Can larking about on your bike ever be more than just showboating? We put our favourite unessential skills to practical use

No self-respecting skills school would ever teach these tricks. They’re pointless and silly, and mostly just for fun… but is there something more going on than that?

Increasing your familiarity with the bike and the way it handles is extremely useful, and learning to balance is crucial. Just as importantly, you’ll draw respectful glances from other riders, amazed at just how damned skilful you are.

Lamppost laps

unessential skills lamppost laps

How: Find a lamppost with clear surroundings, put yourself just to the left of the lamppost (assuming you run your back brake on the left), and hook your right hand around it. Then, in a relatively easy gear, initiate a wheelie by preloading the front of the bike, pulling back and pedalling, keeping the back brake covered.

Once the front wheel is up you can just lean away from the lamppost using your arm to sling you around.

Why: This is actually one way you can learn to wheelie, or practise finding that balancing point with the safety net of holding onto a solid object while doing so.


unessential skills donut

How: You may need to drop your saddle for this one. Decide whether you’re going clockwise or anti-clockwise, put your inside hand on the bars, and rest your armpit on the saddle, then with the outside arm, grab the pedal, straighten your body with your heels or toes on the ground and start cranking. The idea is to spin the bike round as fast as possible.

Why: There’s not a whole lot of reason to this one! It’s simply a challenge, and successfully working out the technique to do this smoothly is the aim.

Watch our buyer’s guide to dropper posts

Backwards bars

unessential skills bakwards bars

How: Sit on your bars facing the back wheel. Hold the bars on either side of your hips, put your leading foot on the pedal and get your balance. Quickly put the other foot on the other pedal and start pedalling, keep checking what’s behind you and don’t go anywhere near the front brake.

Why: This skill is about balance: you have a high centre of gravity, and all that weight is sitting over the steering control of the bike so it’s really not easy. Master it and you’ll be more controlled coming into chutes and on picky, technical trails where you have to look before you roll in.

Handbrake halt

Unessential skills handbrake

How: Ride along a loose surface, take your front brake hand off the bars, and drop your arm down by your side, grab the handle of an imaginary handbrake and pull up at the same time as locking the back brake. Make sure you grip the saddle between your thighs to stay in control. If you feel confident, you can even add a turn.

Why: This skill actually helps you to fine-tune your judgement of grip levels, and your balance. The aim is to pull the handbrake at precisely the time you lock the rear wheel. If your tyre is grippier than you thought, and it doesn’t lock, you will end up just looking a fool! It’ll also help you control the bike with your feet and hips.

Alternative trackstand

unessential skills alternate trackstand

How: Sit on the saddle and turn the bars about 90 degrees to one side. Holding the end of the bar closest to you, put one foot on the top of the front wheel, then quickly place the other foot on the top of the front wheel the opposite side of the forks, then let go of the bar and use small movements of the front wheel to maintain balance.

Why: Purely a practice of balance, staying in control and actually going where you want is truly testing.