All I need is a little rolling momentum before I load a calculated amount of weight into the front shock, shift to the back of the saddle and then gracefully lift the wheel off of the gravel. Sometimes I feather the back brake to fine-tune the balance, but that’s seldom necessary, and even then, the move, it’s so subtle you’d never notice. Yeah man, just like that. I can wheelie forever. Further than Hans Rey. It’s how I roll. – Andy Ellis
Can you keep your wheel lifted for as long as you please? Well then I hate you. Freak. You heard me. Bloomin show-off. Mountain bikes are made with two wheels. Both of them are meant to roll on the ground. If you lot insist on hanging sack over the back wheel then do me a favour and go get a unicycle. I hear Boswell Wilkie is hiring clowns. What? What about the first bit about my one-wheeled prowess? Ah bollocks, the shame. The shame.
I can’t wheelie. I described a recurring, intensely vivid, dream I’ve had since childhood. In the real world of bike riding I’m good for one precious second of hang time, and then it all comes crashing down: my capable-biker image, applause, loose women, the whole bloody fantasy. I can’t wheelie, and that’s why I snarl at those who can. Go ahead, slap me with the might of a Tik-starved gangster for abusing you earlier. Nothing can eclipse the intense pain of jealousy I have endured over the decades, not even medieval thumbscrew torture. Google that, if you’re over 18. Witness my torment.
The obsession began with a three-speed Chopper. I was nine or 10. The kid next door was the son of an American contract worker. BMX had yet to make its mark on the Highveld, but this snot-nosed, cocky Texan… he had one. And he could wheelie the thing. Despite being my age, his first world, all-American upbringing gave him an edge over me: a barefoot Trompie with a catty stuck in his khaki shorts. He introduced me to the glamour of skateboarding, football and baseball. The boy had a fresh set of skills, and a stash of smuggled Playboy magazines holed up in a tree house at the bottom of the garden. Man, I loved that tree house.
We spent hours building the jumps and berms, integral to a respectable BMX track, in a nearby veld. On completion came the belly laughs, bruises and blood from riding a 1975 Chopper on terrain it wasn’t geared for. Come to think of it, that bike – with its mangy front wheel – wasn’t good for any degree of hooliganism on any surface. It wasn’t long before I creamed it into a twisted wreck. In a moment of Western diplomacy the American proposed a solution to my shortfall on the bike front: a swap, just until I’d greased my dad enough for him to buy me another bike. His BMX for my pellet gun. We spat in our palms and shook on it.
While the American was out stalking, and decimating, the pigeon population I scrambled on the BMX. The jumps came easy – I pedalled at them with little concern of consequence and they rewarded me with sufficient airtime and indescribable exhilaration… except for the time my foot slipped off of the pedal and I crushed my balls on the top tube.
It wasn’t long before I turned my attention to bike tricks and the elusive wheelie. How many pages are there in the bible? That’s how many hours I spent worshipping the art of wheel lifting. Thirty years later and I am still on bended knee, praying for a little lift. The trouble with all things arty, like drawing, is that there is no middle ground – you either can or you can’t. People, the wheelie gene is not in my blood.
But in my dreams… I’m poetry on pumped rubber. I have the wheelie dream at least once a month. Honest, I do. It always begins with me riding my bike and wondering if this is the moment that the curse will be lifted. I pull back and yes! I’m up for the duration of the sleep cycle. In the afterglow of the dream I lie in bed and bask. Sometimes I believe it’s true.
Originally published in TREAD Issue 2, 2009 – All rights reserved