Wheelie good: How to pop the perfect wheelie on your dirt bike

Handy tips for—and insight into—the art form of wheelstanding an off-road motorcycle

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Sam King pulling the ultimate wheelie on his dirt bike.

Man and machine—the wheelie gives you a sense of freedom and oneness with your bike. — photos courtesy Sam King

From the earliest days of my childhood, I’ve wanted to spend every waking moment riding motorcycles, more specifically dirt bikes. There’s something about the bond between man and machine that creates a complete sense of freedom, to progress at your own will. Only you get to decide how hard you want to push the boundaries of physics, and you are the voice in your head that continues to urge the necessity to play with the boundaries of gravity.

I was one of the lucky ones; I rode my first motorcycle at three years old. Naturally, the first thing I wanted to learn was how to wheelie. I’ve come a long way since the PeeWee 50 days, but from day one I’ve had the art of single-wheel cruising in mind.

The art

There are many variations of riding on one wheel; for example, you can use the sheer power of the engine to lift the wheel or you could be aggressive with your clutch and pop the bike into a mono. Some rely on all body, while others find the balance point and let the weight of the bike do its thing.

Sam King wheeling with the sunset behind him.

Just like everything in the world of moto, everybody has their unique style or different method of doing things. The purpose of this article isn’t to turn a first-time rider into a malicious one wheelin’ stunt man. The aim is to guide the rider into a better understanding of the physics behind the stunt and to shed some light on extremely handy tips.

Power wheelie

The power wheelie is one for the new guys. It’s the most simple to wrap your head around when learning how to get that front wheel off the ground.

Start off slowly in first gear, positioning yourself towards the back end of the bike and sitting on your seat. Lightly preload the front end by pushing your upper body weight through the forks and as the suspension is returning, progressively but surely open the throttle from basically idle all the way to three-quarter throttle. The more comfortable you get, the harder you can preload the suspension and the faster you can crack the throttle. This will bring the front wheel up faster, allowing you to rely less on the speed and more on feathering the throttle to easily carry the wheel stand for a longer distance. Once you are finding first gear to be too short, click it up into second and find that balance point. You can apply this technique to the higher gears of your bike, but you’ll obviously need to be going faster as you start the wheelie.

Hot tip: Always use the rear brake when attempting to wheelie. It can be a hard habit to get into, but hovering the rear brake pedal with your foot as your front wheel is off the ground is a necessity in becoming confident with your wheelies.

Clutch wheelie

Using the clutch to pop the wheelie can be a challenging task to get the grips of. It takes a lot of practice to perfectly time the reaction of your suspension with your engine and body.

Start slowly in first gear, preload the forks while the throttle is slightly open and, without backing off the gas, briefly pull the clutch in and then out again as the suspension rebounds. This creates an explosive movement from the front end of the bike, allowing you to get the front wheel from the ground straight into the balance point.

The balance point is the near vertical-position of your bike, which allows you to maintain the front end high up in the air with absolute minimal body effort. Counter-balancing your body with the weight of the bike as it’s on one wheel is a sensational feeling.
Once you’re able to confidently find the balance point, you can then start to play around with the concept of releasing your clutch to gain more and more distance.

Hot tip: A common problem for learning to mono at slower speeds is that you start to uncontrollably lean or turn to one direction or the other. This will become better with practice, but I always lock my core and use more stomach muscles to keep my body solid, rigid and in line with the bike to continue in a straight line.

Now that you know the fundamentals, it’s time to get out there and practice! Not only does the wheelie give you a sense of ultimate freedom and oneness with your bike, but it can also be a handy tool for beginning to tackle obstacles, such as rocks and logs.


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