Wheelies like a jet taking off

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.

Top tips:
– 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.

Accidental epic

I accidentally did a 10.3 mile ride today. I really just meant to go out and practise balancing, but I found a new path down through Granton. Once I got to Granton, I thought I may as well ride along the shore rather than go back up any hills. I rode through the industrial estate, crossing sideroads by riding off kerbs and hopping up the other side. That lead eventually to the Esplanade. It’s a good place to ride, so I practised mini-idles, hops, and rolling hops. I carried right along until I got to Cramond. The choice was then between riding up the dull and steep hill, or continuing along the River Almond on offroad trails. Easy choice! Lots of mud and puddles and bumps to keep things interesting. This took me to Cramond Brig. Now I had another choice. Rather than head home through Drylaw, I phoned to arrange to meet family for lunch in South Queensferry. So, i continued my ride, out through Dalmeny and down the steep hill to the Hawes Inn for lunch and a pint. A grand total of 10.3 miles!

Sun + Mud

Woo, the sun is out! But the ground is soaking from days of heavy rain.

I rode out to Ocean Terminal, riding through many many big muddy puddles by the side of the Water of Leith. My focus for the day was transitioning from riding to hopping and back – I can now do it almost without thinking. I messed about in the quiet carparks on the outskirts of Ocean Terminal – riding off kerbs, hopping up/down, standstills and 180 hop jumps.

I received two separate rounds of spontaneous applause from people walking nearby. And I had two seperate long chats with random folk – people are friendly and it’s easy to chat about uni for a while .. and usually I appreciate the resting time as well as the banter. I met a young guy who said he got a uni a few months ago – cool! And I overtook a jogger for the first time (heh).

I’ve established that the best way to mount the muni is to mount into a hop, get settled, then ride away. It works on all sorts of ground, and gives me a chance to reposition my feet properly on the spiky pedals before moving off. My balance-hops are getting smaller, more controlled and require less energy. I feel that I can correct balance by pushing outwards on the pedals a bit, rather than having to do a full hop. I managed some 180-hops off kerbs today, and tried hard to stay on the uni when things got wobbly by hopping rather than stepping off. I also nearly made it up the steep, steep hill after the railway bridge – I got all the way up to the sharp right-hander and bottled it.

Really enjoyable day, and lovely to see the sun out!