Techniques are things we learn to become better mountain bikers, and tricks are things we learn just for fun. The wheelie fits somewhere in the middle, so it’s no wonder that everyone wants to learn to do them.
Let’s fire up the sensei music and do some learning.
Getting into a wheelie is a matter of accelerating quickly. Naturally, you’ll have a tendency to lean forwards while accelerating, but to wheelie you need to lock your arms and sit up straight.
Get into a low gear, go slow, and then try pedaling in quick bursts. You’ll probably do a little wheelie, but you don’t want to do little wheelies, you want to wheelie through the trails like a G. To do that, you need to reach a balance point over your rear wheel, which may be further back than you feel comfortable with. So, take note of the fact that hitting your rear brake will instantly bring your wheelie to an end. Try experimenting with this to boost your confidence and lose your fear of falling backwards. It also may be a good idea to leave one foot unclipped, or better yet, learn on platform pedals.
So your first task is to reach your balance point, which is really just a matter of practice and repetition. Your second task is to keep from falling over sideways. Just like riding your bike normally, you need to steer to stay up. During a wheelie, steering is done with your handlebars and your knees. Try to get a feel for this very early on, as it’s an essential part of doing a really long wheelie.
So let’s summarize. Start in a low gear that you can spin fast in. Your arms should be locked, and you should be sitting up straight. Accelerate forcefully and your front wheel will come up. Keep accelerating until you reach a balance point, and then sustain your spin. If you feel yourself falling backwards, tap your rear brake. If you feel yourself going forwards, accelerate. To lean or turn, use your handlebars and your knees.
A lot of riders have trouble getting their front wheel up, and some even say their bike is too heavy, but this is almost never the case. Usually, they’re just giving up too early. There are situations however, where your bike is the problem. For instance, single speed bikes may not be easy to wheelie at low speeds, since they’re locked into a higher gear. Even so, you can wheelie on any bike with enough practice.
Once you do learn to wheelie, you’ll be totally hooked. Whether it’s to add style to your riding, blast over roots, or to get your front wheel up before a drop, you’ll be glad you took the time to learn.