The mysterious wandering front wheel

Hi Lee,

Hope you’re doing well. I’ve been mountain biking quite a bit and I have a question. When I’m riding slowly up a hill, I have trouble keeping the front wheel from wandering back and forth. The hills aren’t that steep and the wheel doesn’t feel light. Leaning forward to get more weight on the wheel doesn’t seem to help. It just seems that I have trouble holding a straight line at low speed without losing my balance. I’ve been doing standing track stands and have gotten pretty good, but other riders seem to be able to keep their front wheel straight better than me while riding seated and slowly. Of course, having the front wheel wander back and forth wastes energy and also makes it more difficult to hold a good path between the rocks. Any suggestions?

Chuck (a Jedi Knight clinic graduate)

Demonstrating non-violent fore-aft balance in a NorCal high school coach training session.

Hey Chuck!

Thanks for writing. I’m stoked you’re mountain biking a lot. That makes one of us. (I’m getting way too comfortable on the midnight trainer program. Well, my prostate isn’t so comfortable.)

Oops, too much info.

it sounds like you’re too violent with the upper body. Some combination of tension and excessive pulling/pushing.

1) Get comfortable on the saddle.

2) Make sure your hip and spine are aligned. Arching or bending the back creates tension, which leads to violence.

3) Keep your hands — and entire upper body — light and neutral.

4) If it’s steep you’ll have to pull yourself forward to stay somewhat balanced over the pedals. This will create tension in your pulling muscles. Don’t let tension take over. Be active but relaxed, engaged but not stiff. Make sense?

5) If it’s so steep you find yourself pulling very hard to stay on the pedals, go ahead and stand up and align yourself above the bottom bracket. Remember: Light hands, heavy feet.

The new version of Mastering Mountain Bike Skills gets into this stuff, as do my current skills clinics. It’s awesome how some basic technique can improve your climbing.


— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

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7 replies
  1. Shawn Carter says:

    A wandering front wheel while climbing is a natural phenomena. Without thinking about it your body makes the path longer to ease the load. Increasing your strength and power will decrease this tendency.

  2. Todd says:

    Your bike setup can make a difference. I found that a shorter stem made my bike wander a bit more. And comparing yourself to other riders may be comparing apples to oranges. If your bike has a slacker head angle, the bike will tend to wander. Lee’s advice is spot on for keeping it straight going up so that you can enjoy that slacker head angle going down.

  3. Jase says:

    This may sound obvious but coming from Freeride and Downhill riding where I was mostly standing up on my bike, it took me a long time to learn that while seated, you can still move around a lot.

    When climbing on an XC bike I really try to slide forwards on my saddle and get the weight over the front end.

    As Shawn and Lee have said, having some strength comes into play, but if not just make sure you’re selecting the right gear for the climb. Grinding up in a big ring while seated isn’t going to help you keep your front wheel on the ground!

  4. Super Uncle says:

    If you were experiencing this on a motorcycle, it would be a clear indicator of either notchy head bearings or head bearings that have been adjusted too tight.

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