Why wheelies are an important biking skill
April 10th 2018
All these years, I thought wheelies were just about showing off (even while doing them). It turns out that they’re useful for any biker, particularly MTB riders.
A wheelie where you don’t turn your pedals, but instead balance low down with the pedals at 3PM and 9 PM, has a specific name. It’s called a ‘manual’. And it’s the foundation of bunny hops and other bike control skills that help you overcome obstacles in your path.
For a mountain biker, these obstacles might be anything from big rocks to fallen trees. For a road biker, the obstacles are likely to be more like streetcar tracks and curbs. The more you know about bike control, the fewer spills you’ll take.
Leaps, bunny hops and manuals
In How To Bunny Hop 2, courtesy of Seth’s Bike Hacks, Seth shows that high bunny hop jump skills start with good ‘lift and roll-over skills’, and those skills start with good Manual skills. We’re back to wheelies.
While sporting impressive enough jumps to watch several times, he still glosses over much the actual work of balancing a manual in the first place. It’s conceptually easy, but what skills are needed?
Ironically, a great place to learn the basics of a manual, including slowed-down demonstrations of good and bad technique, is an Ali Clarkson video showing techniques for even higher bunny hops. It seems that the best way to be awesome is to be solid on the fundamentals.
Watching his description of the ideal bike for bunny hops, I was struck by how closely it resembles the CHANGE 609 and 612 mountain bikes we sell–a hardtail bike with flat or platform pedals and an aggressive frame design that puts the seat below the handlebars.
If you can do techniques like these on a hardtail, there’s little need for full suspension. In fact, I’ve seen at least one video that suggested turning off the rear suspension if you’re doing a lot of one-wheel balance work.
Bunny hops for road bikers
But what about road bikers? We don’t have suspension, and certainly aren’t clearing much vertical distance in stunt activity. Why do bunny hops?
The best summary probably comes from this instructor’s description in the Global Cycling Network. “It’s fun, it looks cool, and it can keep you safe whilst you’re out on the road.” The safety video starts out with a high speed road bike hop so extreme it covers both curbs and the road in between, but still manages to make the learning process very simple and easy.
So there you have it. If already you’re a wheelie enthusiast, your world just opened up. (In fact, I’m thinking about going out right now and practicing these new skills in the rain).
And if you’ve never done wheelies before because it seemed like showing off, now you’ve got a responsible reply. You’re practicing a manual, of course!
See you on the trails…
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.