Of the many things I consider part of the RKP editorial mandate, service articles, that is, how-tos, aren’t really part of that equation. There are plenty of other places where you can find out how to learn to ride with clipless pedals or wash your bike.
How often to we really think about our skill set as cyclists? Sure, I’m sure many of you are doing specific intervals to elevate your lactate threshold or increase your power, but I’m not talking about fitness. What about actual skills? A couple of years ago I made a decision to begin branching out in my cycling pursuits, to do more different things on bikes. That’s led me to spend time at our local pump track, as well as the skatepark.
I left the big cuts to Sebastian, who had all the tools necessary for this little exercise.
It’s fair to ask why. There are three reasons that underlie a fairly reasonable, “Just cuz.” The first is that I simply want to be better versed in all things bicycle. To me, it’s like learning another language. I’d like to be able to travel across Europe without a phrase book in my pocket. The second is that I’ve been so devoted to road riding for so long that I get concerned about burnout. As a result, I want to take conscious steps to keep cycling fresh and interesting. The third reason is the knowledge that I’m becoming more fragile physically as I age. I’m concerned about what a fall would mean for me. Not just now, but 10 years from now. By making an effort to increase my skill set I’m that much less likely to go down if circumstances get weird.
Somewhere on social media a couple of weeks ago I ran across a video for a device called a Manual Machine. I was instantly enamored with it because it creates a no-consequence environment to learn a skill that, if done wrong, can have insanely high consequences. Just ask anyone who has ever hit the back of their head on anything from any distance for any reason. Every person reading this is going, “Yep, don’t want to do that again!”
Young Roscoe rides for one of the local NorCal League teams and got involved in building his own.
It’s helpful to note that a manual is different from a wheelie. With a wheelie the front wheel is held aloft by a combination of balance and drivetrain torque; if the front wheel rises too high, you pause the pedal stroke for a second and if the front wheel starts to drop, you pedal a bit harder to get it back up. With a manual balance is everything. When you consider how long the wheelbase is of the average full-suspension bike, trying to get the front wheel off the ground by wheelie-ing is noticeably more difficult than if you were simply riding a hardtail. Not impossible, but for those of us who didn’t grow up riding wheelies for blocks at a time, doing it on a full suspension bike is nearly out of the question. So manual it is, at least for now.
So last weekend I got together at a friend’s place and with an assembled peanut gallery of hecklers and helpers, and we knocked out three of these over the course of the afternoon.
We used four 2x4s per manual machine plus one sheet of plywood. The pieces worked out as follows:
2 pieces 2×4: 7’6″
4 pieces 2×4: 30″
2 pieces 2×4: 26″
1 piece plywood: 18″x6″
2 pieces 2×4: angle cut 18 3/8″ on the long side and 11 7/8″ on the short side
1 piece 2×4: 2 3/4″
Roscoe made big progress in just a few minutes. Oh, and a dropper post is (seemingly) mandatory.
I ended up adding two more pieces of 2×4 immediately below the contact patch of the rear wheel. We found that the manual machine flexed a bit when you’re on it. The width of that 2 3/4″-wide piece of 2×4 and the 26″-long braces do a great job of holding a 2.35 29er tire or with a bit of pushing a 27.5-plus tire. It held the rear wheel securely enough to keep the bike from moving around and throwing my balance off.
The other important piece we added to these things were some lengths of nylon webbing with a spring-loaded buckle that can be run through the front wheel to keep you from flipping over backward as you practice. Tighten it just enough and it can stop you right at the balance point. Then with practice you can loosen it some so that you find the balance point on your own.
It’s my hope that my boys will put this thing to use as they learn how to manual. I’m looking forward to pulling it into the driveway as we cheer each other on. And once they have mastered it, I’ll pass it on to another family.