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Let’s talk about one really important skill – the art of the wheelie! The unicorn of bike tricks, the magical moment when you see someone lift that front wheel off the ground and ride on just their back wheel.
It’s a skill that brings joy, astonishment, and a healthy amount of envy from fellow riders. At the end of the day, there are those who can wheelie, and those who wish they could. But which bike is the easiest for wheelieing? And what difference do gears and weight make? Read on to find out more.
What is the Best Bike for Wheelies?
The best bikes for wheelies are generally BMX bikes, mountain bikes, trial bikes, dirt jump bikes etc. It’s essentially a lot easier to wheelie bikes that are more manoeuvrable and lightweight.
BMX bikes are purpose built for tricks and stunts, and whilst they are good at wheelies, they’re actually very good at ‘manuals’ (i.e. a wheelie but without pedal assistance). They have a small lightweight frame and an easy to lift front wheel. There’s also loads of space between your body and the top tube, meaning that you’ve got some wiggle room, so to speak.
When it comes down to it, mountain bikes aren’t just good, they’re wheelie good. The wide tires and suspension can provide stability and control when trying to wheelie. Those with a more aggressive geometry and a shorter wheelbase are even easier.
The worst wheeliers are hands down road bikes. Whilst it certainly isn’t impossible, their thin tyres make it pretty difficult to maintain balance on the back wheel for any extended period of time. Impossible, no, but not the easiest to learn with by any means.
Easy Wheelie Bikes: 3 Key Features
There are definitely features of a bike which can make or break your chances of popping a wheelie. Whilst these aren’t strictly speaking necessary, absence of them will probably allow you to provide excuses to your friends as to why you can’t stay up on the back wheel.
If you’re wondering to yourself, ‘what type of bikes are wheelie bikes?’, then here are the three most important features to consider when looking for a bike to wheelie.
1. Weight & Distribution
A lighter bike frame is easier to lift, and that’s just a fact. The easier it is to lift the front wheel, the less strenuous it will be for you to initiate (and maintain!) a wheelie.
Ideally, your weight should be shifted a little behind the centre, so if you’ve got a lighter front end specifically this is the best case scenario. Having said that, making sure that you can shift your weight downwards and backwards is also the crucial aspect.
In this regard, more weight could actually be a good thing, if it’s distributed correctly. For example, e-bikes or geared bikes that have the heavier components situated towards the rear end will actually help you to get the front end up. Just be careful not to loop out!
2. Multiple Gears
With a lower gear, there’s higher torque at lower speeds, making it easier to generate the force needed to lift the front wheel in the first place. This makes the initial stage a bit smoother and more comfortable.
A lower gear also ensures better control over the pedal strokes, making it easier to control your weight transfer to the rear of the bike.
Being able to gear up is what’s really going to prolong your wheelie. Once you get the basics down, you can extend the duration of the wheelie by matching your gears to your riding speed and momentum. This even means you’ll also be able to wheelie up or downhill, granted, with a lot of practice.
Having said that, it isn’t impossible to wheelie a single-speed, or even a fixed-gear, but that takes some skill indeed.
3. Adjustable Suspension
Suspension is a tricky one. Whilst some say it’s easier to control the front end when initiating a wheelie without the suspension ‘dampening’ the movement, others will swear differently. As a general rule, the bikes that absorb at least some shock are the best bikes to do wheelies on.
Bikes with front and rear suspension add another degree of control and stability, especially when it comes to popping wheelies on rough or uneven terrain. This is because the suspension can absorb some of the impact so that you can focus on weight distribution and technique.
The best bike is one with fully adjustable suspension. This is because these bikes allow you to tailor them to your needs. You might find that while full suspension is really good, being able to stiffen it a little might provide the touch of rigidity you need to begin and maintain your wheelie. It’s really a case of preference, and there’s no one answer here.
Can You Wheelie Any Bike?
In theory, you can wheelie any bike. In practice, some bikes are far, far easier to wheelie than others. Bikes with good suspension, a range of gears, and a lightweight construction are the easiest, but are certainly not the only ones that can be wheelied.
Let’s have a look to see if the bike you’ve got at home is ready to be wheelied.
Can You Wheelie a Mountain Bike?
The holy grail of wheeliers; the mountain bike can definitely be wheelied. Mountain bikes are built for thrills, spill and adrenaline, and they’re top of the class when it comes to wheelies.
Their sturdy frames, grippy tires, suspension and gearing are all excellent features when it comes to performing the fabled wheelie. If you’ve got a mountain bike, unfortunately, your only excuse for not being able to wheelie is a lack of skill.
They’re also usually a little more adaptable than other bikes, allowing you to tweak them to accommodate your wheelie needs.
Can You Wheelie a Road Bike?
The sleek and speedy road bike might not be the first choice for wheelie enthusiasts, but it’s certainly possible to wheelie one. The main problem is lifting the front wheel, as the bike is really designed to keep your centre of gravity forward, meaning the initial lift is harder.
The thin tires also don’t work in your favour when it comes to wheelies, and you might find yourself struggling to manoeuvre or balance the bike even if you can get and keep the front wheel up.
It’s probably easier to learn on a BMX or a mountain bike before switching to the road bike when it comes to wheelies. After all, these bikes are specifically designed for tricks and stunts.
Can You Wheelie a BMX Bike?
BMX bikes were practically born to wheelie. With their small frames and beefy tires these bikes are a wheelie’s best friend.
BMX bikes excel when it comes to manuals; a spin on the classic wheelie. The difference is that with a manual, you don’t pedal. It’s easier to do this on a BMX because your centre of gravity is already low and it’s comfortable to lean back over the rear wheel. Pedalling at the same time is actually a little bit harder because you’re barely even above the bike at this point.
However, you don’t usually have gears when it comes to BMXs, so it’s worth baring in mind that due to variation between their gear ratios, some will be easier to wheelie than others.
Can You Wheelie an E-Bike?
It’s great news for e-bike fans, yes, you can wheelie an e-bike. Whilst not the easiest by any means, with a little perseverance, e-bikes can be wheelied. There is of course a massive variation in electric bikes, so some will be easier than others to hold on one wheel.
E-bikes with a more upright geometry and a more balanced -or reared- weight distribution are usually more conducive to wheelies. If they’ve got a throttle for assisting in the initial lift, even better.
Whilst e-bikes are usually heavier than their non-electric counterparts, the kick from the motor can also really help you to get the wheel up. With a little adjustment, such as with the seat height, e-bikes can be great candidates for wheelies.
Are Wheelies Illegal on a Bicycle?
Before you plan on getting out on two wheels (or rather, one), you should definitely research the legality of doing a wheelie. In the UK, on the road or a cycle path, you’re bound by the highway code. In the US, there’s no federal law on bicycle wheelies, but there may be state restrictions.
In the UK for example, generally, performing a wheelie in a safe and controlled manner on private property without posing a danger to others isn’t likely to be considered illegal. However, recklessness or engaging in dangerous cycling can lead to penalties and fines. It’s probably best to do them out of sight if you don’t want to risk punishment.
In the US, in many states bikes are not distinguished from motorcycles when it comes to reckless cycling/driving, so they’re subject to the same rules of the road. This means that in many cases they’ll be considered illegal. Look up the laws in your state before you go and give them a go.
Wheelies are something that should be done for fun, and, if the law permits. They should be done on private land and without endangering or risking injury to anyone else. Use common sense and take adequate precaution.
How to Pop a Wheelie on a Bicycle
So, you’ve got your bike ready and you’re excited to develop this new skill. Here’s our guide on how to pop a wheelie on a bicycle.
Start by finding a suitable place to do a wheelie. Ideally, you’ll want a private space that’s flat, smooth and free from obstacles and obstructions. Put some protective gear on, stretch, and get yourself psyched up.
2. Find Your Balance
To start your wheelie journey, start by shifting our weight back and gripping the handlebars firmly. You should be able to do this without losing balance, which might take some practice.
3. Power Up
Now, it’s time to pedal with purpose. Shift into a gear (if you can) that gives you enough power to get that front wheel up. This is usually a low gear if you have the option. Start with a gentle pedal stroke and gradually increase your power.
4. Pull It UP!
As you increase your pedal power, pull back on the handlebars while shifting your weight toward the rear of the bike. The combination of pulling and pedalling will help you get that golden lift-off. Remember, you can always step off the back of the bike if you feel it beginning to ‘loop out’, so get used to ‘bailing’ properly.
5. Keep It Steady
Once you’ve got the initial lift down, maintain your balance by adjusting your body position and using small corrections with the handlebars. Steering and maintaining control is the key to a sustained wheelie. You’ll also want to change gear to adjust for any speed that you may gain/lose. Keep a good momentum.
And there you have it. Now, you’re ready to let the wheelies fly and show off to all your friends your new skill. Once you’ve mastered the wheelie on the easier bikes, don’t let that stop you.
Why not try a fixed-gear or a road bike afterwards and see if you can become the one wheeled master? Remember, the best bikes to wheelie are the ones that make you look the coolest whilst doing it.
There are so many variations when it comes to wheelies, so get out there and give them a try.