BQ Skills: Ghost Riding

BQ Skills: Ghost Riding

Most of us remember when we learned to ride a bike. The incredible feel of balancing on two wheels – it felt like flying. Over the following days, months and years, our skills improved. First we learned to ride without wobbling. Then – in my case – to start without anybody holding onto my saddle…
And yet there is always more to learn. Some skills are useful, like being able to stop without putting a foot down, others merely amusing, like being able to do a cyclocross mount. They all make you a better cyclist, as you control your bike more fully.
We learn new skills through visualization and practice. To help with the former, every Bicycle Quarterly includes the ‘Skill’ column, which describes an everyday skill and how it works. In the current edition: ‘Ghost Riding’ – riding with two bicycles at once. It’s useful when you need to transfer a bike over a short distance, for example, to drop it off at a bike shop. The video above shows it in action.
Subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly to read how ‘Ghost Riding’ works, how to learn it and how to do it safely. Interested in the other ‘Skill’ articles? Check out our back issues!
Warning! Use appropriate caution when attempting new skills, including Ghost Riding.

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Comments (17)

  • Bob M.

    I actually had to to this last spring while mountain biking near St. George, UT. A friend in our group fell and broke her arm, and had to walk out a mile or so. A couple of us traded off bringing her bike out. On tamer portions of the trail, I was able to “ghost ride” her bike. This was much faster than walking with two bikes. It was a little shaky at first, but I was able to do it pretty quickly. It would be a good skill to practice before you need it.

    October 16, 2018 at 6:28 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I’m glad your friend was able to walk out. I hope she was fine. You are right, ghost riding is much easier than walking with two bikes.

      October 16, 2018 at 6:30 am
  • SteveP

    I run into trouble when the second bike veers into the one I’m riding. It’s bad when it goes wrong. Help!
    Please share the keys to doing this right. …It appears that you are holding the second bike at the hbar/stem clamp. What else?

    October 16, 2018 at 7:05 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You guide the bike like you do when you walk with your bike and guide it with one hand. There is a lot more to it – mostly how to prevent the second bike from bouncing and how to turn. Too much to describe here, hence there is the BQ article…

      October 16, 2018 at 7:16 am
    • reuben

      A lot depends on the size / arm reach of the rider too. The easiest way for me (187cm) to correct things when they go wrong is to lift the front wheel of the ghost bike off the ground. This makes manoeuvring around tight spaces much easier.

      October 16, 2018 at 7:19 pm
    • Alex

      I’ve found that the ‘ghost’ bike veers into the one I’m riding if it isn’t kept vertical, and tilts towards you; and this happens easily, as there’s a tendency to not reach out enough for fear of becoming imbalanced, and you don’t have your body to correct the lean of the bike without a rider. Even around a turn, as you can see in Jan’s video, the ghost bike is more vertical than the one Jan is riding. Going different speeds & doing track stands with the ghost bike, necessary at stop signs etc, is perhaps good practice. I also can’t imagine successfully guiding a ghost bike by the saddle (post below), but that probably depends on the geometry of the bike without a rider.

      October 17, 2018 at 4:21 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        I think the secret is to focus on balancing the ‘ghost’ bike and forgetting that you are riding your own bike, too. I find that it becomes intuitive after just a few meters. The corners are the hard part, because you need to match the radii of both bikes.
        The starting and stopping is easy – no need to do track stands (rolling back and forth to balance the bike). As described in the BQ article, just lean the ghost bike slightly toward you as you stop, and there’s no need to put a foot down. It’s like a very large kickstand…

        October 17, 2018 at 7:11 am
  • Richard

    Holding the second bike by the stem makes for confident starting and stopping, but there are advantages to steering the second bike by the saddle while underway. Once up to more than a few mph, it’s easy to change between steering by stem and steering by saddle. Given a reasonably smooth surface, the inherent stability of the bicycle gives you plenty of time to move your hand from stem to saddle without drama. It’s possible to steer by saddle with a very light touch. Usually, just placing your fingertips on the saddle is enough to guide the bike. With a little practice, it’s possible to start, stop and remain stationary using the saddle alone. Steering by saddle allows you to remain more upright and centered over your bike because it eliminates the handlebar conflict, and the saddle tends to be higher than the stem.

    October 16, 2018 at 8:17 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I haven’t tried that. I think I prefer the more direct connection via the stem, especially when going over bumps.

      October 16, 2018 at 10:29 am
  • Timothy Nielsen

    Bike skills are on full display in Asia. I assume because daily tasks are not always accomplished with personal flatbed trailers or Subaru roof racks. I’ve seen some incredible loads on bicycles, even ghost riding at full gallop through crowded intersections while lighting a beedi!

    October 16, 2018 at 10:44 am
  • Lyle

    That is not what ghost riding is. Ghost riding is when you either push them let go or ride then jump off the bike and let it keep rolling without anyone on it. It inevitably crashes to the ground.

    October 16, 2018 at 12:02 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Around Seattle, the term ghost riding is used for riding two bikes, but there are regional differences in bike terms. We call it a saddle, but in cowboy country, they insist that saddles are only for horses, and vehicles have seats.

      October 16, 2018 at 1:58 pm
  • Liam Guild

    Hey Jan,
    I love reading your magazine and all of your blog posts, but I think that you used the incorrect term here. “Ghost Riding” is when you take your friend’s bike, ride fast on it, then jump off so it rolls for a little bit then crashes. I really liked the skill you showed me though.

    October 16, 2018 at 7:49 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      As mentioned in the earlier comment, the term is used for both. In both cases, a bike rolls down the road without a rider on it. One is uncontrolled, the other is still guided…

      October 16, 2018 at 8:22 pm
  • marmotte27

    Still waiting for the new BQ but looking forward to this article. I’ve always thought this skill was dead easy, including turning and what have you, having seen it first with my father as a kid and done it myself since youth. It was with BQs articles on bike handling however that I learnt why it feels so easy, gyroscopic forces and all that.
    But I suppose it’s like with all skills, when you master it, you no longer feel it’s anything special…

    October 16, 2018 at 9:46 pm
  • Mike

    I find it interesting that there’s some disagreement as to the meaning of “ghost biking”. I’d never heard of the term until reading this post. I’d heard of a “ghost bike” before, in which a white bicycle is placed at spots on the road where a cyclist was killed in a collision with a motor vehicle. I’d could see some practical use in guiding a bike in this manner, though it’s certainly not an everyday thing for me. It’s potentially useful for bringing a bike to the bike shop for repair while also being able to ride back, and it’s less cumbersome than strapping the to-be-repaired bike to a trailer.
    As for learning to stop without putting a foot down: it seems to me that such a thing is a vital skill only if the rider has difficulty in removing their feet from the pedals, perhaps due to foot retention systems. As I ride only on platform pedals without clips/straps/cleats/etc, I personally put that skill in the “merely amusing” category.

    October 19, 2018 at 10:50 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      When you try starting your bike with only one hand on the bars, you realize that not having to put a foot down when you ghost ride is actually a huge plus! It’s also not something you have to learn: It comes automatic when you have four wheels.

      October 20, 2018 at 6:18 am

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