Shortly after man created the brilliant contraption of strapping a motor to a two-wheeled cycle, man discovered the enjoyment of operating this vehicle on one.
When learning to ride a motorcycle, we all struggle to minimize the amount of maneuvers that depart from a controlled, smooth ride. However, when fighting to retain control of this foreign machine we just climbed aboard, we all perform a few unintended exercises of our own. Whether it be jumping on the rear brake pedal too aggressively causing the rear tire to skid and swerve, goosing the throttle out of a corner stepping the rear end out or a miscalculating throttle application and clutch release popping the front wheel into the air, these “pucker moments” are tough to avoid when honing the skill of riding.
However, I theorize that these moments of brief panic are the catalyst to the enjoyment produced from deliberately conducting these exact maneuvers when our skills levels have risen beyond the learning phase. When we feel we have [a decent amount of] control over the bike, we are soon tempted to revisit the moments that surged adrenaline through our systems back when we were still grasping to understand basic motorcycle operation.
We find the smile under the helmet tough to fight when backing the rear end into a corner by getting hard on the brakes, downshifting quickly and leaning the bike over, dancing with a controlled on-throttle drift or holding the front wheel in the air as throttle and rear brake pedal pressure are modulated. There is a fine line between goon riding:
and controlled performances
but exhilaration is the common denominator. The adrenaline that once produced extreme fear now fuels heightened excitement and the wheelie is the most classic derivative.
Learning to ride on two-stroke motocross bikes definitely facilitated my wheelie discovery. One accidental crack of the throttle on a KX80 instantaneously throws the front wheel skyward and your legs off the pegs without fail. However, finding the perfect balance of throttle variation and weight transfer to keep the front end in the air while riding down the trails over the rough surface and obstacles quickly became an entertaining challenge. When my buddies and I bought a 1997 GSX-R750 project bike in high school, practicing this stunt in a “controlled environment” (ie desolate country road) quickly became an all-day event as we took turns on the beast and exchanged “best practices” (ie brilliant quotes such as “more throttle, less brake!”). The next step was building a 2003 CBR600RR stunt bike dedicated to riding in parking lots and mastering the different wheelie techniques and variances. This is where the “clutch-up” and rear brake feathering methods were mastered and determined to be the quickest and most controlled process to execute the wheelie.
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From then on, performing (or at least, attempting) this maneuver on every two (or three)-wheeled vehicle I’ve jumped on is an urge that is tough to resist. The challenge of bringing the front wheel up and holding the bike right at the balance point, in a controlled manner one that is never completely won. On the other hand, wrestling a bike that can hardly keep both wheels planted when pushed to its limits is a whole other challenge. Regardless, even today, there are few remedies more effective than getting a little hang time with the front tire when things get a bit mundane. And for that, we are thankful.
Photo by Ryan Skut