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  1. #1
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    Why Can't I Ride No Hands Anymore?

    I joined looking for an answer to this question. Did a search, unsuccesfully, but spent a lot of time reading various discussions. Great forum.

    A long time ago (1975, maybe) I had a Peugeot 10 speed. I could ride no hands forever on a smooth road, around curves and even corners. No bike I have ridden recently has been so stable. Last week I dragged my in-law's old Raleight 3 speed out of the basement and got it running. I took it for a ride, found it very comfortable and stable, and found I could still ride no hands (not that I would anymore).

    I'm guessing the difference is something in the frame geometry, but just what, and why? More important, do they still make bikes that will ride like that? I think I would like such a bike for general riding around on the roads and bike paths.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    I'm guessing you are out of practice. I have several bikes, roadies, MTB, hybrids and I can ride for miles no hands on all of them. I'd like to try on the tandem as well but can't seem to get permission from to wife to give it try.

    Modern frames are likely more aggressive but either way, it's you that is out of practice....Meaning that if you get used to the modern frames, you'll do just as well.

  3. #3
    Senior Member CNY James's Avatar
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    my last road bike was way too twitchy to do it too... but its replacement is stable as can be, even at speeds.

    I am sure it is part rider but that wouldn't explain why I couldn't do it on one bike and then getting on another was able to the first time i tried.

  4. #4
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    On those old bikes, make sure the steel fork is straight. A bent steel fork kept me from riding no-hands on one of my bikes for a while. I couldn't even tell it was bent by eyeballing it--just by the slight pull it had. After I replaced it, I was able to ride no-hands no problem. Also, make sure the fork spins freely and that it isn't too tight in the headset, and that the brake cable housing isn't pulling at the handle bars.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Mithrandir's Avatar
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    Could have something to do with yourself. I was able to ride hands free for quite a long time back in 2004. Then I stopped biking for 6 years, and started again 3 months ago on the same bike... I can't ride hands free anymore. I'm guessing over time my balance will slowly return to me and I'll be able to do it again.

  6. #6
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    I'm sure I'm part of the problem, but not all of it. I could ride that Raleigh last week a whole block, no problem at all. But I can't go 100 yards on my mountain bike or my Cannondale road bike. And I could turn no hands just fine on the Raleigh, but not on my newer bikes.

  7. #7
    Senior Member zandoval's Avatar
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    Heres a simple test - Do in this specific order - Stand on your toes on a hard surface floor bare foot - Then raise your arms over your head towards the ceiling - Then close your eyes...

    If you can do this for more than 5 seconds before pitching to the side then there is something wrong with your bike - If you can do it for three seconds before pitching there may be something wrong with your bike or your overall strength - If you can only do it for a second before pitching then get your hearing checked and have your Doc check your meds...

    This is a standard physical exam test I learned as an Army Medic from a Turkish doctor doing physicals in Turkey in the 70s - Believe it or not it really is a good test...

  8. #8
    Senior Member downtube42's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zandoval View Post
    Heres a simple test - Do in this specific order - Stand on your toes on a hard surface floor bare foot - Then raise your arms over your head towards the ceiling - Then close your eyes...

    If you can do this for more than 5 seconds before pitching to the side then there is something wrong with your bike - If you can do it for three seconds before pitching there may be something wrong with your bike or your overall strength - If you can only do it for a second before pitching then get your hearing checked and have your Doc check your meds...

    This is a standard physical exam test I learned as an Army Medic from a Turkish doctor doing physicals in Turkey in the 70s - Believe it or not it really is a good test...
    I wonder how many BF members are going to call their doctor now?

    Frame geometry makes a huge difference and I'd guess is your #1 issue. Tires and tire pressure also matter. You may also be less fearless than in 1975
    What is bicycle touring?
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  9. #9
    Cycle Dallas MMACH 5's Avatar
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    Practice and the amount of trail on your front fork. Riding no hands is easier for me on some of my bikes than on others. (More trail = more stability.)
    That's gonna leave a mark.

  10. #10
    Senior Member TromboneAl's Avatar
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    Lean back. At least on my bike, if I just take my hands of the handlebars, riding with no hands is a bit difficult. But as soon as I sit up and lean back, it's as if a switch was thrown, and it becomes easy. That, plus some practicing.

    Also, if I have front pack on the bike with some heavy stuff in there, I don't feel safe riding with no hands.
    My Book: Drive, Ride, Repeat: The Mostly-True Account of a Cross-Country Car and Bicycle Adventure

  11. #11
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    I was just thinking about the same thing the other day.

    I've definitely noticed over the years that on some bikes there was no way I could ride no hands, and on other bikes, they almost begged to be ridden no hands.

    I knew a kid in my neighborhood when I was a youngster who had a bike, a Schwinn "racer" as I recall, that would run along in a straight line for nearly a block WITHOUT a rider if it was going fast enough. I don't know how he discovered this, but he could do one of those leg-over dismounts, ride along standing on one pedal, then dismount at a gallop and run along chasing the bike. It would cruise along in a straight line, then begin to curve very gently as it slowed down. I saw him do this several times. I knew another kid that could stand up on the banana seat of his Stingray and "surf." As you can imagine, that eventually ended in a bad crash. We all had bike tricks.

    I have a couple of theories on this no hands thing. One has to do with fork geometry and rake, the angle of the head tube, and how much weight is fore and aft of the center of rotation. On my present primary bike, the weight of the stem, bars, and wheel are all forward of the center of rotation of the headset. If the bike is motionless, the weight of the bars will swing the front wheel sideways.

    I knew another kid who had a bike with no bars at all. He had broken the stem on the bike and his dad wouldn't pay to get it fixed. He tied a piece of heavy string to both sides of the fork crown, and rode that bike using the string like reins on a horse. He was doing most of the steering by shifting his weight, like he was riding no hands all the time, and the reins just gave him a little more control. He rode that bike like that for a couple years, I think.

    Another theory has to do with how your own weight is situated on the bike. When I used to ride no hands, it seemed as though all my weight was supported further back on the seat, like on the cheeks of my rear rather on than my bones. You definitely have to be able to ease back and get your body upright. That's harder to do from a dropped position than a more upright position.

    The other theory has to do with the rotating weight of the wheels. As rims and tires have gotten lighter, they don't produce as much of a gyroscopic effect as heavier ones.

    I'm sure that there's somebody reading who will quickly explain why I am wrong on all accounts, but those are my intuitive theories on it.

  12. #12
    Crispy Member ahsposo's Avatar
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    Did anyone suggest practice?

    When I got my first "good" road bike it was far more responsive to rider input than the pig of Schwinn Continental I had been riding - I crashed the first time I removed my hands.

    Soon I could ride it hands free until I needed to brake.

    Here is a true story: One Sunday morning almost forty years ago I woke up and needed to visit the convenience store down the road. My bike had a flat. So I grabbed my room mate's bike and started to the store. Compared to mine it was like riding a platform it was so stable and slow in response. I decided to see if I could stand up on it. You know, surf it on the top tube. I was starting to stand up and that bike just exploded out from underneath me. I landed on my back and got the worst road rash I think I ever got. His bike didn't fare much better. Boy was he PISSED! I learned a real lesson in thinking things through that morning. Some spur of the moment ideas are just bad. Think again.

  13. #13
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    Just because something has a bad end doesn't mean it's a bad idea. People that live their lives too cautiously don't usually achieve much. I think it's a good thing you tried to surf it.

  14. #14
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    I couldn't think of the term "trail." MMAch's post led me to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_(...chanical_trail

    "A higher mechanical trail is known to make a bicycle easier to ride 'no hands' and thus more subjectively stable, but skilled and alert riders may have more path control if the mechanical trail is lower."

    It begs the questions: Has there been any change over the years in how much mechanical trail is considered desirable for bikes? And, is there a difference between the amount of trail typically designed into "better" bikes and "cheaper" bikes?

  15. #15
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    Have you ever noticed how the pros do it when they cross the finish line? They sit up straight and lean back. Once you get the hang of it practice zipping up your jersey for the photo finish.
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  16. #16
    Senior Member Northwestrider's Avatar
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    I thought this video would be appropriate to this thread,
    http://youtu.be/oVaGNT6e18g

  17. #17
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    I was thinking about this on my morning ride and was going to start a thread about it.

    I was able to ride no hands as a kid, but now at an advanced age I feel hesitant. Age might not be a good excuse though, my bf can ride no hands.
    My bikes have pretty relaxed geometry. My bfs bikes have more aggressive geo than my bikes.

    I'm in the process of getting a design for a custom sport road bike. I brought up the thing about riding no hands. The fitter checked over my current bike and will see about setting the geo to maybe help that a bit.

    Mostly I think I just need to HTFU and practice it more.
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  18. #18
    Ridin' South Cackalacky dahut's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Beanz View Post
    I'm guessing you are out of practice. I have several bikes, roadies, MTB, hybrids and I can ride for miles no hands on all of them. I'd like to try on the tandem as well but can't seem to get permission from to wife to give it try.

    Modern frames are likely more aggressive but either way, it's you that is out of practice....Meaning that if you get used to the modern frames, you'll do just as well.
    +1

    Im a 54 year old Clydesdale, and I do it all the time. I do admit that the road bike is a bit more testy than my city rode for handsfree riding. But nothing gets you back to being a kid and remembering why you love cycling than riding this way.
    Last edited by dahut; 07-31-11 at 05:51 PM.
    "Watch out for giants; they are boorish fools with tongues wagging, drunk upon their own words.
    They will try to teach you a lesson if given the chance, and you will stumble over their stinking feet."

  19. #19
    Senior Member Mithrandir's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Northwestrider View Post
    I thought this video would be appropriate to this thread,
    http://youtu.be/oVaGNT6e18g
    I like this one better:


  20. #20
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    All the way down the mountain! If he was any kind of man, he would have done it on one wheel.

  21. #21
    Crispy Member ahsposo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlueRaleigh View Post
    Just because something has a bad end doesn't mean it's a bad idea. People that live their lives too cautiously don't usually achieve much. I think it's a good thing you tried to surf it.
    Yeah, well my old roomie was WAY pissed. I replaced the handlebars, the seat with "upgraded" parts and he was still pissed. We had a long relationship (just guys, not with benefits) after this and he never let this go. It was like I crashed a cherry car or wantonly killed his dog. I think some of this was his doing a power of guilt thing but a certain amount was I ruined the way that porker of a bike rode. He liked it that way it previously rode and my "upgrades" just didn't work for him.

    But in essence I do believe you are right. I still go with my intuition most of the time and I'm a very lucky man. So far.

  22. #22
    Crispy Member ahsposo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xrayzebra View Post
    All the way down the mountain! If he was any kind of man, he would have done it on one wheel.
    <Ahem>



    A member of the forums...

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by graycenpil View Post
    A long time ago (1975, maybe) I had a Peugeot 10 speed. I could ride no hands forever...
    Old Peugeots are famous for their stable geometry.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by xrayzebra View Post
    I couldn't think of the term "trail." MMAch's post led me to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_(...chanical_trail

    "A higher mechanical trail is known to make a bicycle easier to ride 'no hands' and thus more subjectively stable, but skilled and alert riders may have more path control if the mechanical trail is lower."

    It begs the questions: Has there been any change over the years in how much mechanical trail is considered desirable for bikes? And, is there a difference between the amount of trail typically designed into "better" bikes and "cheaper" bikes?
    Trail has generally increased over the years. Narrower tires feel twitchy when trail decreases too much, so as tire width decreased over the decades, trail has gone up. The whole picture is more complicated than that, but that basic explanation covers most of it.

    Re. the OP's question, he might want to check the headset. Old Raleigh three speeds tend to have been neglected. Even if the headset isn't pitted, the dried and gunked up old grease can make no-hands riding impossible.

  25. #25
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    Thanks for all the info, and the great stories. Perhaps I am in need of a custom made frame and fork...

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