WHEELIES 101: How to ride a Wheelie.
by Dan Duncalf
Photos courtesy of Las
About the author...
There are lots of guys who can pull wheelies. There are fewer that can shift
while on one wheel. And even fewer that can ride them to over 100mph. Their are definitely
people better at wheelies than myself.
But I've been doing them for well over 10 years
on motorcycle, and as a kid I could ride around the block on my rear tire only. Haven't
been able to do that on a motorcycle however. The only motorcycle that I've looped has
been a YSR, and you just run behind it, and put it back down. I've never ever been
injured, or crashed doing a wheelie. Why am I such a wheelie nut. My grandfather gave me a
unicycle to ride when I was about 9. As soon as I could get around a few feet, my father
took it away worried I would injure myself. Now I ride on one wheel, at over 100mph.
The basics, or can I wheelie my bike?
If your bike doesn't have a side car, or a trailer, it can probably be
wheelied. I've shifted into 2nd on one wheel on YSR's.
I've wheelied dirt bikes, street bikes, and a couple of standards. I've seen Harleys,
Goldwings, Katanas, and 125's all pawing at the sky. Yes, your bike can wheelie. Wheelies
are made up of three parts. The launch, getting the front wheel off the ground. The
balancing portion, riding the wheelie as long as you safely can, clicking gears along the
way. This is the most difficult part of wheeling to master. And lastly, set down phase,
placing the front wheel back on the ground as safely as possible, trying to place as
little wear and tear as possible on your bike.
The launch isn't the most difficult part of doing a wheelie. But I'll
spend the most time on this section, because this is where there is the most variation.
The less power you have, the fewer your options are. I'm going to divide the launch into
three sections. Rolling it on, suspension help, and clutch
Rolling it on
This is probably the safest way, to launch a wheelie, but it doesn't work
on an EX-500, or many older 600's. Simply put, just gradually increase your throttle while
in first gear, until you are wide open. If your bike has enough power, your front wheel
will just come up. I've found this to work very easily on a Suzuki TL1000s, and a Yamaha
R1. Didn't work on my 93 900rr, sometimes works on my Kawaski ZX-11. Never works on my
YSR. If you have a 600 that you want to do this with, just lower the gearing. With the
race gearing I have on my GSXR600 this technique also works. With the stock gearing, no
way in hell. So exactly how do you roll it on. Go to about 1/3 of your tach range in 1st
gear, then in the amount of time it takes you to say one-thousand-one, have the throttle
Using Suspensions to help
Ok, so your bike won't roll it on, but you don't want to abuse your
clutch. I'm going to talk here about things you can do, that basically assist the roll-on
wheelie. These may take practice to work well, but understanding the concepts will apply
to any bike. If your bike doesn't do a roll on wheelie, find yourself a steep road, and
see if you can wheelie uphill. Is it easier? It should be. The reason why, is that your
center of gravity, has already been moved back, lightening your front end. Once you get
the wheel off the ground, it takes less power to get it higher.
Those first two inches are the hardest part.
Before you ride your bike next time, put both feet on the ground, and push as hard as you
can on the front end. Then let it come back up. Practice bouncing the front end up and
down. Push hard, and let it come back up. While riding your bike, you can get a similar behavior, by using the throttle. If you whack the throttle
open, the front end will come up. At its peak, if you shut the throttle down, engine
braking, in combination with the weight of your front end will cause it to go back down.
When it's at the bottom of its stroke, if you whack the throttle back open again, you can
use the expansion of your front springs, along with your acceleration, to help lift the
front wheel. In fact, it doesn't take much at all, to do this.
I'll use my GSXR with stock gearing as an
example. I would get going in first gear, so the tach was at about 8500 rpm. Then I would
shut the throttle down, then whack it back on. Tugging at the bars a little also helps.
This snapping of the throttle is a much quicker movement then rolling your throttle on.
Not as quick as you can do it, but I guess that the entire movement should take about 1/2
or less of a second. Basically, go from steady state, shut down, then full open. After
some practice you will learn how to time it with your suspension.
Using the clutch
So you still can't get the front wheel to come up? I actually find that
clutching it up, gives me the most predictable wheelies than any other method. Why? Its
much easier to do exactly the same thing over, and over. Basically get rolling in 1st gear
to an RPM of about 1/3 to 1/2 of your maximum hp. This is what worked well on my GSXR-600,
when it had stock gearing. I would go to about 5000 rpm in 1st gear. Pull in the clutch,
rev the engine a time or two, to time it so that the throttle would be wide open and the
clutch releasing as the tach swept 9-10k.
The next thing you know, your front wheel is way
up in the air, and your RPM's are at about 8,000 with the throttle full on. At this point,
I would have to roll off some, to find the balance point of the bike. As you learn to do
this on your own bike, start out conservatively on your clutch release point, and
gradually increase the RPM's each time you try it, until the wheel comes up so high you
have to roll off the throttle a tad. You may want to cover your rear brake while you are
learning this as well, in case you go too high. Standing up fast, will also help put the
front end back down if you over do it. Remember these things!
Ok, so now you have the front wheel up. How do you keep it up? Shift! It's
actually much easier then it seems. When you can ride a long ways in first gear without
being full-throttle, you are more than ready to shift. My favorite way to shift, is
without the clutch. If you haven't done clutchless shifts before, practice on two wheels
first. To do a clutchless shift, apply upward pressure to the shift lever, while you are
full on the gas, then just briefly snap the throttle, off an on again. This is the fastest
way to shift. When on one wheel, you have to get the front wheel really high, to the point
where you need to let off the gas from tipping over. At this point, shift! Balance and
practice are both important steps here. Practice those clutchless shifts.
Bringing it down.
So now your front wheel is going down. Either because you got scared and
let off the gas, or you just don't have the power to keep it up. Make sure that your front
wheel is pointing straight ahead, and keep the throttle open Wide! You want to set the
front wheel down as easy as possible. If you chop the throttle, your landing will be very
hard, so stay on the gas! Or if you need to come down, just briefly roll off the gas, then
get right back on it again, until the front wheel sets down. Expect a chirping noise, and sometimes at higher speeds a bit of a wobble, but
as long as the wheel is straight, it's not a big deal.
Where you place your body during where wheelie can have some interesting
effects. If you put all of your weight on your footpegs, and sorta stand up, I've found it
easiest to get really close to the balance point this way, but it's more difficult to
shift while in that position. My reasoning for why balancing is easier standing, is that
I've noticed you don't have to spend so much effort holding your body in place, which is
frequently done by your hands pulling back on the handlebars.
Another reason, could be that your legs are
better balance sensors than your butt. In any event, it's definitely worth a try. Hanging
off to the side, was something I really started doing without noticing and I was always
veering off to one side.
You might do this, so that you can see where you
are going. When your front end gets way up in the air, you can't see over it very well. So
you might have a tendency to lean over one side to get a glimpse around. What I found out,
is that you can steer this way. To keep yourself, in the center of your lane, just hang
off, the same as you would if you were riding with no hands.
Does this hurt my Bike?
When you are first learning you will probably do more damage to your bike
then during any other time. This is mainly because of
missed shifts, or rear brake stomping, or anything that slams your front end down. You may
bust a fork seal. You will probably wear out your steering stem bearings faster than
normal, and you will definitely need to tighten your steering head down more frequently.
You may also wear your rear tire slightly flat, as hard wheelie acceleration wears out the
centers more quickly than normal. You will stretch your chain out, if you use the clutch
method. Another detriment to the clutch method, aren't clutch wear, but clutch basket
wear. The sudden force of the clutch plates against the ears of the basket can notch the
basket. This will prevent you from pulling in the clutch, any time there is load on the
engine. Of course, all sorts of fasteners may come loose a little faster than normal, I've
noticed mirrors and other front end body fasteners in particular want to fall off. So
check out em out frequently.
I take no responsibility, if you injure yourself, incur any fines, end up
in jail, injure others, or become a local legend, while attempting anything you learned
from this page. Are they legal? The police will consider it reckless driving at least,
even if you are going less than the speed limit. Use your head. If you're scared, quit. If
you're excited, have fun!
If you can't get your bike to wheelie, try using