October 31st, 2011
Probably the most likely question you’ll be asked by a bunch of kids at the side of the trail. Simply put, this golden oldie is the art of staying in your seat and using the torque of the pedals to lift your front wheel off the ground. It has developed some new names over the years, including my personal favourite, the ‘power assisted lift’. But this move isn’t likely to help your Gran get up the stairs.
Out on the mountain, techniques like the wheelie are rarely used on their own, but toned down, there are certainly some fundamentals that can be used to your advantage. From slow drop-offs to climbing rock steps – the more adept you get at these basics, the easier you’ll find it when you need to pull something special out the bag in a tricky situation.
The position of your upper body is the most important aspect to get right if you want to pull a successful wheelie. To begin with, get totally balanced and central on the bike. With your bum in the saddle you need to form a square with your shoulders, handlebars and two almost straight arms: a relaxed bend at the elbow is what you’re after to keep you supple and loose.
Use this square as a reference point throughout the whole move. If you notice that one arm is squint, straighten it up. If your shoulders fall out of line with the handlebars, you’ll never maintain your balance. Aim to get all of this sorted whilst you’re still on the ground. The slightest mistake will be totally exaggerated once you lift the wheel, so don’t lift until you’re set and solid.
The wheelie is a little special: it’s one of the only techniques that predominantly uses your shoulders (and the power from your pedals), but not your arms. Your arms are only needed to hold your body in position. It may sound strange that you can lift the front wheel without using them but it’s something you’ll have to get your head around. Remain seated, lean backwards, keep your head up and those arms straight – and stay totally relaxed. If you notice your forearms are tense and you’re only keeping the front wheel up by pulling on the bars, start all over again.
The wheelie is a weight shift that uses the power produced at the pedals to provide the lift you need. This’ll be where the name ‘power assisted lift’ came from. Timing is of the essence: as you lean back, apply pressure to your lead pedal. Choose a gear that’s easy to turn without too much grunt yet gives you enough resistance to produce some power. As the wheelie tends to be a lowspeed move, it’s likely your gear will be middle or small ring and near to the top at the back.
Your rear brake is your escape route, your Get Out Of Jail Free card. The moment your front wheel rises too high, a quick but gentle pull on the rear brake lever will bring the front wheel back down to earth. If you are going for the wheelie world distance record, modulating the rear brake will help you to control the speed of the manual and keep it going for longer. Remember not to grab a handful. Just a gentle feathering of the brake should be enough to help you out.
WHERE TO DISH IT OUT
With wheelies mastered, you can now use them out on the trail. On a technical climb, if you’re faced with a ledge or a lip, use this method of lifting the front wheel to get you up and over the step without losing balance or grip. You can also use it to get the front wheel over a steep sided rut or ditch, or to come off a drop-off at a really slow pace by lofting the front wheel using some of the power from your pedals. Whatever the situation, if you spend a little bit of time getting your balance on a flat surface, you’ll be able to adapt the technique to suit the situation.
This post was taken from: Mountain Biking The Manual by Chris Ball