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How to Wheelie

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In vehicle acrobatics, a wheelie is a vehicle maneuver in which the front wheel or wheels come off the ground due to extreme torque being applied to the rear wheel or wheels. Wheelies are usually associated with bicycles and motorcycles, but can be done with other vehicles, such as cars.

Bicycle wheelie[edit | edit source]

To perform a wheelie on a bicycle, put the bike in low gear and pedal forward while pulling hard on the handlebars. This can most easily be done from a slow roll. While the front wheel is in the air, the wheelie can be controlled by maintaining an upright posture and leaning to control balance - do not hunch over the handlebars. For added control, pulling the rear brake can prevent falling backward.

A wheelie can be maintained indefinitely by finding a balance between amount of rear brake and pedaling force. It is possible to hold the rear brake on constantly with very small adjustments in pressure relating to how hard the rider is pedaling. This gives a more stable feeling as the balance point is more consistent. To return the front wheel to the ground, lean forward and gently squeeze the back brake if needed. Ensure the wheel is straight upon return to the ground, or control of the bike may be lost.

Once the wheelie has been conquered the manual wheelie can be attempted. This is the same as a wheelie but without pedaling. The bike is balanced by the rider's weight and sometimes use of the rear brake.

Distance wheelies[edit | edit source]

To travel farther on the back wheel of a bicycle, the rider must put the bike into a higher gear with the body weight leaned forward (over the handle bars if needed) and the stronger foot highest in the pedaling cycle. The rider kicks hard with the stronger foot, throw all their weight backwards and lands their backside on the seat, then straighten out the arms and put weight and tension on them. The rider keeps pedaling, and when the wheelie feels too high up, feathers the back brake slightly.

To lower the "balance point", put the saddle higher up, which will mean that the "maximum height" of the wheelie is brought down, and it will also be more comfortable to go for long distances on the back wheel. There is a skill to being able to stop on the back wheel, and then keep going more slowly, this can be done by striking a balance between the back brake and the pedaling.

Corners[edit | edit source]

It is possible to navigate corners while doing a wheelie and requires much the same inputs as cornering on two wheels. When approaching the turn it is best to look through the turn towards the exit as a bike goes where the rider looks.

Turning the bars in the direction the rider wants to go is the initial stage and only requires minimal movement, couple this with slightly shifting upper body weight (mainly head and shoulders) again in the direction of the turn and the bike should start to lean over and turn. This is not an easy maneuver because the bike now is very biased as to which side it wants to fall over on to. Concentration is needed to keeping the wheel off the ground and countering the sideways balance. Turning the bars opposite to the desired direction and shifting body weight to the outside will help keep the bike on a smooth path around the turn.

Safety[edit | edit source]

Leaning back too far (i.e. as a result of pedaling too hard) will cause the bike to rotate out from under the rider. Although most riders will instinctively hit the ground running, practice recovering from this event before attempting an actual wheelie. Balancing left to right can easily be controlled in the air by moving the knees and handlebars back and forth.

Injury can be avoided by keeping speeds down and/or learning to use the rear brake. However, higher speeds, counter-intuitively, are often necessary to master the wheelie as the effects of gyroscopic stabilization of the more quickly spinning wheels increase side to side control. For this reason, beginners attempting wheelies on bicycles should tune up their rear brakes and aim for an 12–18 km/h (8-12 mph) wheelie for maximum safety. Although a wheelie or manual can be easily achieved without the use of the back brake it is always recommended that the lever is covered. Never have the entire fist closed around the bars because if the balance point starts to become to far back there will not be enough time to grab the brake and at that point the rider may fall off backwards. A grip is needed on the bars so only one or at the most two fingers are required to use the back brake lever. The seat height will determine the outcome of going over the back, the higher the seat the harder it is to land on the feet.

Beginners should use a low seat height until comfortable with the balance point and back brake. It is harder to maintain speed with a low seat height so wheelies may be short but once comfortable raising the seat height will make the front wheel more eager to come up and make maintaining speed a lot easier. It will also make the balance point easier to fine tune as there is more weight above the back wheel to move back and forth.

Motorcycle wheelie[edit | edit source]

A motorcycle wheelie on a closed track.
Motorcycle popping a wheelie. Video.

A wheelie is also a common motorcycle trick. The principle is the same as the bicycle wheelie, but the throttle and rear-brakes are used to control the wheelie. On more powerful motorcycles (usually above 500 cc) the front wheel is lifted into the air by accelerating, but on smaller bikes the clutch may be used and/or "bouncing" the forks (using the rider's weight to compress the front suspension, so that the recoil will help lift the front wheel on accelerating).