How to Manual and Bunny Hop Your Bike

Manualing is one of those skills most rider’s think you are either born with or you just can’t do it. We’ve all seen the guy holding a manual forever – making the rest of us feel like chumps – but the truth is that you only need to be able to hold one for a second or two for it to be a very valuable skill on the trail. And, more importantly, this skill can be easily learned by anyone.

You’ll no longer have to ride over small trail obstacles, you’ll be able to effortlessly loft the front end at will and avoid losing momentum.

Manualing is simply your ability to powerfully drive from the hips in order to bring the front end of your bike up. It stems from keeping that all-important relationship between the bike’s and your center of gravity. You want to drive the bike in front of you by extending your legs and hips while keeping the arms relatively relaxed.

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.

Once you know how to manual you will start to see the trail completely differently. You’ll no longer have to ride over small trail obstacles, you’ll be able to effortlessly loft the front end at will and avoid losing momentum. Getting up small ledges will also become much easier as you learn how to use your hips instead of your arms to pick your front end up. As a bonus, the basic movement behind the manual will eventually lead you to bunny hopping and/ or popping off a lip.

Here is a video demo I posted a while back, demonstrating the manual and bunny hop in action (please note the Forum I refer to in the video is on an old membership site and if you have any questions on this video please post them in the comments section below this post):

Now that you know “what” to do, you have to make sure that you can do it in the first place through Metabolic Skills Training. Metabolic Skills Training is the term I gave to the art of using strength training exercises to improve your technical skills on the bike. By understanding how each exercise relates to the skills you need on the trail you can ensure that you are getting maximum transfer from the gym to the trail. In addition, the right exercises done correctly will help you more easily learn and apply technical skills on your bike.

When you move with more efficiency and power then you will find that everything you do on your bike comes more naturally, resulting in more of the elusive “flow” that so many riders hear about but rarely get to experience. As a mountain biker you can not just pound out mindless reps and hope that it will help you on the trail – you must understand the movement lessons behind the exercises. Most exercises in your training program should be chosen because they represent a way to work on a fundamental movement skill that supports a technical skill that you need on the trail.

The swing is as close as you can come to a hard trail ride without throwing your leg over a bike. It ingrains body position, teaches you how to absorb impacts with your hips and builds massive forearm strength and endurance. However, the most important lesson you learn from it is how to keep the arms relaxed and drive the hips forward. It is a forward-backward projection of energy which makes it a unique way to learn how to drive the bike forward, which means that when you can do 20 perfect reps with a 16 kg (women) or 24 kg (men) kettlebell you’ll be able to more confidently loft your bike into the air.

Here is a video demo of me showing you how to do a Deadstop Swing, which is a great swing variation for learning this movement behind a manual:

Few things have changed my riding as much as picking up this elusive skill. Learn how to do a proper kettlebell swing and then apply those movement lessons to the bike and you’ll be one of the rare riders who can also use this valuable skill to help you rider faster and with more confidence on the trail.

If you have any questions about any of this please post a comment below. And if you liked this post and found it helpful please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program

MTB Kettlebell Conditioning ProgramThis workout program combines the power and endurance benefits of kettlebell training with the unique perspective of MTB Strength Training Systems to bring a workout program that is sure to challenge even the fittest rider. If you have some strength training experience and are looking for a new challenge that will noticeably boost your power and endurance on the trail then this is the workout you’ve been looking for.
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  1. […] much easier as you learn how to use your hips instead of your arms to pick your front end up. As a bonus, the basic movement behind the manual will eventually lead you to bunny hopping and/ or popping off […]

    Reply • October 18 at 3:37 pm
  2. Jeff says:

    Hi James,

    I really appreciate your site, tips, wisdom and videos! As a 50+ year old rider of more than a decade on the trails, still trying to improve, my technique has gotten better since finding your site.

    I am having a heck of a time with bunny hopping, and was wondering if you have any advice BEYOND what you teach in your “How To Manual” video, which I have watched at least 30+ times. I seem to have no problem raising the front wheel, and occasionally, I can manual for about 3 – 4 seconds (but rarely longer). I also have no trouble raising the rear wheel on its own. The problem is raising the rear wheel WHILE the front wheel is still off the ground! As soon as I try to scoop the rear wheel up, my front wheel comes crashing back to earth. I have been practicing for about 3 months, and while my Manual has improved, I am getting no where with the bunny hop.

    As an aside, I am in excellent shape (for my age). I am religious about my strength training, and have incorporated all of your kettlebell techniques into my workouts. I am 6’3″ and weigh 175 pounds. I ride a Specialized Epic 29er. I wear fiveten shoes with a good flat pedal.

    I appreciate your time tremendously!

    Reply • March 28 at 10:21 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You have to learn how to use your wrists to pick up the rear end of the bike. Practice being able to lift just your rear wheel without any momentum and you’ll feel how you have to “turn” the wrists without letting the move to get it up. You have to do the same thing to bunny hop, otherwise you will just shift your weight forward and the front end will crash down.

      Hope this helps, let me know how it goes for you.

      Reply • March 31 at 9:57 am
  3. Flightless Hobbit says:

    I must have watched this video 100 times and I still can’t figure out what you are doing with your hips. Whatever it is happens too fast for me to see.

    I get that I need to shift my weight back, and I’m doing that. It doesn’t make any difference at all.
    6 inches for half a second is all I get no matter how much I practice.

    Reply • August 18 at 2:30 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      It is the same movement you use for a kettlebell swing, which is where you may need to start. If you have trouble with the hip movement off the bike it will be hard to do it right on the bike. It also takes a lot of practice and some patience. If I can learn to do it anyone can, just keep at it.

      Reply • August 19 at 1:15 pm
      • Flightless Hobbit says:

        How does that apply on the bike? It looks like in the swing he is straightening up as the weight swings forward, causing his hips to move forward, but in the manual, it looks like he is moving his hips back to move the center of gravity.

        The swing itself looks rather similar to the upswing from splitting firewood with a maul, which I do quite a bit of for our woodstove.

        Reply • August 23 at 2:38 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          The movement are not the exact same with the manual and the swing but the basic movement of projecting energy horizontally is. The main problem the riders run into – and it sound like you have – is that they are projecting energy up and down instead of horizontally. Chopping wood with a maul is a good example – that is an up-down movement, not a forward-backward movement.

          You have to be practicing that movement when you do your swings so just doing swings isn’t going to help. You need to start with the Bulgarian Goat Bag Swing, then progress to the deadlift and finally the swing. You may also need to work on hip mobility if you are tight in the hips or else you won’t be able to move properly as well.

          Hope this helps, you need to work on some basic movement skills first and then the other stuff will come easier.

          Reply • August 26 at 11:01 am
      • Flightless Hobbit says:

        We don’t have a kettlebell, but I had no problem doing 20 reps with a 6 1/2 gallon water container, which weighs about 20 kilos. Could have done 30.

        Does this mean that strength is not the limiting factor here?

        Reply • August 23 at 8:05 pm
        • Flightless Hobbit says:

          about 24 kilos I meant.

          Reply • August 23 at 8:08 pm
  4. Gordon says:

    Trying to do the manual, does the length of the handelbar stem make it harder? – I ride a 75mmm and wonder if thats causing me not to get enough weight behind the saddle ?

    Reply • May 7 at 12:36 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Yes, it does matter. A shorter stem will help a lot. I use a 50 mm stem on all my trail bikes. A 50-60 mm stem will help you in a lot of places on the trail, from manualing to cornering to descending and even standing pedaling. The only place a longer stem can theoretically help is with seated pedaling and it handicaps you for just about everything else.

      Reply • May 7 at 12:43 pm
  5. Zak says:

    I just converted to flats from clipless to work on my technical ability which I feel should be a lot better for how much I ride. I did not think about the stem length which I still have the stock 90mm stem on my 2012 stumpy HT, I will try out a shorter stem and see if that improves my inability to get the bunny hop on flats.

    Thanks for all you help James!

    Reply • October 20 at 9:05 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’m sure you will find the shorter stem to help a lot. Glad the tips are helping, keep me posted on how your bunny hopping comes along with the new stem.

      Reply • October 20 at 9:20 am

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