Picture of a man attempting a wheelie on the grass

Learning How to Wheelie

Want to learn how to wheelie on your bike? Have you ever felt the need to impress your friends by riding on your back tire down the street?

I don’t need to impress my friends, but I have always wanted to add a wheelie to my technical skills arsenal  to improve my mountain biking game. But why a wheelie? A wheelie setups the base for a number of more advanced biking skills. Specifically:

  1. The bunny hop. Like the type that can clear 2 feet diameter logs.
  2. The Manual. The next evolution of a wheelie.
  3. Learning to launch off drops. I’ve been hesitant taking some drops knowing I need to bring my front wheel up.
  4. Better balance. Always need to work on better balance.

I actually tried practicing wheelies last year, but it was largely ineffective. A number of YouTube videos suggested lowering the seat, reversing the stem so it points toward you, and flat pedals. But I didn’t want to  alter my bike every time I practiced. I am lazy.  Since I already rode flat pedals,  this was the only thing I had going for me. With the technique I am going to present, you will want to ride in flat pedals. I could not imagine practicing this in clipless shoes unless you are a ninja in decoupling yourself.

Tony Robbins. You might associate him with his informercials on TV and  think he’s a motivational speaker. He’s much more than that. He calls himself a human performance coach. I discovered Tony Robbins through the ultimate life hacker Tim Ferris. How the hell does this have anything to do with doing a wheelie on my bike? I am getting there.

In one of Tony’s books, he describes how we are driven by pain and pleasure. We tend to avoid things that are painful and tend to do things that are pleasurable. Seems pretty simple? I want to do a wheelie because I think it will give me a long term pleasure. But when I really broke it down, I was actually scared of doing a wheelie. I had a fear that I was going to flip over and crack my head open. That’s immediate pain. My brain said-no way idiot.

How could I make this potential pain go away and turn it into pleasure? I started analyzing how I could crack my head open. I imagined the bike flipping out from under me, and I would fall flat on my back. However, since there was some slight forward motion, I couldn’t possibly go backwards.  If my feet hit the ground first, the moment would actually carry me forwards. The bike would simply slip out from under me while I essentially landed in place. This is similar to the demonstration we all seen where the table cloth is ripped out from the table setting.

So I changed my approach. As opposed to doing a wheelie, I was going to flip the bike out from under me and land on my feet. Changing to this objective, there was no fear of pain–of falling backwards and cracking my head open. At least in theory. To add a bit safety to this practice, I did this over my lawn on the comfort of grass.

It took me a while, but I was eventually able to spin the bike out from under me with two pedal strokes. And I landed on my feet. It was amazing. And during this motion, I felt that balance point that I never felt in my previous attempts. Victory!


Bike is kicking out and my feet are already off the pedals.

Bike is kicking out and my feet are already off the pedals.

One leg hits the ground. Bike is still moving away from me.

One foot hits the ground. Bike is still moving away from me.

Both feet are on the ground. Bike continues to move away from me.

Both feet are on the ground. Bike continues to move away from me.

I absorb the fall by squatting and pull the bike back.

I absorb the fall by squatting and pulling the bike back.

Oddly enough, when I went back to attempt a wheelie, I still suffered from the fear of pulling back and cracking my head open.  However on subsequent tries when I wanted to intentionally flip my bike out, it was still easy.

Below is a video of me attempting this strategy for the second time. It’s not great, but this is a lot more progress than what I achieved previously. Hopefully, with more practice I can own this!

BTW-I did eventually end up falling on my back. I was moving slowly and my feet slipped. The bike didn’t provide enough counter force to pull me forward and I had a slow comedic tumble backwards.

Check out the video here:

PS-on a side note, I found out that “looping out” is the term you use when you go to far back. It seems that people actually crash when they loop out, but in most cases people say they slip on the grass or were clipped in. In any case-looping out sucks when you are not intending to do it so practice, practice, practice.

On another note, I know my technique is not dialed in. I am using too much arm motion and not thrusting my hips back. Hopefully I can develop that.

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