There's no doubt about it, wheelies are cool, they've always been cool. They also have benefits in Motocross racing, which we'll see later in these two-month parts of wheelie tips. Just about anyone can master the wheelie if they understand the correct techniques and get a lot of frequent practice. Of course, the key to mastering the wheelie is balance. There is front to back balance, and side to side balance. The front to back balance is controlled with body movement, the throttle and the rear brake. Even the clutch is used, at first, in order to get the front wheel up to the balance point. Once you have it up (in the balance point range, more on this later) it's a matter of keeping it there and keeping it straight.
Techniques for keeping it in the balance range (the balance point)
What exactly is the balance range and point? The balance range is the range relating to the angle of the height of the front wheel. If the angle goes too high (the front wheel gets too high) the M/C will go over backwards. This is why you have to be able to control the rear brake. If the angle of the M/C is too low it will fall back down and out of the balance range. The latter is where you would have to lean your body back and give it more throttle. The balance point is where you and the M/C are at the perfect angle in the balance range. This is where the M/C doesn't try to go back or forward. You don't have to slow down with the rear brake in order to lower the front, or you don't have to pick up speed in order to raise the front. You are in the wheelie's perfect balance point. Of course, this is much easier to accomplish on smooth ground (such as pavement) but when the ground in uneven it takes an uncanny amount of balance and control with your body movements, throttle and rear brake.
Doug Demokos, who in my opinion, was the original, one and only, Wheelie King! Doug, was the grand master of rear brake control in order to keep from going over backwards. During most of the 70s Doug was hired by the National and Supercross Promoters to attempt to wheelie around the entire Motocross or Supercross track without letting the front wheel come down. He actually did this several times. Some riders thought Doug had a special wheelie bike that made this a lot easier. Although Doug did have a bike set up for him doing wheelies, it was no easier to do a wheelie on, as many of us racers found out, after attempting wheelies on his bike. The doubters were soon silenced. And besides, what professional doesn't have a special bike set up just for them?
Doug and I were both riding for Kawasaki back in the mid 70s, Doug as the Wheelie King, and myself, as a Motocross and Supercross racer. One afternoon some of the mechanics and I were taking a little lunch break in the parking lot just outside the Kawasaki building in SoCal. Doug hopped on a stock KX 250 in his regular street clothes (tennis shoes, T-shirt and no helmet). He started doing wheelies across the relatively empty parking lot. He was doing a bunch of cool tricks but the one that amazed me most, and that I'll always remember was this one. I guess you'd call it a bump start wheelie. He went across the parking lot in fifth gear, pulled in the clutch and pushed the kill button, he proceeded to coast there at the perfect balance point for about 20 yards, pulled back a little on the bars as he let the clutch back out to restart the engine and continued on a perfect wheelie. All of us standing there were awe struck as we tried to pick our jaws up off the pavement. This was nothing for Doug, just a little lunch time entertainment. The late Doug Domokos who died in an ultralight plane crash at Lake Elsinore around 2000 was the true Wheelie King. Doug did write a book titled "The Wheelie King."
Whether you want to follow Doug's footsteps, do wheelies for fun or master wheelies in order to benefit your Motocross skills, you'll have to understand the proper techniques, be able to do them correctly and do them correctly repeatedly over a period of time that allows you to program it all into your automatic reflex reactions, here's how.
Now let's get a good understanding of the nuts, bolts and all the proper techniques. It helps to have a smooth engine, you don't want a pipey power band that kicks in and loops you out. Another thing is a relatively short swingarm. The longer the swingarm the narrower that balance range will be. Another thing to remember is that it's easier to do wheelies on an up hill, rather than flat ground, or especially downhill. An uphill keeps you from picking up too much speed and it also makes the balance range wider.
Getting the front end too high and not controlling the rear brake is the worst thing that can happen. This mistake will cause you to go over backwards (loop out). Since nobody wants to do that they end up not getting the front end high enough, they are too low in the wheelie range and have to do a power wheelie in order to try and keep it up. This is known as a power wheelie since the power is what's keeping it up. Soon you will run out of power and speed. This is why doing wheelies on up hills is much easier. So, to master the art of wheelies you can't be afraid to get it way up there in the balance range, which is where, you will find the balance point. You won't be afraid of this if you have control and confidence with the rear brake. The rear brake is your savor from looping out. Make sure your brake is adjusted high enough so it's easy to reach.
Starting the wheelie
When you want to start the wheelie sit about half way back on the seat, use second or third gear from a relatively slow speed for that gear. You want to be in the bottom of the power range so the engine has a long way to make power before it revs out. Pop the clutch out and pull back on the handlebars hard enough to bring the front end up into the balance range. Once you have it up in the balance range, it's a matter of body movement and throttle control. The throttle control is most important. Unless you are really, really good at wheelies you are going to be doing a power wheelie to some degree. This means you will continue to pick up speed as you go along. The less speed you pick up the better, but that is easier said than done. As you pick up speed you're going to have to shift to the next gear, if you want to continue, and impress by standers with your wheelie skills. Make sure you shift at the right time and make it a very smooth shift, and nip the clutch as you upshift. How do you know the right time to shift? You have to feel when the angle is right. The correct angle is about a quarter way into the balance range. When you make that beautiful upshift that allows the front end to continue to fly, you're going to pick up more speed. So, you don't want the front to be too high, if it was, you wouldn't need to upshift and pick up more speed. Of course, you don't want the front to be too low or you will loose the wheelie. As that gear runs out upshift to the next and so on, until you're in 5th, looking for 6th, and the fat lady is standing and singing.
Check back next month for Part 2: Standing Wheelies
Ride hard, ride smart and have fun,
About Gary Semics:
Learn our GSMXS time tested and proven practice and training methods to improve your riding skills and race results. How? Through our hands on Motocross School Group and Private classes, with 10 GSMXS Certified Instructors located in six countries. Through our Techniques and Training DVDs (currently 28 titles) shipped worldwide or through our Instant Access Video On Demand Streaming platform.