At a recent ladies only session, I had a couple of them idly mention that they have always wanted to wheelie, so I sounded out another rider to see if she would be keen to learn them also. Her response was a little discouraging.
“I never want to work on wheelies again. The last time I tried them I looped out and hurt my foot.”
Then she read my mind.
Perhaps knowing what I was going to ask next, she added, “I know about using the rear brake to bring the front back down, too.”
Feeling almost shot down, I tried one more question. “Ok, so when the front got too high, what did you actually do?”
“I panicked and took both feet off the pegs,” she said with a sheepish smile. So, she knew the theory but hadn’t trained her muscle memory to react properly.
Breaking the news that her answer meant that I had now decided we would work on wheelies, I asked another question. “How much time did you spend actually practising using the rear brake when the front came off the ground?”
Her answer and the way she said it told me that she admitted her need for what we were obviously going to work on next. “None.”
I had never tried teaching wheelies this way before, but even though this was a big group that I didn’t want to disappoint, the theory worked well enough in my head that I was willing to give it a try.
Choosing the start straight at Moto Central I told them to “just roll along slowly in first gear with your bum back far enough on the seat that you can cover the rear brake with the ball of your foot or toes, while the arch of your foot is still on the footpeg. Then simply turn the throttle for a second or so then suddenly back off the throttle, pull in the clutch and use the rear brake.”
Women are usually pretty good at multi-tasking, so hopefully, this wasn’t too much to ask.
Some interesting problems arose. Small feet meant some riders couldn’t reach the rear brake like this, and so had to have their heel on the footpeg. That was actually ok because it meant they could sit further forward on the seat.
Another issue was a 2-stroke 150cc bike that would bog when only the power was applied. She could have rolled along at a faster speed before powering but thankfully she was experienced enough to use some clutch to help get the front up. Other bikes were just so front heavy that they needed more encouragement to get the front off the ground.
So, after some time simply getting used to powering and then using the rear brake I moved on to stage two.
They had now introduced their brain and body into using the rear brake after a hard power, so I felt more confident about giving them the real weapons. But even this was something that I decided to teach in a way I had never taught before. Simplifying the clutch, throttle and brakes of using the rebound action of the forks to help lift the front wheel.
“Still sitting back on the seat and covering the rear brake, this time as you power I also want you to momentarily pull in the front brake and clutch at the same time then let them go. The rest of your movements after that should be the same where you then pull the clutch in, chop off the throttle and use the rear brake at the same time, but because of the front brake and clutch you used with your power earlier, it should be easier to get the front wheel off the ground.”
The ladies were quite dubious. “I’m just not strong enough to pull the front wheel of my bike up,” was the answer that many of them nodded their heads to. I smiled because this was a chance to help them do something they really didn’t believe they could do.
“If you are ok with me borrowing your bikes, I am going to prove that it doesn’t take strength to lift the front wheel on any of your bikes.”
Now it was their turn to smile, for two reasons. They knew that I was calling their bluff, and they were keen to see me try it on their bikes.
I announced that I was going to choose what I considered the most difficult bike to wheelie on first, then paused long enough to build the anticipation as they wondered which one I would choose. On my suddenly choosing the 150cc 2-stroke, there was quite the amused uproar. “What? That should be the easiest bike to wheelie!”
The owner of the bike looked slightly miffed herself, yet at the same time slightly grateful because it meant she was justified in finding it hard to wheelie on. Still shaking their heads as I rode it around to demonstrate, they suddenly all laughed and nodded their agreement when I turned the throttle without using any clutch and the bike bogged big time.
That was my demonstration on why I considered the bike hard to wheelie- and now that they were on my side, I went on to demonstrate the “all in, all out” technique that I wanted them to try.
Without using any brain power, I simply did what I asked them to do, robotically pulling the front brake and clutch in while powering and then letting them out again straight away. This popped the front up nicely, so I then controlled it by backing off the power, pulling the clutch in and using the rear brake at the same time. It worked really well. I then tried on an old school bike that had seemed very front heavy, with the same pleasant result.
“Can you see how I am not hardly pulling on the handlebars at all?”
They admitted they hadn’t seen that, so I went back around and demonstrated again, now getting a chorus of nods. Apart from needing both hands to operate the controls, I could have lifted the front without holding onto the handlebars at all. The power, brake and clutch was enough without any need for pulling.
Now it was my turn to be surprised. The robotic movements that I had told them to do actually worked! Front wheels were popping up all over the place, controlled by the rear brake that I had trained them to do moments before. In saying that, I think the ladies were surprised as well- but also amped.
It was enough proof that I thought our experience good enough to share with you all, so hopefully, more people can learn this very important and very fun skill, without ending up with a sore foot- or bum.