The humble wheelie. It’s the one stunt that’s guaranteed* to get you into the knickers of any passing female (or male, if you’d rather). Since the invention of the motorcycle, the ability to pull a wheelie has turned mere men into almost god-like figures amongst their two-wheeled peers. But I’ll let you into a secret; it’s not actually that difficult. So if you want to make your friends jealous and your lovers weak at the knees, follow these simple instructions and soon, you too could be enjoying the god-like status reserved for those amongst us who’ve perfected the art of the wheelie.
Not everybody uses the clutch to pop a wheelie, but most do. And unless you’ve got loads of throttle control, and/or an abundance of power, you’ll probably find that the old drop-the-clutch trick will help you get the front wheel off the ground. Getting the front wheel off the ground is really easy; but so is looping your bike and ending up on your botty. The trick is to get your wheel as far off the ground as possible, without going past the point of no return. Easier said than done.
So when you’re dropping the clutch, it’s best if you haven’t got a hand full of throttle. And you probably don’t want to be anywhere near the rev limiter, either. That’s a one way ticket to Flipsville, Tennessee.
In fact ‘dropping’ the clutch with any revs is going to take you to Flip City on most bikes, if you’re in a low enough gear, so be careful. Best practice is to keep a finger or two on the clutch at all times. You never know when you might need to abort.
A clutch is designed to have some slip, so use it; it’ll help you nail the perfect wheelie launch. The other thing that’ll help you nail the perfect launch is knowing where in the rev range your bike’s sweet-spot is. Too low down, you won’t have enough oomph, too high up, you’ll run out of revs. Try and make sure clutch droppage happens when your revs are roughly at your predetermined sweet-spot.
Really the perfect wheelie is all in the throttle, and your timing with it. Throttle control is the most vital part of not only hoisting, but maintaining the perfect wheelie. Some crazy cats will pull a wheelie using the throttle alone, without bothering the clutch. If you are wheeling off the throttle alone it’s even more important that you find your bikes optimum RPM.
But whether you are or not, once you’ve managed to ‘get it up’, the throttle tube will be the primary control you’re using to keep it there, so be gentle with it. Wild jerks of the throttle will result in, at best an ugly, uppy-downy wheelie, and at worst a written off bike and a trip to A&E.
A constant throttle wheelie is always a prettier wheelie, and always a safer one too.
The first wheelies you pull aren’t going to be 12 ‘o’ clock mingers, despite them maybe feeling like it. But when you start getting a bit braver and your wheelies start getting a bit more vertical, the back brake will come in handy for two reasons.
First of all, it’s another way to control the height of the wheelie. When you pull a mean wheelie, the back brake is the antithesis of the throttle. The throttle will get you up, the back brake will get you down. And using the two simultaneously is often the answer to perfect wheelies, every time.
But beware. A big numb size twelve stamping on the back brake when you’re hoisting a sweet mono will bring the front wheel crashing down faster than you can say ‘dented rims’. It’s also a great way to dent your rims.
Unfortunately sometimes an exuberant wheelie will call for some back brake stamppage, and pronto. Which takes me onto the second reason the back brake quite often comes in handy. If you think you’ve gone past the point of no return, you can sometimes bring a wheelie back into touch with a short, sharp jab of rear brake. Whilst you might save yourself looping your bike and smashing it to bits, nine times out of ten, you’ll loose the wheelie. And you’ll loose it in a fairly unceremonious way, crashing the front end down with an almighty smack. Still a dented wheelrim’s better than a written off bike.
Finding the vertical balance point is only half of it. Because for some reason, unknown to science, horizontal balance is much more difficult to achieve on one wheel than it is on two. The inexperienced wheelie-er will often find themselves veering one way or the other mid-mono.
To combat that you can just try and go faster, because that definitely helps. And it also helps to look at an object in the distance, and aim for it; as long as that object is directly in front of you.
When you get really good at wheelieing, this target fixation trick can actually help you steer your wheelies round corners. Because if you focus on something hard enough, you’ll usually end up riding towards it, wheelieing or not!
If you want to get good at wheelies, you’re going to need to do a lot of this. And I realise that’s not always easy to do. Trackday companies will usually kick off if they see you pull a wheelie and I couldn’t possibly condone doing it on her majesties highways, because she’d probably kick off too. So unless you’ve got your own runway, you’re going to struggle for wheelie practice on your road bike.
So if you’re serious about pulling wheelies, why not get an off-road bike. There are loads of places to ride off-road bikes these days, and I haven’t been to one where wheelies are banned.
Where ever you decide to practice, it’s best to try an nail your technique before you start showing off and going big. You’re not going to look like a Billy Big Balls when you’re lying on the floor and your bike’s cartwheeling away from you.
But mark my words; the day you pull the perfect wheelie, is the day you’ll be respected by all.