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Learn Mountain Bike Manual With The Manual Machine, Does It Work?
And is it worth the purchase?
There are now many different types of manual trainers and manual machines on the market - I was asked over and over again, whether the purchase of such a machine is worth it. The short answer: YES, in our opinion it is worth it! But BEWARE - because in our opinion you will not learn the manual with this tool alone!
Why is it worth buying a manual machine if you won't learn the manual with it? That sounds like a contradiction! You will learn the "why" in this article.
What is a manual and what is a manual machine?
A manual is a MTB riding technique that involves rolling on the rear wheel without pedaling. The Manual is a rather complex skill, because the start already requires very good timing and clean technique (especially for smaller bikers or women who lack strength and leverage) and balancing requires a lot of practice and sensitivity.
A manual machine, a manual tool, is an auxiliary device with which you can practice the manual without falling over. We have pictured here the MTB-Hopper Balance.
On a Manual-Machine the rear wheel is fixed so you can't fall over and on some Manual-Machines your front wheel is also fixed with a rope so you can't go over backwards.
We have tested some manual machines and also built one ourselves - then finally tried the MTB-Hopper Balance. In our opinion, this is the best manual trainer at the moment, precisely because the front wheel is not fixed (more on this later), because it is light and easy to assemble, and made of very durable material. In addition, the bike still moves a little sideways - which trains at least a little lateral balance.
What is the biggest difference between a manual in a manual machine and a real manual?
In a real manual, you lift the front wheel while rolling, so you rotate your body with the rest of the bike around the rolling rear wheel. Of course you continue to roll on the rear wheel and your cranks can turn freely at any time. You can transition backwards around the rolling wheel at any time, land on your butt, and also flip over to the left or right.
With the Manual-Machine you turn around the stationary rear wheel and of course you don't roll over. You can't tip over sideways - backwards you can, but you don't land on your butt, you have as much time as you want to put your feet on the ground.
That sounds great! Why not learn the manual on a manual machine then?
The differences just mentioned play a big role 😊
To balance a rolling Manual you need (in a very simplified way) fine coordination, strength, stretching and balance. Your coordination and balance must always adapt to the changing conditions - because your front wheel must always remain in the so-called "float zone", your handlebars should be as straight as possible and of course you should not fall over to the side with the bike. For this you need, among other things, your hips, your knees, your upper body and a good ability to react - and above all, all these elements must work together in milliseconds.
With a manual machine, you are fixed. So first, you have a lot of time, so you don't learn how it all works together in milliseconds, and second, you only practice isolated elements of the manual. Strictly speaking, you can only practice one movement element of the manual: the back-and-forth balance. In the following, I will go into more detail about the differences:
Which elements/parts of the manual movement are different in a manual machine?
1. the start movement
In a real manual, you rotate the bike around the rolling rear wheel. In a manual machine you turn around the stationary rear wheel. It feels completely different - because it is different. So if you master the manual start on a manual machine, you can't assume that you'll also master the upbeat while rolling...
TIP: We present you in this blog post 5 variants, how you can get into the manual!
2. the lateral balancing
Since your bike is fixed in the manual machine with the rear wheel, you cannot fall over at all. Therefore, of course, you do not learn the already mentioned important elements of lateral balancing at all or only very little.
3. the brake dosage
With a real manual, you can also influence the height of your front wheel by dosing your rear brake. With the manual machine, you can only feel this effect to a limited extent, since your rear wheel is already stationary.
4. the pedal position
With a manual machine, the cranks are usually not free to rotate (at least forward), since the rear wheel is fixed.
A tip: Make sure you remove the chain from the chainring so that the cranks can rotate freely. This gives more "real feel".
5. the feeling in your feet
With a real Manual, you can also influence the height of the front wheel by working with your legs and accelerating or picking up the bike forward underneath you. Of course, this is not possible with the Manual-Machine, because the rear wheel is fixed.
What do you learn on a manual machine? Which elements of the manual can you practice there?
1. stretching and strength
As mentioned before, to balance a rolling manual you need (in a very simplified way) fine coordination, strength, stretching and balance. The stretching you need is mainly in the back, you also need hip mobility and flexibility in the rear thigh area.
Of course, you can practice this stretching specifically here on the Manual Machine because you can hold the Manual position much longer. The same goes for the strength you need in your legs, back and arms to hold a Manual for a long time. Therefore, we see a Manual Machine as a strength training device rather than a technique training device.
2. fine coordination of the hip
As stated earlier, it is important that at some point, in order to hold a Manual, all the elements flow together seamlessly. One of these elements to balance the manual is the fine movement of the hip - it's small back-and-forth movements that allow you to maintain the back-and-forth balance. You can practice this very well on the Manual Machine.
3. controlled transition to the rear
Especially small bikers like me often have a mental block or even physical deficits in jumping off the bike backwards. We can practice that here on this manual machine. And for this it is great that the manual machine the front wheel is not attached with a cord - because you can also really go over behind. But slowly and controlled! So you can practice exactly this on the manual machine - it brings you a lot for technical uphills, but also for the wheelie and of course for the manual.
Because we have 2 lifelines when learning manual - which protect us from going over the back: Using the rear brake and jumping off the back. And we can practice both here on the manual machine.
4. feeling for the brake dosage
With a real manual, you can also influence the height of your front wheel by dosing your rear brake. With the Manual Machine, you can only feel this effect to a limited extent, since your rear wheel is already stationary. What you can practice, however, is to hang on to the handlebars with full force - but still use your index finger on the rear brake very sensitively. You won't feel the effect, but you can at least start to get a feel for it.
If you are aware of the limitations of a Manual Machine and you specifically practice the partial movements that you can practice on this tool, then the Manual Machine will certainly make learning a Manual easier for you and accelerate your learning progress. BUT - and here comes the big BUT - we believe that for most bikers it is very difficult or even impossible to learn the Manual with the Machine alone.