Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wheelies are hard

I'll start this post off with a great photo Eric sent me. Spring is (finally) here!

So this spring, I've committed myself to learning to actually ride a wheelie. What's that, you say? I should have figured that out a long time ago, given that I ride constantly and build bikes for a living? AND given that I can ride a unicycle pretty well? Well, all I can do is hang my head in shame, 'cause I have no excuse. I just can't ride a real wheelie.

Don't get me wrong - I can get the front wheel off the ground, and in fact I can keep it there for several pedal revolutions. Lifting the front over a rock or stump or what have you? No problem! A little semi-manual to keep the front wheel off the ground through some rocks? Ditto. But I have to accelerate the whole time to keep the front end up, because I'm not actually at that (terrifying) balance point where you can just keep riding on the rear wheel indefinitely.

Today was an inauspicious start - I went out in the grassy area next to 55th street and practiced for about 10 minutes (10 minutes a day is the deal, because I've got other stuff to do with my life than ride wheelies). My goal was to be able to consistently go past the balance point (ie, start tipping over backwards) and correct using the rear brake to bring the front wheel back down. No actual wheelies, just bringing the wheel way up and then using the brake to set it back down, hopefully without panicking and jumping off the bike.

As luck would have it, every weird old lady, 8 year old, and delivery person in the neighborhood managed to walk by during that 10 minutes to witness me pathetically falling over backwards, forward, and sideways. Some ancient reptile part of my brain refuses to believe that the rear brake will actually save me from falling backwards and breaking my neck, and intervenes every time to save me from myself. If I was about 7 years old, I could have managed to salvage some dignity, but given that I'm 30, I think I lost major cool points with most of the folks walking by.

I did finally manage to get the wheel up past/to the balance point and then brake it back down at the very end of the session, but then I smashed my knee on the bars and called it a day. I'm hoping that it takes less than a month before I can do, like, a serious wheelie. We'll see. All you master wheelie riders out there are welcome to give me tips, eh?


Nick Marinelli said...

Great Picture!! Does Eric's bike have an On-One Mary bar in it? How does he like it?

anotherbrian said...

As for wheelies, I'm trying to do the same.

As I approach my late 30's, I can't wheelie or manual either. I outgrew my BMX bike before I really learned how. I do have a 2 year old son though, and think it will be my responsibilty to teach him how to huck in a few years, so gotta get started now.

Shane"Crash"Jones said...

I'm reading a book right now called Deep Survival. The author talks about unconscious reactions that you sometimes can't overcome(like jumping off instead of squeezing the brake lever). Interesting stuff. I learned to ride a uni 2 years ago(I'm 32 now)and I think it's about time I learned to ride a decent wheelie too. I wouldn't practice with clipless pedals though, take my word for it.

Tison said...

Walt, the rear brake modulation is the hardest part of doing a wheelie. If you practice wheelies while going up a hill you can use the deceleration of the hill instead of the rear brake to bring the front wheel down. This is how I learned to wheelie. My tips: I hit the front brake as soon as I get the front wheel up. When the front wheel is spinning it creates some gyroscopic forces that screw me up because as the wheel winds down the forces change. The main thing to train your self on is that if the bike starts to fall to the right, then you need to lean left. This is the opposite of what you do when both wheels are on the ground. The way to lean the proper way is to turn the handle bars opposite the way you are falling. So, if you start falling to the right turn the front wheel to the left, this feels completely unnatural but it works.

If the link does not work, then you can do google video search on:
karate monkey bicycle video

Steve Z Photography said...

Damn Walt, this is salt in the wounds. I can't do more than a 5 second wheelie. How is it coming? Did you stick to it, have you learned?