wheelie

Learning to wheelie on a bicycle - the hard way

Read in Dutch = Lees in het Nederlands.

Warning and conditions: read the small print first!

Table of contents

Excuse my English, I am not a native speaker. Nonetheless, I hope you find this text readable and useful.

The greatest prayer is patience.

What is a wheelie?

A wheelie is riding on just one wheel, normally the rear wheel. That's the "common wheelie": the rider is seated and continues pedalling. It's a true balancing act.

There are variants. The "coaster wheelie" is also done seated, but instead of pedalling you are just rolling, preferably downhill. A "manual" is also not pedal driven, but you are not seated (feet are on the pedals, hands on the handlebars). A pedaldriven wheelie can also be done not seated (called "catwalk"), but is harder than the common, seated wheelie. To be complete I'll also mention "nose wheelies", done rolling on the front wheel, and several variants of "reverse wheelies" (which I will not describe).

The common wheelie is easiest to learn for most people. This text is about that common, seated wheelie. It's rather difficult. Lots of people never get it dialed. For me personally it wasn't a breeze either. But after prolonged trying I nailed it in the end (and I'm still improving). That personal experience is the main source for this text.

Practicing

Keep practicing!

Learning to ride a wheelie on a bicycle, how do you do that? Most important: You got to practice! And keep practicing. It's not a skill most aspirants acquire quickly. It's normal for it to take weeks, months or even years (like in my case) before you become any good at it. Just start trying and keep trying. Don't quit. Be stuborn and persevere. That's the most important lesson.

Most people start learning the wheelie and give up after a while. They think there's no use in keep trying. Often they fear they are too old. Or lack sufficient talent. Maybe they are missing a "wheelie gene"? Or their bike is not suitable. But I rather think they just quit too soon.

Every healthy person can learn the wheelie, that's what I think. Some faster than others, youths maybe a little faster on average. I only started when I was in my mid fourties. And I am not particularly talented, not above average anyway. Moreover: my left vestibular is not working (vestibular is the main nerve for balancing). Still, I managed to learn the wheelie, simply by perseverance.

Practicing is trying to do what you can not do (yet) for as long as it takes, until you finally succeed once. Then keep on trying so that you succeed again a couple of times. And then keep repeating so you'll get better and better at it. Without practice you'll get nowhere. Everybody who learned to play a musical instrument for instance, already knows this. In that respect a bicycle is not fundamentally different from, say a violin or a guitar.

Possibly you're not into practicing a lot. Maybe you don't feel like tilting all the way and hurting your back. Possibly getting ridiculed for it. No problem. You don't need to learn to ride a wheelie. It's mainly "just" a lot of fun. If you think it's probably not worth your trouble, just don't bother. Or maybe the other way to acquire this skill is more to your liking?

Staying motivated

I am convinced learning the wheelie is for the most part (90% or more) just sticking with it. So staying motivated is the most important issue here.

Intrinsic motivation

Chances are learning the wheelie will be a long term project. So you should take care you can carry on practicing for quite some time. You will probably not succeed unless you have some fun along the way. Wheelies kind of deserve onviewers, but unless you are enjoying yourself just as much in case nobody is watching, it is doubtful whether you can stay motivated for as long as needed. So try not to get frustrated if you don't succeed at first, and don't forget to have fun, even if a couple of meters is the best you can do.

Personally I am fond of all different kinds of bicycle balancing. Even simply riding with two hands off the handlebars, I find already entertaining. A good trackstand sometimes feels like pure meditation to me. It's the combination of concentration and relaxation that got me hooked, I think. And the fact that bodyparts appear to respond autonomously without the brain intervening (This is kind of what it feels like anyway. It's probably not what's really happening.)

Combining

Most likely times will come when you are not making a lot of progress. It will naturally be harder to continue practicing then. A remedy for that is to make practicing part of your regular bikerides. So if on your usual mountainbike ride there's a road that's suitable, you can promise yourself that every time you pass there, you will attempt a wheelie. Because it is dangerous to wheelie when clicked in, you can only do this when you ride with platform pedals a lot. That's why, if you could bear to part with your clipless(cleat) pedals, your chances of succes with the wheelie would increase considerably. Also practicing will be more approachable with a (stepless) adjustable seatpost (see below).

Another good idea is to learn the wheelie alongside other bike skills. If you are (temporarily) stuck with one, hopefully you can still make some progress with another, and thus keep faith in your abilities. You could try bunny- or other hops, (nose)turns and manuals for instance. On an ascending road, wheelie one way and manual in the other direction, and in between turn by bouncing (two wheels) and/or pivotting (one wheel). Even if you never learn the wheelie, at least your time will not be fully wasted.

Ways of thinking

Go your own way

You will not necessarily get a lot of support from fellow mountainbikers. The problem is, most mountainbikers cannot wheelie themselves, and do not expect they ever will. Usually they tried and given up at some point. It's only natural that they do not expect you to succeed where they failed. Typically they will tell you that you should have learned the wheelie when you were younger (like you own a time machine). Or they will tell you some disheartening story about someone they know, or heard about, or saw on youtube who is really, really good at it. (They never seem to wonder how that person learned the wheelie though, and how much time and effort he or she possibly put into it.) There's no harmful intent here: people just say what spontanuously comes to their minds. Or they are honoustly trying to help you, because they think you are wasting your time. But after a while it can put you down and become demotivating. If that's the case, just let it slide, and go your own way.

Don't be embarassed

Once you've got a pretty good wheelie to show for, then onviewers will usually deem that rather cool. (By the way, some people will be annoyed instead, probably because they think everybody should act "normal" and not draw attention to themselves.) But as long as you suck at it, then people will usually not think you are brave, but pathetic. But note: only adults. Children/youths are treated entirely different.

If a child tries something it is not very good at, then people are automatically sympathetic. They will immediatly start complimenting and encouraging (as they should). But not adults. Peculiar, I think. And wrong. Should adults not learn? Should they limit themselves to what they are already good at? No indeed!

If you live in densely populated area, people will see you and that can be awkward. But you should overcome your embarassement. Are there any real disadvantages if they judge you unfavourably? Do they care what you think about their lives? Most likely not. So don't be embarassed and just do your thing.

Believe in yourself

If you think you won't succeed, then you are usually right... Dumbo's magic feather is certainly applicable to the wheelie too. So think you "can do" instead. If not today, then in a while, as long as you continue practicing.

Threatening your success will primarily be those nagging doubts whether you have got what it takes to master the wheelie. Especially men that consider themselves old, are bothered by this. But not the years count, but the doubts they feed do.

In case a maximum age for learning the wheelie even exists, it is much higher than most people think anyway. By all means, just try. And if it turns out to be hard, then consider it is so for most youths too.

Focus on your personal improvement

Everything you strive for in life, there's usually someone a lot better at it than you will ever be. So why even bother? Well, should only the most able have all the fun? Comparing yourself to others can be pretty demotivating, especially if they are in a whole different ballpark. So don't. Rather, compare yourself to... yourself. Focus on your own, personal improvement. Be happy with each small step ahead. With the wheelie, celebrate every extra pedalstroke you can make as a big victory. That way you will stay motivated. It's quite possible that in the end you will even make a lot more progress than you deem possible right now. (This is also how a lot of top athletes think, by the way.)

Aim high

It is often easier to motivate yourself for a very ambitious goal than a "more realistic" one. That's because easy achievable goals are often just not inspiring enough to attain your attention. A hard to achieve goal on the other hand, offers a more attractive prospect, and that's why you are more likely to go the extra mile if needed. That's why "unrealistic" goals are often achieved earlier than "realistic" ones. So don't reject your dreams but cherish them.

Defy despair

If you aim high, some despair is to be expected. Remember, your chances of success will be determined by your attitude during those hard times just as well as when your hopes are up. So don't quit immediately when you meet misfortune, but persevere. If you can carry through during moments of doubt, than with hindsight a breakthrough was often imminent during such moments. A litte despair can be refreshing, as a crises often breeds new ideas.

Safety

The biggest danger is falling backward. Safety first! Moreover: by mitigating risks, you will be more relaxed, and you will make progress faster.

Small print

But let me be frank. Wheelying will always be inherently dangerous, no matter what precautions. If you are going to have a go anyway, then you risk damage and/or serious injury. It is up to you to decide if that's a risk you are willing to take, and bear the consequences of your choice. I can not do that for you. Oh, by the way, I am no expert at all and do not guarantee my writings are correct. You would be crazy to follow my advice blindly. Anyway, I disclaim all liability, to the maximum extend permitted by law. But only a lawyer could get the ridiculous idea in his/her head to hold me liable for anything just because I wrote something on the internet. That would be totally preposterous off course.

Protection

Always wear your helmet. Don't attempt to ride a wheelie with clipless pedals. With flats you can more easily depart from the bike to prevent a nasty crash. A backpack with water pack shields your back. Also, elbow guards really help when falling on your back. Nobody likes to wear elbow guards all the time, but in the beginning, or following a crash smashing your confidence, it is a viable option (it was for me). In the beginning, practice on grass.

Tip: for extra protection, put a piece of foam in your backpack. You'll find this in matrasses for example.

foam

Preventing a crash

If a fall on your back is impending, there's two things you can do: use the rear brake ("the emergence brake") of slide off the back of the bike ("the emergency exit"). It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with both before you seriously start trying to wheelie. Best to do this on on grass.

Emergency brake

If a fall backwards is in progress then you can use the rear brake to tilt the bike forward again, even if you feel like you passed the point of no return already a while ago. Always keep your index finger on the rear brake handle. Make sure braking becomes a reflex (i.e. an automatic response). In the beginning your braking will be a pure startle response. But after a while you will brake with more and more self-control. Brake just enough to prevent tilting backward, but not too much, because then your front wheel will immediately hit the ground, and that would be the end of your wheelie.

Test your rear brake before a wheelie. I always check beforehand if the rear wheel blocks easily (it will then skid on the ground). In case of the slightest doubt, do not do a wheelie (not even being very careful / just a modest front wheel lift), but make sure first the rear brake is absolutely 100% in working order. The only times when I fell on my back real hard was when there were problems with the rear brake, like contaminated or not well bedded brakepads.

Emergency exit

If despite braking the bike inevitably keeps tilting the wrong way, then just try to slide off the sadle backwards. With a little luck you'll land on your two feet behind the bike, the front wheel lifted, your hands holding the handlebars. Once you've practiced this a couple of times, you won't be worrying so much about crashing, and you can go searching for the balance point more boldly, needed to succesfully ride a wheelie.

If your sadle is really low, then you may not even have to slide off. Just put one or two feet on the ground and it may already be enough to stop the bike tilting further.

Location

At first practice on grass: you will fall more gently. But grass doesn't allow for a smooth ride, so switch to asphalt once you are sufficiently confident. Most prefer a slightly ascending road. Find out what inclination you are most comfortable with (this can change with time). Once you get the hang of it, start practicing on horizontal en descending roads too. This will improve your overall skill level.

In the beginning you may prefer to practice without onviewers, because you probably don't like like to make a fool of yourself. In my experience, attendence can work both ways. It can make you nervous and perform much worse. Or it can motivate you to show the best you've got. By the way, you may occasionally receive compliments and encouragement from bypassers. You should cherish those. Unfortunately you should expect at least the same amount of derogatory remarks, mostly people trying to be funny. But if needed overcome your diffidence as soon as possible, because the sooner you just don't care, the more you can practice, and the more you practice, the more progress you will make.

Wind

Crosswinds are very obstructive when trying to wheelie. This is because there is only one point of the bike touching the ground, making it behave like a weather vane. If you are not an expert, it is pretty difficult to pull off a long wheelie with wind force 3 (Beaufort). From 4 on it is just not fun anymore. But even 2 is already noticably more difficult than 3. Often you may not even be aware it is the wind that is causing you trouble. When I check the weather forecast, I always pay attention to the wind forecasts too. Those days when there is hardly any wind are great for wheelying, and I always try to make the most of those. If there is considerable wind however, find a quiet spot between two hills. Or a square where you have choice of riding direction. Backwind generally will not bother you. Some headwind can even be helpfull because of the lift it gets you: an air bed of some sorts where the bike can lean on. By the way, even on windy days there will always be quiet moments, so you never need to stay at home and not practice at all. And once you become more skillful, wind may provide you with the needed extra challenge.

Bicycle

If you don't succeed in wheelying, don't blame the bike. It's more likely you yourself are to blame: you probably just need more practice. And if that's the case, then wouldn't it be very unfortunate if you stopped practicing for the wrong reason?

Most likely: the bike that suits you best for wheelying is the bike you use for wheelying the most. Blatantly obvious, but still worth mentioning. Because habituation is such a major factor, it is difficult to judge the suitability of a bike for wheelying. Therefore, allow a new bike or parts some time getting used to.

Also, a bike that is theoretically better suited for wheelying, need not necessarily suit you better. For example, I tried a dirtbike for while. Because of the short chainstay it tilted very easy. But I was also hoping for a little more stability because of the lower center of gravity. But it just didn't work out as I had expected.

Mountainbike

Your average mountainbike will do. Off course you can wheelie on a road bike like Peter Sagan. And on every high school there will be boys who wheelie comfortably on city bikes, sometimes with just coaster brakes (sic! not recommended). But these are less obvious choices.

Suspension

Rear suspension doesn't help, because it brings an unpredictable element to the bike. Front suspension is useful: it helps lifting the front wheel. And it makes falling back to the front more comfortable (it can be a strain on your wrists if you practice a lot). If you have a rigid fork, if needed let some air out of your tube until it feels properly "bouncy".

Geometry

Theoretically a smaller bike is better suited. This goes for frame size, wheel size, chainstay length and stem length. Everything that gives you a lower center of gravity, and/or makes it easier to move it to the back. But obviously your knees shouldn't be touching the handlebars either. Also, despite the theoretical advantages, a smaller bike may nevertheless not suit you better anyway. (Personally I do wheelie best on a bike that is at least one size too small for my length).

Seat

Seat height is the most important thing you should pay attention too. There is definately a point where it is most easy to balance the bike. If you are off more than a centimeter, you may already need to work noticably harder to keep the balance (However: you can possibly mitigate this by sitting more to the back or the front of the seat.) Once you are pretty adapt, you can clearly feel the optimum seat height. But as long as you can't ride a wheelie at all, obviously you won't feel a thing. If that's the case then start out with the seat just below the handlebars, and keep experimenting from there on.

Seat height is a factor for multiple issues. A lower seat gives you a lower center of gravity, thus more stability. Also, it allows you to stick your knees further out sideways, giving you better lateral balance too. On the other hand, if your seat is too low, then your legs will be in a tight spot, and your movements impeded. Also, with a lower seat your center of gravity is more to the front (because the seatpost points backward), making it harder to initially tilt the bike backward and then keep it there. So your optimum height will always be a compromise.

The best seat height also depends on the gradient of the road. Descending: extra low. Ascending: a little less low. A stepless adjustable seatpost (a.k.a. "dropper") will come in handy: you can change the height without leaving the bike.

An example. My length is 180 cm. My seat height is normally 74 cm (from heart of the bottom bracket to top of the seat). For riding a wheelie I drop the seat between 7.5 cm to 10 cm.

Sliding the seat on the rails further to the back will also make it easier to tilt the bike. You can also position yourself as far back on the seat as possible. This may take some time getting used to (it feels like your sitting bones may slip of the end of the seat anytime), but then it can be quite beneficial. It allows you to lower your seat even further, improving your stability.

Last, one other thing you can do is point the tip of seat downwards, so that it will be more comfortable if the bike is in wheelie position. (But this is no big deal, really.)

Rear hub

If the conditions are favourable then you can ride an uneventful wheelie with evenly pace. In that case the quality of your rear hub doesn't matter much. But if you need to make lots of corrections then you will notice the difference. You will occassionally hold, by temporarily refraining from pedalling. Then if you start pedalling again, it will be obstructive if the power transmission to your rear wheel is delayed. Worse: it will be unpredicatible how long the delay lasts each time, making your corrections less acccurate. Rear hubs with more points of engagement ("clicks" per round) are better. Quality hubs have 40 and that's sufficient. Trial hubs even have 80 or more: I find they are noticibly (slightly) better for wheelying. Cheap hubs may have only 16 points, which is a drag, really.

Gear ratio

What gears are most suitabe for wheelying? More speed gets you more (lateral) stability, so high gears help in that respect. But high gears make the bike less responsive. And make it harder to tilt the bike too. So look for a compromise: trial gears (or thereabouts). The bike moves 2.5 meters in one full pedalstroke. Your speed will be inbetween walking and normal cycling pace. The required gear ratio also depends on the wheel size. Examples are 22:18 and 32:16 for 26 inch wheels. More than one (front) chainring allows you to finetune more. If you are more experienced, then one front chainring is all you need. But as long as you are still learning you can easily get stuck on a favourite (low) gear. Having more options may tempt you to try a higher gear sooner.

On a steeper ascent you may prefer a lower gear than your preferred gear for flat wheelies.

Getting started, if you are having trouble tilting the bike, use a lower gear. Also, a lower gear may make you feel more secure. Nothing wrong with that. But for longer, more stable wheelies, eventually you will need a higher gear. Don't postpone it too long.

One way to check whether your gears are suitable for riding a wheelie: try riding (on two wheels) with both hands off the handlebars (and the seat at wheelie height too). If the bike wavers too much, a wheelie is probably out of the question too.

Rear brake

Your rear brake should be in perfect working order. In case of the slightest doubt: don't even think about riding a wheelie, it's dangerous! With the rear brake you can tilt the bike back to the front. You should apply just enough braking force, but no more, so you can continue your wheelie. The required braking force is usually very small. It takes some practice to learn to "feather" the brake. And your brakes must be suitable too. Hydraulic disk brakes are the best. Brake with one finger (the index finger) and mount your brake levers at a fitting distance from the grips. So most of the time you only need moderate braking force. But if needed your brakes must be able to really "bite" too. This can save you when you loose control and you are tilting to the back too fast.

Myself I use Shimano brakes. For wheelying I find Deore, SLX and XT equally suitable. Feedback via the brake levers is often mentioned as an asset of high end brakes, but personally I don't buy this: the feedback deserving your attention is primarily the feedback the entire bike gives you anyway. Expensive brake levers primarily feel better in the showroom or workplace. On the bike I hardly notice the difference.

Pedals

Don't ride a wheelie with clipless pedals. It's dangerous!

Riding technique

To ride a wheelie, the first step is to tilt the bike backward, to make it roll on the rear wheel only. From there on, find a balance point by pedalling, braking and posture, and try to maintain it for as long as you can.

Tilting

Ride slowly, a little faster than walking speed. Then tilt the bike backward by a combination of three movements.

Suspension or front tire rebound

First, apply pressure to the front by bending your arms (elbows outward), bringing your chest closer to the handlebars. The front suspension is pressed in, called "preload". Thereafter the suspension naturally bounces back: "rebound".

If you run a rigid fork, then use your front tire. A fat tire with low pressure works best.

Shoulders to the back

At the time of bouncing back, move your shoulders to the back until your arms are (almost) fully stretched. Hold on to the handlebars and take them with you as the bike tilts and the front wheel rises. Don't jerk on the handlebars, but be as loose as you can.

Okay? Please take notice: some people are inclined to try exactly the opposite. They start with arms stretched en pull the handlebars towards them, ending up with their arms bend, and the shoulders not enough to the back. This does not work, because eventhough the front wheel is lifted, the body posture they end up with, is unsuitable for continuing the wheelie.

Perhaps it is better to forget about pulling the front wheel up via the handlebars entirely. Think about it like this. The front wheel rises because the bike tilts. The bike tilts because the center of gravity is moved to the back. (And because of a firm pedalstroke, check below.) You just "accidentally" happen to hold the handlebars while this is happening. This view may not be 100% correct, but may help you to properly accentuate your movements.

A firm pedalstroke

At the same time when you are moving your shoulders to the back, do a firm pedalstoke with your strong foot (a.k.a. "chocolate foot"). (Sometimes this is called a "pedalkick", but it is not quite the same as the pedalkick used in trials). Start pushing harder when your strong foot is at 1 o'clock. (In case your left foot is your strong foot, maybe you call this 11 o'clock, like Hans Rey does. The left foot then turns counter clockwise, seen from the non-drive side, but I fear I may have lost you by now. Anyway, left or right foot: start pedalling just after the pedal past the highest point, on its way down again. This allows you to push harder.)

If your initial speed is low and your gear small, then the pedalstroke by itself is enough to tilt the bike. Then you don't need to use suspension rebound. In that case you don't need to lean forward that much. But do always move your shoulders to the back until your arms are (almost) fully stretched, because otherwise your posture will not be suitable for continuing the wheelie.

Sometimes people experience difficulties with this first step. It doesn't require a lot of strength. Try a lower initial speed and smaller gear if needed. Or a bike with a shorter chainstay (like a dirtbike). Also, timing is important. Practice and your timing will improve.

Balancing

Rolling on just the rear wheel, stay there by pedalling, breaking and body posture. Riding a long wheelie is even more difficult than it looks.

To a large extend this is probably because for effective balancing you need to be relaxed, which is rather difficult considering your continued impeding fall backward. For a wheelie will only succeed when you are constantly in between either falling forward or backward. This balance point is called the "sweet spot", but in the beginning it doesn't feel sweet at all. It takes time before the feeling you are doing something perilous wears of to some extend. Only then can you start to learn to respond in a self-controlled manner. Learn to trust your rear brake, and you are halfway there learning the wheelie.

Another problem is the fact you need to pay attention to many things at once: don't fall backward or forward; don't fall to the side; control your pace. And everything effects everything else, and your margin for error is small. But nobody said wheelying was easy, right? Just practice and you'll get there.

Besides, even once you've become proficient, you will notice that when you are not relaxed, your ability to wheelie may be disappointing. If you've had a stressful day, you need to leave all that behind. Maybe ride a nice trail first, or whatever gets you in the right mood. What helps me too, when I notice I am tense and rigid, is to cycle with both hands off the handlebars at low speed, the seat at wheelie height.

Theory

Actually, you don't need to know anything about the physics of wheelies. You only need to know what you've got to do. And people who can wheelie, often can not even express very well in words how they do it. Let alone they learned how to do it by reading about it ;) Their body just "knows" (feels) what to do, and trying = learning. But if you are like me, and you get stuck someplace, maybe you will start thinking about the theory, and then perhaps these notes may come in handy.

Okay, let's have some theory then (but not too much I hope). The rear hub is the "pivot point". The "center of gravity" is an imaginary, statistical entity, that denotes the point in space that holds the average of the weight of the bicycle + rider. There is balance when the center of gravity is exactly above the pivot point. But only when riding at constant speed. When accelerating, the balance point (if you wanna call that "balance") is more to the front. When slowing down, more to the back. (When you are in a car that speeds up then your back is pressed against the seat. When the driver brakes on the other hand, you move forward. This is because of the same principles.) One other way to wrap your head around this is this: if you start pedalling faster then underneath you, your rear wheel tries to overtake you, as it were. You and the bike will then tilt backward. So to maintain balance while accelerating, the bike and rider must be in a position that would tilt the bike forward if there was no acceleration.

For balance the following principles hold. A center of gravity that is above (as opposed to below) the pivot point is inherently instable. So you must continualy act to keep your balance. You do this by moving the center of gravity in the opposing direction you are falling, by changing your posture or by accelerating/decelerating.

The closer the center of gravity is to the pivot point, the smaller the instability. This is why you should ride a wheelie with long arms. Instead of long arms you could also tilt the bike a little further, to move the center of gravity far enough the the back that way. But it would then be higher, which would be more unstable. It is also one of the reasons why you should lower your seat.

One other principle: the larger the speed, the smaller the lateral (= to the side) instability. You experience this principle too when riding on two wheels. It is the reason most people can ride without the training wheels just fine, but can not do a trackstand. You also notice this when riding with the hands off the handlebars: the faster you go, the less the bike wavers. It's the same for the wheelie (but only to the side). See also the consideration picking gears.

Lateral (to the side)

You will often see people riding wheelies with bendy legs, feet on the outside of the pedals, maybe even folded right over the edge. They do this because they want to stick their knees out for optimal balance. Like a rope-dancer using a stick. Riding a wheelie, the lateral stability mostly comes from the legs. Continually change how far they stick out while you are pedalling. To do this, your legs shouldn't be rigid, but as loose as possible. As if your legs were made of rubber. You can practice by cycling with no hands on the handlebars (on two wheels). Don't use you arms for balance, but only your legs.

You can turn the handlebars too. Steer in the direction you want to fall. But this is more like an emergency measure you should normally not take. And I do find it useful with things like sidewind too. Same for hanging your upper body askew.

Front and rear

To prevent falling forward/backward lean more backward/forward. But that doesn't give you a whole lot of play. You can do much more by pedalling and braking. (In that respect a manual is very different: the hips are used primarily.)

If you are falling towards the front, then pedal a little faster. But please note: you must to this to such an extend that in a short while you will tend to fall to the back instead. If you don't do this, then you will keep accelerating until your legs can no longer keep up, and that will be the end of your wheelie. If you are falling to the back, stop/slow down pedalling and/or brake. Usually just feathering the brake is enough. If you brake too much, your front wheel will immediately slam to the ground, ending your wheelie.

By the way, you can ride the wheelie with dragging brake, varying the braking force all the time. A dragging brake eases your wheelie, somewhat comparable to wheelying against a slope. Chances are however, you may be inclined to brake too much. At first my wheelies always stalled because of this. Also, it is more difficult to keep the legs loose when pedalling against the brake force. Myself I only had success with dragging brake after a lot of practice. Now I use it almost always.

Controlling pace

If you are not falling to the side/front/back, then your wheelie is still not necessarily durable. You need to control your pace too. All beginners experience difficulties with acceleration. I wrestled with stalling for a long time too. How do you control the pace of your wheelie? This is a theme many tutorials leave out, but one that is indispensable for long wheelies.

Remember the basic principle: pedaling faster, increasing your speed (acceleration), makes the bike tilt backward. Braking (slowing down) makes the bike tilt forward.

Going faster all the time?

Most beginners accelerate unwanted because they don't move their center of gravity far enough to the back, usually because they are afraid that will make them fall on their backs. They prefer to fight falling back to the front by increasing speed all the time. But this only works for as long as their legs can keep up, which is definately finite. So remember: if you are going faster all the time, you are not leaning far enough to the back.

Pace paradox

Imagine what the above means if you do want to increase your speed. If you are exactly at the balance point, then increasing your speed would perturb that: you would tilt to the back. To make the desired acceleration possible, make the bike tilt forward a little first. You do this by holding back, or even braking. See the paradox? Go a little slower first, to enable speeding up later!

Conversely, if you want to slow down by braking, tilt the bike backward first. You do this by stretching your arms, or pedal a bit more to get there. By the way, this explains why manual riders going downhil sometimes stick up their front wheel rather high. They do this to maintain balance while they slow down.

Controling the pace of your wheelie isn't easy, but once you get the hang of it, you will love it.

Tips for longlasting wheelies

Obviously once you master the basic techniques involved, you want to ride really longlasting wheelies. Long is, let's say, more than 50 meter. Or much more... Here's a (boring) P.O.V. movie of me doing a give or take 500 meter wheelie, but plenty riders can go much further.

Relax

Very important: relax (but keep your concentratation). Try not to get more excited with every extra meter you manage to cover. Don't hold your breath, but breath calmly. Look (far) ahead. Some look at the horizon. Find out what works for you. Windless days are best to achieve the right mindset.

Cover distances

Even if you've mastered all the techniques and achieved the right mindset for riding long wheelies, then likely you will find your wheelies still remain finite, because you just get tired and then become sloppy. Just keep practicing and you will cover greater distances in the end.

Improve your technique

A gentle curve or mild slope shouldn't pose a problem. Every other skill you poses, like sharp turns, changing gradients, bumps and wind, will obviously help lengthening your wheelies.

Advanced

Cornering

Wheelying curves is pure magic, I think. For a gentle curve you don't need to do anything else than you are already doing for riding a straight line: just look in de direction you want to go, an the bike follows "automagically". You can ride a long curve by mentally cutting it into smaller pieces, each time shifting your focus a little. But that doesn't work for sharp turns where space is short. There you must lean sideways, in the direction you are turning. Most difficult is leaving the curve and continue the wheelie from thereon. Test your skills by trying to ride an 8, for instance on a court. Me, until now I could only manage a 6 or an S.

Gradients

To wheelie downhill, lean back further. And brake more. Try to spot changing gradients early and proactively engage them. This is also very satisfying if you can pull it off.

Bumps

Actually I'm not very good at this yet, so I won't write anything about it.

Shifting gears

Actually, shifting gear while wheelying is nothing special at all. But as long as you are not pretty proficient, you might get easily distracted, and even just thinking about touching the lever may already be the end your wheelie. But once you've grown more accustomed and feel perfectly at ease while wheelying, you will see there's not much to it. Only when shifting to a smaller gear, you should be a little careful not to tilt the bike backward. (This is the case for shifting to another sprocket on the rear wheel. I have no experience with shifting to another chainring on the crank. Possibly this could be harder, I don't know.)

The use of shifting gear while wheelying is that it allows you to spin the pedals at a comfortable pace (so just like ordinary riding). It does not help you as such to control your riding pace. Shifting gear is useful in case the inclination varies. Or for example if you are riding in a group that changes speed.

Links

Movies

Movies are very helpful when you are learning the wheelie. First look how it's done, and then try yourself. Film your effort and compare... And then try again!

Other online tutorials

Other links

About this webpage

Author

Harmen van der Wal

E-mail

Questions or comments?

URL

http://harmen.vanderwal.eu/wheelie/en/

Date

Latest version November 6th, 2017.
First published in Dutch on November 24, 2015.
First English translation published on December 31, 2016.

Version

1.9.7