Photo by Wesley Fegan
Every healthy person has at least one fun recreational activity that they love to do in life and for me, one of those things happens to be biking. I have been loving my time on bikes ever since my father taught me how to ride as a kid. I grew up in the village of Rheems, Pennsylvania which was bordered by local farms. There was a collection of tiny stones in the middle of a small T-intersection, right by my house, where a bunch of kids from the neighborhood would ride like the wind and try to skid their back tires through the stones for as long as possible. Some to the older kids would ride wheelies up and down the street and create makeshift jumps using short planks of wood propped up upon bricks. As I grew up, I also learned how to ride (sit-down) wheelies, the ramps made of wooden planks were replaced by dirt and I even got into some BMX racing. I was never the best at riding (compared to others), but I loved it as a kid and I still love it today at almost fifty years old!
So - to make a long story short - a few years ago, I switched from a full-suspension mountain bike to what is now commonly referred to as a dirt-jumper. In my mind, the dirt jumper is the perfect combination between a 20" bmx bike and a 26" mountain bike. So, with the new bike came new opportunities, in terms of tricks and maneuvers and I started learning how to do manual wheelies instead of just sit-down wheelies. I must say that it took me much longer to learn how to manual than I thought it would! I worked on it with mixed results for a long time until I made one final adjustment that really seemed to make the difference! Naturally, I want to make sure to pass that tip on to other riders who want to have a great time with this fun trick!
In this post, I would like to share some tips that might answer some common questions about how to do manual wheelies on a bike!
1) As it is with sit-down wheelies, the goal is to bring your bike and body into what feels like a weightless pocket where our balance feels natural and effortless.
2) In this pocket you can move your hips fore and aft in a way that helps to maintain your balance within the pocket. For safety, be ready to hit the rear brakes in the event that the front wheel goes too high.
3) The body position we need must flexible and balanced at the same time. Notice in the video, below, that I am not stretched way back behind the back tire. You should feel as if you always have usable leverage on the bars without actually using that leverage fully (hence the pocket of effortless balance). But, the moment you have a need to bring the bars up, you can simply lengthen you legs a bit to push the hips back and feel the bars pivot upward. Likewise, you can bend the knees and and feel the bars drop naturally when needed. Right in the middle of these two actions is the pocket of effortless balance that we really want.
4) When we lift the bars, our arms move up and back in a slight circular pattern, similar to a slight rowing action. The key here, and the final adjustment that really made the difference for me is this: I moved my foot placement over the pedals so that each heel was hooked right over the back edge of each pedal. Previously, my feet were always slightly back on the pedals. Now, with this simple adjustment, the pocket - for balance - has opened up and become wider than before. In other words, moving heels up to the edge of each pedal generates a better body position in terms of having leverage and flexibility to maintain the pocket.
5) When the bike and body are properly positioned in the manual, there is little effort and certainly no strain. If you are straining, in terms of constant physical exertion, to keep the bike up, then you are not yet in the pocket. The trick is to get into the pocket without generating too much upward/backward movement so that you don't pass all the way through the pocket. If you are constantly hitting the rear break to keep yourself from flipping back, then you might need to bring the bars up more slowly. This is possible to do when your body position is proper. An improper body position might require you to lift with too much force and momentum into a pocket that barely exists (if your body is not positioned properly).
6) One of my bikes has a longer top tube than the other and, therefore, it's a bit easier to manual on. I can manual on both, but one is definitely a bit easier. Keep this in mind and maybe try a couple of friend's bikes to sort things out. Maybe a different bike can give you another perspective and, therefore, the additional edge needed to learn how to manual with extra confidence.
7) If you have your own tips that might help other riders, feel free to leave them in the comments section below!
8) Have Fun and Be Youthful! :)
Video by Andreea Fegan