Remember learning to ride a bike? Afternoons in the driveway or a paved lot, knees and elbows scraped bloody. The task was daunting, but once accomplished, the skill became unforgettable (there’s a saying about that). But learning to ride a bike didn’t stop when the training wheels came off — the ability to pedal two wheels revealed the potential for a host of childhood macho tricks like no-handers and bunny hops, but none of them were so coveted as the wheelie.
The wheelie is tricky, and maybe you never mastered it as a kid. That’s okay — you’re never too old for some good ol’ fashioned showboating. But maybe the high-risk trial-and-error method of younger days isn’t the right line to walk this time around. Maybe you need a more thoughtful approach.
A step-by-step breakdown by one-wheeling legend and lululemon Elite Ambassador Ryan Leech should do the trick. Leech has been a pro mountain biker for over 20 years and has been coaching since age 16. He’s been featured in numerous mountain biking films and has appeared in the ring of Cirque du Soleil. He’s even integrated the mindfulness of yoga (yeah, he’s a certified instructor in that, too) into his coaching style. Leech specializes in wheelies and has created a 30-day online course that all but guarantees wheelie success. Below, you’ll find the main points to get you started.
Mentally. “Why do you want to learn how to wheelie? Come up with some strong reasons because learning requires serious dedication and patience.”
Mechanically. “Make sure your rear brake works well, you’re using flat pedals, approximately a one-to-one gear ratio and your saddle is just below regular riding height.”
Get in position. “Roll along very slowly while seated and bring either pedal to the one o’clock position and bring your chest forward while bending your arms slightly. Make sure your finger is on the rear brake lever.”
Pull. “Time your pull on the bars with the pedaling down of that top pedal.”
Lift. “The pedal stroke and rearward weight shift will happen very quickly and, if timed perfectly, will effortlessly pop your front wheel up into the air.”
Stay seated. “Once your front wheel pops up you’ll be sitting on the saddle with your arms straight hanging off the bars. (A manual is performed while rolling faster, standing, and without pedaling.)”
Find the float zone. “If the front wheel comes up too high, apply the rear brake. If the front wheel doesn’t come up high enough or begins falling forward, add more power to your pedal stroke.” Try to find that sweet spot.
Keep moving. “You want the front wheel to feel like it is always wanting to fall down forward so you can counter that with a steady pedal stroke.”
Hand on the brakes. “If you continue accelerating faster and faster, you’re not committing to the float zone, and likely for good reason; it’s scary — unless you know how to use your rear brake to prevent the dreaded flip-over backwards! So as a practice strategy, try popping up and then grabbing the rear brake.”
Always adjusting. “If you tip to one side or the other, adjust by turning your handlebar, moving your knees side to side, bending your torso and even tilting your head. As you get faster at sensing a side balance loss, these adjustments will happen faster, and thus have the right effect — at first, they won’t happen fast enough, and you’ll still fall to the side.”
Find Zen. “Pedal as smoothly as possible.”
Things to Avoid
The bike. “Avoid using too hard of a gear (you won’t be able to pop the front wheel up) or too easy of a gear (you won’t be able to pedal fast enough to keep the front wheel up).” Try to get as close to the 1:1 ratio as possible.
You. “Avoid standing up or taking your weight off the saddle; stay grounded on your saddle.” In other words, use your saddle as balance point or “lever.”
Your ego. “Avoid frantically trying to wheelie for as long as possible on every attempt. You won’t pull a beautiful wheelie by accident, so learn with presence and curiosity on every attempt.”
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