It’s advanced for some but a piece of cake for others. Either way it’s a skill worth mastering, both in terms of being able to ride more smoothly when you need to lift your front wheel on the trail; and for the sheer thrill of being able to do one of the most common tricks in the world.
Find a gently sloping uphill (tar or smooth gravel road is best). Ride slowly, just a bit quicker than walking pace and select a gear that’s not hard, but not too easy.
As your dominant foot is on its way up the pedal stroke from the bottom, push down on your handlebar by tilting your body forward. As your dominant foot reaches the 12 ‘o clock position, pull up briefly on the handlebar and power your dominant foot downwards. Pulling on the bars and powering your foot down should get the front wheel off the ground.
Now keep up the power pedalling with both legs for a few pedal strokes and stay leaned back with your arms almost straight. You’re looking for the sweet spot, the point where your body is no longer straining and you are cruising along on the rear wheel.
On an incline, you can generally keep pedalling, but there are two scenarios where you should stop pedalling momentarily:
- When you feel you’re leaning too far back and feel like you might flip backwards – easing off the pedalling can return you to the sweet spot.
- When you hit a speed that makes your cadence too fast – advanced wheelie-ers will shift gears in this case, but when starting out, just stop pedalling and let the speed reduce to point where it matches your cadence again.
The fear most have is of flipping over backwards. If you find this fear affects you significantly, then fit a pair of flat pedals to your bike, or practice wearing a pair of takkies, which allows you to skip off the back of the saddle and jog a few steps should the bike flip.
A key factor in popping a successful wheelie is moderating your speed and ‘tilt’ by feathering the rear brake. This takes some practice, but start out by keeping one or two fingers on your rear brake lever when you’re first learning to wheelie. You simply give a soft pull on the lever when necessary, which should be done when you’re going a bit too quick or when you feel the bike tilting too far backwards, past your sweet spot.
Once you’ve got a few pedals strokes going in the wheelie position, you’ll find that the bike might tend to drift to one side. Shift your bodyweight slightly by moving your hips to straighten it up and also use your knees (swing them in or out a bit) for added balance.
To improve your balance even more, look ahead (about 10 metres) and not at your front wheel. This gives you a sense of horizon and greater stability.
- Most will benefit by dropping the saddle a few centimetres when first learning to wheelie. Once you get the hang of it, you won’t need to drop it.
- If you want further peace of mind when learning to wheelie, practice on a grassy slope. This is usually more bumpy than tar or smooth gravel, but it offers a soft landing should you fall.
- Always wear your helmet, even if you’re practicing in your garden!
Want to improve your skills? We run regular TREAD Skills Clinics, safely driven by Volvo. For more information or to book, head to www.treadskills.co.za