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[TUTORIAL] - How to Trackstand on a Freewheel Bicycle

BhimaBhima Posts: 2,145
edited September 2009 in Training, fitness and health
I thought i'd write a guide on how you can trackstand on a freewheel bike - i.e. your average geared road/mountain bike with "clicky" wheels, which you cannot pedal backwards on. Most tutorials are aimed at fixed-gear riders so this one is aimed specifically at non-fixed riders. :)

Trackstanding is the skill of balancing on a stationary bicycle, as if suspended in time.

The benefits include not having to unclip feet at traffic lights on the road, being able to outsmart your oponents in track cycling, a strong foundation for impressive tricks on a BMX and generally looking cool in front of all your mates and intimidating inferior cyclists for fun.

It is easily done on a bicycle with a fixed wheel, which allows you to pedal backwards to counter-act forward motion but it substantially more difficult if the bike is not set up in this way.

It took me 4 weeks to get it, although i've still not mastered it 100%.

Before you start reading, try to learn on flat ground. Slight uphills are easier, but you'll learn nothing about balancing from the experience - you'll be significanly weaker on the flat. I suggest you try and learn while clipped in to the pedals. It's dangerous, but it tends to focus you a bit more. Just like riding with no hands, this is a bike-specific trick - learn on the bike you'll be doing it on most. Transferring the skill to another bike is difficult. I'd suggest learning on quiet roads, or a smooth surface. Pavement cracks or uneven surfaces are impossible to balance on. If you are doing this on a road/racing bike with drop bars, it is easier to do trackstanding on the drops - it gives you better control of the steering and better access to the brakes.

1) Balance

Firstly, you need to get used to balancing on the bike at low speed. When approaching a red light, brake sufficiently to almost stop 2m behind where you would normally stop and roll forward through the remaining 2m as slowly as you can. Do not use your brakes while rolling forward. You'll probably be suprised at how much you wobble about at first. Unclip your feet if you're worried. Concentrate in going in a straight line. Every time you do this, try and apply more pressure to the brakes initially so that you roll forward slower than your previous attempt. After a few days of practice, you should be able to roll forward a lot slower than your very first attempt. This excersise will teach you to use your brakes in order to slow to a particular speed with extreme detail. You will need this skill later...

2) Pedalling against your brakes

The next step requires you to get into a fairly small gear. As you roll forward, gradually press the brakes down so that you decellerate and almost stop. At the same time, try to pedal forward to counter-act the braking action. If you find it too difficult to go against the brake and start to wobble, you're in too big a gear. Stay seated! As you push harder on the pedals, push harder on the brakes but make sure that you're always moving forward very slightly. Do not try and stay motionless yet! Your brake should provide resistance, but not enough to stop you completely. As you are about to wobble and fall off, let go of the brake and stop trying to pedal very shortly after so that you put a little forward momentum into the bike and continue to roll forward like in step 1. Your front wheel should be completely straight throughout this.

The end result of this is that, as you get better at controlling your speed with the brakes, you should be moving even slower than what you could achieve by the end of step 1.

Repeat this process, so that you can do this several times - roll forward and then almost come to a standstill, followed by another roll forward just before you fall, etc...

3) Get a rhythm going

Once you can do step 2, you are probably a third of the way there. That's the easy bit over.

Next, you want to decrease the ammount of time you are doing each cycle. Try to pedal against the resistance of the brakes for a shorter period of time before letting go of the brakes and roll forward for shorter periods of time too. So, you want to achieve a fast rhythm of simultaneous braking and pedalling with rolling forward. Remember, this should all be done in a stright line. Actually, as you get better and faster at doing this, you'll find that you get to a certain point where it's impossible to do it any faster without falling off because you'll be going forward very slowly! If you've got this far, go to step 4.

4) Using the handlebars

OK, all the stuff about "rolling forward" - forget it now, it's not needed anymore. What you need to try and do now is to pedal against your braking action just like before but, as you feel like you're about to fall off, instead of rolling forward, steer the wheel either left or right, depending on which way you feel you are going to fall off, and increase the power to the pedals slightly. Remember to keep the bike as still as possible with the brakes! If you feel you are going to fall off to the left, turn left and the pedalling should push the bike to the right.

If you do this and find that you immediately fall off to the right, you're obviously pedalling too hard or are not braking hard enough. The left turn and pedalling against the brake's resistance needs to be enough to balance you but not too much, so you get flung the other way. It should be very subtle. Similarly, the front wheel needs to be turned enough in order to get you moving to the right, but a turn that is too far left would mean that all the energy from pedalling would go sideways - you would fall off to the right. You need to keep the bike moving forwards a little bit too so a turn of about 45 degrees seems to work best.

Once you are balanced, immediately move the wheel back to the centered position. You will find, at first, that you will constantly over-compensate. For example, if you fall to the right, you will almost certainly re-balance but overdo it, meaning you start to fall to the left and will have to steer left to rebalance, probably followed by another fall to the right. As you get better at judging how much pedal power is needed to re-balance, you will get to the point where you can balance pretty well.

Until you can stop steering left & right extremely fast and looking like a complete amateur as you try to balance yourself, don't go any further than this step! Progress forwards once you can stay balanced for at least 3 seconds without moving the handlebars more than once. Experiment with different gears until you can do this, but don't go too high, otherwise you won't look so cool once the lights go green and you're grinding away a massive gear to get going. The reason I recommended a small gear to learn in is because it makes you learn to use the brakes properly and allows you to accellerate off from the lights really quick, adding to your God-like status as intrigued passers-by stare at you in amazement!

5) Going Backwards????!

So, you can balance centrally, but you're still moving forward ever so slightly, right? On a fixed gear bike, you can easily pedal in reverse to go backwards but this obviously doesn't work on a bike with a freewheel. If you watch track or road racing, at the finish line, you'll see the sprinters extend thier arms out so that the handlebars are at arms length. They will also move backwards, behind the saddle and stretch their legs out. This pushes the bike forward slightly, giving them the extra centimeters or even milimeters they need to win the race. To go backwards on a freewheel bike, you can reverse this trick to slingshot the bike backwards. This takes serious practice to do, let alone to do smoothly. You want to stay seated as much as possible and have the front wheel straight. Quickly press the brakes down followed by a very quick release of them. As you let go, fling your weight over the front wheel and immediately press the brakes down. Get seated asap before letting go of the brakes! You should have moved backwards.

Now, it took me 2 weeks to master this. You'll see how it can be useful in the next step...

6) Shifting your bodyweight & Finding the "Sweet Spot"

At this point, you should be able to balance fairly well, only moving the handlebars to compensate every few seconds. What if I told you that you could keep the handlebars turned one way for more than 5 seconds...? You'll probably think it's impossible without a fixed wheel but it's not! The secret is to balance your weight. At the moment, when you balance with the wheel turned one way and have an almost-perfect state of equillibrium, you wont be able to hold it for long because you're sat on the saddle, which is towards the back of the bike, so it is therefore harder to keep the equillibrium solid. You need to get yourself as centered as possible. You can stand on the pedals to do this but this means you'll have to increase the gears (making the bike harder to control) or apply more pressure on the brakes (easiest option, trust me). It's easier to center yourself sat down - you'll have to move right on to the front edge of your seat. If stood up, stay on the drops, if on a road bike, as if you were sprinting.

If your wheel is turned right, you don't want to put your weight to the right, but you want to make it appear that you are trying to put your weight slightly to the right. This is done by tilting the bike left a little, like you do when you turn corners. Try and have the pedals horizontal, but with the right pedal slightly higher so you can counter-act the left tilt with a little more pressure from the right foot. By tilting left, with a wheel facing right, you'll probably fall left if you overdo it so make these movements very subtle! The amount of bike-tilt depends on the bike in question and the weight of the rider. Personally, I tilt my bike so subtly that it's not even noticable.

This is where the backwards movement comes in handy - if you do start to go forward, use the technique to counter-act it. Try and get a rhythm going with the backwards and forwards motion, so that you can constantly go backwards and forwards over the same spot. You want to keep the top-half of your body in the same place while moving your bottom-half backwards and forwards in a rocking-motion in sync with your braking rhythms.

If you're wondering why i've told you to stay seated throughout the previous steps, it's because standing up makes you wobble about even more, so you may find that it's really hard to balance once you stand up initially.

To summarize the above example, the things you need to control are:
- Brake pressure
- Pedal pressure
- Backwards/Forwards movement rhythms
- Wheel steering angle
- Bike tilt

If they are all fine-tuned to perfection, you will eventually be able to "know" when they are all correct and the only thing stopping you stay balanced is you bodyweight. Set the bike position up and then vary your body posision until you feel a complete state of pure balance. This is the sweet spot! It will take at least 15 attempts to find this spot and you many find that the sweet spot changes for different road tilts so try and experiment on the same bit of road and also practice on hills, both going up and down in order to find the other sweet spots.

7) Advanced Skills

- No Brakes
This is an advanced weight-shifting technique which involves standing on the pedals (hands on the tops of the bars on road-bike drop-bars) and pressing the pedals down subtly (in a big gear) while you shift your body weight backwards, followed by a swift shift of your bodyweight forwards over the handlebars (as you move the pedal back up to it's optimum position) to get the bike moving backwards. The front wheel should be straight. This gets the bike rocking backwards and forwards and, if done quickly enough, can mean you can balance without turning the handlebars at all - but it doesn't look as cool as a proper trackstand! ;-)

- One-Handed Trackstand
It is possible to do a one-handed trackstand by controlling all braking and steering with one hand. If the wheel is turned to the left, it is easier to let go with your left hand, although it may depend on which brake (front or rear) you think controls the bike better.

- No-Handed, One-Legged Trackstand
It is possible to take both hands off the handlebars but to control the bike you need to use one foot to move the front wheel backwards and forwards. I've not managed to accomplish this yet but i've seen it done.

- Up/Down Movements
Once you can trackstand, it is possible to lift the front wheel off the ground with the handlebars - like a wheelie - and move the wheel to a more favourable position on the road. This is used by me in an emergency if I start to wobble about because of uneven road. It is easier when off the saddle but should not be attempted in public unless practiced a lot because the first time you try it, you will almost certainly fall off - not good if you're clipped in and the lights suddenly go green!

Have fun!

Posts

  • BhimaBhima Posts: 2,145
    By the way, didn't now exactly where to post this. Sorry if it's in the wrong forum.

    ...and let me know how you get on!

    Recorded some footage of a fixed-gear trackstand competition at the weekend which includes some of these techniques... May post some up soon. :D
  • BhimaBhima Posts: 2,145
    Nobody tried this? :shock:

    There was massive demand for a tutorial on this ages ago...?

    Anyway, once I sort out some pics, this is going in a local magazine. :D
  • InfamousInfamous Posts: 1,130
    I tried it and fell off, see you in court.
  • shmoshmo Posts: 321
    Nice guide cheers. I still bottle it after being motionless for a couple of seconds but was riding with someone who made it look so damn easy that even I should be able to do it eventually.
  • Infamous wrote:
    I tried it and fell off, see you in court.

    :lol:
    "A cyclist has nothing to lose but his chain"

    PTP Runner Up 2015
  • Hi Bhima,

    thank you very much for this cool tutorial. I just posted a Video on Youtube in which i try to balance a liitle bit on my Freewheel Bike, using some of the suggested techniques.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr93adCjeHc

    Greetings
    Trackstandable
  • "ehh" it aint hard been doing track stands on me road bike at lights junctions etc for years all you have to remember is use your back brake not your front to balance and if you feel you are losing it just push your bike back vie your bars by a few inches and drop your crank which is applying te pressure and start again, i have never fallen off or failed to hold a track stand using this method
  • Been doing them for years, miss spent youth riding and racing BMX's.

    I just balance with the bars turned and ue the camber of the road to apply pressure against on the pedals and roll back and forth.
  • jonmackjonmack Posts: 522
    Been riding trials on and off for the last 3 years or so, and as this is one of the base moves for trials, I don't get too phased by it.

    320DMsport has the right idea, if you get into the gutter on a road with enough camber then you can just roll back and forth using pedal pressure, no need for brakes at all. It's harder with spds but shouldn't take long to get.
  • Frankly transferring it between bikes is piss-easy, transferring between flats and clippless is psychological only.

    I find it easier on the hoods than the drops.
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