This paper reports on an experimental study of the motion of freely rising axisym- metric rigid bodies in a low-viscosity fluid. We consider flat cylinders with height h smaller than the diameter d and density ρb close to the density ρf of the fluid. We have investigated the role of the Reynolds number based on the mean rise velocity um in the range 80 ≤ Re = umd/ν ≤ 330 and that of the aspect ratio in the range 1.5 ≤ χ = d/h ≤ 20. Beyond a critical Reynolds number, Rec, which depends on the aspect ratio, both the body velocity and the orientation start to oscillate periodically. The body motion is observed to be essentially two-dimensional. Its description is particularly simple in the coordinate system rotating with the body and having its origin fixed in the laboratory; the axial velocity is then found to be constant whereas the rotation and the lateral velocity are described well by two harmonic functions of time having the same angular frequency, ω. In parallel, direct numerical simulations of the flow around fixed bodies were carried out. They allowed us to determine (i) the threshold, Recf1(χ), of the primary regular bifurcation that causes the breaking of the axial symmetry of the wake as well as (ii) the threshold, Recf2(χ), and frequency, ωf, of the secondary Hopf bifurcation leading to wake oscillations. As χ increases, i.e. the body becomes thinner, the critical Reynolds numbers, Recf1 and Recf2, decrease. Introducing a Reynolds number Re* based on the velocity in the recirculating wake makes it possible to obtain thresholds and that are independent of χ. Comparison with fixed bodies allowed us to clarify the role of the body shape. The oscillations of thick moving bodies (χ < 6) are essentially triggered by the wake instability observed for a fixed body: Rec(χ) is equal to Recf1(χ) and ω is close to ωf. However, in the range 6 ≤ χ ≤ 10 the flow corrections induced by the translation and rotation of freely moving bodies are found to be able to delay the onset of wake oscillations, causing Rec to increase strongly with χ. An analysis of the evolution of the parameters characterizing the motion in the rotating frame reveals that the constant axial velocity scales with the gravitational velocity based on the body thickness, , while the relevant length and velocity scales for the oscillations are the body diameter d and the gravitational velocity based on d, , respectively. Using this scaling, the dimensionless amplitudes and frequency of the body's oscillations are found to depend only on the modified Reynolds number, Re*; they no longer depend on the body shape.