A “Manual” is a mountain bike skill that involves lifting the front wheel off the ground in order to get over large obstacles such as rocks and roots. It is similar to a Wheelie without pedaling. Keep your feet flat on the pedals and your legs in a balanced stance. And while a Wheelie you would pull up on your handlebars, a Manual uses a shift in the weight at the hips. Sure a Wheelie looks cool but it is a fancy trick that has no practical use on a mountain bike trail.
A Manual is an essential skill that all mountain bikers need to know and understand.
Joe Lawill’s “Manuals Made Easy” article in the May 2009 edition of Mountain Biking Action emphasizes the hip action and he explains it well with lots of photos. You can download the whole article from the link and we suggest you print and study it but here is one important part of his explanation about body weight shift…
You do not pull up on the bar to do a manual because the slightest unbalanced input will cause the bike to wander to one side or the other. Instead, use the shifting of your body weight to raise the front wheel. So the first exercise is to get the feeling of the weight shift. Stand to the side of the bike with your hips touching the handlebar. Now, thrust the bike forward. Do this in one quick movement. Don’t move your hips to the bar; bring the bar to your hips. Remember; push out, don’t pull up.
Control over the rear brake is essential for a Manual.
James Wilson of BikeJames.com also has some good advice how to do a Manual, particularly this paragraph…
You need to avoid pulling the front end up with arms (which results in bent elbows) or by simply leaning back forcefully with the lower back. Both of these techniques result in the bike center of gravity changing without your center of gravity compensating. You have to remain balanced in order to manual and the ability to drive from the hips and not the arms/ lower back is the key.
A good video to watch is this one by Seth’s Bike Hacks called “How to Manual a Mtb for Beginners”. As you will see he explains clearly how to “load” the front shock like a pogo stick by first pushing down on it. Watch the whole video. It is a good one.
Make sure you wear a helmet (always!) and protective gear (like kneepads, elbowpads, gloves and even wrist-guards) and go out and practice how to successfully master a Manual. Have fun. See you on the trails!