There’s an item which has remained stubbornly unticked on my life ‘todo’ list for a long time – learning to (properly) wheelie on a bicycle. I’m not talking about popping the front wheel up into the air for a second. i mean a proper stable wheelie-as-long-as-you-want affair. Given that I can now ride a unicycle, it seems somewhat inconsistent that I still can’t do this.
One thing which unicycling has taught me is that stubborn persistence reaps rewards. If you actually put in the hours of practise, and refuse to give up then eventually … eventually .. things will start to click into place. For me, wheelies definitely fall into this category. I think I’ve done four hour-long practise sessions now. Each time, little bits start to come together and make more sense. On the first time, I realised that there was a transition into a more stable balance point when you get the wheel high enough. On the second time, I realised that raising the front wheel purely via pedal power (and no pulling on the bars) stopped me falling to the side. On the third time, I realised that you’ve only got a half-pedal stroke in which to apply enough torque to get the wheel up and so you need a big burst rather than a steady push. And finally tonight, I realised that dragging your brakes and letting them go just at the start of the pedal downstroke means you spend the whole downstroke at maximum torque as opposed to ramping up to max torque – just like what jumbo jets do when they spin up their engines with the brakes on before takeoff.
I can occasionally manage to wheelie for maybe 10 metres, so I’ve not totally nailed it yet but I’m getting there. Just need more practise.
– Read this article. It speaks the truth. You don’t need to precompress suspension, or do any big pre-transfer of your weight.
– Lift the front wheel by pedal power, not by arm power. You need a sudden burst of pedal power. Pedal against your brakes so that you’re really having to force the pedals round, then release the brakes for a sudden surge. If you find yourself falling to one side immediately, make sure you’re not doing arm-pulling.
– I used middle chain ring and either lowest or second-lowest gears. Anything higher and you don’t have the leverage to rotate the bike.
– Have your seat at a normal height to allow you to pedal normally. Sit toward the back of the seat, but you don’t need to be hanging off the back (unlike doing a manual, where you don’t have pedal-power to rotate the bike).
– Do this a million time until you start to get familiar with how the bike balances with the wheel up in the air.