Remember when you were a kid and “Look Ma — no hands!” was a rite of passage as you learned to ride? But that was years (decades!) ago, and for some reason it seemed a lot easier back then than on your lightweight road bike today.
Now when you try to ride no-hands, the bike wanders or veers. You need to quickly grab the handlebar to prevent a crash.
Pros routinely ride no-hands as they change clothes and eat on the bike and, um, take care of other needs. And the best ones get to do it as they cross the finish line (not hands, that is, not those other needs!).
Even though no-hands is a useful skill for recreational riders, too, many people feel intimidated by the idea of having both hands off the bar.
I respect that and don’t want to talk you into something you feel is unsafe. But this is not a hard skill to learn, and it can come in very handy. By riding no-hands, you can do things like opening food and removing arm warmers or a jacket without stopping.
Here Are a Few Tips On Riding a Bike With No Hands
Start by checking your bike. Sometimes it’s not poor technique that makes no-hands riding difficult, it’s poor equipment maintenance. Before you practice this skill, be sure your bike is in good repair.
It’s hard to ride no-hands if the headset is binding, the fork is out of alignment or the front wheel wobbles. These things make a bike track crookedly. Some people who can’t seem to learn this skill become frustrated at their supposed clumsiness when it’s the bike’s fault.
Practice. Use an empty parking lot or other place without traffic. (This is not a technique to learn on a grassy field because of the roughness and rolling resistance.) Pedal at a moderate pace, not too slow. It’s easier to ride no-hands when you’re going at least 12-15 mph (19-24 kph).
Hold the bar top and sit square on the saddle. When you’re ready, push back evenly and sit up, letting your arms drop. Don’t lean tentatively forward with your hands hovering at the bar like you’re sleepwalking, ready to grab it at the slightest twitch.
Keep your weight back and centered. Remember, even when you’re gripping the bar, steering is done with your hips and weight shifts. That’s really true now. Spin smoothly and move your hips slightly to affect the bike’s line. I’ll bet you quickly get the hang of it. Many no-hands riders can guide their bikes smoothly past obstacles and even around corners.
Relax. As usual in bike handling, everything works better when your body is loose and fluid. Small faults get dissipated instead of amplified. Being tense makes a bike develop a mind of its own.
Be careful on the road. Good riders can sit back and peel an energy bar, take off a jacket, remove arm warmers or clean their shades. Ultramarathon riders can eat a full meal handed to them from a support vehicle.
But remember, riding no-hands is inherently dangerous. Your hands may be occupied and they’re a long way from the handlebar and brake levers. Pick your spots, which usually means a flat section without a bumpy surface.
No-hands is tricky in a strong crosswind, and really risky when it’s gusty. Wait till a turn puts the wind at your back. In a group, if you need to go no-hands, wait till you’re at the back of the group where a mistake from you won’t crash someone else.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.