds another hand position, a good thing.

    Just remember the old Bazooka Joe:
    1st panel - Look ma', no hands
    2nd panel - Look ma', no teeth.


  55. You can always tell how good a frame is aligned by how easy it is to go no hands, and a good headset helps too. I have had bikes that there is no way I could do it and other that I can ride no hands for miles.
    Topic change - I bought a great hand made leather tool bag on Etsy that I think you would love to see.

  56. Congratulations... I guess ;)

    There are a lot of variables in riding no hands. I have two nearly identical bikes, only difference being one is flat bar one is drop bars. I can ride the flat bar one no hands, not so the drop bar. My conclusion? One of the bikes must have a minor frame or fork tweak. I once rode my loaded tour bike for over 4 miles no hands...


  57. Don't rollers help with eliminating bounce? Seem to recall this benefit many years ago....also helped with confidence and balance.

    1. yes but if you're just beginning to get the hang of riding "no-hands" you're not really ready to ride rollers, atmo.

  58. Awesome that we have now moved on to critiquing my pedal stroke. I am told that I have a very "good" - smooth and consistent - pedal stroke actually. When I mention bouncing at high cadence, I mean very high - like over 110, not a cadence one would ride at sustainably.

    Re being fitted properly, I am confused by the definition of properly if being fitted by several professional frame builders and bike shops is not good enough. Rob Vandermark fitted me using the elaborate Seven system, still no good? You have higher standards than me then!

  59. If Rob is the one who told you to raise your seat to fix bounce at 110+ rpm then that is wrong, fancy system or not. He's treating the symptom, not the "problem". The "problem" isn't one if you don't want to race. If you are serious about it, then it is real.

    The reason a racer trains is to get stronger and develop leg speed. You train your body to spin fast so you don't have to. 110 isn't that fast, BTW. I don't doubt you have a smooth pedal stroke either.

    I'll guarantee you this: if you truly get serious about racing and get a very good coach, advice like raising the seat to fix bounce will seem quaint. That's rec rider stuff, not that there's anything wrong with that. It is just an entirely different world.

    Sorry, that's the way it is.

  60. She was told to raise her saddle because it's too low. Some of the comments here are batty.

  61. "If Rob is the one who told you to raise your seat to fix bounce at 110+ rpm"

    I didn't say that. But he, like everyone else who's ever measured me, said that I keep my saddle on the low side.

    No argument re the benefit of coaching. But I am nowhere near there yet to justify it financially, and possibly never will be.

    I always have an easier time riding fixed with no hands. I think it's better because you can control everything with your feet more and you're not going to have to stop with your hands. And you're strapped in.

  63. Congrats!

    I look forward to the video of you riding a circle inside your new studio while juggling three Peppy-shaped beanbags, with Bikeyface furiously sketching the scene in the background, brows knitted in concentration...
    Fellini carnival music optional.

    I can remember the first time I rode hands-free. I was 6 or so. That was an awesome day. Pretty sure it was a red Murray fat-tire bike. I have a picture of my mom as a young woman sitting on it.
    (I think it was the same day I went over the handlebars for the first time. I still have the wee scar on my forehead, 40 years later.)

    Balance, placement between the wheels, seating height, and smooth pedaling effort all make it possible in my case.

    I was able to ride hands free on all my older bikes: a 1970s Nishiki Olympic roadbike, the improbably great 1978 Peugeot UO-8, the 1986 Specialized Sirrus, and the 1985 Stumpjumper, though that one was wobbly for me.

    The DL-1 can be comfortably ridden hands-free, though steering is ponderous with or without hands.
    I suspect with practice I'd be able to operate an Enfield while on it.There's a way to make an impression on a Tweed Ride.
    The Pony folder 3-speed is good in higher gears- low gear is too low to sustain balance, and it wobbles at very low speeds. The Raleigh Competition is comfortable for hands-free riding only at speed. I have not tried it much at all- too enamoured of my teeth, I guess.

    Herself can go hands-free on the Bianchi NR, but not through the turns. Too new to her.

    I will stay out of the pedal stroke debate as 1) I have atrociously inconsistent technique myownself, and 2) none of the pictures being touted as proof of this or that are at consistent angles - too much margin for error and interpretation.
    Or as Jim might say, ripe for application of doctrine, of which I have none.
    Bikes are fun!

  64. Cool! I can't ride any of my bikes without hands. Someone told me once that it's because they all have front baskets and without the front weight, it would be fine. I think there's something to that, plus the geometry of Dutch-style bikes, with the front wheel way out there, is not conducive to hands-free cycling. A diamond-frame seems like the key because you can clamp your knees on the top tube to stay steady, but I've never tried this.

    1. The basket on your (Workcycles) omafiets sits on a rack that's cantilevered off the frame, so it doesn't add mass that moves when the front wheel turns, like a basket that's attached to the handlebars. It does have a spring that keeps the front wheel more-or-less (but not necessarily exactly) centered, which might actually make it harder to ride hands-free. If you wanted to try it, I'd unhook the steering damper spring and give it a try on Oma. Just remember to hook it back up again before you park it with weight on the back end...

  65. Google John Allis, then check this out:

  66. I used to be able to ride hands free, but it was so long ago and on very different bikes. I believe low trail bikes are supposed to be ideal for riding hands free, but that most modern bikes do not have the right trail or geometry for it. I miss riding hands free, but none of the bikes I currently own feel safe enough to do it. Any time I try I have to put my hands right back on the bars immediately to stop falling.
    Congrats! fun isn't it?

  67. You have to be very careful about doing what your bicycles tell you to do... I woke up in the woods once and I THINK it was because the vicious thing had been urging me to let go of the bars and close my eyes on a nice smooth bit. I seem to have punched out for about a 1/2 hour so can't be sure...
    Some bikes are so easy to ride no hands that you have to believe they like being in control and will do anything to get us to give back a little.

    For all the abuse we heap on old crappy coaster brake cruisers(think 60s and 70s Columbias, Huffys etc.)they are some of the nicest old things to spin around on sans hands. Last July we were in Michigan visiting some of my wife's aunts and uncles on their farms and the only bikes to ride were ancient old clunkers from the barn. I found a more or less intact 45 year old Huffy step-through and rode it around the farm whenever we weren't all off doing stuff. It was all pretty hard work, the seat was limited to 14 year old girl/little old Mennonite lady height and the tires would get short of breath if you got too far from the compressor but a bike is a bike, right? The lanes and field edges are all soft, tractor pulverized black dirt that just sort of grab the front wheel and yank it out from under you if you let it.

    While riding back from a spin I looked at the wobbly, snake trails I had left and was instantly and completely dropped back into my 10 year old self on a similar bike on a similar farm while visiting some of my relatives in Indiana in 1975. I suddenly remembered a blazing hot afternoon spent trying to make perfectly strait tracks and how delighted I was to figure out how to stop wiggling and lay down ruler lines in the dirt. The deal was that you had to sort of scoot back on the saddle, lean back while staying as upright as you could and just barely touch the bottom of the grips with your fingertips. I tried it again and it was suddenly a completely different bike. Instead of wrestling with the cranky old thing, trying to pin her front wheel down and shove her through the turns and force a straight path, I just used the bars to help keep my self in touch with the proceedings and tried to just relax and enjoy it( I wonder if that's what dancing is like. Hard to tell, we Mennonites refuse sex standing up out of fear it will lead to dancing so I just wonder). You couldn't get in a hurry and when I tried long, skidding turns in deep dirt with the rear wheel locked up on the downhills it felt like shoplifting or something so I calmed myself down and just went along with it. One evening I rode from Uncle Stan's farm to Terri's Grandparent's old house on the farm beyond Uncle Kenny's. The roads are all laid out on a one mile grid and their farms pretty much fill up the squares. The evening sun was going down and I rode all the way on the paths between the fields, crossing a deserted road every mile or so and feeling like it was 1935 or something. The full moon was coming up and I saw a bunch of wild turkeys and deer in a field of soybeans about a half mile across. On the way back I might have been touching the grips 50% of the time and my tracks were, if not strait lines, than smooth ribbons following the currents of the fields and lanes. By the time I got back to Stan's the tires were just about flat but except for having to pedal a little harder(maybe much) the bike handled just as calmly and sweet as when I left. THAT was the best ride of 2011 and any bike that can do that is a certified magic freaking carpet.


  68. I find these attempts to critique Velouria's position on the bike and pedaling technique by studying Flickr pics laughable and more than a little patronizing. There is no valid formula or method based solely on body part dimensions or angles (which are all that can be discerned from a photograph) to determine a rider's "correct" saddle height. What do you Flickr fit experts think of this guy's saddle position?

    I'm also surprised that any experienced cyclist would contend that the ability to pedal at an extremely high cadence without bouncing is independent of saddle height and leg extension. I know that for me small changes in saddle height can make a significant difference in this regard, and I need to really dial in saddle position before I can hit high cadences like 200 RPM. For me, bouncing at very high cadence is usually a sign that my saddle is too high, but I don't think that is a universal rule. Velouria says raising her saddle cures the bouncing problem, and I believe her.

    1. Flickr fit expertise is a force to be reckoned with for sure. A marketable skill perhaps?

  69. I'm so proud of you!!! CONGRADULATIONS,I knew you could do it,my friend! :) And yes,what bike you're on does matter-but ultimately you will be able to do it soon on most any bike. Some are easier than others,but now you got it! :)

    The Disabled Cyclist

  70. DYG,
    "I'm also surprised that any experienced cyclist would contend that the ability to pedal at an extremely high cadence without bouncing is independent of saddle height and leg extension."

    Of course it isn't independent. The point is your saddle has to be in the right spot.

    "I need to really dial in saddle position before I can hit high cadences like 200 RPM."

    "Velouria says raising her saddle cures the bouncing problem"

    Did she say she was spinning 200 rpm or 110? The issue is technique improvement, not a patch to make 110 the rev limiter. If you were training a junior like this you'd be limiting his/her ability. A junior who can't spin can't win. Two words: junior gears.

    Nice picture of Sean. No one here is a genetic freak like he was, but nice try.

  71. Peppy (my cattance, let me show it to you)January 28, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    Velouria may have said 110, but I am pretty sure her actual cattence was twice that.

  72. I've been following this blog for only about a month or so. I'm not sure how I discovered it but I think it was a link from Dottie's blog over at Let's Go Ride a Bike. I've liked both as they were a window into a whole side of cycling I was unfamiliar with. I've been riding almost 40 years now but it's mostly been high performance road and mountain bikes. A couple of years ago, I was looking for a bike for my daughter for college and came upon a (free) single speed Schwinn Collegiate. I rebuilt it and gave it to her a couple of years ago and she has been using it since. The bike had been sitting outside and was a great lesson in rust removal but that's another story. She is up at UC-Davis, a great cycling community, and I have forwarded to her links to both both of these wonderful blogs as she uses her Schwinn for transportation and also has an interest in photography. In fact, for Christmas I gave her a nice camera - her first. Since then, I have acquired a few more old Schwinns - mostly three speeds including one for myself and one that had never been built up and in it's in original packaging. What I like about these is that they were more elemental and fun.

    So for the last couple of months I've been just following along. I liked it that Velouria had an old Moser and that she has the same frame size as my old Alan - that is a 52 x 53 - though now I ride a 53 x 53. I read with a touch of humor the need to stop for water and not being able to ride with no hands as the skills necessary to do this are second nature to me. Both have impled to me a beginner to intermediate skill level though I know that not to be true.

  73. Continued -
    I would beg to differ that my comments have been a critique. In fact, I especially disagree with DYG's comments above that they are patronizing. Yesterday's comments were my first on this or any blog. I wanted to contribute and jumped through about 10 minutes of hoops so that I could long in so that I could comment. My comment was that I felt that generally when a cyclist leg is fully extended to the extent of a straight knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke it indicates a too high of a saddle height. I stand by this while at the same time knowing that one photo can be misleading and doesn't tell the whole story. My comments were made in order to contribute and were made with kindness and consideration and were never intended to be condescending or patronizing. As the thread continued, it did seem to take a darker tone and I decided not to contribute further.

    Then, when Veloria added "Here's something: On my roadbike, when my cadence is too fast I bounce up and down on the saddle" I decided to contribute once more. These comments were again made in good faith and based on my own experience and understanding - nothing more. It seems to me that these comments regarding pedaling technique were invited by Velouria and not "attempts to critique Velouria's ... pedaling technique by studying Flickr pics" as DYG stated above.

    Speaking of which, the first photo cited by DYG above only confirms the comments made on seat height. That is that the cyclist's left leg is very close to the bottom of the pedal stroke and has considerable bend in the knee at that point. The other comment by DYG above that "There is no valid formula or method based solely on body part dimensions or angles (which are all that can be discerned from a photograph) to determine a rider's "correct" saddle height" is also incorrect. I think that almost all frame sizing and bike fitting starts with body measurements and formulas. Of course they can be fine tuned from there. I can remember an Italian book call "Cycling" that was an in depth analysis of bicycle sizing and fitting written prior to the 1972 Rome Olympic games.

    And Serotta has been developing sizing and fitting methods for over 20 years. And the knowledge base has only grown exponentially since then.

    Perhaps the problem lies in the differences between how men and women think and behave. Even Velouria's subsequent blog post "The 'Psychic Spouse' Fallacy" bears witness to this though it seems to be more about communication than anything. Men tend to want to fix things or be problems solvers even when a solution is not being sought. Perhaps we should just not our heads with empathy and mutter "I understand." Ok, that may have been a patronizing :)

  74. Doug - I am not offended by any of the comments re saddle height, pedaling technique, etc., but I do think the comments are funny given that those making them have never seen me ride a bike in person.

    Also, I think my writing sometimes gets interpreted as if I am soliciting help and advice, whereas what I am actually doing is using personal experience as a trajectory to explore these issues in a more general sense. This blog is not really a confessional diary and should perhaps not be taken so literally.

    All that said, I appreciate that people take the time to think about all of this stuff and give their feedback. The concept of "patronizing" is subjective. Some of my own posts can probably be described that way as well. In the end it's all good, and people just want to communicate, to find like-minded bicycling enthusiasts.

  75. I think I'll just empathetically nod my head and say "I understand."

    Just kidding - thanks Velouria. I don't think most of the crticisim was directed at me anyway. I'll admit I tend to be more left brained and analytical which is probably why I like the artistic bent you bring to this site.

    Plus, the motorcycling forums can be much, much worse.

    Having said that, I think we're nearing the end of this trajectory. Perhaps we can move on to high speed cornering techniques such as countersteering.

    As a photographer, you have probably seen this site (from down under) but, if not, you (or others here can) check it out:

    It's updated daily. The Vendetta from a couple of days ago was especially nice.

    And for those of us who like HP - it's sister:

    Have fun and, as they used to say on Hill Street Blues, be careful out there.

  76. Doug, My comments were not aimed at you personally; sorry if I contributed to any rancorous tone in this thread by using the term patronizing. I do think you may be on to something in your observation that some (most?) men enjoy assuming the role of problem solver or advice giver (i.e., patron, in the good sense), especially when the object of their aid is a younger woman. I have observed that tendency in myself as well.

    As you noted, many formulas have been proposed for determining saddle height and other aspects of fit based on anatomic measurements. There was the Hinault/Lemond formula, Eddy B's formula, all kinds of formulae. My point in providing the links to photos of Sean Kelly, who as you know was one of the greatest bike racers of all time but who had quite an unconventional position on the bike, is that these formulas don't apply to everyone, and should best be thought of as a starting point for individual experimentation, a point that you yourself made earlier.

    For readers of this blog to persist in trying to convince Velouria that her saddle is "too high" on the basis of their analyses of Flickr photos, after she assured them that it is not, based on her own careful observations and those of experienced riders and fitters like Rob V of Seven who have actually watched her ride a bike, is... interesting.

  77. Get some rollers - you'll soon be riding no hands on the rollers and smoother than ever. When I rode rollers a lot I could close my eyes and even take my t shirt off when I got warmed up. Some people claim they can even take their sweats off while riding rollers but I can't quite picture it. I like to ride my fixie no hands up hill to work on my pedaling - you've got to be really round (pedal stroke wise) or it won't work. I suspect any of your bikes will allow you to ride no hands if your headsets are adjusted right. With drop bars it's just a question of transitioning your weight from the bars to the saddle. Start with your hands on the center section, relax, then extend your fingers until you are just touching the bars with your middle fingers, then straighten up and let go - you're there!

  78. I have 2 bikes that I ride regularly, both 1980's lugged steel frames. I'm a 55 year old female. I can ride "no hands" on one, but not the other. The "no hands" bike is a aTrek 950 MTB from the late 1980's, with 1.5" street tires (Schwalbe Marathons). The bike I can't ride no hands is a Terry Chrom road bike (predescssor to the Terry Symmetry) with 25c tires. Thinking about trading it for a Terry Classic 1980's touring frame that takes some somewhat widers tires.

  79. The ordinary and usual fix for bouncing is a few rides on fixed gear. A few runouts on moderate downhills and you're done. Well, you've tried that.

    I'm thinking of a rider who's fundamentally out of balance because one leg is carbon fiber. Does 200 rpm downhill. I'm thinking of a rider who has one leg short and withered from polio. Does 200 rpm downhill. And then I'm thinking of a rider who used to spin merrily down the hills. She had to give it up because she's dying of MS.

    If you don't have an excuse substantially better than MS or polio or amputation there's no good reason you can't spin. Spinning is ordinary and basic. It's not a special skill or gift or talent that only some people have.

    110rpm is not something unusual. That's every warmup. That's comfortably sitting in the paceline relaxing. That's just keeping your legs loose when not at the front. If you were sustaining it continuously for an hour it might be considered slightly high. If you were doing it uphill it would be high. Actually for someone who gives her weight as 125 it's not high at all. Small riders turn the pedals faster.

    If you've come this far and haven't figured out basic spinning yes there is a problem. Something is getting in the way. It is most likely something very simple. A simple explanation is more likely than anything convoluted. The photos show a very high saddle.

    I spent a bit of time looking for photos of riders with legs as straight as your photos show. Exclude those who corner with one leg planted down. Anyone who would get their photo taken riding, I can't find it. Yes, photos can be misleading. It's also likely readers will offer advice.

  80. And now ... back to CyclesEXIF. In addition to the beautiful Vendetta shown a few days ago there was also a F Moser time trial bike shown recently - beautiful bike:

    In the writeup it says he now has a vineyard in Italy. For the sake of chill I recommend that, since Veloria rides a F Moser, that she should get the winery as a sponsor here. The sponsorship should include a case (or two) of wine that, in the interest of harmony we can partake together. We, of course, will open the bottles with a red Campagnolo corkscrew as does F Moser himself in the photos of him in his bike shed:

    After the wine is finished, we can get on some rollers and practice our spin technique on his 1984 Hour Record bike also shown in the link above - HUGE gear - and a record at the time of 31.88 miles in one hour.

    Finally, the last link has a couple further links "here and here" to some nice video of the Giro.

    It's supposed to be 80F here in SoCal today - think I'll go for a spin ;)

  81. RE Wheels of Justice's comments about headset adjustment, That makes a huge difference when trying to ride no hands. I doubt that anything on any of V's bikes is out of whack so it doesn't apply here, but on a bike with a notchy headset riding without hands is about impossible. I have one of the old Raleigh folding 20s that came with a nylon bushing instead of an upper headset bearing and while it feels perfectly natural when you have a hand on the bars you CANNOT ride it without.

    And while I'm old and slow and don't understand half of what I think I know, I can ride every bike I own without hands except for that Raleigh 20 and my swingbike. On a good day I can still trackstand my fixie no hands. I have to be careful when I show that off though because my friend Kurt and some other local guys can ride their fixies BACKWARDS, in a circle with no hands.


  82. Another great and funny inspiring "riding no hands" video with this time a happy end (the first end...) :

  83. Late to the party here but from a comment left on my Paper bike review by the designer, being able to ride it no handed & in flip flops was part of the design spec (the other part was being able to carry it upstairs one handed). Sorry if this has been said before, I didn't want to plough through nigh-on a hundred comments from self-appointed experts telling you your saddle was the wrong height.

  84. any health individual can learn how to trackstand or ride their bike with no hands. these simple balancing skills have saved me from injury on multiple occasions.

    anonymous "04:57 AM" is exactly right. spinning is a basic skill and 110 rpm is not all that fast. moreover, once you learn how to spin, riding clipless is like a freaking revelation.

  85. I always used to ride no-handed, but then 50 years came and went without me riding a bike at all. As a boy, it took me a long time to master the art. I bought an old-fashioned one-speed bike a month ago, and inside of three weeks I was riding no-handed--even making turns. I guess it's true: you really don't forget how to ride a bicycle.


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